At the beginning of Acts, yes, at the very beginning of the believing community in Jerusalem, we find the same clue mentioned in two places: One is in Acts 2:47 and the other in Acts 5:14. One passage says that the early believers were “enjoying the favor of all the people”. The other passage states that these believers were “highly regarded by the people”. I take that to mean they were respected for the way they were living.
At this point, some of my readers are scratching their heads and saying “So what?” Hold on: There is a reason why these two verses are so HUGELY significant. The reason is found back in the Hebrew Scriptures. The problem is, if we don’t remember what the Scriptures say, we may entirely miss the impact of these two passing comments.
Put them to death!
In Deut. 13:1 -5 is a passage where God, through Moses, warns the people that prophets may appear who perform signs or wonders but then proceed to steer the people away from following the commandments. We read, “It is the Lord your God you must follow, and him you must revere. Keep his commands and obey him; serve him and hold fast to him. That prophet or dreamer must be put to death, because he preached rebellion against the Lord your God… You must purge the evil from among you.” (NIV)
The leader of this group (Yeshua of Nazareth) had performed many signs and wonders. No doubt about it! In fact, he HAD been put to death. Now his disciples are also performing signs and wonders.
What are we to believe?
The common people, those who stood and listened to Jesus and later, his disciples, had to answer the question, “What are we to believe?” Every year they would hear this Deuteronomy passage read aloud in their synagogues. It was well known to all of them. The question is: Would the people have viewed Jesus’ disciples favorably if they had encouraged the breaking of one or more commandments?
To answer that question, they did the obvious. They watched carefully to see how these people were “walking”. Walking in the Hebrew idiom means the same as “living out what you believe.” What they saw, was apparently pretty convincing. These disciples were definitely NOT breaking the commandments nor encouraging others to do the same.
These two verses state in the clearest terms that the crowds concluded the disciples were “good, up-standing citizens” as we might say. In fact, we might even conclude that what attracted the commoners, was that the early disciples obeyed the commands of Jesus (Moses) even more strictly than they!
Our leaders got this all wrong . . .
But there is another side to these two verses. They clearly imply that the common people did not agree with their religious leaders. Perhaps they already suspected that Jesus had been executed out of jealousy, not because he was a real law breaker. The lives of the disciples apparently supported this position, for they “were enjoying the favor of all the people” and they were “highly regarded by the people.” Once again, Doctor Luke shows us that even simple passing comments can reveal more than we might think.