I am perplexed!
The Acts of the Apostles provides us as readers with an account of the development of the early church – the first Christian church. Acts 1 sets the context following the resurrection of Jesus and then gloriously recounts his ascension to the right hand of God. Acts 2 logically follows with the coming of the Holy Spirit as the apostles led by Peter start doing what they were called to do – proclaim Jesus.
Then Chapter 3 through to 6:7 hit us, and at first, seem to be a random assortment of events stuffed all together presumable for the readers benefit. Where is the logic that we have become so accustomed to from Luke?
So I dig deeper.
What is going on in these chapters? There is a constant – it is growth. Look at this:
- Chapter 2:41, the gospel message is proclaimed and ‘three thousand were added to their number that day’.
- Chapter 2:47, devoted to apostles teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread and prayer and ‘the Lord added to their number daily’.
- Chapter 4:4, the gospel message is proclaimed and ‘the number of men grew to about five thousand’.
- Chapter 5:14, the apostles (as had Jesus) performed many miraculous signs and wonders and ‘more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number’.
- Chapter 6:7, the word of God spread and ‘the number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly and a large number of priests become obedient to the faith’.
It is evident, I think, that Luke is trying to show the growth in the number of believers that accompanied that early proclamation of the gospel. But what of all the other random bits – the healings, the opposition, the trials, the prayers?
So I dig deeper again.
Growth is not only measured by the number of people becoming believers! When you look at the accounts from Chapter 3 to 6:7 there is a double up, a repeat of events and each time we see an escalation – more healings, more arrests, more opposition, more hearings and trials, more prayer, more stewardship, more discipleship! Look at this (as examples):
- In Chapter 3:1-10, Peter and John heal a crippled beggar. That healing is repeated in Chapter 5:12-16, but this time by all the apostles and among all the people. Crowds gathered. Repeat and escalation.
- Chapter 4:1-4, the priests and captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees arrested and jailed Peter and John for proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus. They were rebuked and ‘commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus’ (4:18). That arrest is repeated in Chapter 5:17-21, but this time all the apostles were arrested and jailed. This time and angel opens the doors and the apostles return to the temple courts before being arrested again (5:27), challenged (5:28), flogged (5:40), released with the order not to speak in the name of Jesus (5:40). Repeat and escalation.
- Chapter 4:23-31, Peter and John with the supporters pray for boldness and ability to speak in the name of Jesus despite opposition. That prayer is answered by Chapter 5:41-42 when the apostles (not just Peter and John) leave the Sanhedrin rejoicing that they have been counted worthy to suffer disgrace in the name of Jesus but are now able to proclaim him not only in the temple courts but from house to house. Repeat and escalation.
- Chapter 4:32-5:11, The apostles continued to proclaim the resurrection of the Lord and believers place money at their feet to be given to those in need. That stewardship is repeated in Chapter 6:1-6 as the seven are appointed to further the work especially among widows. Repeat and Escalation.
The gospel brings growth.
We should not be surprised today, when we proclaim the gospel, that it will bring a response. But it is worth noting that the response will be both good and bad. Good in that people will believe and put their hope in the Lord. Bad in that there will be opposition.
We do measure the health of 5pm Church by the number of people we have and the number who are becoming believers, should we also measure our growth by the number healed by God’s grace, the degree of opposition we experience, the number of prayers answered, and the level of stewardship we exercise? Yes!
And in all, we must proclaim Christ.