Entering Into God’s Story and Out of the Story of Money: A Sermon on Acts 4:23-37

Allright so Joe spoke last week about how John and Peter were taken in and questioned by the high priest and Sadducees. Basically what happened is you have John and Peter and they are running around healing people and telling people that the messiah that they were waiting for is finally found in Jesus Christ who died and was no risen. They were doing fascinating miracles that God was using to prove that what they were saying was actually true. They get questioned by them and put in jail and berated about who’s name they are performing miracles under and John and Peter just keep saying that all they are doing is proclaiming what they have seen and heard with their own eyes. It happened so all they are doing is being honest about what they have seen. On top of that, everyone else was impressed because someone they knew who was very sick and crippled was healed as well. So people started believing because it seemed to them that the God that they have been serving all their lives was up to it again, and they were speaking truth about them.

So we need to ask ourselves why would the Sadducee’s press John and Peter so hard and seem to come again something that was so good? It’s easy to write a song about them and toss them off but it’s important to know who these people were and why they would be so upset that John and Peter were proclaiming the news they were proclaiming. The Sadducees were an important sect of Judaism during the time of Jesus because they were a link between the Jewish religion and the political world around them. They were responsible for the maintenance of the Temple, performing certain sacrifices and were generally considered one of the highest roles within Jewish culture. Since the temple was very much the center of political and religious leadership in Jerusalem, it made sense that Sadducees would eventually move into places of power within politics. And they were. They performed all sorts of tasks for the government as well including collecting taxes, represented the state internationally, regulated relations with the Romans, equipped and led the army and administered the state.

The Sadducees were extremely powerful people. Their livelihoods were caught up in their vocation and they held the keys of power to the people in Jerusalem and the state that they were in. You can see now why they were so involved in putting Jesus to death, he was a revolutionary with a following who his followers called him Lord. There was supposed to be only one Lord and that was Caesar. If Caesar wasn’t Lord, then their entire operation falls apart and they don’t have a job. They no longer hold their powerful positions, they no longer are needed.

So you can also understand why when Peter and John start going around proclaiming that this revolutionary who was put to death by them is not really dead and then start performing miracles in his name why that might freak them out a bit. They are obviously willing to go to great length to prevent power from leaving their hand and a few loud mouths wasn’t going to stop them. But alas, the multitudes win again and they are all astounded at the healings and people started believing what they were saying. So they threatened them a bit more and then they let them go. They couldn’t win this one, so they probably muttered a few things about them not coming back and disturbing the peace and then told them to get lost. This is where Joe left us last week. With John and Peter just getting out of custody from under the Sadducees, and so we will read from there in Acts 4.

23 On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24 When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. “Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heavens and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. 25 You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David:
“‘Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
26 The kings of the earth rise up
and the rulers band together
against the Lord
and against his anointed one.[b]'[c]
27 Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. 28 They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. 29 Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. 30Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”
31 After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.

So Peter and John get back from their little battle where they get thrown in jail and argue with the powerful religious leaders and then they come back to their people and tell them everything. It makes it kind of fun doesn’t it? I think that at this point Peter and John are probably starting to get excited/worried as things start to unfold. They know the biggest secret in the world for man kind. Jesus is risen and he is our Saviour and he has saved the world from it’s downward direction. Why wouldn’t everyone get excited about this? The very people who should be excited are throwing them in jail for simply telling people what they know to be true. They start telling everyone what is happening then burst out into some spontaneous praying and rejoicing. They start making the connections with the very beginnings of creation all the way to David and quoting scripture and eventually tell the story again how everything has unfolded. They are acting in wonder and awe. Can’t you see it? They just have this run in with all the powerful types who just put Jesus to death and then they have this grand realization. Oh man, God knew this was coming all along. God had this all planned out since the beginning. He knew it! It’s all working according to plan. All this time we were freaking out, denying Christ and now look how it’s all unfolding. Let it happen God, they say, let the miracles flow and let your story continue forward. It’s like a movie plot unfolding.

I just find this little section to be quite transformative for the church. It’s like the moment when yet another light flips on for them. I feel like this is the moment when they decide to enter into the story at God’s pace and they are finding their place in it. It’s like the moment when they realize things are going to get worse before they get better but they all make the decision to jump into it. Like in Mission Impossible, when they are all sitting around and they get the news that they might die or if they get found out no one is going to vouch for them. It’s like that moment.

