THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES | PART 2: ACTS 4:32-35
A Sermon by Pastor Chico Martin
Luke’s picture of the first church of Jerusalem renders the Ascended Lord, acting through his Apostles, as He continues the signs and wonders that characterize His earthly ministry and provokes awe and amazement inside and outside the church. Signs and wonders inspired belief that the church was being gathered for the Messianic age, which Jesus had announced, and Chapter 3 of The Acts begins with an account of Peter and John healing a beggar “at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful,” a healing accomplished much as Jesus himself healed. We are reminded that The Acts “describes what Jesus continues to do” and that “the disciples in Acts frequently mimic some facet of Jesus’ life.”[i]
Peter seizes the occasion of the excitement over the healing to sermonize at the portico of Solomon, where the disciples commonly gathered in the temple. This sermon, along with Peter’s earlier sermon at Pentecost, give us an early model for the Homily. The sermons[ii] share several themes in common: (1) God has raised from the dead his servant Jesus, the Messiah, whom the nation of Israel disowned; (2) the church is a witness to the Resurrection; (3) faith in Jesus is a conduit for the Spirit’s healing power; (4) Israel has “acted in ignorance” despite the prophecies beforehand of the suffering Christ; (5) the people of Israel are called to repentance, so that Jesus may “return” to “refreshed” times; and (6) “until that period of restoration,” of which God spoke by the prophets, Jesus will exercise his sovereignty from heaven.
Peter warns the Jews who remain outside the church that their disbelief threatens their souls, for the period of restoration will also be a period of destruction. The salvation offered through the church by Jesus is a salvation from “the wrath to come;” “for you first,” Peter says, who are “sons of the prophets and of the covenant with God… God raised up His Servant and sent Him to bless you by turning everyone of you from your wicked ways” (3:25-26).
Peter, John, and others, for preaching the resurrection and healing a sick man, are jailed by the Temple Guard, but Peter’s sermon has been effective, because “many of those who had heard the message believed.” The disciples are released the next day, even after their refusal to stop their speaking, and when they gathered for prayer, God confirmed them in their mission, by shaking “the place where they had gathered together…And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness” (4:31).
This is the point in his narration that Luke inserts the second summary statement (4:32-35). The church is called an assembly, body, or congregation; the many believers are unified “of one heart and soul, and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them” (4:32). The expression “one heart and soul” echoes the commandment of the Shema, “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deut 6:5). The testimony of the church, that is, its proclamation of the Resurrection, was given “with great power,” demonstrating the abundance of grace delivered with salvation.
We think of the word grace as meaning kindness, mercy, and goodwill, and specifically “a special manifestation of the divine,” made as a gift, or blessing; the nation of Israel is graced, as is the first church of Jerusalem, so that God can be glorified, and the favor shown by God toward his nation and his church can be wondered at by those who remain beyond his blessing. Unity, therefore, is something to be marveled at by others: observable, and unusual. The recipient of grace has nothing to be boastful about; the unity of the church witnesses to Christ, the head of its body. Peter introduces the evidence of this unity into both the first[iii] and second summary statements: the disciples distributed their provisions “to each as any had need” (4:35). The Jerusalem church takes its cue from Deuteronomy 15: “there will be no poor among you, since the Lord will surely bless you in the land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess.”
Here a profound application can be drawn from Luke’s account to church life today: Luke doesn’t say numbers are added to the church because of the Gospel message; rather, he shows the effect of the Gospel on the church, and he shows the people of the Jerusalem responding to both the message of good news and how this message changes people. Believers are generous, kind, friendly, hospitable, and thankful. Consequently, within their assembly, poverty is eliminated; the church, from its conception, presents a radical alternative to the injustice and fear dominant in the world.
Several apostolic doctrines can be recognized in the 3rd and 4th chapters of Luke: (1) Israel’s rejection of the Messiah, and its disregard for the prophetic word; (2) The Resurrection and Ascension of the Lord; and (3) The church as a testifying assembly, under the Lordship of Jesus, between His 1st and 2nd Comings. We readily hear in Peter’s sermons and their summaries that nothing is more important to our life than experiencing the love, care, and peace provided by church fellowship. The community we engage outside the church views our personal interactions as testimony for the church, and the effectiveness of our witness, that is the joy of conversion, our generosity, kindness, friendliness, hospitality, gratitude and unity are the factors that persuade people to join or avoid us. In all that we do, therefore, we should endeavor to live as a blessing to the world. Amen.
[i] Gregory Goswell, JETS 59/1 (2016), 67-82
[ii] Acts 2:14-36; Acts 3:11-26
[iii] Acts 2:42-46 (see Sermon April 3, 2016)