While Peter and John were addressing the people, the priests, the chief of the Temple police, and some Sadducees came up,
indignant that these upstart apostles were instructing the people and proclaiming that the resurrection from the dead had taken place in Jesus.
They arrested them and threw them in jail until morning, for by now it was late in the evening.
But many of those who listened had already believed the Message - in round numbers about five thousand!
The next day a meeting was called in Jerusalem. The rulers, religious leaders, religion scholars,
Annas the Chief Priest, Caiaphas, John, Alexander - everybody who was anybody was there.
They stood Peter and John in the middle of the room and grilled them: "Who put you in charge here? What business do you have doing this?"
With that, Peter, full of the Holy Spirit, let loose: "Rulers and leaders of the people,
if we have been brought to trial today for helping a sick man, put under investigation regarding this healing,
I'll be completely frank with you - we have nothing to hide. By the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, the One you killed on a cross, the One God raised from the dead, by means of his name this man stands before you healthy and whole.
Jesus is 'the stone you masons threw out, which is now the cornerstone.'
Salvation comes no other way; no other name has been or will be given to us by which we can be saved, only this one."
They couldn't take their eyes off them - Peter and John standing there so confident, so sure of themselves! Their fascination deepened when they realized these two were laymen with no training in Scripture or formal education. They recognized them as companions of Jesus,
but with the man right before them, seeing him standing there so upright - so healed! - what could they say against that?
They sent them out of the room so they could work out a plan. They talked it over:
"What can we do with these men? By now it's known all over town that a miracle has occurred, and that they are behind it. There is no way we can refute that.
But so that it doesn't go any further, let's silence them with threats so they won't dare to use Jesus' name ever again with anyone."
They called them back and warned them that they were on no account ever again to speak or teach in the name of Jesus.
But Peter and John spoke right back, "Whether it's right in God's eyes to listen to you rather than to God, you decide.
As for us, there's no question - we can't keep quiet about what we've seen and heard."
The religious leaders renewed their threats, but then released them. They couldn't come up with a charge that would stick, that would keep them in jail. The people wouldn't have stood for it - they were all praising God over what had happened.
The man who had been miraculously healed was over forty years old.
As soon as Peter and John were let go, they went to their friends and told them what the high priests and religious leaders had said.
Hearing the report, they lifted their voices in a wonderful harmony in prayer: "Strong God, you made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them.
By the Holy Spirit you spoke through the mouth of your servant and our father, David: Why the big noise, nations? Why the mean plots, peoples?
Earth's leaders push for position, Potentates meet for summit talks, The God-deniers, the Messiah-defiers!
"For in fact they did meet - Herod and Pontius Pilate with nations and peoples, even Israel itself! - met in this very city to plot against your holy Son Jesus, the One you made Messiah,
to carry out the plans you long ago set in motion.
"And now they're at it again! Take care of their threats and give your servants fearless confidence in preaching your Message,
as you stretch out your hand to us in healings and miracles and wonders done in the name of your holy servant Jesus."
While they were praying, the place where they were meeting trembled and shook. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak God's Word with fearless confidence.
The whole congregation of believers was united as one - one heart, one mind! They didn't even claim ownership of their own possessions. No one said, "That's mine; you can't have it." They shared everything.
The apostles gave powerful witness to the resurrection of the Master Jesus, and grace was on all of them.
And so it turned out that not a person among them was needy. Those who owned fields or houses sold them and brought the price of the sale
to the apostles and made an offering of it. The apostles then distributed it according to each person's need.
Joseph, called by the apostles "Barnabas" (which means "Son of Comfort"), a Levite born in Cyprus,
sold a field that he owned, brought the money, and made an offering of it to the apostles.
But a man named Ananias - his wife, Sapphira, conniving in this with him - sold a piece of land,
secretly kept part of the price for himself, and then brought the rest to the apostles and made an offering of it.
Peter said, "Ananias, how did Satan get you to lie to the Holy Spirit and secretly keep back part of the price of the field?
Before you sold it, it was all yours, and after you sold it, the money was yours to do with as you wished. So what got into you to pull a trick like this? You didn't lie to men but to God."
Ananias, when he heard those words, fell down dead. That put the fear of God into everyone who heard of it.
The younger men went right to work and wrapped him up, then carried him out and buried him.
Not more than three hours later, his wife, knowing nothing of what had happened, came in.
Peter said, "Tell me, were you given this price for your field?" "Yes," she said, "that price."
Peter responded, "What's going on here that you connived to conspire against the Spirit of the Master? The men who buried your husband are at the door, and you're next."
No sooner were the words out of his mouth than she also fell down, dead. When the young men returned they found her body. They carried her out and buried her beside her husband.
By this time the whole church and, in fact, everyone who heard of these things had a healthy respect for God. They knew God was not to be trifled with.
