Read Acts 4:1-22
This week, we continue our series from the
book of Acts. Last
time, we were in chapter three where Jesus, through Peter heals a man who had been lame from birth. In response to the
miraculous healing, large crowds assembled outside the temple and Peter
preached to them his second sermon recorded in Acts.
As we heard a few minutes ago, many Jews believed in Jesus as a result and
at this point a total of 5000 men had trusted Christ with probably many other
a couple of hours of the healing and Peter’s message, word gets out
to the Jewish religious authorities and they
are not happy. In
many ways, this scene is an echo from the ministry of Jesus. How many times in the
gospels do we see Jesus perform a public miracle and then meet with
opposition by the Jewish religious leaders who would confront him. Jesus in turn then
exposes their pettiness through sometimes stinging rebukes. That pattern is more
or less repeated here. The only difference is that the apostles are
taking Jesus’ role of healing and rebuking.
As is often the case in the
gospels, the two main characters are the
Jewish authorities and Jesus—who in this case is represented by Peter and John.
This morning, we want to look at this text by dividing it along these
two groups. First,
we want to look at two characteristics of the Jewish leaders and then
three characteristics of Peter and John and from those, see what this text can teach us.
As we turn to the Jewish leaders,
Luke wants us to know that this healing and Peter’s message were of great concern to them. We know that because
the most prominent spiritual leaders in Judaism become involved in this
who show up a short time after the healing are listed in verse one as
“…the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees…”
The captain of the
temple would have been the head of the
temple police who came upon the scene because the
large crowd has drawn his attention. The Sadducees were a group overshadowed in the
gospels by the Pharisees because the
stricter, more conservative Pharisees were constantly in conflict with Jesus.
But, it was the Sadducees who possessed most of the political and religious
power within Judaism. These
were men of wealth and position in society. The High Priests were always Sadducees during this time of Jewish history and many on
the ruling council called “the Sanhedrin” were Sadducees as well. They were also Bible
teachers, but were distinguished by the fact that they
were not looking for a Messiah--they were closely aligned politically with the
Roman authorities because they liked having the clout that that association
brought them and perhaps most importantly (as we see in the gospels),
the Sadducees rejected any notion of resurrection.
So Peter is preaching a resurrected
Jesus whose resurrection established him as the Messiah. It’s easy to see why
the Sadducees (who didn’t believe in a Messiah and who didn’t believe
in a resurrection) were–to use Luke’s words, “greatly annoyed” by this message Peter was preaching.
These men placed Peter and John in jail because it was too late in the
day for a trial. The
following day, the real power brokers of Judaism show up. Verse five says, “On the next day their rulers and elders and scribes gathered together in Jerusalem, with Annas the high priest and Caiaphas and
John and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family.” The “rulers” would have been the 71 members
of the Sanhedrin who had obviously been notified and have come to rule
on this matter. The
“elders” would have been the Jewish civic leaders—heads of families
and tribes. The
“scribes” would have been religious teachers of one sort or another. Finally, we see the
high priest, Caiaphas and a former high priest Annas—who led the opposition
against Jesus. And
we also have all the rest of the
high priestly family. This
group held all the religious, political and social power within Palestinian
Judaism—the executive, legislative, judicial and cultural Jewish leaders
are here gathered and its before these
leaders that these two disciples were to make their
see two characteristics of this group of Jewish leaders manifest in this passage and we would do well to learn
from their negative examples.
The first characteristic of the
Jewish leaders is: Their
jealous coveting of spiritual and religious authority.
As they begin the
trial, their one and only question of Peter and John is in verse seven,
“By what power or by what name did you do this?” That’s the crux of the
matter for them.
A great miracle has been done—a man lame from birth is up walking, leaping
and praising God—the Jews are awed by this clear work of God done by
two men who take no credit for themselves and their
question about the miracle is “By
what power or by what name did you do this?”
This tells us a great deal about them,
doesn’t it? They really don’t care about this man, whose life has been radically changed for the
really don’t care about the fact that God has done something marvelous
in their midst, or that the
Jews they are shepherding are rejoicing in God because of this miracle. Their main concern is
one of authority. The
question in the Greek is worded as if to say, “Who
are YOU to do this?”
