Church · Culture · Culture & Society

Courage to Live By

An Exposition of Acts 4:1-13

 Religious Opposition

1 And as they spake unto the people, the priests, and the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees, came upon them,

As Peter and John were speaking to the people who had gathered after the healing of a man at the Temple Gate called Beautiful, the priests of Israel came upon them. The priests were probably part of the Sanhedrin, the Great Council of the Jewish nation that governed society under Roman authority.

The priests were accompanied by the captain of the temple. This was the commander of the guard stationed in the Tower of Antonia in Jerusalem to prevent any uprising, and to preserve order in society. Their presence assumed that the preaching of the apostles was going to cause social unrest.

Following along with the priests, and the Temple soldiers, were the Sadducees. Embracing the Hellenic culture, the theologically Liberal Sadducees were willing to compromise religious convictions for political expediency. They too wanted no social disruption. Concerned with the reports of the preaching of the apostles, this band of people came upon them. The authorities came suddenly, and in a hostile manner to the apostles.

2 Being grieved that they taught the people, and preached through Jesus the resurrection from the dead.

The priests were grieved with the apostles, and so they were going to violently, and emotionally oppose the preaching of the resurrection of Christ, because they viewed Christ as a false Messiah, and put Him to death.

The Sadducees were grieved, and did not want to hear about the resurrection, for it did not fit their theological bias. The Sadducees denied the existence of angels, and they denied the resurrection of the dead. Their theology left people cold, and empty, and without hope.

The captain of the temple was probably disinterested in the situation, except he did not want a tumult to take place.

3 And they laid hands on them, and put them in hold unto the next day: for it was now eventide.

In their state of agitation, the religious leaders ordered the apprehension of Peter and John. Roman law prohibited any legal action being taken against someone apart from Rome’s approval. However, a temporary arrest could be made until formal charges were made. Nothing more could be done that day, for it was eventide. It was against Jewish law to assemble the council at night. This was the time for evening prayer, or sacrifice.

4 Howbeit many of them which heard the word believed; and the number of the men was about five thousand.

Despite the arrest of Peter and John, the preaching of the gospel led to the conversion of about five thousand individuals at the point of gospel hearing. From a human point of view, the Word of God was preached, and was believed. From a divine perspective, God had granted these people the gift of faith (Eph. 2:8-9). Another lesson is learned. Persecution cannot stop the gospel from spreading. The blood drops of the martyrs are the seed of the church.

5 And it came to pass on the morrow, that their rulers, and elders, and scribes,

The rulers of the Jews is a reference to the Sanhedrin, or Great Council of the nation. Luke wrote the book of Acts for the Gentiles, or else he would have said, “our rulers”, being a Jew. The elders and the presbyters were men of maturity, chosen from the people, to sit in the Sanhedrin which was comprised of seventy men. The scribes were men skilled in the Law. They kept the records of the Courts of Justice, the registers of the synagogue, wrote articles of contract and sale, bills of divorce, and other legal matters. They were called lawyers (Matt. 22:35), and doctors of the law (Luke 5:17). Having spent a night in prison, the disciples were brought before the Jewish magistrates who had gathered together at Jerusalem.

6 And Annas the high priest, and Caiaphas, and John, and Alexander, and as many as were of the kindred of the high priest, were gathered together at Jerusalem.

Annas was an ex high priest of Israel who served from AD 6 – 15.Caiaphas, as a son in law of Annas who served as high priest of Israel from AD 18 – 36. Both Annas and Caiaphas had been involved in the crucifixion of Christ. They would have wanted to arrest any progress of the gospel among the people.

Concerning John, and Alexander, nothing is known of these individuals except they were members of the Great Council. The mention of their names indicates they were men of chief authority and influence. Their names are forever linked, to their shame, with those who tried to silence the apostles.

7 And when they had set them in the midst, they asked, By what power, or by what name, have ye done this?

The apostles were made to stand in the presence of the Great Council. It was a very intimidating place to be. Peter would remember that in this Council were men who had condemned the Lord of Glory to death. A specific question was asked. The Sanhedrin wanted to know by what authority the apostles spoke about the resurrection, and dared to publically teach the people.

