April 12, Sunday
What unforgettable days those were. There were so many gathering together that they decided to meet regularly in Solomon’s Porch. They gained the respect of the public at large, but fear prevented casual onlookers from joining out of curiosity. Still, large numbers of men and women believed and the congregation multiplied.
With reports of ongoing miracles, many brought their sick into the streets and laid them down on mats so that Peter’s shadow might fall upon some of them. A steady flow of people from outlying villages brought their sick or demonized loved ones, and they were all cured.
This was too much for the High Priest and the Sadducees. Jealous of the popularity of this new movement, they had the apostles arrested and put in jail.
But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and led them out, saying, “Go, stand and speak in the Temple. Tell the people the whole Message about this new life!”
So early the next morning they entered the Temple and began to teach. Meanwhile, the High Priest convened the Sanhedrin and the whole senate of the people of Israel. He then sent word to the jail to have the apostles brought in. Of course, when the officers arrived at the prison, they could not find them there. They came back with this report: “We found the prison securely locked and the guard standing on duty at the doors; but when we opened up, we found no one inside.”
When the captain of the Temple guard and the chief priests heard their report, they were extremely troubled and wondered what on earth would happen next. Just then someone arrived and reported to them, “Did you know that the men you put in jail are back in the Temple teaching again?”
The captain and officers proceeded to the Temple to apprehend them yet again. They knew they couldn’t use force lest the masses should stone them. The apostles complied and willingly took their stand before the Sanhedrin. The High Priest addressed them, saying, “We gave you the strictest possible orders to stop teaching in this Name. Now look what you’ve done — you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and we understand that you are saying we’re responsible for this Man’s blood!”
Peter and the apostles answered him, “We simply must obey God rather than men. We’re talking about the same God Whom our fathers worshipped. He raised Jesus to life after you murdered Him on that cross. Not only did God resurrect Him, He then gave Him the seat of honor as Prince and Conqueror at His right hand. He did all this to make it possible for His people Israel to repent and receive the forgiveness of their sins. We aren’t making this up; we are eye-witnesses of the whole thing. God’s Spirit, given to anyone who embraces the Message, also bears witness to the truth of our testimony.”
This mini-sermon didn’t set well with the council. In fact, they were so furious they wanted to kill the apostles on the spot. Gamaliel, a Pharisee and senior member of the Council, highly respected by all, ordered that the apostles be taken out of the room for a few minutes.
Then he addressed the assembly: “Men of Israel, be careful how you handle this! Let me remind you of a couple similar situations in recent years. Do you recall that fellow named Theudas who made some outlandish claims and succeeded in rallying about four hundred men to follow him? Once he was killed, all his followers dispersed and the movement came to nothing. After that, in the days of the census, a Galilean named Judas showed up and enticed a bunch of people to follow him. But he too died and his whole following scattered. That’s why I think we should just leave this group alone. If their teaching or movement is merely human, it will dissolve in time; but if it should be from God, you can’t stop them. What’s worse, you might find that you’ve been fighting against God!”
They group agreed to his advice and called in the apostles. They had them flogged; and after commanding them not to speak in the name of Jesus, let them go.
The apostles left the proceeding, rejoicing that they been given the privilege of suffering for “The Name.” Every day they went to the Temple and from house to house boldly proclaiming that Jesus was the Messiah.
As thrilling as the massive influx of new believers was, it created a challenge for the apostles as they attempted to meet the needs of so many. When a complaint surfaced that Jewish widows were being given preferential treatment while the Gentiles widows were being slighted, the Twelve realized that they couldn’t attend to all these needs and still keep up with their teaching opportunities. So they called the group together and said, “We’re finding that managing the benevolence fund is keeping us from proclaiming the Word of God. Something has to be done. We’d like you to look around and pick out from among yourselves seven men of good reputation who are known for their wisdom and who are filled with God’s Spirit. We will put them in charge of this matter. Then we’ll be able to devote ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word.”
The whole congregation agreed. After discussion, they chose Stephen, a man known for trusting and walking in the power of the Holy Spirit; Philip; Prochurus; Nicanor; Timon; Parmenas; and Nicolas of Antioch, a former convert to the Jewish faith. They set these men before the apostles, who, after prayer, laid their hands upon them, commissioning them to this vital ministry.
The Word of God spread further and faster. A large number of priests accepted the Message and the number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly.