Sermon Passage: Acts 4:33
Sermon Commentary Notes
“And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all” (Acts 4:33).
Many Christians seem to long for the mighty days of the early Church. God’s power was evident through the early Church’s activities. Evangelism was not a strategy or methodology for the church, but it flowed through every encounter with their world. Winning the world was the nature of their existence as their daily lives touched the world with the power of God. No one was neutral; they either accepted or rejected Jesus and His nature. The power that flowed through the believers existed in the presence of the risen Jesus! As the early Church witnessed about the resurrection of Jesus, He was present and manifested Himself.
Our passage reads, “And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all” (Acts 4:33). The Greek word “dunamis,” translated “power,” creates our word for “dynamite.” The focus of “dunamis” is on the achievement or action of this power. There is the resource, and there is what the resource accomplishes. “Dunamis” highlights what the resource accomplishes, in contrast with “ischus.” “Ischus” focuses on the ability while “dunamis” focuses on the achievement of the ability.
All of Scripture convinces us of the “ischus” power of God. Peter and John returned to the early Church, reporting the threats of the Sanhedrin. Speaking and teaching in the name of Jesus would bring an end to their lives. They immediately went to prayer. Their prayer begins with, “Lord, You are God, who made heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in them” (Acts 4:24). The Greek word “Despotes” is translated “Lord, You are God.” “Despotes” is our English word “despot.” The early Church did not use this word as a negative term. God is a “tyrant, absolute ruler, a dictator!” Residing in Him is absolute sovereign power. It is a focus on “ischus.”
The term “despot” is either negative or positive, based on the action (dunamis) of that power. Motive determines the effect. If God is love, we are safe; if He is not love, we are in trouble. Regardless of the conclusion concerning His motive, the truth remains that God is all-powerful (ischus), and His power affects (dunamis) our lives. In reality, we do not know the immensity of the “ischus” of God. We view the activity (dunamis) of His power and want to measure it. His creative activity displays His immense resource of power. The early Church experienced physical miracles, which were a display of His power. Although this is a physical measurement, how do we measure the spiritual power of God? The transformation in the lives of the early Church gave witness to the redeeming power of God. They gave “witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.” Their lives displayed the resurrected Lord!
The word “dunamis” is used many times in the first four chapters of Acts. It is in the promise Jesus gave to the apostles during His resurrection appearance. On the day He ascended to heaven, He said, “But you shall receive power (dunamis) when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). They will not receive the resource (ischus) of the Spirit apart from the Spirit. They cannot control this resource or use it as they choose. The Holy Spirit, who is the “ischus,” will actively move through their lives (dunamis).
When God fulfilled this promise, and the power of the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles, Peter explained what happened. He cried, “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles (dunamis), wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know” (Acts 2:22). Peter explained to the Jews who had gathered that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost is Jesus. The same Spirit of God (ischus), moving through (dunamis) Jesus, was now moving through them. He concludes that each of us can have this same “dunamis” moving through us!
One of these moments of “dunamis” was the miracle of the lame beggar’s healing. Peter took hold of the beggar’s right hand, lifted him to his feet, and said, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk” (Acts 3:6). The temple crowd, gathered on Solomon’s Porch, was amazed. Peter was horrified when he realized the crowd thought he was responsible for this miracle. He cried out, “Men of Israel, why do you marvel at this? Or why look so intently at us, as though by our own power (dunamis) or godliness we had made this man walk” (Acts 3:12)? Peter knew he did not control the “ischus,” to perform the “dunamis” of such a miracle. He proclaimed the resurrected Jesus as the one who was the “ischus” and displayed the “dunamis” through the healed beggar.
Peter’s proclamation that Jesus was the source of the beggar’s healing disturbed the leaders of Israel (Acts 4:2). In court, they demanded, “By what power (dunamis) or by what name have you done this” (Acts 4:7)? The accusation against the apostles rested on “what was the resource (ischus) flowing through them (dunamis). The “ischus” is only in Jesus, the Resurrected One! The threats of the Sanhedrin focused on this flow. They could not deny the activity (dunamis) because they could see the result in the healed beggar. They demanded the apostles cease to be an expression of the “dunamis” of the resurrected Lord!
Now we come to our passage, “And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 4:33). The power (ischus) was the resurrected Lord; He gave an expression of Himself through the apostles (dunamis). They were filled with a resource that was not theirs and participated in a demonstration of that resource that they could not do, the typical Christian experience of the early Church. They lived beyond their resource and ability, and what Jesus displayed through them was supernatural. They did not propose a belief system, new theology, or philosophy of eternal life. They offered an amalgamation! Human life and the Divine life could merge and become one. The resource of God (ischus) could move through (dunamis) the life of man, displaying a new creature!
