But as the believers rapidly multiplied, there were rumblings of discontent. The Greek-speaking believers complained about the Hebrew-speaking believers, saying that their widows were being discriminated against in the daily distribution of food. So the Twelve called a meeting of all the believers. They said, “We apostles should spend our time teaching the word of God, not running a food program. And so, brothers, select seven men who are well respected and are full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will give them this responsibility. Then we apostles can spend our time in prayer and teaching the word.” Everyone liked this idea, and they chose the following: Stephen (a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit), Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas of Antioch (an earlier convert to the Jewish faith). These seven were presented to the apostles, who prayed for them as they laid their hands on them. So God’s message continued to spread. The number of believers greatly increased in Jerusalem, and many of the Jewish priests were converted, too. (Acts of the Apostles 6:1-7 NLT)
Here is the first apparent dispute among the believers of the early church. The Greek speaking Jews were feeling less attended to in the daily distribution of food or monies, perhaps both. In Acts 2:42-47 and Acts 4:32-37, the believers had all things common(had one heart of concern about each other) and even sold their homes, lands, and possessions to help meet the needs of their fellow believers. The amount of their profit was placed in the care of the apostles (see Acts 4:34-35). Apparently, this is how the distribution was made possible. The apostles must have given the responsibility of the daily distribution to some of the congregants. It is suspected that this group of servers was predominantly Hebrew speaking Jews. This may have been the reason the Greek speaking Jews felt overlooked. The scriptures do not tell us that this was intentional. It is very possible that this occurred simply because the Greek speaking Jews were less in number. Perceptions can often cause misunderstandings. In order to remedy the situation, the apostles told the believers to select from among themselves men to oversee this issue. The apostles made it clear that their priority was to the Word of God (study and teaching) and prayer. This was wisdom. The church at this point was already multiple thousands in number. There is no way the apostles could handle that responsibility and take care of their call to pray, preach, and teach.
Here is the first selection of Deacons (servants). There were three expectations, or qualifications, for these men:
1- Of good report (reputation)
2 - Full of the Holy Spirit
3 - Demonstrated wisdom (discretion in matters)
The people were to choose seven men. It seems that they chose seven from among the Greek speaking Jews. Their names indicate a Greek derivative (see vs. 5). This could have been a good gesture on behalf of the Hebrew speaking Jews in order to lay to rest any concern of discrimination. They desired oneness. This is a great indicator of the heart of the early church.
The apostles gave their approval and blessing by laying hands on them to impart the blessing of God on these men. The result of this restored oneness was the prosperity of the Word of God and an increase in converts. Many Jewish priests were brought to faith in Jesus (maybe some of the Sanhedrin council)!
May God help us correctly oversee and manage the needs of His Church in this modern time. If we look to Him for instruction, we can, and will.
But one member, a Pharisee named Gamaliel, who was an expert in religious law and respected by all the people, stood up and ordered that the men be sent outside the council chamber for a while. Then he said to his colleagues, “Men of Israel, take care what you are planning to do to these men! Some time ago there was that fellow Theudas, who pretended to be someone great. About 400 others joined him, but he was killed, and all his followers went their various ways. The whole movement came to nothing. After him, at the time of the census, there was Judas of Galilee. He got people to follow him, but he was killed, too, and all his followers were scattered. “So my advice is, leave these men alone. Let them go. If they are planning and doing these things merely on their own, it will soon be overthrown. But if it is from God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You may even find yourselves fighting against God!” The others accepted his advice. They called in the apostles and had them flogged. Then they ordered them never again to speak in the name of Jesus, and they let them go. The apostles left the high council rejoicing that God had counted them worthy to suffer disgrace for the name of Jesus. And every day, in the Temple and from house to house, they continued to teach and preach this message: “Jesus is the Messiah.” (Acts of the Apostles 5:34-42 NLT)
Gamaliel was obviously a respected member of the Sanhedrin. He was a Pharisee. The Pharisees were the largest religious sect of the time. They believed in resurrection (life after death), they just hadn't accepted that Jesus was the Messiah. His advice was wise. I do not know if he was, perhaps, moved by the Holy Spirit in the apostles comments. Regardless, his statement appears to have saved the apostles from facing worse punishment, even death. God used Gamaliel to help His anointed men. God always provides for His own. Simply, God always wins. Let us consider the fact that the message of Jesus has prevailed in history and it is still going strong today. As Gamaliel said, if this movement were of man, it would have extinguished. News flash to the devil: JESUS IS LORD! No matter what council may sit to determine the course of the church, God always has the last word. The apostles did endure suffering for standing for Jesus. They were flogged (beaten severely with a whip or rod). God never said the road would be easy, but He promised to always be with us (Matthew 28:20). If we suffer for serving Jesus, so be it. Just as the apostles said, it is an honor to suffer for the King. After all, didn't He suffer for us? Regardless of the continued persecution, the apostles were relentless with the message of Jesus Christ. In a time when being a devout disciple of Jesus is scorned and mocked, let us never relent to preach and teach the truth. We are among the ranks of the saints. Stand strong church! Stand strong!!
