AN EXPLOSION OF GOD-SIGNS "Through the work of the apostles, many God-signs were set up among the people, many wonderful things done. They all met regularly and in remarkable harmony in the Temple porch named after Solomon. But even though people admired them a lot, outsiders were wary about joining them. On the other hand, those who put their trust in the Master were added right and left, both men and women. They even carried the sick out into the streets and laid them on stretchers and bedrolls, hoping they would be touched by Peter's shadow when he walked by. They came from the villages surrounding Jerusalem, throngs of them, bringing the sick and bedevilled. And they all were healed." Acts 5:12-16 (The Message).
This seems like a story from another world, doesn't it? What made it possible for the power of God to flow so freely in a community no different from our own?
This was no longer a small and insignificant religious movement in Jerusalem. The church had grown to thousands - the initial harvest on the day of Pentecost was three thousand new believers and another five thousand after the healing of the crippled beggar. In spite of the shocking death of Ananias and Sapphire, more believers were added to the church.
Almost every chapter of Luke's record comments on the explosive growth of the church. No doubt there were many from outside Jerusalem who put their faith in Jesus and carried the message back to their homes. People were flocking to the city from the villages and towns around the capital city to have a share in this mass healing that was happening in the city. With every attack on the apostles came a new wave of believers. Persecution did not slow down the growth of the church but it certainly sifted out those who wanted to be in it for the ride.
Satan's initial strategy was to try to destroy the church from without. He unleashed a bitter attack from two quarters, religion and politics. The Jewish Sanhedrin tried to flex its muscles against the leaders of the church but that did not work. It only drove the people closer together and kept out the hangers-on like Ananias and Sapphira.
As the church spilled over into the rest of the Roman Empire, it fell foul of the Emperors whose claim to being God was challenged and disproved. Jesus is Lord, not Caesar, and His Lordship was confirmed wherever the church spread by the lives of the believers and the power of God working through them.
The early church functioned under strong leadership and accurate teaching. The apostles were there to guide the ship. It was not a free-for-all. This was not a democracy. Jesus was head of His church and He had appointed leaders who would hear Him and be accountable to Him. The apostles had learned to be followers before they could be leaders. The unity of the church was maintained by humble submission to leadership and by the purging effect of persecution.
Are there some lessons in the history of the early church for us today? There sure are! There are too many self-appointed and self-taught leaders in the church who gather people around themselves instead of connecting them to Jesus.
Perhaps if local churches went back to Jesus' original call, "Follow me," and committed themselves to the model of the early church, "...built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the chief cornerstone. In Him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord." (Ephesians 2:20, 21 - NIV), we might once again see the power of God fill a pure church and transform communities as He did in the beginning.
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