In our passage, Luke calls this power “great.” It is the Greek word “megas,” which refers to something that is beyond the ordinary. In the Book of Acts, “ordinary” is not considered Christian. Jesus referred to John the Baptist as the greatest man ever been born of woman (Matthew 11:11). But He went on to relate that any person living in the “dunamis” of the Spirit is greater than he. It is a reflection on the resource (ischus) of Jesus producing power (dunamis) in our lives. If we live out of our own “ischus,” we are ordinary. Christianity is a call to the “great power,” and a display of the resurrected Jesus through our lives!
The apostles presented in their lives several elements in the context of our passage. These elements are not the “ischus” that is strictly in Jesus, and they are not the “dunamis” that can only come from Jesus. These elements are the stage on which Jesus can display His resurrection. The Spirit of God aids and participates with us to produce these elements, requiring our active involvement for the Spirit to move in and through us.
One of these elements is INTEGRITY! The English dictionary suggests two meanings for the word “integrity.” The first is “the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles,” meaning “moral uprightness.” The second is “the state of being whole and undivided.” The combination of these two elements affects the physical and spiritual. If the “ischus” of Jesus flows through us (dunamis), the instrument (us) maintains the element of integrity.
Luke now turns to the early Church’s view of materialism. Their approach was “neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common” (Acts 4:32). He expands this idea saying, “Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold” (Acts 4:34). Luke sandwiched the verse of our study (Acts 4:33) between these two verses. The power of God flowed through the apostles and gave witness to the resurrection revealed in their attitude and approach to materialism. Then Luke illustrated this with a positive and a negative example.
The Spirit of God that flowed through Barnabas produced a “Son of Encouragement” (Acts 4:36). He sold his land and brought the money to the early Church, where the apostles distributed it to the needs of the people. In this manner, the Spirit of God displayed Himself through Barnabas’ encouragement. The Spirit of God through Ananias and Sapphira resulted in death (Acts 5:1-11). They sold their land but kept part of the money for themselves. Peter reminded them they had a right to sell their land and keep the money. The problem was “integrity” in their materialism. They said they gave all their proceeds, but had not. They were deceptive! When a person experiences the active movement of God’s Spirit, but is deceptive it results in death. The Spirit’s righteousness and the unrighteousness of deception cannot survive in the same being.
The Spirit of God caused the early Church’s attitude toward materialism; however, their response to this attitude opened the door for a movement of “dunamis” through them. We do not appeal for generosity in giving; we do not propose a health and wealth gospel. Our concern is for integrity with our materialism. Financial integrity is an absolute must for the “great power” of God to give “witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.”
One issue of materialism is “ownership.” Luke wrote, “Neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own” (Acts 4:32). The core of their belief was in God’s sovereignty. God is the Creator of all things (Acts 4:24); therefore, how could they claim anything as their own? Ownership bespeaks responsibility and control. They recognized they had responsibility for the existence of nothing and had no right to control, causing their openness for the “great power” of God to give “witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.”
The second issue of materialism is “opinion.” The early Church was of “one heart and one soul” (Acts 4:32), referring to the believers’ unity with Jesus. Their beings linked with Jesus caused their harmonious agreement with each other. This Divine mindset dictated their belief toward materialism. They owned nothing; they were stewards under God’s direction and maintained His opinion of materialism. Jesus always sees the physical as a platform for redemption. The use of materialism for any other reason was to fight against His design. I want to merge with Him and think as He thinks, allowing my materialism to be an avenue for the “great power” of God to give “witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.”
The third issue of materialism is “obligation.” Everyone who sold property brought the proceeds to the apostles, “and they distributed to each as anyone had need” (Acts 4:35). The early Church had a sense of obligation for their fellowman. They recognized those who “had need,” however, simply recognizing those with needs was not enough. They had the mind of Christ. Many people give to others because it makes them feel better, which is not the mind of Christ! Others give because it benefits them financially, which is also not the mind of Christ. When we merge with Jesus, we discover His mind. Merging my life with Jesus brings the “great power” of God, giving “witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.”
If we have integrity, we have honesty. The problem that destroys honesty is self-centeredness. If a helpless person does not admit he is helpless, he must use and manipulate every situation to benefit his life. What else can he do? He has to support himself. Again, we see this in the context of our passage (Acts 4:33) as Luke gives a positive and a negative illustration. The positive example is Barnabas, who embraced his helplessness and experienced the resource of the resurrected Lord. With God’s resource, he could afford to be generous, not only in materialistic things but also in attitude. His generosity became so dominant in his life that the apostles called him “Son of Encouragement.”
