Acts 3vs1-26; 4vs1-4. Church Growing Pains.
Christians in a small church often say: "If only we had the resources of a large congregation, more suitable premises, a greater workforce and a stronger financial base, we would be able to be much more effective in our witness." Strangely, I've sometimes heard Christians in larger fellowships seeking almost the reverse! More people in a church means more demands on the ministry in terms of money and manpower, and it gives greater scope for the devil to get a foothold and create time consuming problems. I cannot think of a single incident in Acts when the newly-born church prayed that God would provide the resources before they embarked on witness. It was as they did the things God was telling them to do, that He provided all they needed. Surely this was the practical outworking of the promise Jesus had given, Acts 1vs8, "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." God the Holy Spirit prompted some people to go as missionary evangelists, Acts 16vs9-12. He also nudged others to provide financially for the team, Philippians 4vs15 and 16. The Holy Spirit burdened still more Christians to wrestle in prayer for the expanding ministry, Colossians 4vs12, and to send encouraging messengers back and forth between the team and supporting churches, Philippians 2vs25-30. The Christians, and the churches, that took God at His word, clearly showed that God was in their activities. They could not have done what they did if God was not demonstrating His own power.
Perhaps those of us in small fellowships ought to meditate on Paul's words: "That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong", 2 Corinthians 12vs10. Our inability is God's opportunity. Our acknowledged impotence is a prerequisite to an exhibition of God's never-failing supply. As we take steps of faith we prepare the ignition switch for God's power.
In Acts 3 Peter and John had an unplanned encounter that visibly shook the people of Jerusalem. From this story it can be seen immediately that the basis for any similar work of God is prayer. If Peter and John had not been going to pray at the temple then this miracle would never have happened. It was as they went to pray that they encountered the particular man whose need God was about to meet.
God brought Peter and John into contact with this man for a purpose. He does nothing at all by accident. The man was at his place of need. He knew his own charity collecting was quite successful by the temple and so friends carried him there everyday. I am reminded of this story every time I see the lame, blind and otherwise disadvantaged beggars in Khartoum Bari, Sudan. They are brought to sit daily outside the mosques and along the walls of the church compounds. This was probably the lame man's only source of income. Presumably, Peter and John must have seen this man before, but today was going to be different. God had something special in mind and only He knew it. The Christians did not know it and neither did the lame man. God made sure the right people were in the right place at the right time. We need to believe He is constantly at work in and around us preparing our circumstances.
It is sad to see that this lame man did not expect very much from religious people. He begged for money because he knew he would receive some. He did not ask for anything more. I wonder what people around us see in our lives that would make them expect a miracle? Perhaps our community expects very little from the church, because the church expects very little from God. What kind of advertisements are we for the living, triumphant, more than capable, Jesus Christ?
Peter allowed God to speak to him as he looked at the needy man. He stopped what he was going to do. He thought about the condition of the lame man, and the money that was being sought. He knew that money would be at best a temporary solution. The need would reappear when the money was spent. I am sure Peter also recalled many of the miracles he had witnessed while following the Lord Jesus on his travelling ministry. He knew that Jesus healed people. He remembered the events of Luke 5vs17-26 when a paralysed man was lowered through a hole in the roof by friends who wanted him to be able to lie at the feet of Jesus Christ. The Lord had demonstrated his authority over sin and sickness when he had said to the man "I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home." "Jesus still had the same authority now", Peter reasoned. "He could do it, but would He?"
Peter had to step out in faith. He was going into the realm of the unknown. He was entering an area beyond his own control. He was applying the Jesus Christ he knew to a need that he saw. Acts 3vs6 "Then Peter said, 'Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.'" To name the name of Jesus Christ was to claim His presence. Peter admitted he could not meet the need himself, but he knew Someone who could. Publicly, courageously and in incontrovertible faith, Peter and John risked looking foolish or being ridiculed as failures. They demonstrated Christ's power in the complete healing of the man from every trace of weakness, stiffness and being lame. Peter's words led him into action himself. He told the man to walk and then immediately helped him up on to his feet. Both Peter and the once-lame man were walking by faith. The presence of John in a supporting role encouraged Peter in his boldness.
There are three simple facts in this historical event. Firstly, a lame man was lifted on to his feet. His need was totally met. He could not only walk, but jump as well. Secondly, a man with faith in Jesus Christ showed the truth of the words he spoke. A living visual aid could not be disputed. Thirdly, the people who were watching were made to think about God. They knew the beggar by the Beautiful Gate and they had never seen him do what he was doing now. The crowd gathered hardly able to believe the transformation their eyes could see.
How did Peter resource this miracle? He said "What I have I give you", vs6. This is the secret of demonstrating Christ's power. Jesus Christ commenced His work when He was living with His disciples and He now continues His work by living through those same people. Today Jesus Christ lives through individuals and fellowships who:-
1. actively pray, vs1.
2. listen to the expressed needs of people around them, vs3.
3. attract attention by becoming involved with them, vs4, 5.
4. invite Jesus Christ to live in their situation, vs6.
5. encourage the needy to act on the basis of faith, vs 7, 8.
6. clearly state that all appreciation should go to Jesus Christ, vs12 and 16.
We have all the resources we need to do everything God is calling us to do. As we obey His commands He supplies all that we need.
