Women in Acts

In his well-researched gospel account, Luke emphasizes the interaction of Jesus and women. Women played a major role in the earthly ministry of Jesus. In Acts, Luke records the important role women played in continuing the ministry of Jesus by being the spiritual body of Jesus, the church. From the very beginning women are part of the story as we see them among those gathered for prayer in the upstairs room (Acts 1:12-14). Luke tells of women present for the birth of Jesus in a human body. Acts tells of women present for the birth of the spiritual body of Jesus, the church.

Peter’s gospel sermon on Pentecost quotes from Joel’s prophecy that “sons and daughters” would prophecy. While this may seem strange to our ears, it would not be unexpected to their ears since there were female prophets in the Old Testament (Acts 2:14-39, Joel 2:28).

The sin and subsequent deaths of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11) demonstrate men and women are both capable of sin and are held accountable equally for sin. The response to the neglected widows (Acts 6:1-7) shows that even those considered powerless women were important to the early church. Equal treatment was important for widows whether they were Grecian or Hebraic. Mary’s hosting a prayer gathering with many people, including a servant girl named Rhoda, shows women from different social circles involved in the life of the church (Acts 12:1-19).

In Acts, Luke records women deciding to become followers of Jesus, including Timothy’s mother (Acts 16:1-5) and Lydia, who was described as a worshiper of God and a listener to Paul’s message (Acts 16:11-15). Luke also relates the stories of women who chose not to become followers (Drusilla in Acts 24 and Bernice in Acts 25-26).

Luke introduces us to Priscilla in Acts 18 (we will hear from her in New Testament passages other than Acts). Priscilla and her husband Aquila were forced to leave Rome because of the edict of Claudius. She and her husband worked as tentmakers and as such had something in common with Paul.  Priscilla and Aquila invited to their home and taught  Apollos, described as a learned man with a thorough knowledge of the scriptures. Because of their teaching him the way of Jesus more adequately, Apollos made the transition from being a follower of John the Baptist to being a follower of Jesus.

Luke records the stories of other women in Acts. There are the God-fearing women of high standing (Acts 13:49-52). While not specifically named, women would have been involved in the Jerusalem conference since “the whole church” is involved (Acts 15:1-35). And, perhaps as an example of the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy quoted by Peter in his Pentecost sermon, Luke mentions the unmarried daughters of Philip the evangelist. These four women were prophets (Acts 21:1-9).

The Power of the Holy Spirit


Throughout March, April, and May I am preaching from the Luke’s Acts of Apostles. In fact, the church is reading selections from Acts each day, our Sunday Bible classes our studying Acts, and our CORE Groups are discussing Acts on Sunday evenings.

It’s hard to miss Luke’s emphasis on the Holy Spirit in either his gospel or the Acts. I hope the following extended quote about the “power of the Holy Spirit” will be a help to all those who are reading, discussing, and experiencing the power of the Holy Spirit. So here’s the quote, from Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places by Eugene Peterson, pages 270-272.

Twice, at the end of the Gospel and at the beginning of Acts, as Jesus tells his friends that he will send the Holy Spirit to them, he also says that this coming of the Spirit will be accompanied by power: “stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49); and “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you” (Acts 1:8).

“Power” is a critical word for understanding what we can expect as the Holy Spirit “clothes us” and “comes upon us.” But a dictionary is not a good place from which to determine its meaning. Dictionaries are wonderful tools and we would be the poorer without them, but in Gospel matters they are among the lesser helps. The reason is that everything in the Gospel is personal, relational, and embodied in particulars. There are no generalities. Every word is embedded in the Story and, in the most comprehensive sense, incarnate in Jesus, “the word made flesh.” Isolated in a dictionary a word has no context and therefore no relationship, no “flesh.” For those of us who are interested in living the truth and not just acquiring information, it is necessary to discover the meaning of a word by looking it up in the Story, not the dictionary.

The first two times that Luke employs the term “power” are instructive. The first is in Gabriel’s annunciation to Mary: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you….” Here Holy Spirit power makes a woman pregnant. All five of the Holy Spirit references in Luke 1-2 are related to pregnancy and birth. This is a most interesting use of “power” and not at all the way it is conventionally used. Sexual impregnation is associated with intimacy and lovemaking, gentleness and mutuality. If the sexual act is impersonal or harsh or forced, it is understood as a violation. If we are careful to let the Story provide the meaning of “power,” it is inconceivable (literally!) to understand power as anything impersonal or imposed by force. We can footnote Gabriel with a text from the prophet Zechariah: “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD” (Zech. 4:6) -the kind of power that is synonymous with “might” is no part of the way the Spirit works.

