Have you ever felt that you are not the kind of disciple that you read about in the New Testament? Have you felt like the Church today falls short of the power and influence of the Early Church. Emma Stark refers to it as a feeling of being “Biblically abnormal”. If yes, then this article is for you.
Think about the Spirit-filled, tongue-speaking group of disciples, set ablaze for Christ on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2:1-4. Take a minute and reflect on the boldness of Peter who spontaneously utilized an opportunity to share Christ to men and women so ignorant of the Gospel, that they considered the disciples drank when they saw them speaking in tongues (Acts 2:5-13). Think about the devotion, unity of mind and spirit, exhibited by the believers in Acts 2:42-47. They were committed to teaching of God’s Word; genuine fellowship; selfless giving; and earnest prayer.
Think about Peter and John who as they walked to the temple for a time of prayer, they engaged in a conversation with a lame beggar at the temple courts, and the end result was ministration of healing to the beggar (Acts 3:1-10). Notable also is Peter and John’s peculiar response to the beggar’s healing? Acts 3:12 quotes their response to the amazed crowd, “Men of Israel, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk?” Wait a minute! Peter and John were disturbed by the crowd’s amazement, because healing of the sick, blind and the lame was their normal.
Reflect a bit on Peter and John when they were thrown into jail for preaching about the resurrection of the dead in Jesus’ Name, to a crowd that had gathered to witness the temple court beggar’s healing (Acts 4:1-21). The two apostles did not allow people to exalt them or engage in a publicity campaign in order to benefit from the healing. Instead, they took opportunity to preach the Gospel. Salvation of men was the fruit borne out of the healing, deliverance, signs, wonders and miracles that characterized their ministry.
Consider the courage of these two unschooled, ordinary men (Peter and John) when they were brought before the rulers, elders and teachers of the law in Jerusalem. They saw an opportunity to preach the Gospel to their accusers (which could attract dire consequences including death) rather than to waste time defending their case in order to secure freedom.
Recall the believers who embarked on fervent, united prayer for Peter and John when they received news about their arrest (Acts 4:23-31). Rather than chicken-out at the risk that was now imminent in preaching the Gospel, the disciples called down the reign of the Kingdom and the place in which they were was shaken, and filled with the Spirit, they were re-ignited with heightened boldness to speak God’s Word.
Think about the excellence in the grace of giving/ sharing that was among the believers such that “there were no needy persons among them” (Acts 4:32-37). The believers did not give under coercion. The Apostles who were entrusted with the distribution of the wealth, were trustworthy stewards. Among the believers, were “Sons of Encouragement” who sold their possession for the welfare of the Body of Christ.
Remember how the unholy could not dwell comfortably in the presence of God (Acts 5:1-13). Ananias and Sapphira were struck dead for testing the Spirit. In the times we live in, the couple’s action could have been overlooked as a mild lie. Great fear of God was upon the Church. The obedience of many believers was complete, thus they could punish all acts of disobedience (2 Corinthians 10:6). So intense was the fear of God, that those whose hearts were bent on evil dared not join them. The Church was regarded highly by the people.
Now, now … recall how the sick and demon-tormented were brought to the streets and as Peter’s shadow fell on them, they were ALL healed (Acts 5:14-16). When the Apostles were imprisoned for what they were doing, an angel of the Lord appeared to them at night and opened the doors of the jail (Acts 5:17-41). At day break, instead of the Apostles retreating to take some rest or holding a strategic planning meeting on how to survive the oppressive regime, they headed to the temple courts and there they taught the Word of God. When re-arrested for disobeying the orders that required them not to preach the Gospel, their defense was, “We must obey God rather than men.” Consequently, the Apostles were thoroughly flogged and their response to the ruthless actions was,”… [they] left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.”
The choosing of the Seven Deacons is worth remembering (Acts 6). The requirement for those chosen to do what seemed like a very carnal job of serving tables was “men … known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom.” One of the Deacons, Stephen, is described as a man “full of God’s grace and power”. Even in the face of death, Stephen was so connected with the Father that his face appeared as like that of an angel. When given an opportunity to defend himself, he preached such an intense sermon that the accusers gnashed their teeth with conviction! As each stone was throne at Stephen, he made a prayer, not for punishment of his enemies but for God’s mercy to prevail upon them (Acts 7).
Notable is how the propagation of the Gospel was not a few special people’s responsibility. Instead, “those who had been scattered [by persecution] preached the Word WHEREVER they went.” Philip, for example, preached the Gospel in Samaria in the demonstration of the Spirit’s power, and there was a great revival in that city. The writer of the book of Acts, Luke, describes the effects of Philip’s ministry of the Word: “with shrieks, evil spirits came out of many, and many paralytics and crippled were healed. So there was great joy in that city”. Guided by the Spirit on whence to go from Samaria, Philip divinely met an Ethiopian Eunuch to whom he ministered the Word of Truth. Through the obedient action of one believer, the Land of Cush [present day Ethiopia] was reached with the Gospel (Acts 8:4-40).
