Imagine showing up to church one Sunday and a congregational meeting has been abruptly called. A married couple is standing before the congregation guilty of lying to the Holy Spirit. The pastor rebukes them and both of them immediately fall down dead.
How would you respond? Would you warn everyone on Facebook and Twitter (and maybe even your real friends) about this crazy cult that they need to avoid? Would you look for a friendlier community to join? Or would you gather your closest family and friends and tell them they have to be there?
Both responses are essentially what we see happening in our passage this morning. The hypocrisy of Ananias and Sapphira brought great judgment upon themselves, but God’s act of holiness brought further growth to the church.
Before we read this passage let us look to the Lord in prayer for his help in understanding it.
Last week, we saw the contrast between the generosity of Barnabas and the hypocrisy of Ananais and Sapphira. Luke provides another contrast in this passage. Some didn’t dare join them (v.13), while on the other hand, the church was growing faster than ever (v.14).
We get a view of their emphasis upon both fellowship and outreach. Both of the previous summary statements had an inward focus (2:42-47; 4:32-37). This third summary relates the outward impact of this Christian community. It begs the question: What is the proper balance between fellowship and outreach?
How will this community continue to grow and accomplish all that they have been called to do, while at the same time meeting the various needs of the people who have already “joined”? This is a dilemma that every healthy church faces.
Luke means to show how God is answering the prayer of the apostles to “continue to speak the word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus” (4:29-30). He is also showing how God is bringing about the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise (1:8; cf. 5:16).
The purpose of this summary passage is to provide a picture of a healthy church. God is developing a healthy church by fulfilling his purposes in and through them.
First, we will consider Their Emphasis Upon Fellowship and Outreach (12-13). Second, we’ll see Their Emphasis Upon Spiritual and Physical Healing (14-16).
Their Emphasis Upon Fellowship and Outreach (12-13)
The Lord is working “through the hands” of the apostles to bring men and women to himself (v.14) and to heal both the sick and the demon oppressed (v.16). “Through the hands of the apostles” appears at the front of v.12 indicating the emphasis here is upon the means by which God performs his miraculous work. There is something important for us to grasp here. We need to understand that God works through his people to accomplish his purposes.
Signs warn and prepare people for what is ahead. Biblical signs always serve God’s purposes to instruct his people about himself. The judgment against Ananias and Sapphira showed us God’s holiness. Here—through the hands of the apostles—God is healing various infirmities. In the process, he is showing us that he can heal the soul in the same way that he heals the body. God is revealing himself to be a God of grace and restoration. Yes, he is holy, but he is also merciful, loving, and compassionate.
Next, we see that they regularly went to Solomon’s Portico (v.12b). It would seem that consistently meeting in the same place added credibility over time. Also, it would have been easier for people to bring others, which is exactly what we see them doing (vv.15-16).
Verse 13 raises a difficult question: Who were “the rest”? Why wouldn’t they dare to join them? Several proposals have been set forth:
- Opposition unwilling to interfere.
- One proposal suggests “the rest” should be translated “the Levites” didn’t dare to prevent them from meeting.
- Similarly, supposing a misreading of the Aramaic, a proposal of “the elders” is made. The elders wouldn’t join them, but the common people held them in high esteem.
- Another suggests changing “rest” to “leaders”.
- All of these options require amending the text in some way.
- Outsiders who fail to believe, but nevertheless hold the church in high esteem. The problem I see with this option is that Luke seems to be making a distinction between “the rest” who wouldn’t join them and “the people” who held them in high esteem.
- Fearful believers, scared off by the threat of persecution, or the threat of judgment like that of Ananias and Sapphira. This proposal has the problem of dealing with hypocrisy among the believers. I still think this is the best option, especially if we think of them as professing believers. In that case, hypocrisy is expected.
In verse 12 we see the emphasis of this community upon outreach “done among the people” and fellowship in Solomon’s Portico. We see the hesitancy of “the rest” to join them which implies a pressure to commit and contribute to the work that was being done.
I’m sure you’ve heard of the Pareto principle, also known as the 80/20 rule. It states that 80% of the output in a given system or situation is determined by 20% of the input. It is a rule that seems to be exemplified everywhere. In the church, it is generally true that 20% of the people do 80% of the work. 20% of the people contribute 80% of the budget. 20% of the people do 80% of the evangelism.
One day a lady criticized D. L. Moody for his methods of evangelism in attempting to win people to the Lord. Moody’s reply was “I agree with you. I don’t like the way I do it either. Tell me, how do you do it?” The lady replied, “I don’t do it.” Moody retorted, “Then I like my way of doing it better than your way of not doing it.”
We all have different levels of comfort with various approaches to evangelism and outreach. The key is that you have an approach.
We cannot only focus on fellowship within lest we become self-centered. Nor can we only focus on outreach lest our worship become superficial. Fellowship should not eliminate outreach, but undergird it. Fear of God should not keep us from fellowship (v.13). It isn’t so much about finding a balance, but knowing the foundation that supports the structure. The foundation of our outreach is an enticing fellowship. What we have continually seen throughout Acts is that outsiders were able to “crash” their fellowship. Outsiders were welcomed to the gatherings and often addressed in the apostles’ teaching.
When you find a community that genuinely loves and enjoys being together (and isn’t closed off to outsiders), you can’t help but invite others into that fellowship. In other words, outreach doesn’t become a separate component of ministry, but an organic part of our regular worship and fellowship. Programs cannot create community. It starts with people—led by the Holy Spirit—into the enjoyment of one another.