They ask for miracles, but really it’s not about that. They just want boldness now to speak what they have seen and not be scared by the powers that are oppressing them. This moment in Acts seems to be that realization, that moment where they make the connection that if they really believe what they are talking about here then the most powerful people (the very people who put Jesus to death) were going to be in their face trying to stop them at every turn.

At this point, at this realization, Luke tells us that the place they were was shaken. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and could speak boldly. So their prayer was answered. Like times before, this moment is seen as a signpost of the movement of Christianity and how it moved from twelve people to where we are today. This is how the Christian church started unschooled ordinary men being opposed by religous scholars trying to shut them down. The realization that powerful people will confront you is an important part of being a Christian, it’s an important part of this revolution. Learning how to speak boldly in their midst and prayer and understanding your place in the story seems to be an important part of how Christianity came to be.

Q: Do you see speaking boldly as a central part of your faith? 

If not.

Why? What has happened that having faith in Jesus no longer means the same things it meant to the first Christians?

Then we come up to the end of Acts 4, which I’m pretty sure Joe didn’t read whatsoever because if he read it he would have seen that it is pretty much the same as the end of Acts 2. Let’s read it together.

32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34 that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.
36 Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”), 37 sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.

Luke is pretty persistent on this idea and he always seem to bookend this idea of having things in common and making sure no one is need with a shift in the movement of the church. As the apostles begin to better understand their role as apostles and what their calling is, Luke keeps bringing it back to what they were actually doing with their lives. While they were speaking boldly and moving forward the good news of Jesus, their lives took on a very distinct way of living. They were together. There was no other way the church could have grown and achieved what it did unless this was the case. Unless they were of one heart and mind and taking care of each other and living life by the values of the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of God never could have gone anywhere. So Luke tells us again, in almost an entirely replicated passage two chapters later that this is what the early Christians lives looked like.

Luke seems to talk a lot more about money than any of the other gospels. The gospel of Luke is full of the parables that relate to money, and most of the parables about money are actually unique to Luke, meaning they aren’t in any other gospel. Only Luke tells the story of the rich fool. So it makes sense that he would carry this kind of talk over into Acts. It is important to note though that coupled with all these miracles are miraculous moves by this community and their economic situation. It is a miracle that a community of people would not claim any of their possessions as their own. It is a miracle that Barnabas would sell a field that he owned and give the money to the apostles.

Most of us now are just irritated about the constant bombardment of Sundays and and church that have to do with money. We are tired of the church telling us what to do with our money. Unfortunately though, a majority of the Bible and how it interprets our life under the Kingdom of God has to do with how we spend, use and view our money. You have to look at it this way. The world works in one way. To denote value it gives something a dollar amount and everything is defined by how much it is worth. Our entire world works this way. We all live in this world so we know this. Especially today. Everything is commercialized. If you want sex, buy it. If you want friends, buy them. If you want security, buy it. If you need to pay someone back because you killed their brother, well ask your insurance company because they have a price on their life. The overall price as estimated by economists at Stanford for your life is around 129,000 a year. Money literally makes the world go round and drives most passions, inventions, relationships, entertainment, grief, wars and greed. Very few things that you do in your life cannot be retraced back to money somehow. This is the reality of our life.

However, ever since the beginning of God’s story that we know, God has had a different way of denoting value to people and things and it has nothing to do with money. Read back into the Bible and see that every time there is mention of money or how to use it or how to view it it is almost entirely opposite to how the world around it at the time was using it or viewing it. Luke, picking up on this reversal all throughout God’s story, is consistent with the theme by telling these stories about the way that God’s people view and use money. It seems like there is a very clear distinction between the way the world works and the way that God works. So if you are part of God’s kingdom, then you follow by God’s rules when it has to do with money. God’s rules are that it’s not your money and it doesn’t denote value and it doesn’t give security, only God can do that. So then money gets reduced to something else, it’s a currency of the the other way of doing things. When a community of people who are committed to God’s kingdom, their entire lives change and it usually starts with how economics are dealt with in the community. So Luke shows us this. At the end of Acts 2 and now at the end of Acts 4.

“The church takes care of its own thus creating a vignette, a paradigm of the sort of world God intends for all.” – Willimon

Luke sees parallels to Jesus showing up and commencing the way of God to how God’s people use their money. This is the way that the Kingdom of God moves. This makes sense doesn’t it? God’s kingdom isn’t a kingdom of fighting, war, violence. But it is a kingdom. It does have a king and people in it. With kingdoms there has to be some sort of marker, something that makes you different then everyone else. For the Christian church according to Luke – it seems to be marked by how Christians spend their money and how they view their money.

Q: Does money play a central role in your faith? Do we separate it from our faith? How should we view money today so that we identify with God’s kingdom?

Here is what I think. I think us, here in the room today, have spent our entire lives living with two feet in two different worlds. In one world it’s all about money. We all have jobs so that we can make money to buy the things we want and need and provide for our families. We look at our money as ours that buys us things for our satisfaction. Money is on our minds every day, whether it’s to buy something or sell something or earn something. It consumes us. However, most of us in this room are also Christians. So we’ve been told and have been raised that we should live a certain kind of way. That way usually includes giving 10% of our money to whatever church we belong too, being nice to people, showing up somewhere on a Sunday, and upholding strong morals. Our version of Christianity that we all have grown up with intersects with the world’s value system at different times. Our faith tells us to spend the money on the right things and that 10% of it belongs to God. Then that’s about it.

Living like this is actually pretty complicated because both worlds promote very different messages. The world says invest your money and make your money work for you and be responsible and save your money and reward yourself with your money. That’s how we raise our kids to think, that’s why we go to school, that’s why we get jobs that’s why we are middle class people living the way we are
So we take all those messages and then try to Christianize them. We tell ourselves that we can invest our money by giving to our church because we are investing in the Kingdom. Or we tell ourselves that we only give money to those that are grateful and who will actually use it for a good purpose. Or we tell ourselves that we deserve to be rewarded, that we are somehow entitled to rewards that we give our self from the money that we earned. We Christianize the message of money so that we can live with it making sense. This poses a problem though because we end up starting with a twisted view of what money is and how we are supposed to spend it because we are starting from a worldly perspective.

The Kingdom of God though is completely different. Value is derived from being God’s creation. You trust God to provide for you and when you have something in your possession you see it as no more than a tool to help further the Kingdom that you are part of. When you start from this point of view, from this understanding of who you are and what your purpose is in life and then work money into the equation after this, everything changes. This is what was happening in Acts. This is why these people were living the way that they were living. They derived value and security and identity not through their economic place in the world but through their place in the Kingdom of God. So then if you start from this point of view of the Kingdom of God then money when it intersects with your life has a different role. It’s no longer what drives your life but is simple the thing that drives everyone else’s lives around you. Then you can see money as a tool rather than a lifesource. Which explains this church in Acts. No one saw anything as their own. No one was ever in need. People were selling the things that they did own and then giving the money away to the cause.

Can we be the kind of community that lives like this? Do we want to be? Do we want to be the kind of community that live like everyone else but then make our faith something we tack on and insert it into the lives that we are already living? Or do you think we can be the kind of community that is driven by something else entirely and then we use our money to that end? Will we be a community where our church and our lives are driven and dictated by money or can we be driven by our faith and then money falls in line to that?

Let’s pray.

God forgive us for not truly living in your kingdom.
Whether it be through our money, time and relationships
We always tend to make it about us
We never think twice
Before following blindly what we think is normal

God forgive us for being dictated by our cashflow
For feeling secure when we have money in the bank
For feeling valuable when we buy new things
For feeling powerful when we show off

God forgive us for living by our own rules
For living by our own values
For dictating what we think we deserve
For trying to control outcomes

Free us to live the way you created us to be
Free us to live generously
Remind us of our insurmountable value
Remind us that love doesn’t come through things

Give us dreams that start with you
Give us dreams that aren’t selfish
Give us dreams that help the world
Give us boldness to live backwards to this world
Give us boldness to live without idols
Give us boldness to proclaim with our lives
The kind of life that you made possible

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