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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
October 30, 2005
One of the misconceptions common in Christianity in America is that if you become a Christian that God will make your life easy. Some of this is a simple but tragic misunderstanding of Jesus’ comment in John 10 that “I came that they might have life, and might have it abundantly.” There are those that take this to mean that God’s wonderful plan for your life is a guarantee of health, wealth and prosperity. Others hold to this misconception because of one of several underlying heresies in which salvation is from something other than the sin which separates you from God and for which He justly condemns. For some this is salvation from low self-esteem. For others it is salvation from oppression of some type so that you are free to do what you want. For still others, it the implementation of a strict code that will keep you away from those moral evils deemed unacceptable to that particular group.
The truth is that the life Jesus spoke of is becoming spiritually alive so that you can have a personal relationship with your Creator in the present and for all eternity. The abundant life is being able to fulfill the purposes for which God created you. It is not a guarantee of health, wealth and prosperity. It is not a guarantee that others will not oppress you. It does free you from sin, but that is through the conviction of the Holy Spirit and not a strict self imposed moral code. In addition it is God that defines sin in the commands, principles and precepts of His Word.
The abundant life Jesus spoke of includes His many warnings about the trouble and persecution that His followers would experience because of their love and devotion to Him. Jesus included this as part of His earliest teachings and continued to do so until His ascension. In Matthew 5:10-12, the conclusion of the Beatitude section of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when [men] cast insults at you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me. 12 “Rejoice, and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Jesus then went on to tell them that they would have to live as “salt” and “light” in the world. True Christians do not have the option of avoiding conflict by hiding.
In preparing His disciples to go out preaching on their own Jesus warned them in Matthew 10:16-23, “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; therefore be shrewd as serpents, and innocent as doves. 17 “But beware of men; for they will deliver you up to [the] courts, and scourge you in their synagogues; 18 and you shall even be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. 19 “But when they deliver you up, do not become anxious about how or what you will speak; for it shall be given you in that hour what you are to speak. 20 “For it is not you who speak, but [it is] the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you. 21 “And brother will deliver up brother to death, and a father [his] child; and children will rise up against parents, and cause them to be put to death. 22 “And you will be hated by all on account of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved. 23 “But whenever they persecute you in this city, flee to the next; for truly I say to you, you shall not finish [going through] the cities of Israel, until the Son of Man comes.”
In John 15:20 Jesus told His followers the reason they would be persecuted. “Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also.” In John 16:32,33 Jesus warned them prior to His crucifixion, “Behold, an hour is coming, and has [already] come, for you to be scattered, each to his own [home,] and to leave Me alone; and [yet] I am not alone, because the Father is with Me. 33 “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”
In Luke 21:12,13 Jesus told them of the persecution they would receive after He had departed. “But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and will persecute you, delivering you to the synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and governors for My name’s sake. 13 “It will lead to an opportunity for your testimony.” In John 21:18, after Jesus’ resurrection, He even told Peter the manner of death by which he would glorify God.
Those are not popular Scripture passages in mainstream American Christianity. Many groups avoid them altogether because they are contrary to their gospel presentation that Jesus will make your life beautiful and remove all your troubles. The only reason this perverted gospel gets a hearing in America is because Biblical Christianity has dominated our culture until recently so that persecution of Christians has been restricted and minimal by comparison. In other countries and throughout history these same verses have been of great comfort because they have suffered the persecution Jesus warned about. The blood of the martyrs has flowed throughout history and in the 20th century there were more Christian martyrs than in all previous centuries combined.
Until recent times in America, it has been an advantage in business, politics and societal circles to be a Christian. That is no longer generally true. The United States is now a post-Christian nation and as we continue to transition into the post-modern age we find there is tolerance for everything except Biblical truths. That is why there has been a rapid rise in not only the resistance to God’s moral laws, but also persecution of Christians. Much of our society no longer wants moral restrictions on their behavior. They advocate what God declares to be abominations, and they attack not only those that shine a moral light on their immorality, but often also anyone that does not accept their evil as good.