Luke’s negative illustration is Ananias and Sapphira. They sold a possession and were under no obligation to give the money to the apostles. They could keep it all or part of it for themselves without criticism from others. The problem for them was their lack of honesty. They said they gave the full selling price, but they lied and kept part for their use. They were self-centered or self-sourcing. They did not embrace their helplessness; they did not rest in Jesus as their source. They manipulated the circumstance for personal benefit. They wanted the best they could get from the spiritual world, the Christian faith, but Ananias and Sapphira also wanted the best they could get from their self-sourcing. They were deceptive! Deception produces death!
Luke contrasts the dishonesty of Ananias and Sapphira with the honesty of the apostles under the threat of persecution. The Sanhedrin warned them, “not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus” (Acts 4:18). Their action was an issue of life and death, not about their reputation or financial gain. A helpless man who does not admit his helplessness will, of necessity, manipulate the scene for his advantage. He will try to turn the circumstances to his benefit. The apostles’ answer to the Sanhedrin’s threat was, “For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20). This statement reveals their integrity. They were honest! They experienced the presence of the resurrected Jesus for 40 days, a presence so powerful Luke labeled it “infallible proofs” (Acts 1:3). The apostles received the indwelt presence of the resurrected Lord at Pentecost. All they had known of Jesus externally, they now knew internally. They merged with Jesus; everything He promised became a reality. Now the Sanhedrin wanted them to deny it all; they were never to speak of Jesus again. Their integrity would not allow such deception! Honesty with themselves and each other was their only response!
In the days that followed, after pondering their situation, the early Church continued in honesty. They were helpless in the face of their world; they embraced their helplessness and cried out to God, who is sovereign (Acts 4:24). Their confidence in the power of the resurrected Lord created their honesty. They needed not to manipulate the situation for survival, protection, or personal benefit. They relied entirely on Jesus, and because of this total honesty “with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.” The power of the resurrected Lord flowed through their lives in ministry, creating this integrity, without which they might have the same results as Ananias and Sapphira. We must respond as the early Church did! Without the power of His presence, ministry becomes programs, maintenance, and crowd manipulation. His presence only operates on the platform of integrity.
One greater than themselves mastered the members of the early Church. This enslavement to something beyond themselves was not without choice. They were committed to Jesus, the resurrected Lord. They would never again be in a Garden of Gethsemane asleep during prayer, and would never again run at the sight of threatening soldiers in the night hour. Christ, their Master, was so massive in their lives He mastered them. It was the merger. His nature caused what they thought, how they felt. They had His heart, mind, and emotions.
We see how Jesus mastered Peter and John in our passage. After a night in jail, the apostles must have imagined the worst of circumstances as the soldiers dragged them to the court site. After the crucifixion of Jesus, what would the Sanhedrin do to them? However, the boldness with which they spoke of Jesus caused the Sanhedrin to marvel (Acts 4:13). As Peter and John responded, there was no doubt in the minds of the Sanhedrin that Jesus was present in their midst! When the Sanhedrin demanded that Peter and John never preach or teach in the name of Jesus again, they replied, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge” (Acts 4:20).
We must now look at our hearts. We are helpless! Will we embrace and live in this helplessness so that Jesus can be our only resource? If we will not, our self-centeredness will manipulate every circumstance for our benefit. Our self-centered hearts will drown out the voice of Jesus as we adjust and compromise under pressure for our survival. We have no other choice if we have only our helplessness. If man merges with Jesus’ nature, Jesus takes that man to a new level of living. This commitment to Him and Him alone allowed the “great power” in the apostles as they witnessed to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. Commitment to Jesus is the platform on which God manifests His power. The early Church experienced this and changed their world.
Jesus calls each of us to experience a new commitment. When left alone, we rely on programs, organizational structure, and marketing schemes. We depend on our talents, education, and professionalism. We become mastered by psychological techniques, appeals to self, and our image. Jesus wants us to know the spiritual results of the early Church and experience the spiritual realities of their hearts. They knew Jesus. They did not know about Him; they knew Him.
This resurrected Jesus mastered their lives, and their materialism was at His disposal. They merged with His mind and heart until as Jesus lived free of the domination of materialism, so did they! “Neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own” (Acts 4:32). They possessed integrity that would not allow them to compromise truth. They would not shape their belief to fit the popular view of their day. They were uncompromising in the presentation of His resurrection presence. They were so mastered by Him and committed to Him that they became a platform for His demonstration. It was in this context that “with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 4:33).
The demonstration of Jesus in the lives of the early Church has not changed for our day. It is as true for us as it was for them. Jesus has not changed; we will see Jesus again. Our families are desperate for such a demonstration through us. Please be mastered by Jesus’ integrity and speak His truth to your world.