A Lesson in Divine Providence Part 2
by John Lowe
(Laurens SC, USA)
And we also read that reports were being given to the surrounding cities and they brought their sick, “and they were all healed.” It was because the Spirit of God was known to be there, that there was such a great attraction that distance was not a problem.
Let me stop for a moment to explain why the apostles had this great power. Remember, at this time there was no written New Testament. The Church is built on Jesus Christ-He is the Cornerstone and the apostles are witnesses to Christ. The sign gifts were given to them to demonstrate the fact that they spoke with God’s authority. Today we have a written New Testament as our authority, and we accept preaching according to how it lines up with the word of God.
We have seen that The Church was Soaring, but we will find that it was also suffering.
Jerusalem had been the place where Jesus’ enemies were the most powerful; it was where the leaders of the Jewish Church lived, where the Sanhedrin met and where there were many Pharisees. Toward the end of His ministry, Jesus would only go there for the feast days because the danger was so great. And it was dangerous territory for the members of First Church; when you are in enemy territory you can expect opposition.
Listen to these three verses from our text; they show how the Early Church faced opposition.
Verse 18 asserts, “and laid their hands on the apostles and put them in the common prison.”
Verse 33 states, “When they heard this, they were furious and plotted to kill them.”
And in verse 40 we read, “And they agreed with him, and when they had called for the apostles and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.”
In Acts chapter 7, there is the story of Steven and how he paid with his life for preaching Jesus to the Jewish religious leaders. Stephen was one of the first deacons of the First Church, but he also was given the power to do miracles, and we are told that he went into the synagogue and preached that Jesus was the Christ, and for that, he was arrested. Steven had been taken before the Jewish council and he was required to defend himself because they wanted to kill him. But he refused to defend himself; instead, he preached one of the greatest sermons of all time. He spoke of how God called Abraham and promised Canaan to him and his seed; how Joseph was sold by his brethren; and how Jacob along with his family went down into Egypt; and that they were oppressed by the Egyptians. He spoke of how Moses was born and brought up by Pharaoh’s daughter; that after attempting to deliver Israel he was rejected, and fled to Midian; that after a time Moses was sent by God to be their deliverer; that he prophesied Christ and received the Law for Israel, and was grieved by their rebellion and idolatry.
He said that they had the tabernacle until Solomon built the temple. Then he declared that according to the prophets, “the Most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands.” He boldly accused the council and their nation of imitating the rebellion and persecution of their ancestors, who rejected and slew the prophets; and then he charges them with murdering Christ, in violation of their own law. We are told that those who listened were “cut to the heart,” and that they took him away to be stoned. As Steven was about to be stoned he was given a vision of Christ; he called out to Him to receive his soul, and to pardon his murderers. When they cast their stones, the Bible says only that he falls asleep.
The apostle Paul was another who faced terrible opposition and paid dearly to follow Christ. Here is what he wrote about himself in II Corinthians, “In labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness."
The First Church was soaring and suffering, but it was also surviving.
God will protect His own property and sometimes He does this in ways which are beyond our imagination. In our text for today, we read how He used an angel to deliver the apostles. They had been thrown into prison and their future was in doubt, “but at night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, ‘Go, stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this life.” It would be wonderful to be rescued by angels and it would certainly build your faith.
The disciples did what the angel told them to do; they went back to the temple and preached Jesus because they feared God more than they did the Council. When we look back at the experiences of the Early Church, there may be several lessons worth learning:
1. The Lord will not totally crush our opposition. He will not totally put down all opposition and rebellion until He has established His Kingdom. Until then, He will allow sin and disobedience. But He watches over His own and protects and provides for us, and He has promised that He will not lose one of us.
2. God’s people will not be immune to trials and setbacks. Some of the trials will even come from God because when we triumph over our problems, we are made stronger. He has promised us in His word that we will not be tempted beyond what is common to all men and that along with the temptation He will provide a way of escape. Satan cannot harm a child of God, more than God will allow.
3. While there is opposition, nothing can stop the gospel’s progress. Sometimes God may use the opposition to accomplish His plans. In verse 34 we read, “Then one in the council stood up, a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in respect by all the people, and commanded them to put the apostles outside for a little while." God used this Pharisee to speak up for the apostles, and so they were released from prison. Neither men nor Satan can stop the gospel or frustrate the will of God.
4. The message of Jesus is more important than our comfort. We are so blessed in this country to be able to worship God and not to be subjected to hardships or persecution. But it’s not that way everywhere. There are many today, in other countries, who are suffering because of their faith. They must worship in secret because if they openly declare their faith, they will be thrown in prison or killed. Let’s pray for them and help them if we can. But some day, we may also be forced to suffer a little for our Lord. And if we do, let’s do it joyfully and consider it a privilege to be included with the millions of others who have suffered for Christ.
The last picture we have of the First Church of Jerusalem is of The Church Singing.
We are told that when they left the presence of the Council “that they were rejoicing because they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name.” They were a joyful congregation and we read that they were “daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.” But how did they maintain their joy, especially when there were hardships and persecution?
First, they were uncompromisingly obedient to God’s will. Verse 29 said, But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: “We ought to obey God rather than men.” They had been warned by the Council that if they continued to preach Jesus, they would face even greater punishment than they had already received; maybe even death. But they would obey God, rather than men; so God blessed them and filled them with His Spirit.
Second, They had no question about their message. Listen to how verses 30-32 expresses the message of these early believers: ”The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging on a tree. Him God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are His witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him.” They were confident witnesses and they went door to door preaching Jesus, and they continued to preach even in the temple for as long as they could.
Third, they had the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit. He was inside them; empowering them, teaching them and giving comfort when they encountered the hard times. This was a Spirit-filled and a Spirit-led church. So, they kept on singing.
They had some hard times, but those rough experiences did not create doubts and fears in the hearts of the apostles. It was the exact opposite because they were strengthened and brought to a closer relationship with God. They may have been wounded at times, but they wore their wounds as badges of honor. God gave them the song, and nothing could take the song away from those who kept the faith. They found their joy in worshiping God, serving Christ, and in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. God blessed them and provided for them. They lived by divine providence and it was an exciting experience. God has not changed. He still loves us and provides for us. If you will make a total commitment to Christ today, you can have the same relationship to God that the Christians of First Church had; the same relationship that thousands of believers have today. The First Church was God’s church. Divine providence brought the church from that small beginning to its present position.
Let’s pray and thank God for His commitment to us and to His Church.