Week of October 17

Whose Map are We Using?

Read: Nehemiah 13; Malachi 1-2; Acts 4
“And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.”
Acts 4:1-2, ESV


Jesus taught His disciples “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account,” then He sent them into the world to be His witnesses (Matthew 5:11; Acts 1:8). I can imagine the lesson being delivered on a bright, warm windswept hillside, but the cold-hard reality occurs in Acts (4:1-2). Serious disciples will at times be seriously opposed (4:21; 5:18). Listeners, early in Jesus’ ministry, drank in and praised His every word, only later to spit it back at Him with vile insults, mockery, and hatred (Matthew 26:67-68; 27:27-31, 39-43). Christians will be opposed even by those who claim to be religious as we will learn today! So, how are we to respond to such violence?

Let's See What the Bible Says

We begin today by “doing the math,” as we sometimes say. Thousands of people came to Christ immediately following the coming of the Holy Spirit (i.e., Pentecost; Acts 2). The church grew exponentially, so it would be only a matter of time before the religionists determined that intervention was necessary (Acts 4:16-17, 21). They swooped in unannounced (4:1; Gk. “to descend upon”). Why would this be so?

Luke records that the religious leaders were “greatly annoyed” (4:2; Gk. “to be worn out” with something). The disciples were not confronted because of poor Old Testament interpretation but because of their singular declaration that the resurrected Jesus was Lord (3:20). You see, the Sadducees did not believe in a resurrection (4:2b). They believed that once a person died, then that was it. No afterlife. So, the general idea of a resurrection was an apocalyptic concept that held all sorts of Messianic overtones (NAC). So?

Messianism in that day signaled Jewish revolt, which these fellows did not want (cf. A.D. 66 and the Jewish rebellion; see also 5:36-37). It would upset the political equilibrium that they had established with the Romans. These religious leaders did not confront the disciples based upon Jewish theology, but upon political ideology. Those early disciples learned first-hand what Christ had taught them. Opposition to a pure Christian message may be resisted for more than theological reasons.

John Polhill comments, and I agree with his interpretation, that Luke inserts an historical event that seems out of context (4:4; “many of those who heard the word believed,” NAC). Here’s the point. It has never been about Peter, James and John, or any other disciple. Acts was written to show that the Gospel must advance (Acts 1:1-2; 28:31). These disciples of Christ were opposed, but Luke reminds us that they were not the focus—the gospel is the focus. Jesus represented God’s word of life (John 1:14), and human opposition to this message will be certain because it calls for a radical change in worldview and application. The point? Make certain to pass the Gospel on to others despite persecution (5:17-21). The Gospel must advance.

Let's Deepen Our Walk

I got along well with my boyhood neighborhood friends, but we would occasionally experience disagreements. Sometimes they would escalate, and we would hold stand-offs by saying things like, “Get off my property!” I know, I could barely afford a snow-cone at the ballpark on my weekly allowance, so my authority was quite limited. Nevertheless, we would watch each other play in our respective backyards but not cross the property line. I had a swing-set, but one of my friends had an actual fort. He was able to stare me down from atop its lookout! Looking back, none of us had any idea where the actual property lines were located. We were kids. I must say, however, that I was led to resolve such conflicts when my parents issued a mandate to go and make amends. Our Christian love for our neighbors trumped our border divides. The early disciples had a mandate that required crossing boundaries with the gospel of love, so they endured all manner of hatred to spread the Good News.

Here is a thought for our spiritual growth. I have noticed that Christ’s disciples operated under the Lord’s mandate (4:18-19). His map of creation showed that He held all authority to disperse His disciples into all the world (Matthew 28:18-20; Cf. Colossians 1:16-20). Ironically, some Christians may determine not to cross certain boundaries as set by religious or governmental leadership. They evangelize their children and those who may attend their church gatherings, but they choose otherwise not to create upset with religious and political systems by crossing borderlines. They have privatized their faith. Our text today challenges us to consider Whom we will honor, Whose mandate we will obey, and Whose map we will use to crisscross this life.

Let's Think and Discuss

1. Take time to jot down your Christian non-negotiables. What provides the foundation for your religion? Your politics? Tough questions call for honest answers on our parts.

2. For Families: This devotional passage and its message to us are startlingly timely. Share its truth with your family in phrases and concepts that children can understand. Then, get together as a family unit around your largest table. Draw your neighborhood with colored pencils on a large section of butcher paper or poster board, including every house. Take a walk around your neighborhood together, asking your children to observe the details to add to your map.

Once you arrive home, encourage your children to transfer what they saw onto your map, making notes about who lives where, and what kind of pets they have, and whether they have children, and how old they are, etc. Now, ask your children to use mini marshmallows to make a large circle around the whole map. This is your community. Jesus-followers share Christ’s love with everyone in the community, no matter what people look like, where they come from, or what they do. Think of some ways your family can bless your community this week.

May all your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock