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This last of three summary statements about Jerusalem church life (the first two were 2:42-47 and 4:32-35) holds up this mirror to all churches: What are you attempting that could not be done without the power of the Holy Spirit? We discover here how the church's confident expectation (4:29-30) was divinely realized.
In fulfillment of the congregation's prayerful expectation, the church's mission continues to advance through the apostles' performance of signs and wonders (literally, "through the hands of the apostles"; compare 4:30). These miracles not only validate the apostles' message (see 2:22) and are tokens of the fullness of salvation blessings to be had in the kingdom at the end (2:19; 3:16-21; 4:9, 12, 22), but they also become a means of liberation from official Judaism, just as Moses' signs and wonders worked liberation from Egypt (7:36; see Deut 29:3; Ps 135:9; Jer 32:21). In both cases they are undeniable witnesses to God's power, and those in power react with frustration.
The special role signs and wonders play in salvation history, their clustering around key salvation events and new epochs of revelation, their extraordinary nature at those times and the fact they are performed mainly by the leaders should circumscribe our expectations concerning the occurrence of signs and wonders today. Still, we are living in the same last days, and God is still at work mightily through his church (see comment at 3:7-8).
Just as miraculous is the church's unity in the wake of the Ananias and Sapphira incident. All together with one mind, purpose and impulse (as in 1:14; 2:46; 4:24) in Solomon's colonnade--see comment at 3:11; this was a place large enough for a good portion of their growing numbers--the congregation of believers worships, learns from the apostles and evangelizes (compare 2:42; 4:33; 5:25).
Is your congregation held together by anything beyond the homogeneity of ethnic background, socioeconomic circumstances and the goals and values that stem from them? It is the bond of the Spirit that makes outsiders marvel.
Luke juxtaposes two contrasting statements about the church's continuing impact (NIV softens this by introducing the second with even though). In the light of the judgment on Ananias and Sapphira, no one else probably refers to non-Christians (Haenchen 1971:242) not believers (as E. F. Harrison 1986:105) or Jewish sympathizers (as Schwartz 1983). They dared not join ("come into the Christian community"--Krodel 1986:123; see Acts 17:34; less likely, "associate with, come near physically"--Longenecker 1981:317) them (the congregation, not the apostles). At the same time these unbelievers, termed the people, praised the congregation of Christians (see also 2:47; 19:17).
Does your church have this kind of impact? As John Stott notes, "This paradoxical situation has often recurred since then. The presence of the living God, whether manifest through preaching or miracles or both, is alarming to some and appealing to others" (1990:113).
Luke now looks at the Christian community and the apostles from the angle of the results of God's work in supernatural power. In the midst of people's natural fear of joining, God continues to work in an ever greater way through the preaching of the gospel, so that a steady stream of men and women who believed (4:4) are being added.
A church alive with the power of God will be a growing church, with individuals regularly coming to the Lord for salvation and incorporation into his body. Taking note of the circumstances, but even more taking hold of God's power, would you say that your own church is thriving in this way?
The effect of the apostles' signs and wonders ministry is heightened attraction: the sick are brought to them, even laid in the streets to intercept them, as in Jesus' early Galilean ministry (Lk 4:40-41; 6:17-19). There is heightened expectation--the hope that at least Peter's shadow with its healing power may fall on someone as he passes by.
The effect is a broadening scope for the church's mission. It very naturally enters its second phase, "witnesses . . . in all Judea," as crowds from the towns around Jerusalem, again in a constant stream, bring their sick and demon-possessed. (NIV margin unclean gives the literal translation, which points to the ritual impurity of those so possessed; they are unfit for worship in Israel [Williams 1985:88].)
Finally, the effect is total: all of them were healed. Whether during Jesus' ministry or when the church is on mission in Jerusalem, in Judea, in Samaria or on the island of Crete, "to the ends of the earth," God's power will effect a comprehensive healing when faced with human misery (Lk 4:40; 5:15; 6:17-19; Acts 5:16; 8:7; 28:9).
What difference is your church making? What evidences are there of the saving, healing power of God?
Negative Example: Ananias and Sapphira
The Apostles' Healing Ministry and Its Consequences
About this commentary:
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.