Summary: God heals, puts us in conflict situations, and invites us to NOT fight against Him but rather join His unstoppable force.
An Unstoppable Force: Experiencing Biblical Community
Have you ever been in a situation where doing the right thing was going to get you in trouble? Where you had a choice, and it was clear which option was right, and it was also clear that if you did that thing, there was going to be a high price to pay?
When I was a young adult, my mom decided to re-marry. Our pastor, a man I love and respect, felt after doing some counseling with them that he could not, in good conscience, perform the ceremony because he felt that my mom and her fiancé did not share the same faith in Christ. So he said no. You can imagine the cost of him taking that stand and doing what he felt was right. We got together as a family, and I got put on the spot: did I agree with our pastor, or would I support my mom? I felt strongly that our pastor had raised some significant questions, and found myself in the very unpleasant situation of having to choose to say what I felt or of putting my convictions aside to keep the peace.
The apostles in the early church were faced with the same dilemma, but on a much larger scale. Several weeks ago we read how Peter and John healed a lame man, were thrown in jail for a night and then dragged in front of the entire Jewish ruling council where they were forbidden to teach in Jesus’ name any longer. Let’s see if they obeyed… turn in your Bibles to Acts 5. Last week we read the story of Ananias and Sapphira; we will pick up the story of the early church in verse 12. We are going to finish chapter 5 today, even though it is quite a long reading. Read Acts 5:12-42.
The Story: Stage 1 – signs and wonders (vss. 12-16)
The story unfolds in several stages. The first is a summary section describing the activity of the early church, in verses 12-16. It seems that the presence of the Holy Spirit was very much in evidence, as these verses record for us God healing and delivering people in a super-natural fashion. Real people, with real brokenness in body and in spirit, were meeting God and being healed. And it had an impact! Not only in Jerusalem, but word got around to the surrounding towns, and even to the Jewish rulers.
What do we learn from this description of the early church? Many North American Christians would say, “Ya, but that was then…” with the assumption that God no longer works like that. I say, why not? Has God changed – is He no longer able to heal brokenness in people? Has God stopped healing people? Or are people no longer in need of healing? Maybe God is now only concerned with people’s hearts?
Unfortunately, “healing” has taken a lot of abuse in our society. It has been sensationalized on one hand and denied on the other. I believe the truth is somewhere in the middle, and is based on two truths: only God can heal – which means we cannot force it, we can’t assume it, we can’t control it – and He has commanded us to ask in faith for healing. And that is how we practice it here at Laurier – in obedience to James 5, which teaches that if anyone is sick they should call the elders to pray. Our elders are available during every service, in the back corner, we meet twice a month, and we will gladly gather at other times as well. Because we believe God can still heal, and still does. Sometimes it is physical, more often in my experience it is spiritual or emotional or relational – but that is up to God.
Stage 2 – opposition (vss. 17-42)
Obedience and Deliverance:
Immediately following the report of the incredible things God was doing comes the story of the opposition from the established leaders. They were jealous. Possibly of the popularity, more likely because of the power. So they try to put a stop to this teaching a second time, by arresting all the apostles (not just Peter and John this time) and throwing them in jail overnight. We read how an angel of the Lord came and miraculously delivered them from jail. And did you notice what the angel instructed them to do?
Now, if this was us, we would likely praise God for our incredible deliverance – thank Him for performing a true, incredible miracle – and then work hard to make sure we learned from our mistakes. “Maybe the temple isn’t the safest place to teach… Surely God doesn’t want us to be arrested, we can’t be His witnesses behind bars or if we are killed… It doesn’t look safe here in Jerusalem, the whole movement is doomed if we stay here… Let’s relocate to Galilee and start again there!”