The captain went with his Temple guards and arrested the apostles, but without violence, for they were afraid the people would stone them. Then they brought the apostles before the high council, where the high priest confronted them. “We gave you strict orders never again to teach in this man’s name!” he said. “Instead, you have filled all Jerusalem with your teaching about him, and you want to make us responsible for his death!” But Peter and the apostles replied, “We must obey God rather than any human authority. The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead after you killed him by hanging him on a cross. Then God put him in the place of honor at his right hand as Prince and Savior. He did this so the people of Israel would repent of their sins and be forgiven. We are witnesses of these things and so is the Holy Spirit, who is given by God to those who obey him.” When they heard this, the high council was furious and decided to kill them. (Acts of the Apostles 5:26-33 NLT)
The Sanhedrin(probably all 71 members) were present at the council meeting when the captain went with the Temple guards to arrest the apostles while they were preaching and teaching in the Temple.
The arrest was civil, so as not to cause a tumult. When the apostles were brought before the council they were rehearsed about the previous warning (Acts 4:17-20) and jail time (Acts 5:17-20). The high priest stated that they had "filled all Jerusalem" with the teaching of Jesus and had declared the participation of the high council in Jesus death. Resolved and undeterred, the apostles stood their ground. They preached the truth to the high council and did not deny that the council was responsible for the arrest, trial, and crucifixion of Jesus. They also made it clear that this was in accordance with God's redemption plan for Israel. This infuriated the council. Even though the council rejected the message of Jesus, the apostles made it clear that they (the apostles) were responsible to God, not some religious hierarchy. Human authority is to be respected. We are taught that in Romans 13:1-7, I Timothy 2:1-3, and I Peter 2:13-17. However, when the authorities call us to disregard the commands of God, we, then, should disobey human authority in order to obey Divine Authority. In Daniel chapter three we read of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These three Hebrews would not bow to the 90 foot tall image that King Nebuchadnezzar had erected. In Daniel chapter 6 we read of Daniel praying even though King Darius had issued a decree that, for thirty days, no one was to pray to anyone except him. These two accounts give us clear, biblical direction to disobey, with civility, authority when it disobeys God.
The apostles were standing firm in their devotion to Jesus. The Holy Spirit had emboldened them. May God give us, by His Holy Spirit, that same boldness. In our time, we need men who will stand, like the apostles, and say to our established religious and civil authorities that we must always honor God's Word above the councils determinations and decisions. God's Word stands forever (Luke 21:33). May we never cower back in the face of opposition and may we never be ashamed of the gospel. Until death!!!
While Peter and John were speaking to the people, they were confronted by the priests, the captain of the Temple guard, and some of the Sadducees. These leaders were very disturbed that Peter and John were teaching the people that through Jesus there is a resurrection of the dead. They arrested them and, since it was already evening, put them in jail until morning. But many of the people who heard their message believed it, so the number of believers now totaled about 5,000 men, not counting women and children. The next day the council of all the rulers and elders and teachers of religious law met in Jerusalem. Annas the high priest was there, along with Caiaphas, John, Alexander, and other relatives of the high priest. They brought in the two disciples and demanded, “By what power, or in whose name, have you done this?” Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers and elders of our people, are we being questioned today because we’ve done a good deed for a crippled man? Do you want to know how he was healed? Let me clearly state to all of you and to all the people of Israel that he was healed by the powerful name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, the man you crucified but whom God raised from the dead. (Acts of the Apostles 4:1-10 NLT)
Obviously, the religious leaders were disturbed that Jews and Gentiles were being converted under the preaching of the gospel (death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus). The word "gospel" literally means "good news". Since the gospel was declaring that Jesus had risen from the dead and that He was the way of salvation, it disturbed them (the religious leaders) greatly. We notice that a sect called the Sadducees were among the leaders. This sect didn't believe in resurrection (see Matthew 22:23; Mark 12:18; Acts 23:8). Furthermore, a man was healed miraculously in Jesus name. This was upsetting the apple cart of the religious establishment. Also, the preaching was happening at the Temple. The Temple was the most sacred Jewish place. The religious leaders were angry because they thought the preaching and healing were desecrating the Temple and misleading people. They had it backwards. They were desecrating the Temple with their self-righteousness, the rejection of Jesus as Messiah, and their misinterpretation and misapplication of the Law of Moses. Even their own traditions had been added to their practices.