Just as their emphasis was upon both fellowship and outreach we see…
Their Emphasis Upon Spiritual and Physical Healing (14-16)
Does verse 14 contradict verse 13? There is an interesting juxtaposition of fear and faith. Many professing believers (potential hypocrites like Ananias and Sapphira) were unwilling to commit. They were not ready to pay the cost of discipleship. Yet, others were joyfully associating themselves with the church.
It was the same with Jesus. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). At the same time, there is a hardening that is taking place in others. God has passed over those who reject the truth of the gospel and the work of the Spirit. Paul warns us to expect the same response. Christians are the aroma of Christ among people who are being saved as well as among people who are perishing. For some we are an aroma of death, but to others we are an aroma of life (2 Cor. 2:15-16).
These verses speak of the signs and wonders (v.12) that authenticated the message. The healing ministry of the apostles draws attention to their message. When spiritual health is properly grounded, physical health can be appropriately addressed. Alleviation of physical suffering is subservient to the alleviation of spiritual and eternal suffering. However, even though the alleviation of physical suffering is secondary, it is also necessary. When you genuinely care for a person you want what is best for them. The spiritual needs always trump the physical needs, but they don’t eliminate them.
Shadow—The healing power of Peter’s shadow sounds fanciful. We want something more scientifically grounded. How in the natural world can a shadow heal? Were the people mistakenly falling into the mindset of their pagan neighbors? Were they purely viewing Peter as some incredible magician?
First, Luke does not rebuke the people in his narrative. He doesn’t try to explain where they got their primitive notions. The matter-of-fact presentation of the events seem to imply that this is exactly what was happening. They were being healed. Frankly, it is what we should expect from this age in history. We should anticipate similar activity to occur when Christ returns. Every major epoch of Redemptive History reveals a similar pattern.
Second, this was similar to the woman who was healed by simply touching the hem of Jesus’ garment (Mk. 6:59). And we could point to the example of Paul’s handkerchiefs and aprons having healing power (Acts 19:12).
Third, the image of “shadow” and “overshadow” has biblical meaning that may shed further light on what is happening. The image is not meant to portray a darkness, but protection—typically the protection of God (Ps 17:8; 57:1; 91:1). Isa 34:15 provides the illustration of owls and hawks shading their young in their nests, providing care.
The idea of God’s divine presence has been seen in two places in Luke’s gospel: 1. When the angel tells Mary “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (Luke 1:35). Then at Jesus’ transfiguration we read “a cloud came and overshadowed them” and out of the cloud came the voice of God the Father (9:34-35).
How does this text correct false worldview?
- Religious people want to equate their health with a superior lifestyle. That is the message of the health and wealth gospel. God grants them health and wealth because of what they do. This is nothing other than salvation by works.
- Science and medicine are constantly improving, but human sickness is constantly adapting to the solutions. All the hopes of creating a healthy utopia have been all but shattered. As quickly as one solution is found, the problems have multiplied.
- Yes, people are living longer because of advancements in technology and medicine.
- But, the quality of life has not improved. Now the ethical dilemma we face is considering when it’s ok to shut the technology off. Or when its ok to administer poison rather than medicine.
Natural solutions don’t work. We cannot save ourselves!
Christianity says our physical sickness points to a spiritual sickness and requires a supernatural solution. The desire for life and health is good—it means we were created for something better, another world. As C.S. Lewis put it, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”1
We all experience fear and doubt, sickness, and affliction from the evil one. We are born this way and our own poor choices only serve to make the problem worse.
Physical sickness is a symptom of the fall. The deeper concern is always related to our spiritual condition. But, where spiritual matters are foundational, physical concerns are also addressed. First, it addresses the obvious need opening the door to address the hidden need. Second, it gives us a foretaste of complete healing and restoration that awaits us in the New Heavens and New Earth.
Those who never seek to be healed by the Lord will die in their sickness. Not only will they physically die, but they will be separated from God eternally. On the other hand, God is able to save all who come to him by faith.
We should seek to maintain a good reputation among those outside the church (1 Tim. 3:7; Tit. 2:5, 10). However, we won’t be surprised that what attracts some, will frighten others.2
My tendency is to think that we already do fellowship and theology well, but if outreach is difficult to see—it possibly indicates a weakness. Our pursuit of this is dependent upon God working though us. This should not slow down the pursuit but place the results squarely into the hands of the One who possesses all the power.
We pursue fellowship and outreach because we trust in God to provide what he has called us to enjoy. We pursue spiritual and physical healing because we trust in God to bring us from one degree of glory to the next until he returns. The holistic healing so many experienced in this passage is a taste of heaven.
If we truly believed that, how would it change the way we worship on Sunday mornings? Would it cause you to interact with one another differently? Would you dig below the surface in your concern for spiritual and physical suffering? How would it impact your prayer life? Would you begin praying for others as much as—if not more than—you pray for yourself?
The key in all of this is that God himself is present with this community. What is taking place in 12-16 is the result of what God did in 1-11. Great cleansing led to great power. Rather than fearfully avoiding the community, we should be asking the Lord to show us our own sin and then to cleanse and purify us in order to make us fit for worship.
1 C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, ?.
2 Dennis Johnson, Acts, 54.