Switching from an impersonal “Way” to a personal Jesus

While amazing things are happening in Samaria in Acts 8, in Acts 9 Saul is still causing havoc among those he dubbed “the Way” (Acts 9:2). To Saul any Jew deserting the teachings of Moses for this other “way” of Jesus, was “speaking blasphemy against Moses and against God” and “against the holy place and the law” (Acts 6:11 and 13).   

So in Acts 9:1-2 Saul “went to the high priest (in Jerusalem)” to “ask him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that….he might take them (the Jesus followers) as prisoners to Jerusalem.” Saul was in a rage, that all this stuff about Jesus was a dangerous cult that needed to be stamped out by jailing and killing off its followers, even as far away as Damascus, because to him there was nothing Godly about this “way” at all.  

But Saul’s in for a bit of a surprise, because as “he neared Damascus,” clutching his signed letters from the high priest to drag all Jesus followers to Jerusalem, “suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him,” Acts 9:3

It was like a near hit by a lightning bolt, because his knees crumpled and down he went. And that’s when “he heard a voice say to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’” (verse 4). And amazingly, Saul immediately accepts the voice as real and he has no problem replying to it. 

But what made Saul ask in verse 5, “Who are you, Lord?” His first three words are understandable, because the voice had accused him of picking on “me,” and Saul was simply checking out who the “me” was – but why did he follow that up with the word “Lord”? 

Why ask who “me” was if he already knew it was “the Lord”? And what made Saul think it really was the Lord speaking – because what previous experience of the Lord being so personal had Saul had up to this point?   

But go back to the story of Stephen in Acts 6 and 7, and it’s not surprising that Saul immediately suspects this is the Lord in person speaking to him. Saul’s experience with Stephen had been surreal, first in Stephen’s amazing wisdom (Acts 6:10), then Stephen crying out in Acts 7:56, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God,” and again in Stephen’s dying words, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” in Acts 7:60

What must’ve really rattled Saul, though, was Stephen putting the “Son of Man” and “Lord” together, because that clearly identified Jesus (the Son of Man) as the “Lord.” Stephen had also actually seen Jesus in his lofty position at God’s right hand, so from Stephen Saul learnt for the first time in his life that Jesus was alive still, and he was both powerful and personal.   

It’s not surprising, then, that Saul had no trouble accepting the “me” in verse 4 as the Lord Jesus, because a switch had already been clicked in his head by his experience with Stephen that this new movement of Jesus followers wasn’t just an impersonal “Way,” it was based on Jesus being alive in power and person.

But look what it took to bring Saul to that point. It wasn’t an impersonal “Way” – or a system of beliefs, doctrines, creeds and rituals – that got to Saul; it was the amazing difference that being “full of the Spirit” had made in Stephen: he was full of “God’s grace and power” (Acts 6:8). And that made Stephen into a wonderful and visible witness to Jesus being alive, which is exactly what Jesus said would happen when his disciples were filled with the Spirit in Acts 1:8. And now in Acts 9 we actually see that witness happening in the impact that Jesus being alive, powerful and personal in Stephen’s life had made on Saul.  

So it’s real; it happens, and amazingly so in the likes of a man like Saul. Does that mean, then, that because of the Spirit in us the same switch is being clicked on in other people’s heads too?   

The unpredictable but timing perfect Holy Spirit….

 Simon Magus’ view of the Holy Spirit in the first half of Acts 8 was pathetically limited and insultingly wrong. To him the Spirit was merely an “ability” (verse 19) he could add to his other magical powers by simply placing his hands on people (verse 18). Imagine the impact that would have, this amazing power being released through his fingers, which he could pull out of his bag of magic tricks to sway people Into believing he truly had “divine power” (verse 10). The Holy Spirit, in other words, was something he could control and use to wow people into believing his ministry was from God (verse 21) – much like so called faith healers do today.   

Peter, however, labelled Simon’s attitude for what it was: “wickedness” (verse 22). But why was it so wicked? 