This morning we come to Acts 4 and the start of persecution against the early church. This was something they expected, and in their response to it we will find a model for our own response when persecution comes upon us because of our relationship to Jesus Christ.
The Arrest (vs. 1-3)
Acts 4 is actually the continuation of the events started in Acts 3. Recall from last week that Peter and John were going into the Temple to pray at the time of the evening sacrifice, which would have been 3 p.m. As they approach the gate called “Beautiful” they meet a beggar who had been lame from birth. They heal the man in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth who leaps up and starts walking around praising God. This attracts a large crowd so Peter preaches to them. He explains that the man was healed on the basis of faith in the name of Jesus whom by their ignorance they put to death but whom God had raised from the dead. If they would repent and return then their sins would be wiped away. In addition, Jesus would return from heaven and the restoration of all things as spoken by God through the prophets could occur.
Acts 4:1-3 tell us what occurred next to Peter and John. “And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple [guard,] and the Sadducees, came upon them, being greatly disturbed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they laid hands on them, and put them in jail until the next day, for it was already evening.”
Peter and John are both still speaking when the large crowd attracts the attention of those that were in charge of the temple. The priests were those that had been conducting the evening sacrifice. The captain of the temple was responsible for maintaining order in the temple. Though they were under Roman rule, he had authority to arrest those who caused problems with in the temple. Signs at the gates of the Court of the Gentiles warned that gentiles that proceeded past the wall of partition would be executed. The third group mentioned, the Sadducees, was one of the sects of Judaism of that time, the others being the Pharisees, the Essenes and the Zealots. The Sadducees are the religious liberals of the time. They claimed that only the Books of Moses (Pentateuch) were authoritative and rejected the rest of Scripture. But any careful examination of their theology shows they also rejected much of what was in the Pentateuch for they also rejected the supernatural such as angels and the resurrection from the dead. They are here because the High Priest and his family were part of that sect and they controlled the temple.
They are greatly disturbed by what is happening for two reasons. First, that Peter and John were teaching the people though they were unknown to them. They demanded that a teacher be an educated person with credentials or at least be someone who could answer their questions about doctrine and law and have a following of disciples. Peter and John did not meet either of these criteria. Second, and more disturbing is that they are proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus. They had executed Jesus as a blasphemer, but if He is resurrected, then they, especially the Sadducees who deny any resurrection, are exposed as the false teachers.
They want to end their preaching, so they drag Peter and John to jail. Since is evening and their law does not permit a hearing at night, they have to wait to go before the Sanhedrin until the next day.
The Growth (vs. 4)
The first response we see by the Apostles is that they did not resist authority when arrested. They knew they could trust God to bring good out of what was happening. That is an example we need to follow when evil people in authority do bad things to us because of our witness of Jesus Christ through our deeds and words. God brought good about immediately.
Luke comments in verse 4 that despite the arrest, “But many of those who had heard the message believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand.” The church continued to expand despite the opposition being displayed by the Jewish religious leaders. This is the last mention in Acts about the specific size of the church for it continues to grow at a pace beyond their ability to track. Acts 5:14 summarizes the growth as “multitudes of men and women were constantly being added.”
It is a general truth that the church grows under persecution which is just the opposite of what seems logical and the desire of those who are doing the persecuting. In the first three centuries Christians were persecuted and murdered in large numbers by many methods including being soaked in pitch and burned or fed to wild animals in the coliseums, yet it became the dominant religion of the Roman world in the fourth century. In our own time the number of Christians in China has multiplied despite the persecution by the Communists since their takeover in 1947. The exceptions have been for local areas where all the believers were annihilated, but even then, some time later believers will come from somewhere else and evangelize starting churches again. The church struggles more under great prosperity than it does under persecution
The Trial (vs. 5-22)
The Jury (vs. 5-7). In verse 5-7 Luke jumps forward to the trial that begins the next day without any comment about the experiences of Peter and John in jail or where the lame man went for the night. “5 And it came about on the next day, that their rulers and elders and scribes were gathered together in Jerusalem; 6 and Annas the high priest [was there,] and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of high-priestly descent. 7 And when they had placed them in the center, they [began to] inquire, “By what power, or in what name, have you done this?”
