NTC Lesson #7

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Study Series: NTC
The New Testament Church

Lesson #7: November 30, 2001

(Acts 4:1-22)

Ever been misunderstood? Ever tried to do the right thing and then been treated badly for it? If you have, then you know how discouraging it can be. In our lesson this time, we'll examine how Peter and John were badly misunderstood in one of their initial attempts to tell others the truth about Jesus Christ. And we'll learn from their response how, despite the sting of rejection, we can grow from the experience and bring glory to God in the process!

The "Crime"

Remember from last time that Peter and John had gone to the temple in Jerusalem to pray. While there, they encountered a crippled man sitting at an entrance begging for money. Led by the Holy Spirit, Peter gave him something far more valuable than money -- in the name of Jesus he healed him! Now, since this occurred in a very public place it created quite a stir. Crowds of people gathered around and were amazed at what had happened. Seizing the moment, Peter took the opportunity to offer a sermon.

Well, Peter's preaching created quite a stir in the Temple, and that's where we pick up the story this time.

The Arrest

As they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to them, being greatly disturbed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. (Acts 4:1-2 NASB)

Who are these people? And why are they so upset with Peter and John? The priests were members of the Jewish tribe of Levi who served in the Temple. Each priest was required to serve for one week every six months. The "captain of the temple guard" was a member of one of the leading priestly families and was the leader of the guards who kept order in the Temple. He was second in rank only to the Jewish high priest. Finally, the Sadducees were a small Jewish sect who ran most of the operations at the Temple. They were a well-to-do and politically correct group -- more interested in preserving their status quo than in anything else. Theologically, the Sadducees did not believe in a bodily resurrection or a personal Messiah. Thus, Peter's preaching about resurrection from the dead through Jesus didn't sit too well with them. 

And they laid hands on them and put them in jail until the next day, for it was already evening. (Acts 4:3 NASB)

Being late in the day, the religious leaders decided to throw Peter and John in jail and deal with them the next day. Notice, though, how God continues to accomplish His purpose despite the adversity his apostles were going through.

But many of those who had heard the message believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand. (Acts 4:4 NASB)

When it looks bad, thatís usually when God is doing His best work.

Points to Ponder:

Been discouraged lately? Struggling to see the light at the end of the tunnel? Then you might be exactly where God wants you to be. No, really. If you know in your heart you're doing the right thing, then stay at the task no matter what. Truth be told, it may, in fact, get worse before it gets better -- never mind. Remember, often God does his best work in impossible circumstances. The Red Sea was split in two and Israel escaped the Egyptians on a dry pathway through the sea. Lazarus was raised from the dead after his eulogy had already been half-forgotten. Jesus enjoyed a fish-fry with his disciples a few days after his tomb had been sealed. All of these victories happened after it appeared all hope was gone. But with God, it's never too late -- ever. Stay at the task. Don't give up.

The Trial

On the next day, their rulers and elders and scribes were gathered together in Jerusalem; and Annas the high priest was there, and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of high-priestly descent. (Acts 4:5-6 NASB)

The "rulers and elders and scribes" is a reference to the three groups which made up the Jewish supreme court -- known as the "Sanhedrin". This group consisted of 70 men (at this time mostly Sadducees) and was presided over by the Jewish high priest. At this particular time, however, the office of high priest was sort of messed up. The rightful high priest, according to Jewish law, was Annas. In 15 A.D., however, the Romans stripped him of his official position and he was eventually succeeded by his son-in-law Caiaphas. Thus, there were sort of two high priests at the time. Officially, Caiaphas was high priest; however, the Jews continued to recognize the authority of Annas as well. (This is the reason scripture refers to both these men as high priest at this time.)

After spending the night in jail, Peter and John are dragged before this Jewish court (the same court, by the way, which earlier had condemned Jesus to death) and ordered to explain themselves.

When they had placed them in the center, they began to inquire, "By what power, or in what name, have you done this?" 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. (Acts 4:7-10 NASB)

One can't help but wonder, as Peter and John stood before the high court that day, if their minds didn't go back to the time when Jesus taught them about just such a time as this:

"But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you." (Matthew 10:19-20 NIV)

If so, it certainly explains the quiet confidence with which Peter replied to his questioners. No beating around the bush here. They want to know by what authority Peter and John healed and preached? By the authority of Jesus Christ -- none other! And in case they had forgotten who he was, Peter reminds them -- quite pointedly. He's the one "Who you crucified!" That drove the point home. Continuing on, Peter said,

"He is the STONE WHICH WAS REJECTED by you, THE BUILDERS, but WHICH BECAME THE CHIEF 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."
(Acts 4:11-12 NASB)

In construction terms, a corner stone is a stone placed at the corner of a building where two walls come together. It is the "starting point", or the point from which all the rest of the building is aligned. Peter was saying, "It's all about Jesus! He's the focal point." He had been telling the people to repent and turn back to God. In return, God, through Jesus, would forgive their sins. There simply is no other way. "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." 