We’re about to find out in the next half of Acts 8, because there is a massive contrast between the limited, insulting view that Simon had of the Holy Spirit and what the Spirit is really like – the first hint of which occurs in verse 26 when, out of the blue, “an angel of the Lord” arrives on the scene to give Philip his next assignment.  

Imagine being in Philip’s sandals when this happens. In Acts 6 he’d just been chosen by the church as one of seven men to organize the care and feeding of the widows and many others pouring into the church in Jerusalem. That was his job. But in Acts 8:5 we find him on the road to Samaria instead, to “proclaim Christ there,” where he’s doing “miraculous signs” (verse 6), freeing people from evil spirits and healing paralytics and cripples (verse 7). 

And Philip wasn’t even an apostle, but here he was doing apostle level miracles. It meant leaving his carer’s job in Jerusalem to go to Samaria and now he’s being told by an angel to leave Samaria and head south on a “desert road” (verse 26) with no idea or explanation where he was going or what for. It was all completely and totally unexpected. And it probably didn’t make much sense to Philip either, because why was he being asked to leave Samaria when all the action was happening back there (verse 25)?

But here he is, walking along an empty desert road with not a soul, house or village in sight, and no clue what he’s there for – when a chariot appears, and the Spirit tells him, “Go to the chariot and stay near it” (verse 29).  

The timing is exquisite, because the man in the chariot is reading aloud from Isaiah 53. Philip asks if he understands what he’s reading, the man wants to know and Philip explains how those verses tie in with “the good news about Jesus” (verses 30-35). It’s exactly what the man needs to hear, because he stops the chariot a few miles down the road and wants to be baptized where water just happens to be (verses 36 and 38). That job done “the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away,” verse 39.

How wicked it was of Simon, therefore, to think the Holy Spirit was merely a power he could control for his own ends and agenda. Because look at the massive contrast between Simon’s pathetic and insulting view of the Spirit to this exquisitely choreographed story of the Ethiopian Secretary of the Treasury on his way home from Jerusalem on this totally deserted road reading aloud from Isaiah 53, wondering who it’s referring to, and alongside his chariot appears Philip, who is able to tie in Isaiah 53 with what Jesus was all about. 

No one else is there to witness it either. It’s just between these two men, one who’s willing to go wherever the Spirit blows, and the other at that specific time being ready for hearing the gospel. No one had set this up or planned it in their five year church plan for missions. It was all the Spirit’s doing. 

But the Spirit knew Philip, that Philip would accept receiving instructions from an angel and being spoken to by the Spirit, and finding himself on an empty desert road with no idea why.    

Imagine, then, what could have happened if Simon Magus had been like Philip. What incredibly unexpected things would the Spirit have done through him that would have shown Simon’s many followers how wonderfully unpredictable but timing perfect the Spirit truly is? 

Simon never got to know the Spirit was like that. But for those who see in this story in Acts 8 that this is what life with the Holy Spirit is like, it spells a life of adventure, challenge and a Philip-like trust that what happens in our lives is being directed by a power that knows us well and knows exactly what to gift us with and when, so that we can have a “share in Jesus’ ministry” too (verse 21).  

Was Simon Magus a Christian because he was baptized?….

In Acts 8:9 “a man named Simon….amazed all the people of Samaria,” creating  a huge following dazzled by “his magic,” verse 11. His magic was so impressive it looked like he had “divine power,” verse 10. To the Samaritans there was something definitely supernatural going on, the source of which they believed to be “the Great Power.” (verse 10). But the very real presence of “evil spirits” in verse 7 hints strongly as to who or what that “Great Power” was. It certainly wasn’t God. 

It looked like Simon was well and truly wired up to evil forces, therefore, so he must’ve really surprised his followers when Philip turned up in verse 12 “preaching the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ” and Simon believed it too. He was even baptized along with many of his countrymen (verse 13). So here we have a man who’d been “boasting that he was someone great” (verse 9) – because of the huge following he had – now humbly “following Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and wonders” Philip was doing. 

Not only, then, did Simon believe the gospel message, he was also  “baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus” (verse 16) and he became one of Philip’s most ardent supporters. These were all clear signs that Simon had become a Christian. His conversion from a satanic flunkey to Christian disciple was nothing short of amazing, especially when he himself had been such a celebrity with his own adoring crowd of disciples. 

