PARTNERS OF THE HOLY SPIRIT: PART LXXXIII
Luke portrays the early life of the followers of Jesus as being harmonious, but the conditions make it unlikely. The death of two rich people alone must have had a negative affect on the people who depended on the rich to be fed. This was the time when James the half-brother of Jesus replaced Peter as the head of the movement (Acts 15:13). James did not grant favors to the rich on whom the poor depended and he issued corrections:
“My brethren, show no partiality as you hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man with gold rings and in fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “Have a seat here please,” while you say to the poor man, “Stand there,” or “Sit at my feet,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brethren. Has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you, it is not they who drag you into court? I is not they who blaspheme the honorable name which was invoked over you? (James 2:1-7).
James’ treatment of the wealthy, according to Luke’s finding, was not what Jesus recommended. In “The Parable of the Dishonest Steward,” the owner admired his shrewd manager, who secured his future by making friends with his indebted servants by using his master’s resources. Jesus concluded that his followers should copy this conniving stewart and make friends with mammon for a time when they too would be in need for friends (Luke 16:1-13). When Jesus sent out his disciples He told them, “Lo, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). The apostles’ lives were prolonged by Gamaliel, a highly regarded Pharisee and teacher, cautioned the council against fatal behavior and let God decide the outcome. Gamaliel was right: policies that favor certain people wear themselves out.
“So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this undertaking is of men, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God” (Acts 5:38-39).
CHANGE BECAME UNAVOIDABLE
Good things by themselves, if not maintained and supervised, can and do turn bad. Moderation and self-control become essential to the applications in the best of things. Man is much better in managing others than by managing himself. Peter had that problem. Under his administration, the Greek widows were neglected in their daily distributions, and people of wealth began to have second thoughts. It was more important to Peter to preach than to feed the hungry. Therefore, the people chose seven men to serve in the distribution of food: Stephen, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus a proselyte of Antioch. The names of these men, aside from Stephen, were not from Jerusalen, but from everywhere else and so were most of the believers in Jesus. Stephen was the only one raised in the Jewish tradition, Philip was able to converse in the Ethiopean language, and Nicolaus was a Syrian from Antioch, the first Christian Center that sent Paul, Barnabas, and John Mark on the first preaching mission for Christ (Acts 13:1-5).
The apostles were freed from serving and distribution of food, but nothing became known about their preaching, except for Peter and John being sent on a mission to Samaria where Peter met Simon and did not kill him, but converted him (Acts 6:1-7; 8:14). At some point, Peter must have remembered Jesus quoting Exodus 3:6, “He is not God of the dead, but of the living” (Mark 12:27). Peter too would learn that quickly. He was no good to his Lord when he was dead. Things turned against the apostle and the huge following of Christ. When the eloquent informed Deacon Stephen made his country men feel guilty for crucifying the Lord Jesus, he ended up being stoned, and the first great persecution and scattering of the followers of Christ took place. A young man Saul, with authorization from the high priest, led the persecution against Christians. During this time Peter and John were sent to Samaria to escaped the wrath of Saul (Acts 6:8-8:3; 8:14-25).
THE TIME HAD COME FOR THE PROMISE OF JESUS TO TAKE EFFECT
The Lord, Himself, stopped and changed the henchman (Paul), and taught him what it meant to be persecuted by his own people. The persecutor became the persecuted and the followers of Christ could continue to expand and Peter continued to serve the Lord outside Jerusalem (Acts 9:1-31).
For in those days there will be such tribulation as has not been from the beginning of the creation which God created until now, and never will be. And if the Lord had not shortened the days, no human beings would be saved; but for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he shortened the days. And then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. False Christs and false prophets will arise and show signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. But take heed; I have told you all things beforehand (Mark 13:19-23).
WITH SAUL IN HEAVENLY CUSTODY — TURNING SAUL INTO PAUL, PETER WAS FREE TO REVISIT FRIENDS
Peter revisited his friend Aeneas in Lydda and helped him back on his feet. In Joppa, Peter stayed with his friend Simon, the tanner, and waited for additional orders. Meanwhile, Peter awakened Tabitha from her endless sleep (Acts 9:32-43). For additional study see, Chapter XXX in this series. While Peter stayed in Joppa, he prayed much and wrestled with himself over the inclusion of the Gentiles in the fellowship with Christ. Peter, like His Lord, withdrew from public and prayed (Mark 1:35; 6:46). Peter, along with the other apostles, spent lengthy times in prayer and at a set hour, daily. Prayer was an essential ministry and regarded as more important than serving meals or caring for personal needs. The apostles had their congregation elect seven men so they would not be interrupted while they prayed (Acts 6:3-6). They began their days, after Jesus left them, with prayer (Acts 1:14). Peter and John were on their way to pray, when a lame man interrupted them, they took him with them to the temple to pray (Acts 3:1-10). In prayer, the believers can spend time with their Lord, while meditating on God’s goodness and mercy.
