Section Nine: The Book of Acts [No Mistake They were Called the Way]

Section Nine: The Book of Acts, No Mistake They were Called the Way

When it comes to the believers that follow after Jesus Christ, the chosen designation of their faithful group is no accident.  In fact, there were several good options of what to call those men and women that followed Jesus of Nazareth.  In the end, believers in Jesus Christ are called Christians and we find the basis for that in Acts 11:19-26.

Acts 11:19-26 tells us, Now those who had been scattered by the persecution in connection with Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, telling the message only to Jews.  Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus.  The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.  News of this reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch.  When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts.  He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.  Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch” (NIV 1984).

The term Christian is one that means “follower of Christ.”  The title Christ means “Anointed One.”  It tells others that Jesus is the promised Messiah or Deliverer that was spoken about in the Old Testament and those that call themselves Christians are those that believe these facts about Jesus.  The name “Christ” signifies that Jesus was the “Anointed One” and was God on Earth.  The name “Christ” signifies that Jesus was the Savior.  The name “Christ” signifies that Jesus was the one WAY provided by God.

There were other options on what to call those men and women that followed Jesus Christ.  Believers could have been called “Immanuelans[1].”  Before you dismiss that name, note Matthew 1:22-23 which tells us, All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:  ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’—which means, ‘God with us’” (NIV 1984).  Jesus had a very special and precious nickname that fit who He was quite well.  The name Emmanuel[2] means “God with Us.”  Why is this name significant?  It is significant because it tells us that Jesus was God on Earth.  God was incarnate among us and God was living and breathing among His Creation.  God was reconciling everyone and fixing that which was broken since the Garden of Eden.  God was fulfilling old promises made through His prophets.

It might be fitting that followers of Jesus would be called “Emmanuelans.”  It would signify the promises of God came true in Jesus and we worship a God who keeps His promises.  It would signify that we follow a God who sacrificed Heaven for us.  It would signify that we follow a God who lived a life as we have lived it and did so perfectly…that kind of God truly understands us, but in the end, that is not what people who follow Jesus are called.

Believers could have been called “Jesusites.”  Luke 2:21 records for us, On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived” (NIV 1984).  Mary and Joseph gave their brand new baby the name given to Him by God.  They named Him Jesus.  Jesus is a name that means “God is Salvation.”  The Old Testament is written in Hebrew and Jesus’ name written in the Hebrew language is Joshua.  We know that Joshua was a courageous leader of the nation of Israel right after Moses.  Joshua led the people into the Promised Land, was the commanding general over the battles that followed, and divided up the land among the inheritors.  Jesus’ name, “God is Salvation,” shares something quite significant about the God whom we serve and informs us about His character.  God is praised for His salvation all throughout Scripture.

It might be fitting that followers of Jesus would be called “Jesusites.”  It would signify that we praise God for what He has saved us from.  He saves us from guilt and freely gives us forgiveness.  He saves us from powerlessness and gives us strength.  He saves us from envy and gives us contentment.  He saves us from sorrow and gives us inexplicable joy.  He saves us from the absolute worst parts of ourselves and makes us a new creation.

As we come to the Book of Acts, we find that we could have been called “Wayists.”  Unlike the other titles we have mentioned, this name for followers of Jesus appears in the Bible and is actually what believers were called for a while.  The Book of Acts in Chapter 9 and in Chapter 19 describes followers of Jesus with a unique name.

Acts 9:1-2 states, Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.  Acts 19:8-10 also says, Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God.  But some of them became obstinate; they refused to believe and publicly maligned the Way. So Paul left them. He took the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus.  This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord.”

Why would this name be significant for the followers of Jesus?  It is significant because we can immediately pick out where it came from!  Immediately we think of John 14:6 in which Jesus says about Himself, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.  Being part of the Way communicates unequivocally that Jesus is the only way to God, the only way to Heaven, and has the only path to salvation.  Acts 4:12 says, Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.  Jesus is the only WAY.  This name is also significant because as the believers in the early church were explaining their faith and living it out, they were discovering what it meant to be in covenant relationship with Jesus Christ which is definitely a certain WAY of life.

Four Passages From the Book of Acts

Peter’s Sermon in Acts 2

The Church bursts onto the scene in Acts 2 with the Pentecost sermon of the Apostle Peter.  From Peter’s first words of, “Let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say” (verse 14) to “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation” (verse 40), he is showing the people listening what God has been about throughout history.  He highlights King David, the prophet Joel, and others in presenting that God’s plan since the Garden of Eden has come true in the person of Jesus Christ.  The Spirit was poured out as was predicted.  Jesus Christ came to forgive sins.  Reconciliation for life was paid.  Jesus of Nazareth came and proved He was worthy to be both Lord and Christ.

All of Peter’s thoughts and expressed Truth in his sermon prove everything Jesus did, said, and accomplished was better than what the Old Testament Law offered.  The Old Testament Law could not truly cover all sin and make an eternal difference.  There was no loop hole.  There was no other WAY.  Jesus was the WAY.

Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5

The beginning of Acts 5 focuses on two members of the Church named Ananias and Sapphira.  If Peter (Acts 2) and Stephen (we’ll see in a minute) in Acts are speaking about the WAY of God from Scripture and in holy theory, Ananias and Sapphira are two people who show us how it works practically and do so in a very dramatic fashion.