This is not a new concern for these
see it in how they related to Jesus in places like Luke 20. “1 One day, as Jesus was teaching the people in the temple and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes with the elders came up 2 and said to him, “Tell us by what authority you do these things, or who it is that gave you this authority.” Both
of these cases indicate that the
Jewish religious leaders were in the most literal sense, godless. The reason is because
it would have been clear to anyone genuinely seeking the truth, in
both the case of Jesus and the
apostles, that the authority behind the
miracles was God. As
we said last time, at this time in history, only God was doing these
kinds of miracles. We
know from the gospels that the
Jewish leaders really did recognize that Jesus was from God, but they
refused to openly acknowledge it because in the end, God and his plan
were not nearly as important to them as protecting their
in John 3 was doubtless speaking for many of the religious leaders
when in verse two he says to Jesus, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher
come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless
God is with him.”
Deep in their hearts they
knew Jesus was from God and they killed him anyway.
Ultimately, these men didn’t
care that his authority came from God, they wanted to BE God and as
a result they held a jealous, white-knuckle grip on their
exclusive authority in these matters.
What’s behind this in both the
case of Jesus and the apostles is the
jealous question, “If God is going to do
miracles, why isn’t he doing it through US?”
To them, they were the obvious choice for any miracle making
We see this self-centered concern all the
time in the political realm in both parties.
Something potentially damaging—a scandal of some sort happens to a particular
party. The response is almost never—it seems—do an open inquiry of the matter with the genuine intent of knowing
the truth, honestly report it, and admit all areas of culpability.
Instead, we see the scandal erupt
and immediately they kick into “damage control mode”.
The party officials begin circling the
wagons and distributing carefully worded, but highly evasive party line messages.
And their sole motivation in how they handle the matter is to preserve their
political power and position. Perversely, that’s what is going on here—damage control.
It’s not about truth or a sincere concern about a possible abuse of authority—it’s
about these Jewish leaders doing what they need to do to hang onto their power.
Sadly, you hear about this happening in churches as well.
A matter comes up that impacts the
church and a decision is made by the leadership.
Certain people will always resent that decision, not because of its merits,
but because they didn’t get
to decide. To
some, the most important question in their minds is not—what are the
merits of the decision, but rather—who gets to make the decision. The hard hearts of these
leaders are seen in their jealous coveting of spiritual and religious
authority and we must be careful of that as well. Another example of their
hard hearts is: Their
stubborn refusal to admit the obvious.
The self-centered agenda of the
religious leaders is transparent in their response to this miracle.
They want to shut this entire Jesus movement down.
They doubtless assumed that once they
killed Jesus, that would have “cut the head off the
snake,” so to speak. What
they didn’t count on was that Jesus would be resurrected and his followers
would come back and preach in his name. Now, they
were faced with a potentially worse problem than they had with Jesus
because Jesus had in effect, multiplied himself.
Jesus had check-mated them here. In verse 14 we read,
“but seeing the [healed] man standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition.” They
the evidence was against them. God had clearly done
something and the presence of a bona-fide miracle completely trumped
any objection they might make. In
verse 17, the leaders say in response to the miracle and the
teaching of Peter, “…in order that it may spread no further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.” They liken the influence
of Christ to a disease, the spread of which they must stop.
There’s no thought given to God’s will—the agenda is to control
Notice in all of this that these Sadducees—who reject the resurrection, never
argue with Peter about his claim that God raised Jesus from the dead.
Though these men had tried to make the resurrection of Jesus look as if the
body had been stolen, they don’t float that suggestion here.
They know Jesus was raised from the dead.
They stubbornly refuse to admit the
As unflattering as this portrayal
is of the religious rulers, we can and do act the
same way. We
get into a disagreement with our spouse or a close associate and they
are clearly in the right.
Instead of admitting that, we stubbornly hang on to our position, go down
in flames, and often unnecessarily hurt others.
The religious leaders had dug in their
heels in the face of obvious evidence against them. We must allow their
negative example to warn us here of our stubborn pride.
That’s the religious leaders’
In the case of Peter and John, we want to look for the positive examples
they leave for us to follow.
As you think about this chapter, put yourself in their
sandals for just a moment from a human perspective.
Only a couple of months before this incident, they
had seen this same group of religious leaders conspire together to
crucify their Master in the face of far greater evidence that he was
a man of God. Peter
and John doubtless knew that if the council would oppose Jesus, who had developed a large following, they would
oppose them with the same lethal force.
So, they are arrested and have
a night in jail to think about the events of the past few months.
They stand in what may have very well been the
same place they saw their
Master stand on the night that he was betrayed and before the
same powerful people. Apart
from the grace of God, these
men have every right to be paralyzed with fear.
But their response does not betray
one iota of fear, but instead tremendous, Holy Spirit-inspired courage.
The first example of this we could call—Their
unflinching willingness to confront sin.
We see this in verses 10-11 as Peter, filled with the
Spirit says, “let it be know to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth,
whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing
before you well. This
Jesus is the stone that was rejected by
you, the builders, which has become
These Jewish leaders,
on a human level, had the power of life and death over Peter and John. Only a short time later,
some of these same members of the
Sanhedrin would execute Stephen. Yet, Peter when he is on trial very quickly moves from the
defense to the prosecution as he takes control of this trial by, to
their face, charging them
with the unjust murder of Jesus Christ.
In Peter’s very first mention of Jesus Christ to these
men, he refers to him as the One “whom
you crucified.” There
is nothing subtle, diplomatic or politically correct here.
This is amazing boldness on the
part of Peter. Not
only does Peter, to their face, accuse them
of the unjust crucifixion of Jesus, he explains who Jesus is in a way
to highlight their own cosmic foolishness.
Peter identifies Jesus in verse 11 as
“…the stone that was rejected by
you, the builders, which has become
This would have cut these leaders
like a knife in several ways. First,
because Peter condemns them from their
own Scripture, quoting Psalm 118:22. By choosing this verse, which Jesus also used to refer to himself, Peter exposes what
a sham these leaders were.
The reason is because in the
original historical context of the Psalm, the
“stone” that was rejected was the righteous, rejected king of Israel,
but those who rejected him in the context of the
Psalm were those evil, pagan nations that opposed Israel. These Jewish Bible scholars
would have gotten the message and knew that when Peter calls them the builders who reject the
righteous king, he was putting them in the
place of those pagan nations who opposed God and his people.
This would have been a very infuriating charge for these
leaders who believed they were God’s anointed--Israel’s
best and brightest. Beyond
that, the masonry metaphor makes them
look like fools when you think about it. The cornerstone was the largest
and most important stone in the building. It holds up two intersecting walls and establishes what is plumb and right for the
rest of the building.
If the cornerstone is good, the
building can be well established. If it is bad, the building will be uninhabitable.
Those who should have been the
most qualified to make a sound judgment on the fitness of the
cornerstone were the builders—these
was their business to know what qualities make up a good cornerstone. Yet these
builders look at the perfect cornerstone—the
righteous King Jesus…and reject him as unfit.
This condemns them as spiritual
leaders because when it comes to choosing the most important piece in
God’s building temple—they utterly blow it.
For a builder to reject a perfect cornerstone would clearly indict him as
that is precisely what Peter is implying in his condemnation of them
through this Psalm. And
we must remember that the people of Peter’s day would have seen him
and John as unlearned fishermen. Successful businessmen perhaps, but hardly qualified to stand toe-to-toe on spiritual
matters with Bible scholars who had given their lives to the
study of God’s word and who had been rigorously educated and trained by brilliant teachers.
Yet, here they are--delivering
a knock-out punch that sent these leaders reeling.
This is another of the
many David and Goliath type accounts in the Bible.
We see this in verse 13. “Now
when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished.” Then Luke
adds, “And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.” It’s
amazing how much theological sophistication and wisdom you can get
by just “being with Jesus” and these men had spent the
better part of three years with him. That truth should not be lost in a church where we train many of our pastors without the
benefit of seminary education. The apostles didn’t have advanced degrees, but they
had been with Jesus and as a result they were unflinching in their
willingness to confront even the sin of these
religious scholars and authorities.
A second example of their boldness
is seen in--Their
brazen declaration of the exclusivity of Christ
for salvation. After
Peter by implication declares these leaders unfit because they
rejected Jesus, he continues in verse 12, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among
men by which we must be saved.”
Within his message, Peter is here explaining what it means for Jesus to be
The cornerstone of God’s people is the
One who saves God’s people and just as there is only one cornerstone,
there is only one Savior. “There
is no other name under heaven given among
men by which we must be saved.”
claim that Jesus is the only way to salvation is the
great stumbling block of the gospel today in our society that prides
itself on its “open-mindedness.” We saw this just this past week when journalist Britt Hume, an evangelical Christian,
in response to a question about Tiger Woods, urged Tiger to accept the
“`forgiveness and redemption that is offered
Christian faith.” At the same
time he compared Buddhism unfavorably to the redemption that can be
experienced through Christ.