So far in Acts 8, therefore, it’s not surprising if we, like Philip, accepted Simon Magus as a fully fledged, enthusiastic Christian, and the kind of chap you’d welcome in church. Philip had no doubts about him either, because when news got back to the apostles in Jerusalem that the Samaritans “had accepted the word of God” (verse 14), there was no added warning in the report to “watch out for Simon, who looks like a Christian but he’s a fraud.”  

No one would have been any wiser about Simon, then, had not Peter and John arrived from Jerusalem and started praying for the Samaritan disciples “that they might receive the Holy Spirit,” verse 15, “because,” verse 16, “the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them.” 

But what noticeable difference would that have made? 

Well, when “Peter and John placed their hands on people and they received the Holy Spirit,” verse 17, something extra happened to those people. There is no indication what it was in the text, but the obvious sign of people receiving the Spirit up to this point in Acts was them becoming a united family who cared for each other (Acts 2:44-46, 4:32-37, 6:1-6). The Holy Spirit also equipped them with the heart and skills (or gifts) for taking care of each other too (like Stephen in Acts 7).    

But even if Simon had known that’s what receiving the Spirit would do for him, he wouldn’t have been interested, because his attention was totally on the Holy Spirit being an extra power he could get by the placing of his hands on people too, and he wanted it so much for himself he was willing to pay whatever it cost to get it (Acts 8:18-19). 

And that gave the game away to Peter, because he could see what really drove Simon, and how bitter Simon would become if he didn’t get what he wanted (verse 23). So he let Simon know he could see right through him, but instead of Simon seeking the help he so desperately needed with his utterly selfish attitude his only interest was in Peter praying for him “that nothing you have said may happen to me,” verse 24. His interest was still only in himself. 

And that’s why the title of this article, “Was Simon Magus a Christian because he was baptized?” – because part of his mind accepted Philip’s message about Jesus, and especially when it was backed up by some really impressive healing miracles. But there was another part of his mind that wasn’t interested in anything more than that. He wasn’t interested in becoming part of a caring family, or being healed of his selfishness and bitterness when it was pointed out to him. He wanted in for himself, much like any one of us joining the church today to get ourselves saved and into heaven, rather than becoming a loving family of disciples caring for each other and seeking healing of all that’s rotten and bad in us (Acts 3:26 and 5:31). 

”Known to be full of the Spirit”

In Acts 6:1 Grecian Jews “complained against those of the (local Jewish) Aramaic-speaking community because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.” And clearly it was a problem because “the Twelve (apostles) gathered all the disciples together” to talk about it. 

The solution they came up with was the church “choosing seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them,” verse 3.

So it was over to the church to decide who the seven men would be. But how could they tell who was (or wasn’t) “full of the Spirit”? Surely, they all were, or were some noticeably “more” full of the Spirit than others? But how could people with “less” Holy Spirit know who was full of the Spirit, or that other people had more of the Spirit than them? And surely they’d have to know what being full of the Spirit was like in themselves too, to be able to recognize it in others. 

But there’s no ignoring the apostles telling the church to go find seven men who were “KNOWN to be full of the Spirit,” so these men must have stood out in some way to make everyone aware of who they were, And in an obvious way too, because “This proposal pleased the whole group,” verse 5. So no one had any trouble with this solution, because it was known who was full of the Spirit. It was blatantly apparent to everyone. They could all tell. 

So they must have known each other really well, and so well that identifying seven men among the “increasing number of disciples” (verse 1) who were joining them was easy. But the question still remains as to what it was that stood out in these seven men that clearly identified them as full of the Spirit. 

Well, what was the situation that triggered the search for these men in the first place? It was an immediate and pressing need. Grecian Jews were complaining that their widows were being neglected “in the daily distribution of food.” It sounds like there was a communal dining hall where they all ate together, because the apostles were racing round like waiters (verse 2), and with possibly thousands of people to feed every day it must have been hectic. And in all that racing around, perhaps the local Aramaic-speaking Jewish widows were being served first because they could communicate their needs in the local language, and their needs would more likely have been known by the locals too. 

