I love looking at old family photos, especially ones that are candid shots. Posed shots are great too, but there is something about candid’s that capture the moment differently. Expressions and movement are frozen from their natural movement. It feels like a snapshot of time. Snapshot don’t tell you everything about the person or the event, but they give you a representative feel for what things were like.
In that way, Acts 5 is helpful to us today. There, Luke gives us an account of the apostles leading the early church in spreading the gospel of Christ to those in and around Jerusalem. We aren’t told everything about what the apostles did or how they shared Christ. But it does gives us a representative snapshot. It gives us a taste of what they did, which also serves as an example for us today.
Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico. None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem. And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, so that they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them. The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed.
But the high priest rose up, and all who were with him (that is, the party of the Sadducees), and filled with jealousy they arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison. But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life.” And when they heard this, they entered the temple at daybreak and began to teach.
Now when the high priest came, and those who were with him, they called together the council and all the senate of Israel and sent to the prison to have them brought. But when the officers came, they did not find them in the prison, so they returned and reported, “We found the prison securely locked and the guards standing at the doors, but when we opened them we found no one inside.” Now when the captain of the temple and the chief priests heard these words, they were greatly perplexed about them, wondering what this would come to. And someone came and told them, “Look! The men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people.” Then the captain with the officers went and brought them, but not by force, for they were afraid of being stoned by the people.
And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him” (Acts 5:12-32).
So, what do we see from this snapshot? Four marks of biblical evangelism.
1. Purity (5:12-14)
Just prior to this, the hypocrisy of Ananias and Sapphira has been exposed in the church. They wanted the other Christians to think they were super-spiritual and lied about how much they were contributing to the needs of the poor. And in a perfectly just expression of his holiness, the Lord strikes them dead as soon as Peter confronted them with their sin. This was the very beginning of the Church, and God wanted to be clear that he would not tolerate sin in his people. New spread fast of the event it’s no wonder that Luke tells us that “great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.” On the other hand, Luke is also quick to tell us that despite the reluctance of some, “more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women.”
In an effort to be relevant and welcoming to those that are lost, we can never compromise our holiness before God. In fact, it is our purity—our separateness—that should mark us out from the world. That doesn’t mean we keep away from lost people or look down on the them. Quite the contrary. But it does mean, our lives stand out for this reason: we are holy just as our Father is holy. W have to engage the world with the gospel. Nevertheless, if that engagement is going to have any success, our lives will be marked by a profound sense of holiness.
2. Power (5:14-16)
The apostles were hanging out all the time (perhaps even every day) in and around the Temple in Jerusalem. While there, they were preaching the gospel as God was empowering them to perform miraculous signs and wonders to authenticate their message. Many of these signs involved healing people of various illnesses, and words begins to spread about this. So then all kinds of people from all over Jerusalem and even beyond begin flocking to Solomon’s Portico hoping to get healed. But Luke says these are not just miracles but signs. The physical healing pointed to the spiritual healing that could be theirs in Christ. It revealed that the same God that could cleanse their physically could also cleanse them spiritually. The result? “More than ever believers were added to the Lord.”
The message of Christ came with power and we have that same power today. Does that mean that we should see the same kinds of miraculous signs? Not necessarily. Don’t get me wrong, God still does miracles. God still heals people. But the apostles were given a special authority to ask for these things as the church was first being birthed. In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul says these things were a sign of the truthfulness of their message, of the authority and power of Christ. Even if our evangelism isn’t accompanied with miracles doesn’t means it cannot come with the Spirit’s power. That isn’t difficult to have either. It simply means that we must remain in communion with God through prayer and the reading of his word. We must remain in fellowship with his people, by consistently attending church. We must remain pure by obeying God seeking his forgiveness when we sin. This will ensure we bear witness to Christ with the power of the Spirit that comes through a close, abiding fellowship with Christ (cf. John 15:1-11).
3. Persecution (5:17-24)
Despite the power and success of the evangelism of these early Christians, life was not easy. Luke tells us that in response to what was happening, “the high priest rose up, and all who were with him (that is, the party of the Sadducees), and filled with jealousy they arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison.” A pure and powerful church will always provoke a hostile reaction from a culture that is opposed to God. Resistance and even persecution are to be expected for Christians and churches that seek to fulfill God’s will for their lives. Paul tells Timothy that “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,” (2 Tim 3:12). Peter goes on to say, “If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you” (1 Pet 4:14).
I know many Christians get upset and mad when we are made fun of in the media, or receive some slight from a political or social action group. But based on the experience of God’s people throughout history, even from the very beginning, what do they expect? If you truly seek to follow God, you will be at odds with the world. If we are faithful in proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ, then we should expect persecution. But remember what we see all throughout Acts: the gospel mission is an unstoppable mission. Christ himself has been given authority over all things and so commissioned his people to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. But the success of their mission does not lie in their own efforts, but in God himself who ensures its success.
4. Perseverance (5:25-32)
The angel who freed the apostles told them that they were to continue to “speak all the words of this Life.” I think the ESV rightly has the word ‘Life’ capitalized because I believe the angel is referring to Jesus, who called himself, “the way, the truth, and the life.” Per God’s orders, the angel essential said, ‘Remember you calling. Keep fulfilling your commission from the risen Lord. Tell others about him.’ And that’s exactly what they do (5:25-29). What motivates people to such commitment? The truth through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God saves sinners.
Peter says, “We must obey God rather than men.” Why? Because “The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.” This message—that on the cross Jesus died in place of sinners, fulfilling God’s wrath against their sin, so that if we trust in Christ and not ourselves to make us right with God, he will forgive our sins and give us eternal life—that message is worth fighting for. That message is worth enduring persecution for. True, biblical evangelism doesn’t give up. That doesn’t mean that you don’t use wisdom or think how best to bring the gospel to bear in people lives; that’s essential. But it does mean that even if the situation will be uncomfortable or perhaps you have even been accosted in the past, you do not stop proclaiming the gospel. Most of us will never be put in the same kind of situation the apostles were put in – being brought before their people’s most powerful religious and political body. But our response should always be the same as theirs: “We must obey God rather than men.”