Questions are often designed to be intimidating, and to silence the voice of the one speaking. They are also asked in order to establish legitimacy. The Sanhedrin assumed that it had power over the apostles, just as Rome assumed power over Judea. Of course, ultimately, human freedom comes from God. This includes the freedom to speak.

America is a unique nation, in that it was founded on the principles that government does not give people freedom, but God does. America’s Declaration of Independence includes these words. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” A nation that is based on secular reasoning understands that what government gives, government can take away. This is one reason why government officials and bureaucratic leaders, seek for more and more power over people. They want to control what is said, what is done, what is not said, and what is not to be done.

8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Ghost, said unto them, Ye rulers of the people, and elders of Israel,

To be filled with anything denotes that all the faculties, mind, will, and emotion, are pervaded by it, engaged in it, or under its influence. To be filled with the Spirit means to be under the total influence of the Spirit so that            the mind is Spirit controlled, the will makes wise and rational decisions consistent with the known will of God, and the emotions that are manifested are love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance. If a person is making choices contrary to righteousness, thinking dark thoughts, and expressing non spiritual emotions, then the filling of the Spirit is not present.

The filling of the Holy Spirit is to be the normal Christian life. “And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit.” (Eph. 5:18). The filling of the Holy Spirit does not normally result in speaking in tongues, though anyone who had the gift of languages had to be filled with the Spirit in order to speak. Many people in the early church were filled with the Spirit, but did not speak in tongues. They did speak with effective power, and glorified God.

People Filled with the Spirit who did not Speak in Tongues

  • Elizabeth                              Luke 1:41
  • Zacharias                             Luke 1:67
  • Jesus                                       Luke 2:40
  • Peter                                       Acts 4:8
  • Peter and John                  Acts 4:31
  • Saul (Paul)                             Acts 9:17; Acts 13:9
  • Disciples                                Acts 13:52
  • Believers in Ephesus      Ephesians 3:19; 5:18

To the question of how to be filled with the Holy Spirit, the answer begins with having no unconfessed sin. The promise of 1 John 1:9 is that if we will confess our known sins to the Lord, He will forgive all of our unrighteousness.

Second, the believer is to walk in the light of God’s Word. Each day, one step after another is taken as life is lived for the glory of God.

Third, the believer is to yield to the guiding influence of the Spirit. “This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16). To stay filled with the Spirit, the believer is to bring every thought into captivity for Christ (2 Cor. 10:5), and to flee from temptation (2 Tim. 2:22-24). This requires a conscious decision to do right, despite the darker impulses of the heart. Martin Luther noted that you cannot keep the black birds from circling, but you can stop them from landing.

9 If we this day be examined of the good deed done to the impotent man, by what means he is made whole;

There is a day when every Christian will be examined by the world concerning personal faith. The day of examination may not be a formal examination before a religious body, but the world is watching. Later, Peter would write to the church saying, “be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15). The world is watching, not only for a moral fall, but also for acts of kindness. The act of showing mercy by healing the impotent man was an act of benevolence. Christians should look to see what good they can do to others. The man who was healed may have been arrested with the apostles. He may have been present as a spectator. He may have been summoned as a witness. What is certain is that the Sanhedrin was familiar with his case.

The whole point of the inquiry was to discover how the apostles could have performed a healing miracle. The fact that a miracle of healing had taken place was not denied. The man himself was the evidence. The question of concern was by what authority it had been done, and by what power. It should be said, that, it was not wrong for the Sanhedrin to make this inquiry, because religious leaders should be concerned with doctrine being taught, and the manner in which people are said to be cured.

The truth of the matter is that not all healing, then, or now, is done in the power, and authority of Jesus. Some healing miracles are the result of lying wonders. Paul wrote about this to the church of Thessalonica (2 Thess. 2:9). Some healings are psychosomatic. Mary Baker Eddy understood the power of suggestion during her lifetime based on the teachings of Phineas Quimby (February 16, 1802 – January 16, 1866). Mrs. Eddy established the religion of Christian Science, based on the premises that sickness is an illusion. For many, it is. Some healings are staged, as Marjoe Gortner has documented.

