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The three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.
Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.
My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.
Many Signs and Wonders Done
12 Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico. 13 None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem. 14 And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, 15 so that they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them. 16 The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed.
The last two posts were about the deaths of Ananias and his wife Sapphira who thought they could deceive God and the Holy Spirit by denying the fledgling church of full proceeds from a property sale that they had pledged to the Apostles.
John MacArthur summarises this succinctly:
… it was just at that point that Satan struck, and tragedy hit … the great sin that threatened to be a blight on the church, the sin of Ananias and Sapphira who lied to the Holy Spirit, in an effort to gain religious prestige and to be thought of as spiritual. They did things that were extremely carnal, and God had to discipline them in the face of the whole church, and He did it by just executing them right there, they dropped dead on the spot. And God pointed out the severity of sin, in the fellowship of the church. God did the disciplining there, because they needed to learn a graphic lesson. And so the cancer that had swept into the church so briefly was immediately operated on by God and put out.
This was the only blot on the landscape of the earliest days of the Church. MacArthur takes us through the magnificent Spirit-led growth that resulted after the first Pentecost as Acts describes it (emphases mine):
In 2:41 for example it says, there were added 3,000 souls, in Acts 2:47 it says, the Lord added to their number daily such as should be saved. In Acts 4:4 it says, the number of men came to be about 5,000, and in addition to the men would be the women and children. In chapter 5 verse 14 it says, and more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of men and women.
With Ananias and Sapphira buried, the Church is pure once again:
A holy instrument is a powerful weapon in the hand of God, you see. God really only works in a positive way through holy instruments. And the church that is to reach the world must be pure. It must be a church that deals with sin. A church that is pure in the world fits the first qualification for effective evangelism. Now God did the purifying in the case of chapter 5 there, and I think God still does some purifying in the church. We read in the Book of Hebrews that everyone whom He loves He chastens. He scourges every son. So God is still doing some chastening, and it may just be that God is still killing some Christians too.
This brings us to today’s verses. MacArthur says we can read them as two different sets. He says there is a ‘parenthesis’ from the second sentence in verse 12 through verse 14. In fact, Matthew Henry’s version of the Bible actually has parentheses in these places.
These are the two things we glean from this passage:
12 Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. 15 so that they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them. 16 The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed.
And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico. 13 None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem. 14 And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women,
Let’s look at them as we have them in divinely inspired Scripture.
Thanks to the Holy Spirit, the first sentence in verse 12 tells us that all the divine healing and miracles Jesus did was transmitted into the hands of the Apostles at that time. Matthew Henry explains:
The miracles they wrought proved their divine mission. They were not a few, but many, of divers kinds and often repeated; they were signs and wonders, such wonders as were confessedly signs of a divine presence and power.
Henry draws our attention to the words ‘among the people’:
They were not done in a corner, but among the people, who were at liberty to enquire into them, and, if there had been any fraud or collusion in them, would have discovered it.
All were together in Solomon’s Portico, therefore, out in the open air at the temple. The sentence has more resonance in the King James Version:
and they were all with one accord in Solomon’s porch.
Henry tells us:
The church was hereby kept together, and confirmed in its adherence both to the apostles and to one another …
He addresses the seeming incongruity of Jesus’s followers being allowed to worship openly in the temple grounds:
God inclined their hearts to tolerate them there awhile, for the more convenient spreading of the gospel; and those who permitted buyers and sellers could not for shame prohibit such preachers and healers there.
This is where Christian worship began — before St Paul’s conversion. Henry says we should heed this example:
early was the institution of religious assemblies observed in the church, which must by no means be forsaken or let fall, for in them a profession of religion is kept up.
Verse 13 might need clarification. Who were ‘the rest’ who did not join in? Who were those — ‘them’ — the people held in such high esteem?
Henry tells us that those present, filled with the Holy Spirit, deferred to the Apostles as the Twelve had the divine gifts of healing. MacArthur’s take is slightly different. He thinks St Luke wrote here about non-Christians:
You know why people didn’t line up with that movement? That was dangerous! I mean you could drop dead in that deal. You know who they got into their movement? They got only the people who were really committed, true? You better believe it. Nobody but nobody is going to swing into that movement in a hypocritical attitude. Nobody is going to get into that deal unless they are really sold out to Jesus Christ, totally, it’s too risky. I mean they can spot sin, and what happens to sinners? They drop dead. Can you imagine how the rumors flew? Boy, don’t go near those guys, there are really….. that’s strong stuff. You get in there and mess around and it’s over. You see, the pure church that deals with sin, keeps itself pure because it keeps the tares out. Do ya get it? You see, people don’t flock to join that kind of a movement.