Whatever the reason, what was needed was men who were known for their organizational ability, and for being really good at calming people down and resolving conflicts. Those were the two main needs, and the people knew each other well enough to know who was best suited to meet those needs.

But the one who knew best of all was the Holy Spirit, because he was the one bringing all these people into the church, including needy widows, and was fully aware that such problems would arise. And this is where we see the Holy Spirit being way ahead of the game, because he also had people who could take care of the needs too. It was he who was making it obvious who the right men were, probably because he was also equipping and gifting them for the jobs needed, just like he’d equipped and gifted the apostles for the “ministry of the word” (verses 2 and 4). 

So these seven men were full of the Spirit in the sense that they were fully equipped by the Spirii for the needs at the time. And so well had the Spirit equipped them that everyone could see they were the right men for the job. Stephen, for instance, in verse 5, was “full of faith and of the Holy Spirit,” but in the context of being filled with trust in the Spirit to help them out in such practical things as organizing food for the needy. And that was Stephen’s focus, and so much so it was obvious to those who knew him well. 

Stephen was clearly aware of just how intimately involved the Spirit was in every aspect of the growing church, from “the word of God spreading” (verse 7) to making sure neglected widows got enough food. It was in that context that he was “full of faith and the Holy Spirit.” He simply trusted the Spirit to meet their needs, whatever those needs were. 

“He must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”

So said Jesus to a crowd of people, including his disciples, in Mark 8:34. It must have sounded odd, though, because what did “taking up a cross” mean? Jesus obviously knew what it meant because a couple of verses earlier he’d told his disciples he’d be killed, so he knew that taking up a cross was in his near future, but did it mean his disciples would need to be killed on crosses too?

History indicates that some of the disciples may have been killed on crosses, but not all of them, so going literally to one’s death on a cross wasn’t what Jesus was getting at, and even if it was how could his disciples “follow” him if they were dead? Taking up a cross had to mean some action while they were still alive, therefore, which is what it means to us today too. To take up one’s cross is associated with an unpleasant task or person we have to put up with: “It’s a cross I have to bear,” we say, when we’re lumped with a physical handicap, or a neighbour’s dog that never stops barking. 

So in our culture we associate taking up a cross with something negative, but that couldn’t be what Jesus meant either, because why would anyone want to “follow” him if it means having even more crosses to bear? 

Jesus also made it clear in his ministry that he’d come to heal people, so all three of those statements he made – denying oneself, taking up a cross, and following him – would have to tie in with that, as essential to our healing. But how can a cross tie in with healing when it pictures severe pain and public humiliation?  

But in Jesus’ case it worked wonderfully, because the pain and public humiliation he suffered on the cross was totally tied in with our healing. In his death he “condemned sin in sinful man” (Romans 8:3). In HIS cross, therefore, he put to death the junk that kills us as humans, the kind of junk he talked about in Mark 7, like weird ideas about sex, jealousy, lying, destructive gossip, hating people enough to want to kill them, obsession with our self-image, and stupid, inconsiderate words and actions that destroy relationships. To be free of all that rubbish is the best thing that can happen to us. Well, in taking up his cross Jesus got that process started, so that one day we could all be free of that destructive nonsense forever. No wonder Jesus went to the cross with joy (Hebrews 12:2). 

So now we have a very positive reason for taking up a cross, when it’s tied in with killing off what’s killing us. Does that positive reason then spill over into why Jesus wanted us to take up a cross as well? 

It’s going to mean we’re in for pain and humiliation like he went through, because that’s what being hung up on a cross includes. It’s not pleasant, for instance, having to admit we’ve got many of the same problems Jesus listed in Mark 7, and even more unpleasant having some of them exposed for all to see as well. 

But the purpose of exposing what’s inside us (and the humiliation that may go along with it), is to experience becoming the lovely human Jesus died to make us into. This is what Jesus gave us the Holy Spirit for too, to help us become visible witnesses to Jesus making awful people into good ones. He went to the cross for that reason, to kickstart that healing for all humanity, and to make his disciples the best living proof of it.

