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From the Heart

Normal People in the Book of Acts

Posted by Russ Snyder
Russ Snyder
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on Thursday, 10 January 2013 in Uncategorized

So many of us talk about the NT church as if the people in it were so much different than we are. We see the miracles, signs and wonders, the day of Pentecost and think - if only! But we overlook the fact that being filled with Holy Spirit, being baptized in God’s Spirit, did not immediaely mature these people of God. They were empowered yes, but they were not necessarily anymore mature because of it. And neither are Christians today.


Look at what we sometimes overlook. We recently heard a well known Preacher sharing about how Peter kept opening his mouth while with Jesus and blowing it. He brought up several examples of Peter’s mistakes. When we get to the book of Acts Peter is the same man he was two months earlier when he denied Jesus, gave up and went back to fishing, and who Jesus pulled aside and told to “feed my sheep” at the end of the Gospel of John. Yes Holy Spirit came on him and he was baptized in Holy Spirit. Yes he became the leader of the church. But remember, that doesn’t mean he had a massive character change. It means he was given an anointing by Holy Spirit. The point? These are normal people like us who still had anger issues, shame fear and control issues. Why would we think everything they did was in response to the leading of Holy Spirit? Don’t our souls masquerade as Holy Spirit sometimes? Of course they do and so did the leaders of the early church. 


So rather than look at them as perfect and mature, let’s take a second look at the “New Testament Church” with eyes that honestly recognize these people. Perhaps our perspective will change and we may recognize we are like the New Testament Church so many people over the years have been crying out to be.


In Acts 5 two of the disciples lied about the price of a piece of property they had sold to win the favor of other people. In Acts 6 one group of believers in Jesus were not sharing food with another group after we were told in Acts 4:34 “there was not a needy person among them . . . .” Apparently between chapters 4 and 6 something had changed. We’d call it racism today, when one race of people deliberately overlook the needs of another race because they are different. Was it? Just a thought.


In Acts 6 we are told of Stephen the man full of grace and power who was performing great wonders and signs among the people. When a group of men rose up and argued with Stephen he argued back. While they weren’t able to cope with the wisdom and spirit with which Stephen spoke, it did not win them over. In Acts 7 when he was brought before the Council he shared an impassioned message full of truth they accepted. Right up until verses 51-53. He used name calling to anger them. Was what he said the best way to win someone over or was it judgmental? If someone spoke to you in that way would you like it? As a result he was martyred and the rest of the church in Jerusalem came under a great persecution. Wonder if this could have been avoided if Stephen had responded more like Jesus did when He was brought before the Council? Just a thought.


In Acts 8 believers fled Jerusalem to escape the great persecution seeming to be led by Saul (one day to be called Paul). He began ravaging the church. The story then swings to Phillip who was ministering in Samaria where many Samaritans believed and were being baptized - men and women alike. Even a former sorcerer named Simon believed and was baptized. He had not matured yet and was fascinated with the signs and great miracles Holy Spirit was performing through Phillip. Simon was following Phillip being constantly amazed the Book of Acts says. 


The apostles in Jerusalem heard Samaritans were receiving the word of God and found it hard to believe. Non Jews were being let in on the gospel so they sent Peter and John to check it out. Not a great deal of faith there, but certainly a doubting if not judgmental spirit. When they arrive they started praying for people who had been baptized in the name of Jesus. God’s Spirit, had not fallen on any of the Samaritan believers yet. When they began laying hands on them, they were receiving Holy Spirit. 


Simon was so excited he wanted to learn how to release Holy Spirit so he offered them money. You see, that’s how he had gained his other power (8:9-10). It was the normal way it was done, or so he thought. 


Peter became angry, some would call it righteous indignation. But was it from God’s Spirit or was it Peter’s maturity level? Don’t get mad, just consider this may be something we have overlooked? Instead of gently correcting Simon, Peter jumps in his face, releases a word of judgment over him and Simon repents. Did he really understand why Peter was so upset? While we ask that, please consider this question. How different is it today when people who want to do signs, wonders and miracles pay money to go to schools? Or pay money to go to Bible College or Seminary to learn how to preach? Or give money in offerings to receive an impartation or an activation to receive Holy Spirit’s power and gifts? Yet no one gets in their face and accuses them of having a heart that is not right before God. Again, just a thought?


Then Saul/Paul had his encounter with Jesus. He was an angry man, full of threats and murder (Acts 9:1). He is met by Jesus on the road to Damascus and this encounter changes his perspective. Please remember he was on his way to kill followers of Jesus Christ. When someone has been come into a relationship with Jesus today, does their character instantly change? No, maturing in one’s faith takes time, even when they have been baptized in Holy Spirit, or filled by Holy Spirit. It’s not about Bible knowledge, it’s about maturing in who they are.


Saul begins immediately proclaiming Jesus in the Synagogues in Damascus. He was new in his faith, and after many days of confounding the Jews they decided to do away with him. Was he using his intelligence and apologetics to win people or to argue with them, because they wanted to kill him. So the disciples snuck him out of town and sent him on to Jerusalem. The disciples in Jerusalem were afraid of him, and rightly so after all he had already done. He began “arguing” with the Hellenists who tried to kill him. Is it possible he was trying to win arguments instead of bring people to Jesus. Had that type of discussion won him over? It seems he had swung from one being angry with Christians to being angry with the Jews who now disagreed with him. 


When the brethren learned there were people who wanted to put him to death they stood up for him. No, they did not. They sent him away to Tarsus. The next verse (9:31) tells us the result of sending this angry arguing man away. “So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace, being built up; and going on in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of Holy Spirit, it continued to increase”. After they sent Saul away. 


Was Saul a bad guy? No, he was a young Christian and his tendency to argue with people that had brought on the beginning of their persecution in chapter 8 was continuing until he was sent away in chapter 9. He was human, he made mistakes, he was not perfect in what he did or how he did it. 


Peter’s example in chapters 9 and 10 demonstrates again he was growing and making mistakes. After seeing God heal two people he was staying with a tanner - against the Old Testament law. Realize this was before our insight by Paul that we don’t have to follow Old Testament law. Besides Paul confronted Peter on a similar issue according to Galatians 2:11-14. He was human, he made mistakes, he was not perfect in what he did or how he did it. 


Peter did not believe Gentiles should have the good news of the Kingdom shared with them according to Acts 10, so God sent a vision to Peter. Then God brought Cornelius’ men to bring Peter to share the good news. Before Peter could finish his message God’s Spirit fell on the Gentiles. The circumcised believers were amazed. 


This is just a sampling of my point. Try going back and reading the book of Acts with the perspective that these were not trained or necessarily emotionally mature men and women leading the New Testament church. They were just learning these things themselves. Paul went out on his “missionary journeys” arguing with the Jews in every city he came to and was run out of town again and again. 


Realizing Jesus said in this world we will have persecution, but shouldn’t we think about the possibility we sometimes bring on the persecution by our actions instead of it coming against the move of God. We need to understand these people the church holds up as mighty godly and powerful people are the same ones who themselves said: “Why are you amazed at this, or why do you gaze at us, as if by our own power or piety we had made him walk?” 


Is it possible the church today looks at these human beings of the book of Acts as if they were something more than they were? Perhaps we should try to look at these people and those around us with compassionate eyes instead of lifting them up onto pedestals as “great examples” of how we should do ministry? Because sometimes they didn’t get it right, or don’t get it right. Just a thought . . .

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