Sermon Series- The Acts of the Apostles: The First Thirty Years
The love of the brotherhood was so powerful that, in this time of preparation before the great push outward, it showed just how powerfully the Gospel could change a culture as it ended need in their midst. 34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold 35 and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. (Acts 4:34-35) While this feat was probably never quite duplicated again in the Church, it is plain that Paul was putting into place among the Gentiles the same infrastructure present in the Church in Jerusalem. He agreed with the apostles in Jerusalem that the Church should “remember the poor.” Paul writes in Galatians, “9 and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. 10 Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.” (Galatians 2:9-10) As I’ve already said, two chapters from now, we will see a dispute about the neglect of certain widows in distributing a stipend for their care. The Church in Jerusalem had a program in place before Acts 6 to enroll widows to receive a stipend for their living. What do we find Paul instructing Timothy on in his first letter to him? Widow care. “9 Let a widow be enrolled if she is not less than sixty years of age, having been the wife of one husband, 10 and having a reputation for good works: if she has brought up children, has shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work.” The obvious goal of Paul is the same as that in the Jerusalem Church here which is to see that there is not a needy person among them.
Sandwiched between the incredible Christian generosity that produces everyone thinking of their goods as common property and eliminates need, we read. “33 And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.” There are no miracles mentioned here, as in Acts 2 (tongues) and 3 (making the lame walk). The apostles are giving a powerful testimony to the resurrection. They may not have been speaking in tongues and healing lame men, but a more powerful miracle surrounds them. That miracle is thousands of people engaged in a love and generosity toward one another that has never before been seen on the earth. With all its wisdom, the Law of God had never produced a love like this in all of Jewish history. That is because “if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law.” (Galatians 3:21b). No one has ever seen anything like this because the Holy Spirit had not been on the earth in such power since the Fall of Man. The sending of the Holy Spirit is evidence of Christ’s resurrection and ascension. Peter said in Acts 2, “32 This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. 33 Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.” Jesus had told them that “whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14:12) The greater works are now being done, and they are a dynamic witness alongside the powerful preaching of the apostles. Even at this early stage, the Gospel is starting to go forth on its own merit and not on the merit of the miraculous. Regeneration is the greater miracle.
Then, tucked in at the very end, we see an important figure in the early Church make his first appearance. “36 Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, 37 sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.” The pieces are being placed on the board that will be important to the next phase of the Church’s growth. In Acts 1 the apostles are told that they will be witnesses first “in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Barnabas is part of the “end of the earth” brigade. God is preparing Barnabas for his own mission during this time. He is about to be launched out by Saul’s persecution. By a work of God’s grace, Barnabas will get to play a part in Saul’s redemption. He will be at the very tip of the missionary spear. Barnabas is the bridge to the apostle Paul. He’ll play a massive role in bringing THE theologian of the New Testament into public acceptance and public ministry. The “Son of Encouragement” had the incredible privilege of experiencing the Church when she was “one heart and soul.”
Look for the finale tomorrow where we will make our application!
Blessings and may God be with you!