Scripture Study -- The Acts of the Apostles, the second volume of Lukes two volume work, continues Lukes presentation of biblical history. It describes how the salvation promised to Israel in the Old Testament and accomplished by Jesus under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, has been extended to the Gentiles. Lukes preoccupation with the Christian community as the Spirit-guided bearer of the word of salvation, rules out of his book detailed histories of the activity of most of the preachers. Only the main lines of the roles of Peter and Paul serve Luke's interest.
However, we need to know a little something about first century Jewish religion to fully appreciate the scene described in this lesson from the book of Acts. The Sadducees were the most powerful people of the day. They belonged to the religious and political aristocracy. They held the highest offices in the temple and the community. The Sadducees were the "strict constructionists" of the first century Jews. Unlike the Pharisees who embraced the truth of the Prophets as well as the laws of Moses, the Sadducees accepted only the Books of Moses as authoritative. They were unwilling to entertain any belief that could not be found in the first five books of the Bible. Since these books did not teach the resurrection of the dead, they rejected all beliefs in individual life beyond death.
No wonder they were angry with the preaching of Peter and John. The very idea that Jesus had been raised from the dead flatly contradicted their beliefs. Since they had the last word, Peter and John were seen as liars who were spreading dangerous ideas. Like all dogmatists, they did their best to stop these trouble makers from spreading their heretical idea. But threats and violence could not silence the disciples. They had experienced the truth of God and no authoritative teachings could stand in their way of proclaiming that truth. We all know the outcome of that conflict. The Sadducees have long since disappeared and the gospel of Christ's death, burial, and resurrection lives on. That's what happens when truth meets dogma -- truth eventually wins out every time.
Apologists for the truth of Christianity are fond of pointing to the fact that Jesus left his cause in the hands of ordinary men. They were, for the most part, an unpromising lot. Most of them were uneducated men who earned their living by the sweat of their brow as fishermen. There were a couple of revolutionaries who wanted to overthrow the government of Rome. There was a tax collector who was a pariah among his own people. Worst of all, none of these people gained a clear understanding of the mission and message of Jesus during his lifetime when they could have asked questions about what their duties were. All they really had were three years of association with the most remarkable person that they had ever known. But that was enough to turn them into fearless preachers of his way, The Way.
Even the people of their day were amazed by the transformation that had occurred in these men. The priests and elders, who were the duly recognized religious leaders of the day, were amazed at their self-confidence. How could these uneducated men of no standing command the crowds and wield the influence that they did? But then they remembered that these men had been with Jesus.
The disciples association with Jesus had elevated them far above their own abilities. That's what keeping good company can do for us. If we constantly associate with people whose values and ideals are less than our own, they will drag us down to their level. By the same token, if we claim as our companions people of good character and high purpose, they will draw us up to their levels. We are a reflection of the company we keep.
April 1998 Edition of the San Francisco Charismatics (ISSN 1098-4046)