As you can imagine, Hume was savaged in the
press for what one journalist called his “truly embarrassing” remark and especially for claiming that Christianity
was superior to Buddhism. To
claim today that Jesus Christ is superior to other religious leaders,
or to hold that Biblical Christianity is the only way to God is perhaps
the quickest way for you to be written off as an insensitive, intolerant,
sanctimonious nutjob. But
Peter had seen Jesus crucified—he had watched him be crushed by his heavenly Father
while he was on the cross. And he knew that if there
was any other way to salvation, then
that hideous crushing of the Son by the
Father would have been the
grossest injustice of all time. If
salvation could be won or found in any other person, then
Jesus’ heavenly Father is guilty of divine child abuse. Jesus would simply have
not needed to suffer in that manner if there would have other
ways to salvation. Jesus
asks the Father in Gethsemane
if there were any other
way and there wasn’t.
This was it and the cross of
Christ ALONE purchases sinners for God. The cross ALONE brings forgiveness to rebels like you and me.
The cross of Christ ALONE defeats the
power of sin and death and hell. The cross of Christ ALONE satisfies the wrath
of God that sinners duly deserve. The cross of Christ ALONE is the fulfillment
of God’s redemptive plan begun before the foundation of the
world and the cross of Christ ALONE brings to light the
glory of God by showing the indescribable love and grace and justice
he displayed there.
If you are ever tempted to join the
open-minded, pluralistic crowd that believes all paths to God are equally valid, remember what worldview implies
for the Father crushing the Son on the cross.
If Jesus Christ isn’t the only
way to God, then that negates the
underlying truth of all Scripture, which is that God can be known by rebel sinners only by means of his redemptive plan
and work in Christ. We
must not allow the prevailing hostility to that truth intimidate us from unapologetically declaring that Jesus
is the only way to God. We
mustn’t stick our finger up in the air to help us know what to say on this matter.
We must, like Peter—brazenly declare the exclusivity of Jesus for salvation
and let the chips fall where they may.
A final example the apostles set
for us is found in verse 16. The
religious leaders had forbidden them to speak or teach in Jesus’ name.
That was the best plan they could come up with because the Jews were so astonished
by the healing, it would have been impossible for the Jews to kill Peter or John at this time.
In response to that prohibition, Peter says, “…Whether
it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking
about what we have seen and heard.”
Again, the rulers try to put the apostles on the defensive with this prohibition,
but Peter refuses to stay in that place. He says in effect, “Look,
you seem to want to make a judgment here.
So decide this question—Is it right for us
to obey you or God?
And while you are deliberating that question,
we’re going to be out preaching Jesus because we can’t stop telling what we have seen and heard.” Peter brazenly declares
the exclusivity of Christ for salvation and in so doing sets a badly needed example for us who live in this world
that despises that message.
A final example of these apostles
worth following is similar and that is--Their
impassioned desire to please God and not man.
The apostles establish a crucial precedent at this very first moment of persecution. They make clear that
there is nothing the rulers
can do to them that will cause them
to shut up. It
was crucial to establish that early. They are clearly not afraid of these rulers
and, as they assumed with Jesus, its clear even from these
earliest moments of the church that in order to silence these
apostles…the rulers will have to kill them. Oh, would that that
could be said of us. “You
know, you’ll never get her to shut up about Jesus unless you kill her.” The result was that these Jewish leaders find
that in their first attempt at damage control over an incident which
clearly threatened them, they
failed dismally. For
their part, the apostles
had doubtless remembered Jesus’ promise to them in Luke 21:14. Jesus is speaking of
what the apostles are to do when they
find themselves delivered over to the
authorities for persecution and says, “Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer, for I
will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict.”
This incident, like so many of the
others we will read in the
book of Acts, demonstrates that God is faithful to his promise.
That is precisely what happened here.
We must know that ultimately this is not at all a story of the
apostle’s intestinal fortitude, but of God’s faithfulness. He was faithful to fill Peter with the
Spirit and enable him the boldness and wisdom to shred these
godless Jewish religious leaders. They were, as Jesus promised, unable to “withstand
or contradict” him.
Peter and John were in so far over their
heads here, but if God is for us, who can be against us?
The rulers weren’t fighting Peter and John, they
were fighting Jesus! That
is also true for us as we face the opposition that comes as we try to
live faithfully to Christ in a world that is hostile to the gospel. I don’t know what opposition
you are facing now, but the example of these
apostles tells us that no matter how intimidating the opposition, we
are more than able to overcome as we go in the strength and power of
Christ, stepping out in faith and trusting in his promises.
May God give all of us the grace
to speak and live boldly in this world that opposes Christ.