When my wife, Brenda, and I resigned from the pastorate of Redruth Baptist Church, we also left behind a modest, but regular, monthly salary. We believed God was calling us to a wider ministry, largely in the county of Cornwall, but embracing some overseas responsibilities too. We did not know how God would provide for our financial needs or where ministry invitations would come from. We did believe that God would meet every need according to the inexhaustible ability of Jesus Christ. And He has! We have learned the secret of being content in times of want as well as in times of plenty. "To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen." Philippians 4vs20. To us, and to those close to us, this is another way in which Christ has shown His power. In three years of national recession, employment uncertainties and economic difficulties our God has proven worthy of implicit trust. He always will.
In the second half of Acts chapter 3 and on into chapter 4 we can read how Peter used the opportunity of an assembled crowd to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. As Peter used the opportunity, so God used Peter. This is genuine Christian witness. The believers shared what they knew with people who needed to know it. They gave what they had to people who needed to receive it. And several hundred men became Christians through what they saw and heard, Acts 4vs4.
The crowd on the day of Pentecost gathered because of what they heard, Acts 2vs6. They were attracted by things they could "see and hear", 2vs33. As Christianity touched more and more people the apostles worked "miraculous signs", 2vs43. The Greek word 'semeion' is also used elsewhere of a personal authenticating autograph!,
2 Thessalonians 3vs17. This was Jesus Christ pointing to the reality and relevance of Himself through their activities. We need to be very careful at this point. Not all miracles come from God. Not all who claim to work miracles, even in Jesus' name, have His signature on their ministries. See Matthew 7vs15-23. As a general guide we can discern God's workmanship by looking at a person's everyday lifestyle and conformity to Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ never drew attention to His miracles (with the possible exception of John 14vs11, when He used them as a second-best evidence as to who He was).
We have noted the crowd gathered around Peter and John in Acts 3vs9 and 10 when they "saw" a walking lame beggar. The Jewish rulers who were threatened by the early Christians' activities were impressed when they "saw" the courage with which Peter and John stood their ground in a hostile interrogation, 4vs13 and 14. It is not unreasonable to infer that the people around the Jerusalem church heard the bold preaching, 4vs31, and saw that "there were no needy persons among" that Christian community as their love for Christ loosed their hold on material possessions, 4vs34 and 35. News travelled very fast when Ananias and Sapphira were taken out of the church by God for lying to the Holy Spirit. Little wonder that "fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events", 5vs5 and 11. More "miraculous signs and wonders" demonstrated the living presence of Jesus Christ, this time "among the people, 5vs12. The Christians could be seen meeting together regularly, 5vs12 and 42, and people would have heard about the incredible healings being witnessed even if they had not been personally involved,
Neighbours and friends would also have known about the great (Greek: mega) persecution that resulted in many Christians fleeing for their lives or being arrested and jailed because of their beliefs, 8vs1-3. If they were not eye-witnesses they at least knew people who knew of someone mysteriously missing from their street.
In Samaria, as Philip proclaimed Christ, "when the crowds heard Philip and saw the miraculous signs he did, they all paid close attention to what he said", 8vs6. Simon the sorcerer "saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles hands, ..." 8vs18. I wonder what went through people's minds when they tried to understand what had happened to Saul of Tarsus? After weeks of dreadfully harassing Christians, 9vs1, he appears in Damascus a changed man preaching the very gospel he had so vehemently opposed. "All those who heard him were astonished and asked, 'Isn't he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn't he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?'" 9vs21. At Lydda, God used Peter to heal the paralytic Aeneas. "All those who lived in Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord" 9vs35. The even greater miracle of Dorcas being raised from the dead "became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord," 9vs42. The proconsul of Cyprus, Sergius Paulus, saw his attendant Elymas the sorcerer struck blind. He also heard the word of God through Barnabas and Saul. He became a believer on the evidence of what he both saw and heard, 13vs6-12.
What do people see and hear from the Christian church today? They see odd buildings, often inadequately maintained, with sub-modern day standards of lighting, heating and plumbing. However it does not matter much to them because the churches are closed and shuttered for at least eighty per cent of the week anyway. Should folk happen to attend a service they hear quaint music that doesn't quite fit into a commercial Radio 1, 2 or 3 listening pattern. They are given several books to look at that are dog-eared and contain a language they had gratefully left behind with Shakespeare at school. They may see an effeminately dressed man at the front. They see sombre looking people even at their places of work, where the Christians have a deserved reputation for being those who don't join in with anything because they are too busy with church activities (an apparent contradiction in terms!), or because they don't approve of them in any case. The outsiders see and hear Christians in sincere evangelistic enterprise sometimes doing the world's things not quite as well as the world does them, and yet saying this is because of Jesus Christ and the difference He makes! When will we learn?
In Acts 19 the Bible records what happened when Paul arrived in Ephesus. After two years of evangelising, with some conversions, the Ephesian Chamber of Commerce decide to oppose him. Some of their businesses, built on a basis of false worship, were being severely hit as people were born again. They stirred up mob riots to threaten Paul and the little church, complaining that their city culture and traditions were being undermined. The goddess Artemis was their pride and joy, as well as a good source of income! Confusion and uproar ensued. Later on, when Paul wrote back to those Christians from a prison cell, he prayed a prayer that should inspire anyone who wants to see God's power tangibly demonstrated in their fellowship. "Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever, Amen", Ephesians 3vs20 and 21. When there are just one or two people who will be available for God to do His work in a place, He will always work through them. The success of their ministry depends simply on their own availability. God's ability is never in question. Ever since He made everything out of nothing at the creation of the world, God has been pleased to partner those who are ready to help Him express Himself to those who don't yet know Him.
What things does the community expect from "religious" people?
What do you hope to show the community? Be specific rather than general.
What requirements are there for demonstrating Christ's power?