Prof's Pointers:

"Jesus is the only way." That statement doesn't sit too well these days in a society where a distorted definition of "tolerance" has been elevated to the highest virtue. The world says Christianity is too exclusionary, too narrow-minded. We must encourage religious tolerance -- the acceptance of all belief systems as equally valid. After all, there are many roads to "god." To insist upon only one way is not only simple-minded and archaic, it's insulting.

This kind of thinking betrays the self-focused perspective of man. Why, even day-to-day experience illustrates the obvious fallacy of this kind of thinking. Try, for example, getting on a commercial airplane without a boarding pass. Argue all you will that the airline is too exclusionary and narrow-minded for actually requiring a ticket, that they should be more tolerant of your view that you really shouldn't need one, that they should accept your opinion as equally valid as theirs -- at the end of the day you'll still be shown the exit. No ticket, no seat. That's the way it is.

We see this basic rule played out all around us everyday in countless different circumstances. Why should we be so amazed that these earthly rules are simply reflections of eternal realities? Could it be that God is trying to give us a hint?

Sadly, people are so busy complaining about how unfair it is to offer only one way of salvation that, apparently, it never occurs to them to ask the obvious question: Why should God have bothered to offer any way at all? Why didn't he just wash his hands of us and walk away? Certainly it would have been easier.

If society took time to ponder this question... who knows? Perhaps indignation would finally give way to a more appropriate response: gratitude.

The Verdict

Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus. And seeing the man who had been healed standing with them, they had nothing to say in reply. (Acts 4:13-14 NASB)

The Sanhedrin consisted of 71 educated and powerful men -- the most powerful and respected men in Israel. These men were used to being in control; theirs was the final word among the Jews. Undoubtedly, they had expected to haul in Peter and John, scold them, and send them scurrying on their way with their tails between their legs.

Not today. Peter had stood boldly and unashamedly and proclaimed he was a follower of Jesus -- the one who they had rejected. They were stunned. This had never happened before. What were they to do now?

But when they had ordered them to leave the Council, they began to confer with one another, 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. "But so that it will not spread any further among the people, let us warn them to speak no longer to any man in this name." And when they had summoned them, they commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. (Acts 4:15-18 NASB)

The council members were in a fix. They knew they could not simply discredit what Peter and John had said. In the name of Jesus, they had healed a man who had been crippled since he was born -- and everybody knew it! The proof was in the pudding. But they had to do something. Peter and John were promoting Jesus -- the one the Sanhedrin had condemned -- and backing it up with miracles. Either they had to admit they had been wrong (which they weren't about to do) or they had to put a stop to it. And so, like many do today when faced with a no-win situation, they resorted to intimidation. They called them back in and attempted to flex their supreme-court muscle. "By the authority of this court, you are hereby commanded to immediately cease and desist all preaching in the name of this Jesus."

There. That ought to do it.

The Response

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; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard." (Acts 4:19-20 NASB)

Overruled! Peter and John had spent the night in a jail cell and then been marched before the highest Jewish authorities to "defend themselves" -- all for simply telling the truth. To top it off, the court can't even come up with a legitimate charge to accuse them of so they resort to bullying simply because they don't like what Peter and John have to say. Well, Peter and John will have none of it. "So let's see... Should we listen to you or to God? Hmmm. Uh, we pick God."

It doesn't take a rocket scientist, you know.

The Result

When they had threatened them further, they let them go (finding no basis on which to punish them) on account of the people, because they were all glorifying God for what had happened; for the man was more than forty years old on whom this miracle of healing had been performed. (Acts 4:21-22 NASB)

When adversity struck, the easiest thing to have done would have been to cave in. But Peter and John stood their ground. As a result, "they were all glorifying God for what had happened". If you are a Christian, adversity will come your way. Jesus said so. Expect it.

Rest assured, however, that when the time comes you will not stand alone. Jesus said, "I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever." (John 14:16) That helper is the Holy Spirit. He was with Peter and John that day before the Sanhedrin, and that same Holy Spirit will be with you in your day of trial as well. Guaranteed.

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Series to be continued at a later date...

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