Ananias and his wife Sapphira were professing believers in this early church.  They professed to deny themselves and everything they had to the service of Jesus. They professed that they would take up their cross daily and follow after Jesus.  They professed that Jesus was Lord of their life and they would follow Him and Him only.  They worshipped and belonged in a church that saw its mission to give so that all the orphans, widows, and beggars had food and clothes.  Ananias and Sapphira saw this need around them and wanted to help.  They had some land that they were willing to sell and give the money to the church.  We are sure they prayed about it and said to God, “Thank you so much for blessing us with this land, but we are going to sell it and give the money to the poor.”  They promised God to sell the land they owned and give the money to the poor, but something happened.  Second thoughts.  Greed.  Selfishness.

Ananias decided he didn’t want to give the whole sum.  Perhaps he discussed it with his wife and wanted a little for himself.  Unfortunately, Ananias decided not only to keep some of the money, but decided to lie about it to the Church.  He brought the money to the disciples’ feet and said, “Here’s all the money I made.”  Why was what Ananias did sin?  It was his land and the money from the sale was his to do with as he pleased.  Why was it sin?  What caused him keeping back some of the money sin?

There are several reasons:

#1 Keeping back the money was partial commitment

#2 Keeping back the money was deception, deceiving the church

#3 Keeping back the money allowed Satan to fill their heart and not the Holy Spirit

#4 Keeping back the money was lying to God

Ananias was a man with a heart filled with sin.  All we need do is read what the passage tells us: “Satan filled your heart” (verse 3), “a lie to the Holy Spirit” (verse 3), and “You have not lied to men, but to God” (verse 4).  God revealed the sin of Ananias to the Apostle Peter.  God also revealed to Simon Peter that these calculated sins. were Satan in overtaking Ananias’ heart seeking to taken up residence in the body of Christ, the church.  Moreover, Jews new good and well sin committed on purpose has no claim of provision from God. Forgiveness is provided for those that seek God in obedience. Furthermore, God can judge because He is the only One who knows a person’s heart that deep (1 Chronicles 28:9).

The point is this: you cannot walk in two directions at the same time. The sin of keeping back is condemned by God and will be judged by Him. It may not be as sudden as with Ananias and Sapphira, but judgment will come because they said they lived in the Truth, but lied.  One cannot lie and have fellowship with God.  It simply does not happen.  We find in Acts 5 that the disciples of Jesus (soon to be called Christians) are people who not only confess to believe in the WAY, but also stick to it.

What are some ways that God will judge keeping back?

#1 A person says they are surrendering his or her life or goods to Christ and then does not

#2 A person says they want the Holy Spirit their lives, but doesn’t want it all

#3 A person who wants to be called a Christian, but doesn’t walk as Jesus walked

#4 A person who says they want God’s approval, but the approval of men is better

As a side note, we see in this passage another reason why false belief and “keeping back” is judged by God.  Keeping back influences others to sin.  Ananias was the head of his household and was responsible for his wife and her spiritual health.  He led his wife to follow right behind him in the deception, lying, and sin.  He caused her to die (Acts 5:10).  He had the opportunity to lead his wife in righteousness by giving the money they promised God, but he didn’t.  Ananias and Sapphira could have helped those in need.  He had the opportunity to lead his wife into a complete and fulfilled life in Christ, but he didn’t.  Instead he led her into sin and death.

Stephen’s Sermon in Acts 7

The other great sermon contained in the Book of Acts (if we skip what the Apostle Paul says in some passages) is the sermon of the soon-to-be-condemned deacon named Stephen in Acts 7.  From “Brothers and fathers, listen to me!” (verse 2) to “you who have received the law that was put into effect through angels but have not obeyed it” (verse 53) Stephen slams the Sanhedrin with history, fulfilled prophecy, and connecting dots which all point to Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of all that the Old Testament Law hoped to do for humanity, but could not.

Stephen traces his thoughts through history from Abraham to Jacob to Joseph in Egypt to Moses to Solomon.  Stephen points out the same Truth that the Apostle Peter points out in that Jesus Christ is the WAY God chose to save humanity and we must accept this Truth and live in it or reject it.

The Apostle Paul in Acts 28:28-31

The end of the Book of Acts leaves the Apostle Paul on house arrest in the city of Rome.  Acts 28:16 says, When we got to Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself, with a soldier to guard him” (NIV 1984).  The verses after this one (specifically verse 23) describe people coming to hear the Gospel from Paul where he was under arrest.  The end of the book further describes the situation in verses 28-31: “’Therefore I want you to know that God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!’  For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ” (NIV 1984).  These verses describe Paul sharing the Gospel “without hindrance” (NIV 1984, NRSV, ESV).  He did so “with all openness, unhindered” (NASB).  In other words, “no one tried to stop him” (NLT, TLB).

It is our contention that the Apostle Paul was able to share the Gospel freely without restriction and without anyone “forbidding” him (KJV) because he had been completely obedient to Jesus Christ.  He was totally sold out to the WAY.  While Paul is boldly proclaiming the Kingdom of God and his testimony about Jesus Christ, the people listening were hearing the very words of LIFE coming from his lips.  This is attractive to the heart that is lost.  The Apostle Paul had surrendered all of himself and found the WAY of LIFE.  This is what he prayed for.  This is what he sought his whole ministry.  Jesus is being expressed by Paul in his words and it is attractive to others for it is the WAY of LIFE.

 

[1] ‘I’mmanuel in ESV, NAS, NIV, ASV, NASB, HCSB, MSG, VOICE, NLT, NKJV

[2] ‘E’mmanuel in Greek, Latin, AMP, CEB, TLB, RSV, YLT, NRSV, KJV

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