So, yes, taking up our cross may be painful and humiliating, just as Jesus taking up his cross was for him, but when we know the purpose of it, to heal us by cleaning out our hearts and cleaning up our minds from all that’s killing us and our planet, then that surely explains why Jesus has disciples who not only take up their crosses willingly, they also willingly follow him. 

Righteousness – what does it mean and why is it so important?

 Righteousness is important because it would create the greatest revolution this world has ever seen. That’s because of what righteousness is: according to 1 John 3:7, “He who does what is right is righteous, just as he (Jesus) is righteous.” Simply put, then, righteousness means doing what’s right just as Jesus does.  

And would that create the greatest revolution this world has ever seen? Yes, because righteousness by John’s definition has never been done by humanity as a whole. Instead we’ve “all sinned” (Romans 3:23), and according to 1 John 3:4, “sin is lawlessness.” So, instead of all us humans doing what is right, we fell short of that and became lawless. Whereas in Jesus, verse 5, there “is no sin.” If we were all like Jesus, then, we wouldn’t be lawless, and what would the world be like then?

Well, that’s what Jesus is bringing about, because there’s no way we can do it. Our inability to even do what WE define as right is clearly demonstrated in the mess we and our planet are in. “But,” verse 5, “he (Jesus) appeared so that he might take away our sins.” So Jesus came to do away with our lawlessness and our inability “to do what’s right.” And this is how he turns our world right side up, which we’ve never been able to do. 

But how does he deal with our inability to do what is right? Again, John explains, in verse 6: “No one who lives in him keeps on sinning.” The key to solving our inability to do what is right, then, is us “living in Jesus,” so what does that mean?  

Fortunately, John takes the time to explain that too, starting in verse 9: “No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God.” In other words, it’s possible for us to be righteous like Jesus is, with the same desire and ability to do what’s right that he has, because God made us his children too. We have the same “God-seed” in us, therefore, that Jesus has, so that we can live how Jesus lives.

John is thrilled by this, as we see in verse 1, when he writes, “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God,” because “that is what we are.” And being God’s children, born of his seed, we are now in the same marvellous position as Jesus is, being able to think and do what’s right just as he does.  

That’s what God has made possible, so that whatever Jesus taught and how Jesus lived we can live those things too. And by living as he did, or “obeying his commands,” as John put it in 1 John 2:3, “This is how we know we are in himverse 5

John spells it out so clearly in verse 6, that  “Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did” – but in recognition now that we CAN now walk like Jesus because, like him, we are God’s children too. Or as John puts it in verse 29, “everyone who does what is right has been born of him.” 

It goes both ways, then: if we’re born of him we can do what is right, and if we do what is right it’s proof we are born of him. Either way it means righteousness is within our grasp, which has to be thrilling, because it’s through righteousness that Jesus is bringing about the greatest revolution this world has ever seen.

Repent

“Repent” said on its own like that can sound blunt, especially when yelled as a threat by fire-breathing preachers, that we’d better repent, or else – the “or else” usually meaning a fearsome future in an ever-burning hell. 

Can these preachers be blamed – or even criticized – though, for being so blunt, when Paul was just as blunt in Acts 17:30-31? “In the past,” Paul told the Athenians, “God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For,” take note, “he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed.”  

Paul was just as blunt in Romans 2:5 too, when he writes to his fellow Jews, “because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed,” because that’s when “God will give to each person according to what he has done,” verse 6

It’s not surprising, then, that repentance is associated with severe warning of judgment by an angry God if one’s behaviour doesn’t improve. The Pharisees and Sadducees would certainly have heard it that way when John the Baptist yells at them, “You gang of snakes; who gave you the idea you could escape the coming wrath?” No way will they escape God’s wrath unless they “produce fruit in keeping with repentance,” because, like an unfruitful tree if “you don’t produce good fruit you’ll be cut down and burnt” (Matthew 3:7-8, 10). 

Add to that Hebrews 10:31, that “It’s a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” and we get the picture – that God is not to be messed with.  

But there’s another side to repentance that reveals God in a different light. It’s first seen in the book of Job, where we see God letting all sorts of horrible things happen to Job, but the result is Job saying, “I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes,” Job 42:6.  