Think about the day to day miracles that accompanied the preaching of the Gospel. Aeneas, for example, had been bedridden for ten years. At Peter’s declaration, “Jesus Christ heals you. Get up and tidy up your mat,” the paralytic was miraculously healed. Again, Peter’s command to Tabitha, “… get up,” caused her to rise from the dead. Thirdly, at the preaching of the Gospel by Peter at Cornelius house [who was a Gentile], the Holy Spirit filled Cornelius, his family and servants, such that they spoke in new tongues (Acts 9:32- 10:48).
Guided by a prophetic word predicting a famine, the disciples responded by mobilizing help for fellow believers in Judea (Acts 11:27-30). There were many dangers that confronted the disciples, and yet they were not ashamed of the Gospel which is the power of God unto salvation. They spoke God’s Word even when the consequence were dire, including death and imprisonment. For example, Apostle James the brother of John, was slain by King Herod (Acts 12:1-2). Peter was imprisoned by the same King but before his trial, an angel of the Lord rescued him (Acts 12:3-19).
The believers were so cognizant of the role of angels in their day to day lives that when Peter showed up at Mary the mother of John’s house after being divinely released from jail, the believers gathered at the house thought that the person knocking was Peter’s angel (Acts 12:12-14). They understood that the Hosts of the Lord were at work on their behalf. The Church was wholly reliant on the Holy Spirit for ministry. In the Church of Antioch for example, the prophets and teachers gathered for a time of prayer and fasting. While they sought God’s face, the Holy Spirit directed them to “set apart … Barnabas and Saul for the work” of ministry.
The Spirit initiated the Commissioning of Barnabas and Saul to the Gentiles (Acts 13:1-3). The two ministry companions began their ministry in the Spirit and kept in step with the Spirit. Their programme was subject to the Spirit’s guidance and was open to alteration, any minute of the day. At Troas for example, Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia begging, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” Their response to Paul’s vision was immediate obedience: “… we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia ….” (Acts 16:6-10).
Acts 13-21 detail Paul’s missionary journeys and his ministry can be summarized by the phrase, “demonstration of the Spirit and power. In 1 Corinthians 2:1-5, Paul reminds the Corinth church which he had established during his 2nd missionary journey in Acts 18 that his preaching was never about eloquence and superior wisdom. Paul had resolved to teach nothing else, other than Jesus Christ and him crucified. His aim was that the faith of the Church be anchored on God’s power rather than on men’s wisdom.
Again, the selflessness and absolute abandonment of the Apostles to the will of the Father is demonstrated by Paul’s arrest and trial in Acts 21:27-28. The prison bars and hardships did not hinder Paul from advancing the Kingdom of God. In fact, he was so focused on God’s purposes that he totally overlooked his desire for freedom. When given an opportunity to defend himself before rulers and kings, he chose what was eternally significant – to preach the Gospel. It is also during this period of imprisonment that Paul penned the letter of Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon. What the devil purposed for evil for a submitted and fully surrendered vessel of God, became a catalyst for the advancement of the Kingdom to the “ends of the earth”!
The concluding remarks of the Book of Acts is profound: “Boldly and without hindrance he [Paul] preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.” Rather than Paul agitating for his release, he partnered with God for fulfillment of eternal purposes. To the end of his life, Paul preached the Kingdom of God. Indeed, he ran the race and kept the faith to the very end of his life.
I have attempted to briefly describe the Early Church from the record in the Book of Acts. When I read this, and much more in the New Testament, I realize that I have suffered from “Biblical Abnormality”. I do not mirror the Early Church in many ways. Remember that the Kingdom of God is an advancing kingdom. It progresses from strength to strength, and from glory to glory. This means that the Church today (you and I) needs to be operating at a greater glory than the one recorded in the Book of Acts.
Reflecting on the Book of Acts makes me so aware of my guilt for not being a carrier of God’s glory as purposed by my Heavenly Father. I am guilty of nullifying God’s Word by non-biblical traditions and beliefs, that have so corrupted my spirit and mind (Mark 7:13). I am guilty of maintaining a form of godliness but denying the power of God through unbelief (2 Timothy 3:5). I believe that this conviction of His Word comes to us since God wants us to arise and take our positions as “carriers of His Glory” in our generation. God wants you, and the whole of you, for that matter. Not only some parts of you, but to be Lord in all aspects of your life. You and I must be fed up with the “niceties” of Church which I can liken to junk food, and consequently return with babe-spirits to the Truth of His Word.
If you feel that God is speaking to you today through this message, join me in making this prayer:
“Dear Lord, I am sorry for living a life that is fashioned by the systems of men and not by your Word. I am sorry that instead of obeying God, I have sought to please men. I am sorry for my narrow, earthly mind that is so corrupted by materialism, selfish ambitions and unbelief. I am sorry that I have sought human wisdom more than I have sought your Word. I am sorry that I have gotten so busy and distracted by the ventures of religion that I have missed out on being a carrier of your glory. Forgive me; renew my mind; and restore me to my purpose of being a Carrier of your Glory.