NTiR: Everyone goes a little nutso (Acts 5-8)
In the previous entry, I started into the wacky world that is the Acts of the Apostles. In Acts, we find Peter making the power play to become the de facto head of the church. Peter showed that he wasn’t above twisting facts or re-interpreting scripture to make his points. Also, the Holy Spirit burns a babel fish into the ears of the gathered Christians, allowing them to speak and hear other languages. Or something like that. It sounds a bit nutty to me.
Holy shit, Peter starts killing people! And believers, to boot! Ananias and his wife Sapphira sold their land, and put most of the money at “the apostles’ feet.” However, Peter became enraged that Ananias didn’t hand over all of the money. Which seems unreasonable to me: It was Ananias’s property, why couldn’t he keep some of the money? Peter sees it differently, however, saing that Satan is making Ananias lie to the Holy Spirit. Ananias then falls down dead, apparently from hearing Peter’s words. As you’d expect, most of the people present freak out.
Three hours later, Sapphira comes to the place. She doesn’t know that her husband is dead, and doesn’t realize that Peter has a homocidal street. Peter asks her if she and Ananias planned to keep some of the proceeds from the land sale, and she says yes. Peter tells her that her husband is dead, and that she is, too. Sapphira then drops dead. This scares the hell out of everyone in the church, and everyone who heard the story afterwards. And rightly it should!
The disciples continue to preach that Jesus was the Messiah, and the Pharisees follow through on their threat to arrest them. The disciples spend a night in jail, but then the Angel of the Lord breaks them out. Unfortunately, he then tells the disciples they must go back to the temple and start teaching again. When you break out of prison, it’s hard to make a clean getway if you then go directly back to the scene of the crime.
The Pharisees are surprised to see the disciples at the temple, but immediately take the opportunity to arrest them again. Annas asks Peter why Peter would ignore the threat to stop proclaiming Jesus the Christ. Peter again pulls out the “we must obey god rather than men” which was funny the first time, but not so much the second time. Peter accuses the Pharisees of killing the Christ, which sent the Pharisees into a homocidal rage. Kinda like Peter was earlier.
Fortunately, there was a wise Pharisee in the group. Gamaliel was a teacher of the law and was widely respected among the Pharisees. Gamaliel points out that most everyone who has come into Isreal proclaiming that they were “important” and gathering followers to themselves ended up dying. For example, Theudas and Judas the Galilean both amassed a large number of followers, but their followers dispersed once the leader died. Gamaliel suggests that this will happen to Peter and John, too, as long as the Pharisees leave them alone. So the disciples are released and allowed to go forward and preach as they see fit.
One bit of this chapter really annoys me. Acts 5:41: “They left the Council, rejoicing to have been considered worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the Name.”
Acts is a very strange book. Or the events it recounts are very strange. Or a combination of the two. By Chapter 6, the disciples had become a very numerous organization, which was ruled by the Twelve. The Twelve made decisions for the group, such as choosing to leave only seven disciples (none from the Twelve) to help feed widows while the rest of the disciples continued to gather worshippers into the flock.
One question immediately comes to mind: why are the Twelve putting their group ahead of the needy? Jesus was very straight-forward about priorities: being servants to the poor and hungry was his top priority. One would assum that any church based off his teachings would be, too. But the Twelve decided that the widows were only worth seven disciples. Already I am seeing the Disciples make major changes from what Jesus taught.
Stephen was also gaining power and fame as a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit. People started coming from far away to debate with Stephen, but they couldn’t match his Holy Spirit-granted wisdom. Instead of trying to find another way to outsmart him, the losers instead bring many to bear false witness against Stephen. They pull out the same lie, that Jesus promised to destroy the temple, but attribute those words to Stephen.
Stephen is allowed to testify in his own behalf, and he decides to show off. In 50 verses, Luke recounts Stephen recounting most of the Old Testament, from Abraham seeing God to Solomon building his Temple. Stephen apparently said all of this so he could start a scathing diatribe against the Pharisees. He accuses the Pharisees ancestors of killing all of the old Prophets who propheised the coming of the Christ, as well as killing the Christ himself.
The Pharisees were pissed off so much that they started “grinding their teeth at him.” Which doesn’t seem too bad, when you think of it. “Grinding your teeth” might’ve meant something different back then? Stephen looked toward heaven and declared that the saw Jesus sitting at the right hand of God. This was too much for the Pharisees. They rushed Stephen, took him out of town and stoned him to death.
We are introduced to a few new and interesting characters here. First up is Saul, a man who delights in persecuting followers of Christ. Saul was very pleased that Stephen was stoned to death. Saul did such a good job at capturing and imprisoning new Christian converts that the disciples ended up scattering across the map.
Philip heads down to Samaria. Philip heals many people and casts out many demons, which is enough to win a lot of converts.
While Philip was in Samaria, he came across a man named Simon. Simon was a master of the dark arts. Or at least was strong in arcane practices. Simon had declared himself great, and the people in Smaria proclaimed Simon the Power of God. But when the people – and Simon – heard what Philip said about Jesus, they believed and asked to be baptised.
Once they hear about the successful conversions in Samaria, Peter and John decided to hone in on the action. They come into town and started putting their hands on the believers, allowing the believers to be baptised in the Holy Spirit. Simon saw this, and decided he wanted to be in on the Holy spirit, too. So he offers to buy this from Peter and John.
Peter curses Simon, but fortunately doesn’t kill Simon. Instead, Peter demands that Simon pray for forgiveness and truly repentof the wickedness of not knowing how to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Couldn’t Peter have just said, “Sorry, Simon, that’s not how it works. The way you get baptised with the Spirit is….”
The disciples are finally through with Samaria, so they pack up and join a convoy on the road from Gaza. There they come across the path of a eunuch. I am pretty sure this is the first time we’ve run into a eunuch in the New Testament. I thought being a eunuch had run its course in the Old Testament? The eunuch is actually a Big Deal in Ethiopia: he serves as Queen Candace’s treasurer. Literally, he is in charge of her treasure. Anyway, the eunuch (who Luke uncharacteristicly does not name) is sitting back in his chariot reading Isaiah. Which make sense, since he didn’t have any Dan Brown or Stephen King novels to pass the time.
The Holy Spirit tells Philip to go to the chariot and make friends with the eunuch. Philip asks the eunuch if he needs help understanding what Isaiah is saying, and offers his help when the eunuch admits he can’t make hide nor hair of Isaiah 53:7. The eunuch asks whether the prophet is speaking of himself: Philip assured the eunuch that the prophet speaks of Jesus Christ. The eunuch immediately stops the chariot and has Philip baptise him. Score another conversion for Phillip. At this rate, Phillip is going to outdistance Peter!
Up next: WORMS!!!!!
New installments of The New Testament In Review will be posted each Monday and Thursday. The new posts will always be on my blog, http://biffster.org. The entire series is accessible via http://biffster.org/ntir. If you are one of my Facebook friends, you can get an advance preview on my Facebook page. You can also follow me (@biffster) on Twitter to be alerted to new posts.