The second occurrence of the term “power” by Luke is in the account of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. Jesus is tempted by the devil to command stones to become bread, to become the ruler of all the kingdoms of the world, and to prove his divinity by performing a spectacular circus trick by diving off the pinnacle of the temple and having an angel save him at the last minute. Each is a temptation that has to do with the exercise of power: power to impose his will on the creation, power to impose his will on nations, and power to become a talk-of-the-town celebrity. Each of these exercises of power could be, and with Jesus most certainly would be, good: feeding a lot of people, ruling the whole world justly, demonstrating the miraculous, ever-present providence of God to the people on the street. Jesus said no to each one in turn. Why? Because in each case it would have been power used impersonally, power abstracted from relationships, power without any engagement in love, power imposed from the outside. Each instance – and Jesus’ citations of sentences from the Story each time highlight this – would have been a use of power that was ripped out of the context of the Story and therefore ripped out of the participating context of people’s lives. Whatever the power of the Spirit means, bullying force isn’t part of it. It is certainly not what takes place when a fuse ignites a stick of dynamite (named after the Greek word for power, dynamis). The power of God is always exercised in personal ways, creating and saving and blessing. It is never an impersonal application of force from without.

After the three great refusals to use power to do good things in the wrong way, Luke tells us this: “Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee. . . . He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone” (4:14-15). We observe in detail as the narrative continues that as Jesus teaches, whether in word or act, he is always personal and relational. Jesus, employing the “power of the Spirit,” is set in explicit contrast to the three depersonalized, decontextualized uses of power in the wilderness: power to help the hungry, power to do justice, power to evangelize by miracle. The moment the community exercises power apart from the story of Jesus, tries to manipulate people or events in ways that short-circuit personal relationships and intimacies, we can be sure it is not the power of the Holy Spirit; it is the devil’s work. The Holy Spirit, no matter how loudly or frequently or piously invoked in such settings, is a stranger to such religious blasphemies.

The Office welcomes Ananias and Sapphira

The Office portrays the goings on in the Scranton branch office of the Dunder-Mifflin Paper Company. The characters are all like normal people, but since it’s television, their personality traits,while real, are exaggerated. So when I watch the show I see people who remind me of people I know.

What sets apart The Office from other shows that feature the personality quirks of the characters (like Seinfeld, for example), is the whole idea that the employees of Dunder-Mifflin are constantly being filmed documentary-style. So not only are they quirky, they are being filmed, and they are aware they are being filmed.

What becomes apparent as you watch the show more than a couple of times is this awareness that all the characters have that they are on camera. Frequently they will say or do something good and then quickly glance at the camera as if to make sure their shining moment was caught on tape. Or, they will forget momentarily that they are being recorded and say or do something that makes them look bad. Then you see them nervously look at the camera as if to say, “Oh yeah, I am being filmed and people are going to think I am a jerk.” They then begin saying and doing things in damage control mode, to make themselves look better.

Everything these Dunder-Mifflin employees do or say becomes a performance in front of the cameras. Rarely do you see their genuine personality come through. They are keenly aware of appearances. They are constantly worried how they look. They are always mindful of what people will think about them. Because the cameras are rolling, they live to impress people.

As I was reading Acts 5 this week the thought occurred to me that Ananias and Sapphira would have been great characters on The Office. After all, when they saw people selling their land and making donations to the church they realized those people were respected for their generosity. Since they wanted people to think highly of them, they “played to the camera,” selling their property and giving the proceeds of the sale to the church.

The only problem was, they lied, claiming they had given all the money to the church when actually they kept back some for themselves. They wanted respect, but for them the way to get respect was not to be worthy of respect by being generous, but to have the appearance of generosity without really making the sacrifice needed to be generous. If you have ever known someone who lived his life this way, you know what a tortured existence it can be. The person can never truly be himself, he is constantly playing to the camera, as it were.

This brings me back to the question I have wrestling with this week — why do I do what I do? Am I always playing to the camera? Do I decide what to do based on what will get me the most attention or admiration? Am I obsessed with my how my actions look to others?

Or is there a deeper, purer motive behind my actions?

Why do I do what I do?

The Core Gospel

As you read the Acts of Apostles (the fifth book in the New Testament of the Bible) you get a clear picture of what was the heart of the earliest Christian preaching — the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.

This same gospel message is the heart of Christian belief today.

This message of love, sacrifice, and forgiveness is what should shape Chistian thought and behavior.

Check out the core message in the earliest Christian sermons.

Acts 2:23-24
“This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.”

Acts 3:15
“You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this.”

Acts 4:8-10
“Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: ‘Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.'”

Acts 5:29-32
“Peter and the other apostles replied: ‘We must obey God rather than men! The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead–whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel. We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.'”