Sounds a lot like the church today... We have become so established in our own traditions that we reject the power of God (2 Timothy 3:1-5). We add our own traditions, often misinterpret the Word, and thus, misapply its truth. Now, we don't think we are. That is why so many are deceived. We suppose ourselves to be proper, religious people but we are, often, no more than form and fashion. When the power of God is manifest, we reject it and try to suppress it. We go through our motions but our lives are unchanged (see Isaiah 29:13 and 14). We no longer accept that God does "certain" things anymore. I submit to you that He is the same today as He always has been (Hebrews 13:8). Could it be that, we, like the religious people of that time, and the churches of Asia Minor in Revelation chapters 2 and 3, need to be reintroduced to the power of Jesus name? There is all power in His Name!!! (Matthew 28:18).
Lastly, if we will allow the power of Jesus to transform us, as it did the early church, we, too, would see true revival. The church, here in this passage, had grown to approximately fifteen to twenty thousand when you factor in the women and children (see Acts 4:4). Church growth comes in the powerful preaching of Jesus name, not programs, projects, and plans of man. God, please awaken your church!!!!!!!
All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer. A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity — all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved. (Acts of the Apostles 2:42-47 NLT)
What we read here is astounding! The church had been inaugurated and empowered by the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The people gathered from various countries had heard the gospel in their own language, 3,000 souls were saved and baptized, and the whole church intentionally gathered together daily. They met in the Temple and one another's homes. They did so to receive doctrinal instruction, fellowship (social interaction), to observe the Lord's Supper, and continual prayer. This occurred simply out of a response to the manifest presence of God The Holy Spirit. No one was pleaded with or begged to participate. It was a corresponding reaction to the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
The church needs this in a most desperate way. We struggle to get people to go to church with cars, ac/heated buildings, padded pews, and other luxuries. These people simply loved Jesus. As a result of that love relationship with Jesus, the people experienced a oneness that I've only seen on a small scale.
Oh that the church would once again fall in love with Jesus and, correspondingly, each other. The passage says that a deep sense of awe was upon them and that the apostles performed miraculous signs and wonders. They shared everything they had with one another. This wasn't communism (forced sharing), but commonism (willful sharing). Voluntarily, the believers gave of themselves and their possessions to meet the needs of other believers. They even sold houses and land to do this. Wow!!
What love they had for Jesus and one another. Simply amazing. The church grew daily with new converts. No special committee meetings to discuss how the church could better evangelize. All they needed was the anointing of the Holy Spirit. When the church lifts up Jesus as we should, we will see revival as only God can give. Let's imagine a church like that here and now. Do it again Lord! Do it again! I give my heart to you. Take it all! Completely!
After saying this, he was taken up into a cloud while they were watching, and they could no longer see him. As they strained to see him rising into heaven, two white-robed men suddenly stood among them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!” Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, a distance of half a mile. When they arrived, they went to the upstairs room of the house where they were staying. Here are the names of those who were present: Peter, John, James, Andrew, Philip, Thomas, Bartholomew, Matthew, James (son of Alphaeus), Simon (the Zealot), and Judas (son of James). They all met together and were constantly united in prayer, along with Mary the mother of Jesus, several other women, and the brothers of Jesus.
(Acts of the Apostles 1:9-14 NLT)
Here we see Jesus ascending into heaven from earth at the end of His earthly ministry. Two male angels in white garments proclaimed that Jesus would return in the same manner they saw Him ascend. Following His departure, the disciples immediately returned to the upper room in Jerusalem to obey Jesus command (Luke 24:49) to abide there until they received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The names of the remaining eleven disciples are listed to account for their attendance. Judas Iscariot had hung himself following his betrayal of Jesus (see Matthew 27:5 and Acts 1:17 and 18). His name is not mentioned here. However, another important person is Mary, Jesus’ mother. Although the names aren't given, it also indicates the presence of Jesus brothers. Yes, Jesus had brothers (see Matthew 13:55 and Mark 3:31). Joseph and Mary had children following Jesus birth. Joseph and Mary didn't even have sexual relations until after Jesus birth (see Matthew 1:25). The importance of the fact that they were in attendance on the day of Pentecost cannot be overstated. This tells us that they were His disciples, were obedient to His command, and significantly changes the way we understand Mary. Often, Mary is immortalized and enshrined as the mother of God. Yes, she gave birth to Jesus (God in human flesh), but she, herself, was not deity. Mary gave birth to Jesus physically. Jesus gave birth to her spiritually, as he does all who trust in Him. She had to be baptized with the Holy Spirit just like everyone else. Just as Jesus was conceived in Mary by the Holy Spirit, so He is conceived in us. Jesus lives in, and through us, by the power of the Holy Spirit (see John 14:17-19; 15:26; 16:12-16).
Rev. Curtis Norris