For an introduction to this series, click here.
May 29, 2007
This chapter carries forward the story of the early church. The Jewish leaders were afraid of what was happening. They thought they were rid of Jesus and the threat He posed to their religion and way of life. And then here come His disciples, proclaiming the Resurrection and claiming that Jesus had established a new faith. They weren't afraid of stooping to murder to get rid of Jesus; they were beginning to think they would need to do something similar to His disciples.
The miracle Peter and John performed had all of Jerusalem in an uproar. They were all talking about what they did and how they claimed to do it in the name of Jesus. The men of the council had Peter and John arrested and brought them in, demanding to know what they were doing. Peter preached them a short sermon, ending with this: "This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." (4:11-12)
I'm sure the members of the council were furious with Peter and John, but they kept their cool for the time being. "Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus." (4:13) The leaders could not think of anything to say publicly against the disciples. They had an irrefutable miracle standing in front of them, and even those who did not believe in Jesus were excited about the things that were happening. They did command them to stop teaching in the name of Jesus, but Peter and John pretty much said they were going to ignore the command and preach anyway.
The disciples came back from their grilling and continued to praise God for what He was doing in their midst. And they prayed for boldness to continue the work.
The chapter ends with an introduction of Barnabas. Luke reiterates the conditions in which the church lived, how they had all things common. I don't know how this worked. Obviously God was blessing them, but we are not told how long they kept this up, whether it was a few months or a year or several years. Eventually, famine and persecution ravaged the church in Jerusalem to the point that we find many of Paul's epistles where he mentions a huge ongoing project to raise money for the saints there. I have heard some people say that the failure of this communal experiment is proof of the folly of such living. Don't be so sure about that. We do know there was a serious famine in Judea that affected everyone. And Jerusalem was not exactly the best place to proclaim Jesus and keep a good job or gain influence in society. The Christians were severely persecuted there, which meant they were already in a financial hole when the famine struck.
Anyway, Luke records that "Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostle's feet. (4:36-37, ESV) Barnabas would become a significant figure over the next few years, and this is how we first get to know him. Here is Barnabas giving to the church, which probably desperately needed the money. No wonder he was called a son of encouragement. Barnabas' name was changed that day. His given name, Joseph, is never recorded again in Scripture after this gift to the church.