Chapter Five (continued)

That evening at the nursing home Earl continued to read from the Book of Acts. “We’ve covered how the Holy Spirit came like a mighty wind upon those who were waiting on God as Jesus had instructed them,” he told the assembled people. Their lives were changed forever and they would be known by those who came later as the first Christians. Peter was instantly changed into a powerful preacher and also a healer. We know from Acts Chapter 2 that he saved three thousand souls with the Word of God; we also know from Acts Chapter 3 that he healed a man who was lame from birth. We’ll go tonight to Acts Chapter 4, where we find Peter preaching to another large crowd.

“’And as they spoke unto the people, the priests, and the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees, came upon them, being grieved that they taught the people, and preached through Jesus the resurrection of the dead.’

“In other words,” Earl said, “the officials of the Jewish faith came down upon Peter and others as they preached. They preached the hope of the resurrection of the dead in Christ, using Jesus as an example. But the religious officials didn’t like that one bit, especially the Sadducees, who didn’t believe in the resurrection. I’ll continue in the Scripture:

“’And they laid hands on them, and put them in hold unto the next day; for it was now eventide. But many of them who heard the word believed; and the number of the men was about five thousand.’

“Translating that into modern language, the religious officials arrested them and tossed them into the slammer. Despite all that, a huge crowd, including five thousand men, were saved by the Word of God.

“Here we come to a most interesting fact that I’ll draw out with a question: how effective were these religious officials in stopping the spread of the Gospel?” Seeing no answers, Earl continued. “The answer is that these people who went about trying to stop the preaching actually helped to spread the Gospel throughout the world. The persecutions became so bad that many Christians fled from the slaughter, and they spoke the Gospel to others wherever they went, spreading the Word abroad. Those who refused to flee, on the other hand, became mighty in their faith.

“So here’s a pattern, first revealed by that first Church: the Christian Church always does well in the midst of persecution. On the other hand, when life is comfortable for Christians, the Church doesn’t do so well. That’s the way it’s been throughout the history of the Church, going on two thousand years now. The movement of God and the persecution of God’s people go hand-in-hand, but it’s something that God uses to His advantage. He wins two ways: first, in tribulations false Christians are quickly weeded out; second, those times toughen the true Christians and work to take their selfishness away, endowing them with nobility. That is what it means to go through a refining process. In refining silver, for example, when the metal is heated the impurities separate out. The same thing happens to us: when the heat comes, what’s left of us is purified. But we aren’t left alone in the process. We have the very great help of the indwelling Holy Spirit to get us through the rough spots.” A strong memory of how the Holy Spirit gave him the peace to jump off the cliff with Buddy came flooding in. On the heels of that image came a second, sharper one, that of the Holy Spirit getting him out of a tight spot with Buddy in the air. The image shifted to the incident where Buddy’s jaw scooped up a cow pie on their landing. He chuckled and winked at Cathy.

“At the point in the history of the Church that we are reading about,” Earl continued, “the hand of God is strong on His people, and persecution is rampant. We read about that very thing next as we continue in Chapter 4.

“’And it came to pass, one the morrow, that their rulers, and elders, and scribes, and Annas, the high priest, and Caiphas, and John, and Alexander, and as many as were of the kindred of the high priest, were gathered together at Jerusalem. And when they had set [Peter and the others] in the midst, they asked, By what power, or by what name, have ye done this? Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said unto them, Ye rulers of the people, and elders of Israel, if we this day be examined of the good deed done to the crippled man, by what means he is made well; be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand before you [as a well man]. This is the stone which was [rejected] of you builders, which is become the head of the corner. Neither is there salvation in any other; for there is no other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.’

“After being harassed for a while, they were freed, as the religious leaders, jealous as they were for having people of such strength outside their tight circle of control, really had nothing they could say against Peter and the rest for the healing of the lame man. If they had continued to hold them at that point, they would have faced an angry crowd. Continuing in the Scripture narrative,

“’So when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding nothing how they might punish them, because of the people; for all men glorified God for that which was done. For the man was above forty years old, on whom this miracle of healing was shown.

“‘And being let go, they went to their own company, and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said unto them. And when [the other Christians] heard that, they lifted up their voice to God with one accord, and said, Lord, thou art God, who hast made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all that in them is; who, by the mouth of thy servant, David, hast said, Why did the heathens rage, and the peoples imagine vain things? The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord, and against his Christ. For of a truth against thy holy child, Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the heathen, and the people of Israel were gathered together, to do whatever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done. And now, Lord, behold their threatenings; and grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word, by stretching forth thine hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done by the name of thy holy child, Jesus. And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.’

“I’ll end my talk tonight with this thought: in their prayers, these early Christians spoke about something that David had said a thousand years before. David had asked why the heathens rage, and the peoples imagine vain things. The Christians were speaking about David’s Second Psalm, which applies just as much to our own generation as it did to them. Psalm 2 says:

“’Why do the heathen rage, and the peoples imagine a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord, and against his anointed, saying, Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us. He who sitteth in the heavens shall laugh; the Lord shall have them in derision. Then shall he speak unto them in his wrath, and vex them in his great displeasure. Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion. I will declare the decree: The Lord hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee. Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession. Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel. Be wise now, therefore, O ye kings; be instructed, ye judges of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they who put their trust in him.’

“Hmmm. A thousand years before Jesus came in the flesh, David was speaking of Him. That was just one of many Psalms that David wrote about Jesus. But this Psalm is particularly important for the times that we are in now, where the Church is coming into persecution again around the world. We’ll bid you goodnight with that thought. Next week we’ll continue in the book of Acts, and we’re going to read about some amazing things. See you then. He gave Cathy a hug before going over to Joyce. “Thanks, Cathy, for gracing our day. I hope there’ll be many more like it.” She responded with a squeal.


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