And with this purity and power of the Apostles came the high esteem from the converts. Henry tells us:
Observe, The apostles were far from magnifying themselves; they transmitted the glory of all they did very carefully and faithfully to Christ, and yet the people magnified them; for those that humble themselves shall be exalted, and those honoured that honour God only.
Verse 14 is important because we read that women were welcome in the Church. Jesus’s followers intermingled and worshipped together. They were religious equals, unlike in the Jewish system where women had to worship separately in the Court of Women in the temple at Jerusalem. (Even today, conservative synagogues still separate women from men.) They were also not obliged to participate in certain religious feasts.
And, all the while, the Church grew and grew in Jerusalem. MacArthur says:
It grew so fast, they couldn’t count it anymore, they stopped counting.
It grew because:
it was a pure church and as a result of being a pure church, it grew. Now when we start talking about evangelism, people, we do not start talking about evangelism when we leave this place with a little tract in our hand, we start talking about evangelism right here. As we work within our own lives, and amidst our own congregation on the principles of purity. That’s where evangelism begins.
It is difficult to imagine the tremendous crowds bringing in the sick, hoping to just have a bit of Peter’s shadow cast over them for healing (verse 15). MacArthur says a man’s shadow was very important culturally in that part of the world:
It’s an interesting thing, the Orientals you know, believed that a man’s shadow carried his influence, and parents would run and take their little children into the shadow of great men. And just as much, parents would grab their little children and snatch them and pull them away from the shadow of someone they disliked, in Oriental fantasy. But none the less expressed here, it doesn’t say Peter’s shadow healed anybody. It just says they believed that if Peter’s shadow passed by, this was a part of their Oriental belief. But boy, they sure thought something of Peter, they really did. I studied this, and I asked myself the question, I don’t see anybody runnin’ to get into my shadow. And I thought well, that’s sure a principle that we oughta apply in all of our lives. Is there something about us that causes people to run to us? Is there something so attractive and dynamic about the power of God expressed in our lives that people want to run to be with us? Pray to God it would be so.
Henry interprets Peter’s shadow spiritually:
God expresses his care of his people, by his being their shade on their right hand; and the benign influences of Christ as a king are compared to the shadow of a great rock. Peter comes between them and the sun, and so heals them, cuts them off from a dependence upon creature sufficiency as insufficient, that they may expect help only from that Spirit of grace with whom he was filled. And, if such miracles were wrought by Peter’s shadow, we have reason to think they were so by the other apostles, as by the handkerchiefs from Paul’s body (Acts 19:12), no doubt both being with an actual intention in the minds of the apostles thus to heal;
Verse 16 underscores that all the ailing or those with unclean spirits who were presented were healed. That also means the healing was immediate and complete, as it was with Jesus.
Henry has this observation:
… distempered bodies and distempered minds were set to rights. Thus opportunity was given to the apostles, both to convince people’s judgments by these miracles of the heavenly origin of the doctrine they preached, and also to engage people’s affections both to them and it, by giving them a specimen of its beneficial tendency to the welfare of this lower world.
This period in the Church’s history is the Apostolic Era. It lasted for a limited period of time. MacArthur explains:
God does healing miracles today, but not through these same gifts, since these have passed away. These were only for the beginning of this age and incidentally if you study your Bible correctly you’ll find that at the beginning of all the major ages of the Bible, miracles were a part of the initiation. There is no promise that miracles would continue in this age, they are not even promised for the end of the age. People say well, it’s the end of the church age, so miracles are happening. You won’t find that in the Bible anywhere. Nowhere does it say that the church age is going to end in a burst of miracles. The testimony of the Holy Spirit says at the end of the church age, watch this, there will be apostasy, lawlessness, departure from the faith, false religions, delusions, doctrines of devils and all the way down, everything but miracles. It says there will be signs and wonders however, divine miracles, it says there will be signs and wonders, Second Thessalonians 2. They will be lying wonders, propagated by whom? Satan. So if you’re looking for miracles today, expect the source to be Satan. And we’re seeing them. Now of course this full thing isn’t until the tribulation, but we’ve already begun to see the mystery of iniquity working right now, haven’t we? Some of these lying wonders that are happening under demonic influence.
During the Apostolic Era, the Holy Spirit worked through the Apostles, enabling the Church to grow and expand from Jerusalem to the Near East. True faith and utmost purity enabled it to spread to northern Africa and to Europe.
Next time: Acts 5:17-21