Summary: How do you respond to the work of God in Christians lives and how will you respond when you face opposition?
It seems to me there are 2 different questions that arise for us in this passage today.
The first is this: "How will you respond to the work of God in the lives of his followers? Will you respond with faith, with allegiance to Jesus Christ as Lord or will you reject his claims over you as unwarranted?"
The second question is this: "If you’re a Christian how will you respond to opposition? That opposition may take the form of persecution or it might simply take the form of moral or emotional pressure to be silent. How will you respond?
It’s fascinating to see how different people can react differently to the same event. I guess a classic example is the reaction of people to "The Passion of the Christ." Some people have said how it deepened their faith, others have seen in it only the threat of anti-Semitism. Some think it’s a God-given opportunity for evangelism, others think it will turn people off.
We see something similar in this passage today, as Luke tells us more about the growth of the early Church. He takes us from the scene of Ananias and Sapphira suffering under the judgement of God to the scene in the Temple where the apostles are demonstrating the healing power of God. Straight away we see this dichotomy appearing. The Christians have adopted Solomon’s Portico as their meeting place in the Temple but no-one else is prepared to go near them. Already you can see their position becoming precarious. Peter & John have already been thrown into prison by the High Priest and Sadducees and the general populace don’t want to risk being associated with them in case they get into trouble as well.
But at the same time, the people hold them in high esteem. The result of the signs and wonders that they’re performing is that more than ever believers are added to the Lord, great numbers of both men and women. By the way, notice there’s an inclusiveness in this process that Luke wants to highlight. This isn’t a religion that’s just for men. It’s for everyone. And as the Apostles heal the sick and cast out evil spirits the word spreads and people come from far and wide to be healed and then in the process to learn about Jesus Christ. And so the Church continues to grow.
But despite this amazing display of the power of God not everyone is convinced. Now think about this. Look at v15. "they even carried out the sick into the streets, and laid them on cots and mats, in order that Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he came by." Even his shadow passing over them was enough for them to be healed. This is so like that incident when the woman with the flow of blood simply touched the hem of Jesus’ cloak and was healed, isn’t it? This is such a clear demonstration of God’s supernatural power, of his presence with them, that you’d think no-one could miss it, wouldn’t you? Yet that’s exactly what happens. The High Priest and the Sadducees, looking on, can only see a rival, a challenge to their position of authority among the people. They can’t actually see God at work.
It reminds me of the parable Jesus told of the rich man and Lazarus. Do you remember how he finished that parable? The rich man asks Abraham to send Lazarus back to earth to warn his brothers of what awaits them in eternity if they don’t reform their ways. Abraham says they have Moses and the prophets to teach them how to live, but still the rich man insists that if only someone were to return from the dead they’d be sure to repent. So Abraham says: "If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead."
The reality is that there are some people for whom the truth of the gospel is just too much to take. It requires too great a change in their lifestyle or their priorities. It demands a realignment of their allegiances, particularly of their allegiance to themselves and their own glory. It requires an admission that we don’t understand everything that there is to know about life and particularly about God’s place in life. It may even require us throwing out everything we thought we knew about God and learning it all over again. That’s one reason this is still relevant to us today. Because it places before us again the question, how will you respond to what God has done through Jesus Christ and continues to do through his Church? Are you willing to change your worldview perhaps? Are you willing to submit to Jesus Christ as Lord? To acknowledge that he is indeed the God, the Lord of the whole world and therefore Lord of your life?