Can you believe this? Only a few months after Jesus Christ had been executed by crucifixion and had been raised from the dead his followers numbered several thousand in Jerusalem. On one day - exactly 50 days after Jesus rose - 3,000 people changed their self-focussed minds and sinful way of life, made a public declaration of that change, were forgiven and received Jesus’ new life inside to enable them to live differently – and to be seen to do so in His name.
A few days after that, following an astounding healing of a lame-from-birth beggar in Solomon’s Portico and the subsequent proclamation of Jesus’ good news, the total number of followers was around 10,000 (Acts 4:4).
All following a new way of life – and following Jesus of Nazareth although he was no longer on earth.
Given that the Jerusalem population at that time was reckoned by some to have been about 100,000 + visitors, it’s like 10,000 folk being actively changed today in Jersey.
But, yes, most of can believe that with regard to Jerusalem AD 33. After all, it’s in the Report that Luke, a contemporary physician, wrote for his friend Theophilus following close and detailed investigation a few years later. That book has now been given the name “Acts of the Apostles”.
Having got that over with, can you believe this? That day in Jerusalem (see above) no-one “dared join them”. No one dared to join that large group. Can you believe that?
One “group” none of us wish to join is that run by Jersey’s Comptroller of Income Tax. It’s painful. There are others in connection with which we say “thanks but no thanks”, like (for some) abseiling from the top of Cyril Le Marquand House, sky-diving and pier-jumping. Potentially too painful.
But what stopped folk from joining this very first church of the followers of Jesus of Nazareth?
Well, it’s the same answer really – potentially too painful. Dr Luke has recorded two fatalities in this first church a few days earlier. A man (Ananias) and his wife (Sapphira) have both died suddenly and in good health.
The early believers responded to every kind of need of all the other believers in Jerusalem. They gave and gave and gave again to support each other. As is the case in Jersey, some had land and they sold it and passed on the proceeds to be distributed to meet the dire needs of other followers of Jesus.
Ananias and Sapphira sold a field and conspired secretly to give away only part of the proceeds of sale but to say that they were giving the whole amount. After all, who would know? No one would find out. They would be well esteemed – and simultaneously retain money for themselves alone.
But no. Oh no. Peter, the fisherman turned herald of the good news of Jesus, addressed Ananias, “Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.” On hearing those words Ananias fell down dead.
And Sapphira? Peter saw her an hour or two later, “How is is that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord Jesus?” She fell down dead also.
That explains it. No messing with this following of Jesus Christ. It’s got to be real, really real, no pretence.
But look what happened simultaneously – “more than ever believers were added to the Lord”. Added to the Lord? Yes, for real. And yes, not added to the “church” but added to the Lord - who is furious when I lie to him.