Through the work of the apostles, many God-signs were set up among the people, many wonderful things done. They all met regularly and in remarkable harmony on the Temple porch named after Solomon.
But even though people admired them a lot, outsiders were wary about joining them.
On the other hand, those who put their trust in the Master were added right and left, men and women both.
They even carried the sick out into the streets and laid them on stretchers and bedrolls, hoping they would be touched by Peter's shadow when he walked by.
They came from the villages surrounding Jerusalem, throngs of them, bringing the sick and bedeviled. And they all were healed. To Obey God Rather than Men
Provoked mightily by all this, the Chief Priest and those on his side, mainly the sect of Sadducees, went into action,
arrested the apostles, and put them in the town jail.
But during the night an angel of God opened the jailhouse door and led them out.
He said, "Go to the Temple and take your stand. Tell the people everything there is to say about this Life."
Promptly obedient, they entered the Temple at daybreak and went on with their teaching.
When the police got there, they couldn't find them anywhere in the jail. They went back and reported,
"We found the jail locked tight as a drum and the guards posted at the doors, but when we went inside we didn't find a soul."
The chief of the Temple police and the high priests were puzzled. "What's going on here anyway?"
Just then someone showed up and said, "Did you know that the men you put in jail are back in the Temple teaching the people?"
The chief and his police went and got them, but they handled them gently, fearful that the people would riot and turn on them.
Bringing them back, they stood them before the High Council. The Chief Priest said,
"Didn't we give you strict orders not to teach in Jesus' name? And here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are trying your best to blame us for the death of this man."
Peter and the apostles answered, "It's necessary to obey God rather than men.
The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, the One you killed by hanging him on a cross.
God set him on high at his side, Prince and Savior, to give Israel the gift of a changed life and sins forgiven.
And we are witnesses to these things. The Holy Spirit, whom God gives to those who obey him, corroborates every detail."
When they heard that, they were furious and wanted to kill them on the spot.
But one of the council members stood up, a Pharisee by the name of Gamaliel, a teacher of God's Law who was honored by everyone. He ordered the men taken out of the room for a short time,
then said, "Fellow Israelites, be careful what you do to these men.
Not long ago Theudas made something of a splash, claiming to be somebody, and got about four hundred men to join him. He was killed, his followers dispersed, and nothing came of it.
A little later, at the time of the census, Judas the Galilean appeared and acquired a following. He also fizzled out and the people following him were scattered to the four winds.
"So I am telling you: Hands off these men! Let them alone. If this program or this work is merely human, it will fall apart,
but if it is of God, there is nothing you can do about it - and you better not be found fighting against God!"
That convinced them. They called the apostles back in. After giving them a thorough whipping, they warned them not to speak in Jesus' name and sent them off.
The apostles went out of the High Council overjoyed because they had been given the honor of being dishonored on account of the Name.
Every day they were in the Temple and homes, teaching and preaching Christ Jesus, not letting up for a minute.
During this time, as the disciples were increasing in numbers by leaps and bounds, hard feelings developed among the Greek-speaking believers - "Hellenists" - toward the Hebrew-speaking believers because their widows were being discriminated against in the daily food lines.
So the Twelve called a meeting of the disciples. They said, "It wouldn't be right for us to abandon our responsibilities for preaching and teaching the Word of God to help with the care of the poor.
So, friends, choose seven men from among you whom everyone trusts, men full of the Holy Spirit and good sense, and we'll assign them this task.
Meanwhile, we'll stick to our assigned tasks of prayer and speaking God's Word."
The congregation thought this was a great idea. They went ahead and chose - Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, Nicolas, a convert from Antioch.
Then they presented them to the apostles. Praying, the apostles laid on hands and commissioned them for their task.
The Word of God prospered. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased dramatically. Not least, a great many priests submitted themselves to the faith.
Stephen, brimming with God's grace and energy, was doing wonderful things among the people, unmistakable signs that God was among them.
But then some men from the meeting place whose membership was made up of freed slaves, Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and some others from Cilicia and Asia, went up against him trying to argue him down.
But they were no match for his wisdom and spirit when he spoke.
So in secret they bribed men to lie: "We heard him cursing Moses and God."
That stirred up the people, the religious leaders, and religion scholars. They grabbed Stephen and took him before the High Council
They put forward their bribed witnesses to testify: "This man talks nonstop against this Holy Place and God's Law.
We even heard him say that Jesus of Nazareth would tear this place down and throw out all the customs Moses gave us."
As all those who sat on the High Council looked at Stephen, they found they couldn't take their eyes off him - his face was like the face of an angel!
Published by permission. Originally published by NavPress in English as THE MESSAGE: The Bible in Contemporary Language copyright 2002 by Eugene Peterson. All rights reserved. (The Message Bible Online)