The highlight in Peter’s life was while he prayed, the Lord revealed to him that the Gentiles were just as acceptable to God as were Peter’s own people, the Jews. In his trance, Peter was shown that God decides who and what is clean and not Peter (Acts 10:9-16). The people that were not acceptable or precious to Peter were very much loved and cared for by God. In “The Parable of the Lost Son,” the good son and brother did not care much for his philandering brother, but the Father longed to have his lost son back (Luke 15:11-32).
The Holy Spirit ordered Peter to go to a Roman officer, who had made a request to God for help, and answer his prayers. An angel (messenger) directed Cornelius to find Peter and bring him into a Gentile home, and welcome this Roman’s extended family into God’s Kingdom. Peter experienced a second Gentile Pentecost (Acts 10:17-22; 10:34-48). And it was their prayers that brought Peter and Cornelius together. There is great truth in the saying: “People who pray together can stand each other and be together, even as friends.”
The next day Peter rose and went off with them, and some of the brethren from Joppa accompanied him. And on the following day they entered Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his kinsmen and close friends. When Peter entered, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. But Peter lifted him up saying, “Stand up; I too am a man.”And when he talked with him, he went in and found many persons gathered; and he said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit any one of another nation; but God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without objection. I ask then why you sent for me.”
And Cornelius said, “Four days ago, about this hour, I was keeping the ninth hour of prayer in my house; and behold, a man stood before me in bright apparel, saying, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God. Send therefore to Joppa and ask for Simon who is called Peter; he is lodging in the house of Simon a tanner, by the seaside.’ So I sent to you at once, and you have been kind enough to come. Now therefore we are all here present in the sight of God, to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord” (Acts 10:23b-33).
PETER LEARNED THAT TO PLEASE GOD DID NOT PLEASE HIS OWN PEOPLE
Peter’s new fellowship with the household of Cornelius was unacceptable to the Christians who had to be Jews first to silence the anti-Gentile members. Peter had to reiterate his experience and the falling of the Holy Spirit on all who were present, was done without his assistance. It was while Peter began to speak that he did not even have a chance to explain why he had to come to their place. Peter made it clear that the Holy Spirit did not require his approval to choose with whom He was pleased to partner in glorifying God and His Son. Peter concluded his defence with the prediction of John the Baptist (Acts 11:1-18).
“As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how He said, ‘John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave the same gif to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?” When they heard this they were silenced. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance unto life” (Acts 11:15-18).
IN PETER’S ABSENCE THE HOLY SPIRIT MOVED THE CHURCH IN A DIFFERENT DIRECTION
Persecution became a tool for spreading the Gospel to the Gentiles and that made Peter and John expendable in Jerusalem. The other apostles became silent and the new leaders, with James as their head, were circumcised Jews and they were tolerated by the Jewish authorities and especially by the Pharisees (Acts 15:1,5). Peter and John became instigators in the eyes of the Sadducees, the Pharisees, and Herod; and thus they were responsible for driving the converts out of Jerusalem. The Church managed to grow and exist without the leaders, who constantly annoyed and irritated the authorities. When Peter and John returned to Jerusalem, they met with the other apostles. Herod’s men arrested them and killed James, the brother of John.
About that time Herod the king laid violent hands upon some who belonged to the church He killed James the brother of John with the sword; and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. This was during the days of Unleavened Bread. And when he had seized him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending after the Passover to bring him out to the people. So Peter was kept in prison; but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church (Acts 12:1-5).
Herod intended to dispose of the apostles, but the Lord had angels watching and taking care of his followers. The guards fell asleep, the apostles were set free and led out into the street, which led them to the home of Mary and Mark, where their fellow believers were praying for their delivery. Before Herod woke up, Peter and John bid farewell to their friends and left Jerusalem. Herod, in anger for failing to please the Jews, burst his heart and he died in misery on the spot, while he mocked the Hebrew God. Again, the Church was delivered from being annihilated and therefore the Church was free to grow (Acts 12:6-24).