Giving Witness to the Resurrection with Great Power

Acts 6:32-35 has always been one of my favorite resurrection texts –

32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34 that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.

Here’s what I see in these verses –

1. They were “believers.”  “Believers” in what?  “Believers” in Jesus Christ of course!  The context of this description of the early church is the aftermath of Peter and John’s arrest (Acts 4:1-4) for preaching the Gospel in the Temple after healing “in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene” a man who had been lame from his birth (Acts 3).  Before the very same Council that had condemned Jesus Christ to death earlier, Peter bore witness to Him as “the only name under heaven by which we must be saved” (4:12).  And after their release, Peter and John made their way to the gathered community of faith where they prayed for the strength to speak God’s word about Jesus Christ with even greater confidence (4:29-30).  Michael Green describes the Apostolic Church we read about in the Book of Acts as being a church “with one overmastering passion… They were consumed with a passion for Jesus Christ.  He was their Lord, He was their first love; nothing else was so important to them.” And He wasn’t just a fond memory to them. Because of the Resurrection, Ascension and Pentecost, Jesus Christ was a continuing presence in their midst.

2. They “spoke the Word of God with boldness.”  This had been their prayer when they were gathered together in community (4:29), and then it became their actual experience when they scattered in mission.  In the book of Acts this connection between the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit and the church actively engaged in the mission of preaching the Gospel and making disciples gets clearly drawn. In fact, it can be argued that the thesis statement of the book of Acts is chapter 1, verse 8: “And you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be My witnesses.”  The popular criteria used these days to establish a church’s claim to be “Spirit-filled” are usually about the emotional impact of its services and the energy of its life.  But in the book of Acts, when the church was filled with the Holy Spirit, where it showed was in its ministry of evangelism – people speaking the Word of God with boldness (Acts 4:31).

3. Their witness was given “with great power.”  Generally speaking, the expectation that talk of “power” creates is for signs and wonders.   Miracles accredit proclamation with a stamp of Divine approval.  This was true of the ministry of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:22), and of His Apostles, the first preachers of the Gospel (Hebrews 2:2-4). Paul reminded the Thessalonian Christians that when he first arrived in their midst that his preaching of the Gospel was not “in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction” (I Thessalonians 1:5).  And so, Luke tells us in Acts chapter 4 that when the Jerusalem church preached the Gospel, giving their witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, that they did so “with great power” (4:33).  So, what were the “signs and wonders” that were generated by this power? Well –

§ The congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul (4:32a)
§ Not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own (4:32b)
§ But all things were common property to them (4:32c)
§ And abundant grace was upon them all (4:33b)
§ For there was not a needy person among them (4:34a)
§ For all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales, and lay them at the apostles’ feet (4:34b -35a)
§ And they would be distributed to each, as any had need (4:35b)

The “great power” with which the Jerusalem church gave their witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ was the power of their transformed lives and changed values.  When they became believers in Jesus Christ they were “buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so they too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4).  As Lewis Smedes wrote in his 1987 Report to the faculty, students and friends of Fuller Theological Seminary on the question of “Ministry and the Miraculous” –

(In the early church) moral renewal was at least as prominent a demonstration of the Gospel’s power as (signs and wonders.)  In the same texts that discuss miracles, the quality of Christian character is held up as primary testimony to the truth.  Athanasius, to mention only one, cites exorcism as a sign of the gospel’s truth, but in the same breath he mentions the moral quality of the Christian’s life: ‘So that the adulterer no longer commits adultery, and the murderer murders no more, nor is the inflictor of wrong any longer grasping, and the profane is henceforth religious.’  The same writers who stressed the apologetic force of miracles made much of the miracle of a transformed life.” (37)

What this means for us is that we are the Gospel’s best witnesses when the Gospel has its intended effect on us. The power of our witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ is not going to reside in the persuasiveness of the words that we speak, but will rather be found in the depth of the impact that the Risen Christ is actually having on our lives.   As Paul put it in Ephesians 4 –
22 You were taught (in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus – v. 21) …to put off your old self … 24 and to put on the new self…  25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26 “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. 28 Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.  29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

This language of “putting off” and “putting on” is baptismal language (Colossians 3).  To illustrate the “newness of life” that comes to a person who by faith was buried and raised with Jesus Christ in baptism, a component of the ancient baptismal ritual was an actual change of clothes.  Stepping into the baptismal pool in old tattered rags, the newly baptized Christian was dressed in clean new clothes when stepping out of the watery grave.  This symbolic action signaled the very real change that was underway in a person’s life when by faith, in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ; they died to self and sin, and were raised to walk in the newness of life that was made possible through forgiveness and the indwelling and empowering presence of the Holy Spirit.

The church described in Acts 4:32-35 is what a community of such Christians looks like.  And this is a church that “with great power” gives witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  DBS+

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