It dawns on Job how arrogant he’d been in challenging the great God himself. He even thought he could ask God questions that God couldn’t answer. How on earth could he think such a thing? Because of his pride, that’s how. But on seeing it Job repented, because he suddenly realized it was in his own head where the problem lay, not in God’s. 

And it set the scene for what God is bringing every human to see eventually, that pride in our own abilities, opinions and judgments makes us think we have within us whatever it takes to handle any problem we face, and we don’t need God. And clearly, based on what God allowed Job to go through, it’s the toughest lesson we have to learn. How many of us, for instance, based our lifelong thinking on what Jesus said, that the truly blessed in life are those who are “poor in spirit,” who realize they’re just as ignorant and limited in their understanding as Job was, and like Job desperately need God to strip away their blindness so they see the damage their thinking has done to them?  

But this is the point God brings us to, where it dawns on us what our brains and attitudes have made us think and do, and we just sit there, stunned, wondering “Now what?” Which is exactly what happened to the Jews in Acts 2, when Peter revealed the astoundingly embarrassing and horrifying news that they’d just killed the Messiah they’d so much been looking forward to, because of their pride and ignorance. It knocked the wind right out of them, verse 37; “they were cut to the heart and said, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’” 

Peter’s immediate reply of “Repent” in verse 38 was good news, because there WAS something they could do. They could admit how blind, helpless and stupid they’d been, just like Job, because this was exactly the raw material needed for God to rewire their brains. It’s what God had allowed the horrible mess they’d made to bring them to, so now he could heal and bless them, just as he promised in Acts 3:26.   

It may seem, then, that God is being harsh and cruel allowing us to reach that point though suffering, but in reality it’s love, because only he can heal a pride driven brain, and only he who can help us see it. And once that’s done he does for us what he did for Job; he fills our lives with new attitudes that bring us blessings we never knew existed. 

“And all of them were healed”

In Acts 5:16 ”crowds gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their  sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed.” Not one of the many thousands who turned up for healing was turned away. And no matter how serious or terminal an illness or disease, it was guaranteed a healing. 

So if mass healings like this aren’t happening in the church today, why aren’t they? Is it because we aren’t praying like they did in Acts 4:30, for God to “stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders”? 

But take into account that those doing all the healings in Acts 5 were the apostles (verse 12). And the apostles were the ones the church was praying for in Acts 4:30 too. It was also to the apostles that Jesus talked about “confirming the message by the signs that attended it,” like “laying hands on the sick and the sick recovering” (Mark 16:17-18). Paul also talked about “the signs of an apostle” in 2 Corinthians 12:12, that set the apostles aside as special, because they were the ones God had chosen to lay the foundations of the New Testament church (Ephesians 2:20). So this great power to heal was specifically given to the apostles.  

But once that confirmation of the apostles had been done by healings and other miraculous signs and wonders, did that mean the healings and miracles would end? No, because Jesus said the future church would be doing “greater” miracles than even he’d done (John 14:12). 

But what could be “greater” than all those who went to Jesus for healing being healed? Even saying “all of them were healed” in Acts 5:16 isn’t greater than what Jesus did. So what “greater things” could Jesus possibly be referring to? 

Well, healing a person completely from all his sicknesses isn’t a cure for selfishness or greed, nor does it heal bitterness following a broken relationship or a thwarted dream. It doesn’t cure racism, bullying, a bloated ego, road rage, or frustration at injustice, unfairness and favouritism. And think of all the tragic mental aberrations that lead to war, murder and revenge, that once started cannot be stopped. 

In other words, it’s what’s tucked away inside us causing our problems that desperately needs the “greater” healing promised by Jesus – just like a good Doctor gets at the causes of our illnesses, rather than just treating the symptoms. And getting at the causes is why “God raised up his servant, Jesus” in Acts 3:26 too. Jesus came to “bless us by turning each of us from our wicked ways.” Not turn us from what’s bothering us physically; it’s turning us from the curse of the monsters inside us that are making us do awful things to ourselves and to other people.   

