Summary: The Holy Spirit has been poured out. The disciples proclaim God’s word with clarity and boldness. Their proclamation is centred on Jesus Christ as the only way to God. They face opposition, but they’re enabled to stand up against that opposition as the Ho
One of the things I’ve noticed since our last holidays is how often someone will say to us, "What were the highlights of your trip." You do lots of things on a four week holiday but only some of them are highlights. That’s one of the things you realise as you get your photos back from processing. You discover all those photos that were a total waste of effort (not to mention money) because they don’t show anything of any great interest. What goes into the photo album in the end tend to be the highlights of the trip.
Well, a similar thing is happening here as we go through this account of the early church. Fairly obviously, a lot more happened in those early days than Luke has space to record. So he has to filter them out. He has to work out what are the highlights. What are the important things that he needs to write down for posterity.
Now that’s important for us to realise because it means that what we find here are the things that really matter in the life of the early church and often in our church life as well.
So what are the highlights so far?
Obviously the coming of the Holy Spirit on all the disciples. The message about Jesus Christ being heard and understood by people form the far ends of the known world. Peter preaching on day of Pentecost and thousands becoming Christians.
Then there’s the healing of a crippled man that we looked at last week. And today we find the Jewish leaders reacting. In fact this was more than just a healing as we’ll see in a moment. There’s a certain continuity between the miracles of Jesus and this healing of the crippled man. As we saw a few weeks ago, Jesus continues his work on earth through the Apostles, working in the power of the Holy Spirit. And that’s no more obvious than in this miracle in the Temple. And we’ll see in a little while that the Jewish leaders themselves recognise this.
But first notice that it’s the Priests and Sadducees who are upset about this miracle and in particular about the way Peter explains it. They’re particularly upset because Peter is convincing people that this miracle has happened as a direct result of Jesus’ resurrection. You may know that the Sadducees were the establishment group within the Jewish religion. They were the ruling, priestly caste who’d accepted the political inevitability of the Roman rule and had adapted themselves to that reality. Theologically they believed that the Messianic era had begun 200 years before with the Maccabean rebellion. So they weren’t interested in this suggestion of Jesus as Messiah. Nor did they believe in the resurrection. You may have heard the old saying that they didn’t believe in the resurrection and that was why they were sad you see. Well, in fact they weren’t just sad, they were very upset about Peter convincing people that Jesus had risen because it undermined their position of authority.
And so they arrest Peter and John. Again this is one of those highlights. So soon after the day of Pentecost and already Christians are facing opposition! Already they’re being persecuted for their faith!
Though notice that this persecution doesn’t affect the work of the gospel. Even as they’re being taken away, we read that 5000 people are converted.
Michael pointed out last week that there’s a lot that’s left unsaid in these accounts. There are obviously things going on in the background while the main action is happening around the Temple. And part of that action is the follow up to Peter’s speech that leads to these 5000 people believing in Jesus.
One of the things we discovered while we were away (and I’m not sure this was a highlight) is how many works of art there are in Europe featuring either the Madonna and child or some saint or bishop, or a combination of both. I have to say, very quickly overloaded on them. But there was an interesting phenomenon I noticed in lots of these paintings. The centre of the picture features a bishop or a saint or the holy family and various figures surrounding them, but then in the background, through a window or on the surrounding hills you find images of daily life in whatever part of the world the work was painted. It’s almost as if the artist refused to be constrained by the desires of the person who commissioned the work and so decided to include what he was interested in as well.
As a result, you find that while the main action is happening at the centre other things are also happening in the background. And so it is here. Peter and John’s arrest doesn’t stop the church from growing. God’s Spirit continues to work and more and more people become believers in Jesus Christ.