For those of you who are new to this blog, I am writing a post a day for 90 days, as I read through the New Testament in 90 days. This is day 33 out of 90. Today’s reading is Acts 4 through Acts 6. The narrative in Acts is beginning to get tense.
And something powerful is starting to happen in this kingdom. Because at this point, in the book of Acts, we see something emerge about leadership and gifts and the spirit’s calling. Mighty things happen when we move people to God’s spirit, instead of moving them to God’s work.
Peter, the denier, has now become the defender. And he has indeed become powerful. So powerful, in fact, that he heals a paralyzed man at the end of chapter three, only to be arrested and tried before the Jewish ruling council.
Imagine that for a moment. A man is healed beyond all human wisdom. His legs, unused and worn for his entire life, is now running. And those responsible are arrested and tried for such.
Peter and John both were there, arrested and on trial, and, in a sweeping statement, defend the resurrection of Jesus when they were on trial for something else entirely.
“It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth — whom you crucified but God raised from the dead — that this man stands before you, healed.” (4:10)
Peter really says that. And by saying that, he puts the Sanhedrin on trial, and his defense is staunch. I start to sweat every time I read that. (Would I be so bold?)
Peter, though, isn’t finished. This very man who denied knowing Jesus at all, now will defend him to his death.
“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” (4:12)
Peter isn’t content with talking about the man who was healed. He is burdened with salvation, and he must — he must — share it.
Yet he and John were common fishermen. Blue collar workers. Ragged clothing. Dirty feet from all of their walking. Their skin was bronze from their exposure to the sun. But their eyes were on fire.
These two guys had no theological or rabbinical schooling. No Th.D., no M.Div., and no framed degrees on their office walls.
And of all the things, this was what amazed the Sanhedrin. Not the formerly paralyzed man who now can’t stop running.
How could ordinary guys speak with so much grit, so much passion, and so much authority?
Because their lives were filled by the spirit of God.
Their lives were so changed that people feared them (5:13). They were almost unapproachable, yet those with dire needs couldn’t stay away from them. Luke wants us to see how the spirit has so changed their demeanor. They were confident. Brave. And fear-inspiring. They were now pillars of truth in a world that tried to hide truth in a grave.
Because the spirit of God breeds fear. By its nature, as seen in Acts 2, it does not act in normal ways. And we happen to like normal, unassuming leaders, being very fearful of people with too much passion. Too much zeal.
Yet, these guys were anything but unassuming. Even Peter’s shadow had healing power. Though I try to not get too technical with the original language in these posts, I love what Acts 5:15 really says about Peter’s shadow. Literally, it “overshadowed” their disease. I love that. Love it. This is great story telling, and great writing. Luke’s words are helping to shape the story.
Later, though, they were burdened with complaints. Specifically, complaints about the needs of various widows. Even the utopian society Luke mentions at the end of Acts 2 was rife with complaints. They needed help in administrating various resources, so they select seven men. Everyone loved the idea. Because everyone loves forming committees and boards. Still do.
Of those seven are two men named Stephen and Philip.
And neither are famous for helping complaining widows. Which is interesting.
After these seven men are selected, Luke mentions nothing about them administering the aid to these ladies. Here is what it does say:
6 They [presumably a smaller group of apostles] presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.
7 So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.
8 Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people. (Acts 6)
These seven men were presented and anointed with prayer. Then the word of God spread, with more who became believers, including the Jewish priests. And then Stephen started performing miracles. But there is nothing in these verses to verify that these men did the job they were chosen to do.
The apostles anointed these men for one service. Yet two of these men, seemingly, did something else. Namely, witnessed on behalf of Jesus, just like the apostles.
There is something to learn here.
Church programs do not work. At least that’s the message between the lines. If the apostles couldn’t recruit people to do their assigned job, or, at least, stick to their assigned job, do we really think we can do the same with those in our own church fellowships? More over, the baptism of the spirit of God produced the radical transformation we see in both Stephen and Philip, not their service in this ministry for which they were recruited.
Bill Hybels, the pastor of Willowcreek, a church with 24,000 members, said as much in 2007, when he issued a public apology for believing their own church programs would effectively make disciples. They valued participation over discipleship, and realized that while thousands of people were participating, those same thousands were not deepening their faith.
Control is just an illusion. And the spirit of God, in people’s lives, is not under our control. We may anoint someone for a designated act, but God’s spirit has the final say in how that person’s gifts are realized in the kingdom.
And I love this! God is so unpredictable to us! But his ways are higher, mightier! Let’s move people to God’s spirit, and not God’s work, and mighty things will happen!