The Sanhedrin, which is the Supreme Court of Israel, convened the next morning. This would have probably been in the “Hall of Hewn Stone” which was west of the temple area according to Josephus. The Sanhedrin was composed of 71 men including rulers (also called chief priests who were mostly Sadducees at that time), elders (heads of leading families), and Scribes (experts in law and were most Pharisees). Also included would have been the High Priest, who was Caiaphas at that time. Luke points out that Annas, Caiaphas’ father-in-law and who had previously been the High Priest, was also there along with John (Jonathan in some manuscripts) and Alexander who may have been his son and grandson who also eventually became the High Priest in succession. Annas was the real power in the family which is why he would have been mentioned first.
Peter and John are placed in the center of this group who are sitting in elevated seats arranged in a semicircle so that they could see each other. Verse 10 tells us that the man they had healed was also there with them. The Sanhedrin begins their questioning by asking “By what power, or in what name, have you done this?” This questioning was not wrong because Deut. 13:1-5 required them to inquire about those who did miracles and taught to make sure they were not leading the people astray to other gods. They do not ask about Jesus’ resurrection or their authority to teach for that would have just led to contention between the Scribes and Pharisees, as Paul would later used to his advantage in Acts 24:21.
The Defense (vs. 8-12). Verses 8-12 record Peter’s response.“Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers and elders of the people, if we are on trial today for a benefit done to a sick man, as to how this man has been made well, let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead– by this [name] this man stands here before you in good health. “He is the stone which was rejected by you, the builders, [but] which became the very corner [stone.] “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved.”
The first thing to note is that Peter is filled with the Spirit. Jesus promised the apostles in Mark 13:11 that the Spirit would speak through them when they were arrested and stood in court. As we have noted earlier, the most common manifestation of being filled with the Spirit is speaking out boldly for Jesus. Peter does that here. He yields himself to the Holy Spirit and the Spirit works through him.
Next we note that Peter addresses their question directly, yet he also uses it as an opportunity to both clarify the issue of why there were there and to preach Christ to them without compromise. He addresses only the Rules and elders of the people since apparently they are the ones asking the questions. The Scribes, who were mostly Pharisees, would not have had the same concerns as either the rulers, who were mostly Sadducees, or the elders. He then clarifies that he and Peter were being questioned because of a good deed they had done in miraculously healing a lame man. There is no criminal activity in that.
Peter then goes to the heart of the questioning in proclaiming not only the Sanhedrin but that all Israel should also know that the miracle was done by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene. Just as he had done on the previous day Peter makes sure that it is absolutely clear who he was talking about. This formerly lame man was able to stand before them in good health by the power and authority of the one named Jesus, who is the promised Messiah, who is known as the one from Nazareth. As on the previous day, Peter also does not mince words in proclaiming them guilty of crucifying Him, yet he also quickly adds the subject they did not want to bring up. God raised Jesus from the dead.
Peter then goes on in his indictment of them by quoting from Psalm 118:22. This is the same Psalm that Jesus had quoted in Matthew 21:42-44 when He told these same chief priests that the kingdom of God would be taken away from them and given to a nation that would produce the fruit of it, and that this stone which they had rejected would crush them. They could not have missed Peter’s meaning. Peter then concluded with as strong as statement as could be made that there is salvation only in Jesus Christ. Note that Peter does not say either “can be saved” or “may be saved” as if man could achieve salvation on his own or that there is any uncertainty to it. Jesus is the only name by which we must be saved. That is still true today. Our post-modern society rejects the absolute nature of this truth, but truth is truth and it does not change just because you would like it to be different. To seek salvation in anyone or anything other than faith in Jesus Christ is to condemn your own soul to eternal damnation at the hands of our just and righteous God and Creator.
