Yesterday, we looked at the background to the looming showdown in Acts 4 between the Temple rulers and the apostles. (You’d best start there if you’re just joining us.) Today, we look at the showdown itself.
The leaders are threatened
Because the ruling elite in Jerusalem are threatened by all that had happened, particularly after the healing of the lame man in chapter 3. You can see it in their reaction, immediately after Peter’s speech, which begins today’s chapter.Acts 4:1-2 The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people. They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people, proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead.
Teaching the people? Hang on… That’s our job! Arrest these men!
4:3 They seized Peter and John and, because it was evening, they put them in gaol until the next day.
What made it worse was that the apostles seemed to be winning people over:4:4 But many who heard the message believed; so the number of men who believed grew to about five thousand.
The next morning, they hauled them in and asked who do you think you are, teaching and performing miraculous signs?4:7 They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: “By what power or what name did you do this?”
How dare you! We didn’t authorise this!
They’re like flustered bureaucrats who can’t cope when someone’s gone and done something without filling in the appropriate form.
But Peter doesn’t back down.4:8a Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them…
Notice that he’s not simply filled with his own cleverness. He’s filled with the power of the Spirit in order to speak. This in itself is evidence God’s on his side. You see this by the Jewish leaders’ reaction at the end:4:13 When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.
And what is it that Peter actually said?4:8b-9 “Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed…”
There’s a little bit of sarcasm here. Peter reminds them of the undeniable miracle they’d just performed back in chapter 3. “You’re accusing us of healing someone – we must be bad people… who… um… have supernatural healing powers from God… <cough>… you get my point?”
4:10 “…then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.”
If the healing of the lame man isn’t enough evidence – how about you try Jesus resurrection on for size? Is that enough for you?
In fact, you got it wrong. You crucified him:4:11 “Jesus is ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.’”
But God vindicated him, making him the cornerstone of a whole new building. Not the old, physical temple. But God’s new temple, the church.4:12 “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”
Jesus is now the way to God. And this gospel which we’re preaching – which you’ve arrested us for preaching – it’s the message about Jesus. We’re now his messengers. You guys don’t get to speak for God any longer – ‘cause your actions show that you’ve rejected him!
The leaders’ lame response
The leaders have no answer to this. They’d like to object, but everyone’s seen the miracle the apostles performed.4:14-17 But since they could see the man who had been healed standing there with them, there was nothing they could say. So they ordered them to withdraw from the Sanhedrin and then conferred together. “What are we going to do with these men?” they asked. “Everyone living in Jerusalem knows they have performed a notable sign, and we cannot deny it. But to stop this thing from spreading any further among the people, we must warn them to speak no longer to anyone in this name.”
I know, says some bright spark. Let’s “warn them.” That’ll work.4:18 Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.
So what do the apostles do? Give in? Suggest a compromise – how about we tone down the “you killed Jesus” rhetoric, and move our preaching little further from the temple?
No – they stick to their guns, confident that God would vindicate them. Just like Socrates, they say:4:19-20 “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”
They’re confident in God. They’re not giving in. Which leaves the leadership looking rather powerless. They can’t act on any of their threats without upsetting the people, so:4:21-22 After further threats they let them go. They could not decide how to punish them, because all the people were praising God for what had happened. For the man who was miraculously healed was over forty years old.
The power of God vindicates his gospel. And his messengers.
(To be continued next week.)