Acts 7:51-53
“You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him– you who have received the law that was put into effect through angels but have not obeyed it.”

Acts 10:39-40
“We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen.”

Acts 13:28-31
“Though they found no proper ground for a death sentence, they asked Pilate to have him executed. When they had carried out all that was written about him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead, and for many days he was seen by those who had traveled with him from Galilee to Jerusalem. They are now his witnesses to our people.”

Acts 17:29-31
“Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone–an image made by man’s design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.”

Affluenza


Affluenza (1997) is an hour long documentary about the dangers of greedy consumerism. One scene features the Potomac Mills Mall in Northern Virginia (near Washington D.C.).

First, let me confess I have been there, more than once. The place is huge, it actually is divided into neighborhoods to help shoppers keep from getting lost. In a state with Jamestown, Colonial Williamsburg, a number of key Civil War battle sites, the Eastern Shore, and Virginia Beach; Potomac Mills Mall is noted as the top tourist attraction in Virginia.

Second, I want to share two quotes from the documentary caught my attention:

The narrator says, “Seventy percent of us visit malls each week—more than attend churches or synagogues. On average we shop 6 hours a week and spend only 40 minutes playing with our children.”

A Potomac Mills TV commercial is referenced where an announcer says, “Shopping is therapy. Listen to that little voice in your head. Shop. Shop. Shop. Shop. You can buy happiness. Just don’t pay retail for it.”

I close my thoughts today with three passages of scripture that came to mind as I was reading about this documentary in an Preaching Connection email I received yesterday.

“Then he said to them, ‘Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions'” (Luke 12:15).

“Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need”
(Acts 2:45).

“Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5).

Affluenza can be deadly. I pray God will purify my heart from whatever greed may be lurking.

Constant Craving

“In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach. . . (Acts 1:1).”

Luke wrote two volumes. His Gospel of Luke records the story of Jesus in His physical body. His Acts of Apostles records the story of Jesus in His spiritual body.

Today as I think of Luke’s words of introduction to his gospel (Luke 1:1-4) and his Acts (Acts 1:1-11) I am struck that Luke was focused on Jesus. It seems to me Luke had a craving for Jesus. He carefully researched Jesus. He carefully wrote the account. He made notes of what Jesus did and what Jesus taught. He witnessed and recorded how Jesus lived in the church, bringing new life to a people who thought their hope was gone at Golgotha.

My prayer today is that God will draw me to Him through the crucified and resurrected Lord and Christ, Jesus. My prayer is that I will have a constant craving for Jesus — His story, His life, His teachings, His people, and His indwelling Spirit.

I want to know Christ, and the power of His rising!

God Knows the Heart

There was this time when Jesus was preaching to a house overflowing with people (in Mark 2). A group of guys showed up, with four of them carrying a paralyzed friend. They were trying to get in to see Jesus, apparently because they had heard of his healing the sick. After they tried to get in the house through the doors, they decided to do whatever it took to get their friend to Jesus.

They go to the roof, probably by climbing exterior stairs and began digging a hole in the roof. Imagine these guys tearing through the tiles on the roof while Jesus is preaching below. Imagine Jesus preaching while this group of determined guys opens up a hole above him.

When they get the opening large enough, they lower their friend down, right in front of Jesus. Jesus commends their faith and forgives the sins of the paralyzed guy. This incites the religious leaders who were present. They knew blasphemy when they heard it. Since only God can forgive sins, telling someone their sins are forgiven is tantamount to blasphemy. While the leaders had not yet spoken out, they were all thinking the same thing – Jesus is blaspheming!

The text tells us that Jesus knew exactly what the teachers of the law were thinking. They had said nothing. They didn’t have to say anything. Jesus knew “in his spirit” exactly what was on their hearts. In order to demonstrate that he had the authority to forgive sins, Jesus healed the paralyzed man.

Think about it for a moment – God knows our hearts. Is that frightening to you? Intimidating? Comforting? Some of each? Here are some other passages that remind us our wonderful God knows our hearts. Our God is wonderful, there is none like Him.

1 Samuel 16:7
But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

1 Chronicles 28:9

“And you, my son Solomon, acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts. If you seek him, he will be found by you; but if you forsake him, he will reject you forever.

Psalm 139:1-2
O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.

Jeremiah 17:9-10
The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? “I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve.”

Mark 2:8
Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things?

Mark 8:17
Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them: “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened?

Mark 12:15
Should we pay or shouldn’t we?” But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. “Why are you trying to trap me?” he asked. “Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.”

Luke 16:15
He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight.

Acts 1:24
Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen

Acts 15:8
God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us.

Romans 8:27
And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.

1 Thessalonians 2:4

On the contrary, we speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts.

Revelation 2:23
I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.