Peter is not obnoxious, but he is direct in taking advantage of opportunity to glorify God by proclaiming the truth about Jesus Christ. We must be the same way when we are questioned by unbelievers. As 1 Peter 3:15 states, “but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always [being] ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.”
The Deliberation & Judgement (vs. 13-18). In verses 13-18 the Sanhedrin deliberates Peter’s answer and comes to a judgement. “Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John, and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were marveling, and [began] to recognize them as having been with Jesus. 14 And seeing the man who had been healed standing with them, they had nothing to say in reply. 15 But when they had ordered them to go aside out of the Council, they [began] to confer with one another, 16 saying, “What shall we do with these men? For the fact that a noteworthy miracle has taken place through them is apparent to all who live in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. 17 “But in order that it may not spread any further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to any man in this name.”
It is at this time they finally recognize Peter and John as Jesus’ companions. They are amazed that men without any formal education could be so bold and confident. The additional fact of having the healed man present gave them a dilemma about what to do. They dismiss the three men so they can discuss it in private. They cannot deny the miracle that has taken place, but neither can they allow them to continue to preach Jesus to the people or this movement will continue to grow which would be a threat to their power. How sad. These men were supposed to lead the people to God, but their concern was only for their own petty positions and not the truth of God or even welfare of the people. This was the same fear they had about Jesus in John 11:47, 48 that “all men will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”
In verse 18 they tell Peter and John their judgement. “18 And when they had summoned them, they commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.” But note that their command is without foundation or consequence, for there is no penalty ascribed should their command be disobeyed.
The Response (vs. 19-22). Peter and John’s response in verse 19, 20 is just as straight forward as Peter’s earlier defense. “19 But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; 20 for we cannot stop speaking what we have seen and heard.”
This is the principle by which all Christians must live when persecuted. We are clearly commanded throughout the Scriptures to obey government. Jesus taught that to his disciples even in paying a hated tax (Mark 12:14-17), and Paul expanded on the point in Romans 13. However, when civil authorities require you to do something or refrain from something God had commanded, you must obey God and not man. God is always first and foremost in our allegiance. If they had restricted them from a particular area they could speak perhaps Peter could have obeyed, but a universal restriction could not tolerated. They had been commanded by God to proclaim what they had seen and heard from Jesus.
Verses 21,22 gives the Sanhedrin’s final response. 21 And when they had threatened them further, they let them go (finding no basis on which they might punish them) on account of the people, because they were all glorifying God for what had happened; 22 for the man was more than forty years old on whom this miracle of healing had been performed.”
The Sanhedrin tried some threats but that was about all they could do since they were afraid of the people who were giving glory to God for the healing of the man who had been lame for more than 40 years. As for Peter and John, what threat could keep a godly man from obeying God? Only a fool would fear man’s threats more than God Himself. As Jesus said in Matthew 10:28, “And do not fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”
The Release (vs. 23-31)
The Report (vs. 23). In verse 23 Peter and John go back to the other believers. “And when they had been released, they went to their own [companions,] and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them.” Luke does not record the location or exactly who “their own” refers to. It may have been the other apostles or the core group of believers from the Upper Room. Regardless of specific identity, these believers respond in prayer in verse 24-30.
The Prayer (vs. 24-30). 24 “And when they heard [this,] they lifted their voices to God with one accord and said, “O Lord, it is Thou who didst make the heaven and the earth and the sea, and all that is in them, 25 who by the Holy Spirit, [through] the mouth of our father David Thy servant, didst say, ‘Why did the Gentiles rage, And the peoples devise futile things? 26 ‘The kings of the earth took their stand, And the rulers were gathered together Against the Lord, and against His Christ.’ 27 “For truly in this city there were gathered together against Thy holy servant Jesus, whom Thou didst anoint, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever Thy hand and Thy purpose predestined to occur. 29 “And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Thy bond-servants may speak Thy word with all confidence, 30 while Thou dost extend Thy hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Thy holy servant Jesus.”
This prayer is a model for all believers to follow when threatened. It magnifies God as the Creator, praises Him for the fulfillment of prophecy, and petitions Him for boldness in ministry despite the threats. The particular prophecy fulfilled comes through David in Psalm 2:1,2 concerning the reactions of the unrighteous against the Lord’s anointed. They recognize it being fulfilled in Jerusalem through Herod and Pontius Pilate along with the Gentiles and Jews when they turned against Jesus, the anointed one, according to God’s predetermined purpose. Their own comfort and confidence for the future rests upon God’s sovereignty over their lives.
Their specific petition is not only that the Lord would take note of the threats made against them, but more importantly that He would give them the ability to speak His word with all boldness (parrhsiva / parrLsia – freedom, boldness, confidence, openly). Note that they refer to themselves as God’s bondservants. In addition they want God to extend His hand through them and continue to heal and do signs and wonders by the name of Jesus. While the threats concern them, their greater concern is that they will be able to carry our God’s will in proclaiming Jesus to the people. Again, that should be the model prayer for every Christian who is threatened.
The Result (vs. 31). The result of their prayer is given in verse 31. “And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and [began] to speak the word of God with boldness.” God answered their prayer affirmatively with a sign of having the place they were in shaken and filling them with the Holy Spirit resulting in them boldly proclaiming the word of God. Though Luke does not tell us where they were doing this, the text is clear that they were continually doing this with the very boldness they requested, so it must have been out among the people in disregard for the threats that had been made.
That is the reaction we need to have when we face persecution and threats against us for our witness for Jesus Christ. Though fear is the natural reaction to threats, we can take our concerns to one another and then together take them before our sovereign God and trust our future to Him, whatever that may be according to His plan for His kingdom. We are simply to strive to be the best servants to our Lord that we can be. In submitting to our Lord, we can be sure of the Holy Spirit’s empowering us to carry out His will.
The false teaching that God promises health, wealth and prosperity to believers is a faith that cannot withstand persecution. The faith of true Christianity can not only withstand persecution, but as we will see in our continuing study of Acts, it can thrive in the midst of it.
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help.
Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch.
Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Write down all the verses mentioned in the sermon and look them up. 2) Count how many times Peter or John are mentioned. Talk with your parents about how to respond to people who do not like Christians.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others in discussing Acts 4:1-31. What is the meaning of John 10:10? How is its meaning commonly perverted? What are some of the warnings Jesus gives about persecution? What is your reaction? Describe any persecution have you noted against Christians in the U.S.? Describe the context of the arrest of Peter & John? Describe the position / importance of each: Priests, captain of the temple, Sadducees. Why are they greatly disturbed (vs. 2). Why is the trial delayed until the next day? Who makes up the Sanhedrin? Who is Annas? What has he done in the past? Should Peter & John have been questioned? What is the significance of Peter being filled with the Spirit? Summarize Peter’s defense. What is the significance of Psalm 118:22? What is the significance of Peter’s statement in vs. 12? What amazed the Sanhedrin (vs. 13)? Why couldn’t they either kill or punish Peter & John? Contrast their response to Peter’s claims about Jesus. When must a Christian obey the government? When must they disobey? Explain. What was the response to their release? What did they pray for and why? How did God answer them? What did they do? What should we do when threatened? What marks true Christianity?
Sermon Notes – October 30, 2005
Persecution Begins – Acts 4:1-31
The “Abundant Life” – John 10:10
Jesus’ Warnings about Persecution
The Arrest (vs. 1-3)
The Growth (vs. 4)
The Trial (vs. 5-22)
The Jury (vs. 5-7)
The Defense (vs. 8-12)
The Deliberation & Judgement (vs. 13-18)
The Response (vs. 19-22)
The Release (vs. 23-31)
The Report (vs. 23)
The Prayer (vs. 24-30)
The Result (vs. 31)
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