And through the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were done among the people. And they were all with one accord in Solomon’s Porch. Yet none of the rest dared join them, but the people esteemed them highly. Acts 5:12-13
When Grandma needed healing, her children knew the Christians could heal her, but would they come over to Solomon’s Porch and ask? Not likely. Maybe if they got really desperate. More likely, they’d think about where Peter was staying, and what streets he would walk up to the temple, and where the sun would be at that time of day, and strategically position Grandma’s litter so that Peter’s shadow would fall across her and she would be healed. They’d be glad for the healing, but when they went up to the temple, they would still keep their distance from the Christians gathered in Solomon’s Porch.
To be a Christian in Jerusalem at this time is to be ostracized, an outsider. When you walk into the room, people stop talking. When you walk down the hall, people avert their eyes. Some of them might come to your house by night, Nicodemus-style, to talk, but don’t say hi if you see them on the street.
Among Luke’s many sources are people (Saul of Tarsus chief among them) who were still unbelievers at this point in the story. Luke knows, with a historian’s hindsight, that the people esteemed the Christians highly. At the time, it couldn’t have felt like that.
At the time, if you were a Christian, nobody wanted to be seen with you. How many Christians suffered business losses because the customers stopped coming, because their suppliers would no longer sell to them, because the landlord would not rent them a market stall, or a home to live in? How many were reduced to anonymous day-labor because their businesses collapsed? How many ended up moving into a Christian brother’s household simply because they had nowhere else to go? And yet the people secretly esteemed them highly.
A real estate investor friend of mine saw something in Acts 4-5 that I’ve never noticed: if Jesus’ prophecies were going to come true, then Jerusalem land values were about to tank. Barnabas and other Jesus-followers knew that, and liquidated at the right time. And then they donated the entire proceeds. There had to have been a serious need: there were thousands of Christians, and nobody wanted to be identified with them.
In the last month, I’ve gotten a little help imagining a modern equivalent: I have lost two high-value clients for reasons related to my Christian faith. In a micro-business like mine, that really hurts, but imagine it times a thousand. Most of my clients are not Christians. What if none of them wanted to be seen walking into my business? What if half my church suddenly lost their livelihoods as well? A moderately wealthy investor selling, say, a couple rental houses and donating the proceeds would go a long way toward helping us get back on our feet.
Many of our brothers and sisters around the world don’t have to imagine what this is like; they’re living it every day. I just read a missionary letter from West Africa that described the situation along these lines (I’m quoting from memory): “People who convert to Christianity in West Africa lose all their relationships in a culture where relationships are everything.” Before long, some communities in the U.S. may be experiencing something similar. Let’s live in such a way that — even when they don’t show it — the people cannot help but esteem us highly.
Tim Nichols is a pastor at large with Headwaters Christian Resources and a massage therapist in Englewood, Colorado. He is a coauthor of the Victorious Bible curriculum.
To download Theopolis Lectures, please enter your email.