Born January 14, 1944 in Long Beach, California, Marjoe first gained public attention during the late 1940’s when his parents arranged for him, at age four, to be ordained as a Pentecostal preacher, due to his extraordinary speaking ability.

He was the youngest ordained preacher in the world. As a young man, Marjoe preached on the revival circuit, and brought celebrity to the revival movement. But then, something happened. He grew tired of the hype, and hypocrisy, and did something extraordinary in 1972. Marjoe made a behind-the-scenes documentary about the phoniness of the Pentecostal healing ministry. He exposed the lucrative business of Pentecostal preaching. This won for Marjoe the 1972 Academy Award for Best Documentary Film. Today, Marjo is 77. He once confessed, “There was never a time I ever believed God called me to preach.”

Some healings are bonified. The miracles of divine healing come in the name, the power, the authority of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.

10 Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole.

Peter and John might have evaded the question. They might have resorted to minimizing the role of Jesus Christ. Here was temptation. But also here was also an opportunity for Peter to repair the evil he had done by denying the Lord of Glory. This time Peter would not fail the Lord. This time Peter boldly declared the name of Jesus, and then convicted the Sanhedrin of being guilty of crucifying the person who God raised from the dead. Peter, once filled with fear, now filled with the Holy Spirit, is bold in confessing Christ of Nazareth.

11 THIS IS THE STONE WHICH WAS SET AT NAUGHT OF YOU BUILDERS, WHICH IS BECOME THE HEAD OF THE CORNER.

Familiar with the Word of God, the apostle quotes the words of David in Psalm 118:22. “The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner.” The prophet Isaiah had declared, “Therefore thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation, a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste” (Isa. 28:16). By charging the members of the Sanhedrin with killing Jesus, by quoting Scripture, God the Holy Spirit was taking the wise in their own craftiness. The religious leaders sought to intimidate, and silence the gospel, but Peter silenced the critics of the gospel. He was not through. Taking advantage of the moment, Peter pressed the need for personal salvation.

12 Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.

The scribes, the Sadducees, the elders, and the presbyters understood what the apostle was saying. Peter was saying that salvation is not by keeping the Law of Moses. Salvation was by faith in the name, the person, of Jesus Christ. For the moment, the Sanhedrin sat in silence. They were stunned by the boldness of the apostle, and by the power of his words. They were amazed.

13 Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.

With the possible exception of Matthew, the Twelve were “unlearned and ignorant” men in the sense they were not formally educated in the Law, as were the scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees.

Peter and John were literate men, for both could read and write fluently, manifested in their works being part of the canon of sacred Scripture. More importantly, they were men who had been with Jesus.

Peter and John had been with Jesus since the beginning of His public ministry. They, along with James, formed an inner circle. Peter and John were with Christ when He was transfigured (Matt. 17:1-6). They were with Jesus in the Upper Room for the last Passover (Mark 14:17). They were with Jesus in Gethsemane (Matt. 26:40). They were with Jesus after His resurrection (Mark 16:7).

Every Christian should be with Jesus to such a degree that others can tell. Though Christ dwells in heaven, there are several ways to be with Him. Begin by discerning the Lord’s abiding presence. Jesus said He would be with His people always, even unto the end of the age. Meditate on the presence of Jesus as C. Austin Miles did, and in March, 1912 wrote these words.

“I come to the garden alone
While the dew is still on the roses
And the voice I hear falling on my ear
The Son of God discloses.

And He walks with me,
and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.

He speaks, and the sound of His voice,
Is so sweet the birds hush their singing,
And the melody that He gave to me
Within my heart is ringing.”

Find time to stay with the Lord. Make time for Him until He bids you to go about your other duties in life.

“I’d stay in the garden with Him
Though the night around me be falling,
But He bids me go; through the voice of woe
His voice to me is calling.”
Austin Miles
1868–1946

Find Christ in meditation, and find Christ in His Word. Let others know you have been with Jesus.

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