Like the monsters inside the heads of the religious hierarchy in Jerusalem, in reaction to the apostles’ amazing healings in Acts 5:16. Because instead of applauding what the apostles were doing, “the high priest and all his associates….were filled with jealousy,” verse 17. How sick is that? But that’s why sick minds are far worse than sick bodies, because sick minds wreck other people’s lives too. 

The big question has to be, then, “Does Jesus heal all those with sick minds who recognize their need for healing and come to him for it?” 

The answer from Jesus is a resounding “Yes, of course,” because in Matthew 11:28 he said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest,” and by “rest” he meant “rest for your souls,” verse 29, not bodies. He wants to heal what’s churning away deep inside our very soul, because that’s where the greatest cure is needed. 

That’s his “greater” healing and greater goal, so that one day he can say of everyone’s heart, soul and mind – that “all of them are healed.”  

“No one dared join them”

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.  

The revolutionary “one in heart and mind”

In Acts 4:32 “All the believers were one in heart and mind.” In any culture that would be a miracle, but here in Acts 4 it actually happened. It was clear evidence of the Holy Spirit at work in the church, creating something that had never been witnessed or created by any society so far. It was, to put it mildly, revolutionary. 

It was also an answer to Jesus’ prayer in John 17:20-21, that “those who believe in me….all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.”

“One in heart and mind” in Jesus’ definition, therefore, was a whole lot more than a group sharing the same beliefs, or partaking in a project together, or creating a community that shares the same interests. It meant being “one” like the Father and Jesus are one, a totally unique relationship based on the Father being “in” Jesus, and Jesus being ”in” his Father. 

But that’s the relationship on offer in the church, enabling ordinary human beings like you and me to be “one as we (Father and Jesus) are one,” verse 22. We too, then, can experience the “in” each other relationship that the Father and Jesus have. 

So, what makes such a relationship possible? Jesus answers that for us in verse 22 when he prays, “I have given them the glory that you gave me, (so) that they may be one as we are one.” There’s a “glory” needed, that Jesus himself gives us – the same glory, it so happens, that the Father gave to him in verse 24

And what is that glory? In verse 24 it’s defined as the love the Father has for Jesus, which Jesus then prayed for us to experience too, in verse 26, “that the love you (Father) have for me may be in them.” 

So, how is that glorious love of the Father for Jesus “in” us as well? Jesus explains how in the last sentence of his prayer, when he adds the statement, “and that I myself may be in them.”

There are extraordinary things being said here, that Jesus can make the glorious love his Father has for him real in us too, by actually living that Fatherly love he experiences “IN” us. This isn’t something we have to cook up for ourselves to make us “one in heart and mind,” therefore, it’s having the eternal Son of God make it happen in us, by living his OWN oneness of heart and mind with the Father in us personally.

But HOW does Jesus do that in us personally? By another extraordinary thing he talked about earlier in John 14. In verses 16-17 he said he’d “ask the Father”to give us “another Counselor….the Spirit of truth.” This Spirit would then “live with you and in you,” verse 17, enabling us to “realize,” verse 20, “that I (Jesus) am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” 

The Holy Spirit helps us realize a wonderful secret, totally unknown to the world (verse 17), that it’s only in the union of God and human that this unique “one in heart and mind” happens. Jesus, for instance, is “in” – or in union with – the Father (verse 20), and that’s how he experiences it. And it’s only when we’re “in” or in union with Jesus, and Jesus being “in” and in union with us, that we experience it. 

And Jesus clearly explains what being “in union” means too: Jesus was in union with his Father because everything he said and did was in obedience to his Father (verses 10 and 24), just as we’re in union with Jesus when we obey him (verses 21 and 23). 

So that’s how this unique “one in heart and mind” is created in us. And it very quickly began to happen in the church – first in Acts 2:42-46, and again in Acts 4:32-35. The church found itself experiencing what the world had never experienced up to this point, or even knew was possible and available.

Being “one in heart and mind,” then, was not only miraculous, it was revolutionary, because it gave visible witness to something totally different happening to humans, that only happens to those who believe Jesus is alive and what he’s alive for.