For an introduction to this series, click here.
May 30, 2007
This chapter starts out with the story of Ananias and Sapphira. This is a very strange story, and I think the significance of it has to do with establishing the church. God wanted a pure church, and He decided to make an example out of two people who seemingly made such a little deception. But there is no category of sin with God. I think the most important verse in this section is verse 11: "And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things." Why else would God do this, if not to make them an example? There's people who do lots worse in churches today, and nothing happens to them. But one day, God will hold them accountable for their deceit and pride.
The next section seems almost unbelievable: "And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, so that they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them. The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed." (Acts 5:14-16) This was the high point of miracles in the church. Peter apparently was doing more spectacular miracles than Jesus did. But the problem you run into is when people assume that this is the natural order of the church for all time, when clearly this is not the norm. There are a few that claim to perform miracles in this day and age, but many of those have been proven to be frauds or they are healed of depression or some sort of thing that people can't see. God never promised to maintain the special gifts He gave to the church for all time. These miracles were given primarily as a sign to the Jews that the church was a legitimate work of God.
An even bigger miracle happened next, when the Jewish leaders arrested the apostles and then an angel freed them. They were furious when they found the apostles not in jail but back in the Temple teaching. They brought them before the Council and after hearing another sermon from Peter about how they crucified the Lord, they were ready to kill them.
But then a voice of reason speaks up: "But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in honor by all the people, stood up and gave orders to put the men outside for a little while. And he said to them, 'Men of Israel, take care what you are about to do with these men. For before these days Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. After him Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him. He too perished, and all who followed him were scattered. So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!'" (5:34-39, ESV)
It is interesting to note that Gamaliel had a certain pupil by the name of Saul. He will become more significant in the coming chapters.
Humanly speaking, Gamaliel could be credited with saving the church. Of course God would never allow the church to be destroyed, but this was as close as the devil ever got to wiping out the church. John's Gospel tells us that God allowed the high priest to prophesy while he was speaking in the council. Probably this is another example of how God used an unwilling and likely unwitting vessel to carry forth His plan.