Saturday, October 22, 2016

"In the face of persecution … the church GREW!"

Day #297

Scripture Reading:  Acts 5 - 6 ...

In the face of persecution, the Church grew!  How is that possible?  That truth is certainly contrary to the “church growth” methods of our day, yet it was through persecution and trials that God removed from the Church the "pretenders."  We read in Acts 2:42 that the early believers "devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer."  In Chapter 4, Peter and John were thrown into prison for preaching the Gospel, but that didn't stop them.  Now here in Chapter 5 we find God impressing on these early believers the importance of honesty and truth for those who would follow Jesus.

Ananias and his wife, Sapphira, wanted to give a donation to the church, but apparently for the wrong reasons.  No one was being forced to support the work of the apostles, but these two had pledged to sell a piece of property and to give ALL the proceeds to the church.  They sold the land, as they had said they would, but Ananias "kept back part of the money for himself" (5:2). The Spirit revealed to Peter what he had done and Peter confronted him: "How is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit …?  What made you think of doing such a thing?  You have not lied to men but to God" (5:3-4).  When Ananias heard this he dropped down DEAD!!  And fear gripped the believers …

… you think??!!!  Then Sapphira came to Peter a few hours later, and the same fate awaited her.  "Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events" (5:11).  You have to ask, "Why would God DO such a thing? Didn't He want the church to grow?"  Of course, but He wanted these believers to understand that He is God!  God does not deal well with phony people, with hypocrisy, with lies (even "half-truths").  You can't pretend with God.  God is holy and He is just and He does not, cannot overlook sin.

What few today understand is that those who are pretending and lying to themselves and to God … whose testimony of faith in Jesus is not sincere or true, and who are half-hearted in their devotion and commitment to God, will ultimately face the same fate as Ananias and Sapphira … they will die because of their sin.  In fact, they will face an even worse fate:  eternal death!  God sees our hearts.  For a time "no one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people.  Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number" (5:13-14).  

Once again, the apostles faced persecution and were told to STOP speaking in the name of Jesus.  The Jewish court, the Sanhedrin, brought them before them again and rebuked them:  "We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name!  Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man's blood!" (5:28).

Truth:  Every human being is guilty of shedding Jesus' blood!!  Unless you are willing to admit your guilt, you will never receive God's forgiveness.  John wrote, "If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness" (I John 1:8-9).  THIS is how the true Church grows.  Peter and the other apostles testified, "We must obey God rather than men!" (5:29).  And their testimony continually pointed to Jesus.  "God exalted Him to His own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel.  We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey" (5:31).  Truth defeats lies and only those who believe the truth will escape eternal death.

Here we are, nearly 2,000 years later, still talking about Jesus and still pointing people to the cross.  The Pharisee, Gamaliel, was right:  "If their purpose or activity is of human origin it will fail.  But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men, you will only find yourselves fighting against God"  (5:38-39).  And yet, when Stephen became the first Christian martyr, the accusation that was made against him was, "We have heard Stephen speak words of blasphemy against Moses and against God" (6:11).  Those who do not have the Spirit will never understand that no one will ever be justified - declared righteous in God's sight - by keeping the Law.  The disciples and the early believers did not speak AGAINST the Law of Moses, they simply pointed out that no one could keep it, that everyone needed a Savior, and that JESUS was the Messiah!!

False witnesses accused Jesus, too, and they do the same against all who boldly proclaim that Jesus is "the Way and the Truth and the Life" and that "no one comes to the Father EXCEPT through HIM!"  The apostles understood that it was their responsibility before God to proclaim this message to the world, for without it people would perish.  They appointed deacons, not because they were too good to do the work of ministering to those in need, but because their calling and their gifts were to be used to teach and equip others so that the Gospel would spread throughout the world as persecution grew worse.  "So the Word of God spread.  The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith" (6:7).

This is God's means for REAL church growth.  Beware of those who make boastful claims of how great life is when you "sow a seed," and when you "receive your miracle."  Translation:  when you give them your money!! Simply speaking the name of Jesus does not even make you a true Christian, let alone a faithful teacher or apostle.  

Have you placed your faith in Jesus?  Are you willing to endure suffering for the sake of His name in order to proclaim the truth, the Gospel of Jesus Christ?  We don't need more church members today; we need more disciples of Jesus!  May God help you and me to be faithful to Him, always telling the truth, knowing He is with us always … to the very end of the age!

"Heavenly Father, in Your wisdom you purify the Church through persecution and trials.  As Jesus told the disciples that the world would hate them because it hated Him, so we are called to stand firm in the truth, willing to face trials and to persevere.  Pour down Your Spirit upon us, Father, that we may find in You all we need and never waver in the face of persecution.  Add to our number, Father, those whom You know as Your sheep, as we faithfully declare to the world that Jesus is our Savior and that You alone are God.  In Jesus' name, Amen"

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