In Acts 5:12 the apostles were doing such amazing “miraculous signs and wonders” that “no one else dared join them,” verse 13 – “them” being the group of “believers meeting together in Solomon’s Colonnade” (verse 12).
So here was the church, and such startling things were happening in it that it scared people. And not because the church was weird, because the second part of verse 13 says, “even though they (the believers) were highly regarded by the people.” So this was a case of people having trouble coming to terms with something they’d never witnessed before. It was all so stunningly different.
And they weren’t the only ones to be stunned either. In verse 11, “Great fear seized the whole church,” because of the sudden and startling death of Ananias and Sapphira for lying (verses 5 and 10). It really rocked people back on their heels, because this was clear evidence of a power at work among them that meant business. So, no more pretence, folks, or trying to appear religious; those days are gone.
It’s not surprising, then, that it sent ripples of fear through the religious hierarchy in Jerusalem too, because if anyone was guilty of trying to appear religious it was them. Jesus had certainly made that clear to them in Matthew 23, when he called them out for not practicing what they preached (verse 3), and “appearing to people as righteous but on the inside are full of hypocrisy and wickedness,” verse 28.
They were just playing at being religious, because God wasn’t a real, living power to them. Well, that soon changed in the book of Acts as God gave the church some real power – the apostles healing everyone who asked in Acts 5:16, for instance. And did that ever get the attention of the religious pretenders, because in verse 18, “They arrested (all twelve) apostles and put them in the public jail.”
But next day they discovered the apostles had all escaped, without the guards outside the locked door even noticing (verse 23). Worse still, someone reported the apostles were right back to teaching in the temple again.
So this was scary stuff, because something obviously extraordinary had happened that these religious authorities didn’t dare admit to, and especially when Gamaliel stood up in verse 39 and said, “if this is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”
And how thrillingly scary that is, realizing it applies to us too, that nothing can stop the church today either. We are in that same church today, being given the same power by the same Holy Spirit, and for the same purpose, to “put the wind up people” so they realize there’s an extraordinary power at work on this planet, and there it is in plain view still thriving and still unstoppable, no matter how much violent opposition has been thrown at it.
Wouldn’t it be great, then, if the church today cottoned on to what the church realized in Acts 4, that the words the Holy Spirit inspired King David to speak in Psalm 2:1-2 applied to them as well? “Why,” David asked in those two verses, putting it in my own words, “do all these windbags think they can take on God?” (Acts 4:25-26). Why do they think they can “conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you sent” (verse 27)?
But they do think that, so “Lord, hear their threats, and give us, your servants, great boldness in preaching your word. Stretch out your hand with healing power; may miraculous signs and wonders be done through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” Give them a shot of your power enough to scare them into the reality of it, in other words. And God clearly appreciated their request because “After this prayer, the meeting place shook, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. Then they preached the word of God with boldness,” verses 29-31.
Scary stuff, because it is now clear, after centuries of persecution, that these verses are as real today as they were to the church in Acts 4. The best of atheists and haters of Christianity have never been able to wipe the church out. And that’s scary, because it’s proof of a power at work on this planet that is unstoppable in its purpose.
And we are now the carriers and recipients of that power, and for the same purpose: It’s to wow this world with his power, clearly demonstrated in the church doing what the world cannot do.
And that power is being made real every minute in the church, as we live a life so visibly and startlingly different to the world that it scares people enough to get their attention. Because what they see being lived in us are the obvious and only solutions to the world’s unsolvable problems.