THE BEGINNING OF HARD TIMES
THEME: Peter and John’s miracle-inspired sermon in the Temple caused them to be arrested and brought before the Sanhedrin. This was the beginning of the persecution of Christians as promised by Jesus during His ministry. Peter and John used their trial/persecution as an opportunity to preach the Gospel. The community asks for help from God to do the mission and it is granted.
Scripture: Read Acts 4: 1-22.
I. The arrest and trial (vv. 1-7).
A. This is the first persecution of Christians in the New Testament. Christ Jesus had been hounded and finally crucified – now it is the followers’ turn.
1. They are arrested by the “temple captain” whose position was second only to the High Priest. He was in charge of Temple security and peace and most of the administrative duties of the Temple. Often this person was elevated later to the High Priesthood.
a. He was certainly a Sadducee and was surely of Annas’ family.
2. Because it was after the evening sacrifice (3 pm), all the “powers” had left the Temple and gone home, so the offenders (Peter, John, the healed man; maybe others) were put in a holding cell (local jail, stone-walled room in Temple area).
B. The arrest of the Apostles had no effect on their message, however. A great number (maybe 5,000 that day or the total believers were 5,000) believed under the influence of the miracle healing and subsequent sermon.
1. God was working through the Apostles and would not allow any human activity to cut off that mission. (Isaiah 55: 11) “So is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it out.”
2. The growth of the early church came from 3 levels of evangelism:
a. Public preaching
b. Preaching in the synagogues
c. Attraction of believers in fellowship in homes/caring for each other.
3. The key thing is that the people saw the effect of Jesus on/in believers’ lives and wanted it.
4. Can it be said of you: If someone watched you for a week, would they see the influence of Jesus and the difference He made in your life?
5. If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you at a trial????
C. Now the Sanhedrin met the next morning to sit in judgment of the Apostles. The Sanhedrin was made up of Sadducees, Pharisees, elders, lawyers, and priests.
1. The Sadducees had a majority on the council, but the other groups were very significant minorities.
2. The Sadducees, Pharisees, and Essenes (Dead Sea Scrolls) were the three largest groups of “religious aristocrats” and leaders of the Jews.
3. The Sadducees were the party of the High Priest.
a. They were very materialistic in their worldview.
b. They cooperated with Rome to maintain their personal status and power.
c. They emphasized the Pentateuch/written Law of Moses.
d. They did not accept the oral law and traditions of the Pharisees.
e. They did not believe in angels; certainly did not believe in the resurrection.
4. Their view: The Apostles’ teaching could be politically, socially, and religiously destabilizing to their relatively good relationship with Rome and their power over the people.
5. The people listed are almost all historically verifiable:
a. Annas was the actual High Priest from 6-14 AD.
b. Caiaphas was Annas’ son-in-law and served as HP from 18-36 AD.
c. John = Jonathan, who served as HP from 37-38 AD.
d. Alexander is unknown, but his name gives us a hint of the type of worldview a Jew with a Greek name would have.
e. Annas, through his family (5 sons, 1 son-in-law, 1 grandson were High Priests), controlled the High Priesthood from 6-70 AD.
D. We need to understand the reasons the Apostles were arrested and why their actions caused the whole council to meet, as this was a fairly rare event.
1. 1st, the Apostles were proclaiming and teaching Jesus.
2. 2nd, the Apostles were teaching about the Resurrection.
3. Lurking just below the surface: An authority figure like Jesus (and through His followers would undercut the Sadducees’ own power and authority.
E. The “elders” on the Sanhedrin would have been representatives of two groups:
1. Civic or secular leaders of the various tribes of Israelites.
2. Older or senior scribes, teachers of the Law, and Biblical lawyers.
3. They would have had similar concerns to the Sadducees.
F. The Pharisees on the Sanhedrin would merely continue their battle against Jesus because the Apostles were teaching only Scripture and Jesus, not the Oral Law or “traditions” and were not recognized formally as rabbis.
G. The Sanhedrin ask basically 2 questions:
1. Who gives you the authority to teach the people of Israel?
2. Whose name did you use to heal the crippled man?
3. “What sort of power outside of this council gives you the right to do these things?”
4. One of their concerns about the miracle would have been: Did they use magic or sorcery?
II. Peter’s reply to the council (vv. 8-12).
A. Peter (filled with the Holy Spirit) uses this opportunity to preach Jesus to the council.
1. He starts with a polite and respectful address to the rulers.
2. The Holy Spirit clearly takes over and uses Peter’s voice. The Holy Spirit gives Peter the words and ideas and organization to use. (Luke 21: 12-15) “But before all this, they will lay hands on you and persecute you. They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. This will result in your being witnesses to them. But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict.” (John 14: 26) “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”
3. Peter gives 100% credit to Jesus Christ of Nazareth – so the council will have no doubt about the source of authority and power he has been teaching and healing through.
4. Peter is “guilty” of preaching Jesus and acting on His behalf by healing this man.
5. But he makes it plain that the leaders/council are even more guilty before God as Scripture shows (v. 11).
6. The word “capstone” in v. 11 can be taken in two ways: the “keystone” of an arch (the one that holds everything together) or the “cornerstone” of a building (the one on which the whole building depends and is built around and measured from).
B. This proclamation of Jesus and the indictment of the leadership are what Peter wants to make known, as the era of ignorance is no longer present. There is a cost and accountability that come for rejecting God’s Chosen One.
1. Peter puts the theology of the Bible in one sentence: (v. 12) “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”
2. This sentence is not liked by many Christians, because it makes Christianity very exclusive: Jesus is the one and only way.
3. There is no other person or god to which to turn: In other words, today’s religious pluralism and religious inclusivism and religious diversity are false doctrines, and those who teach these things are false teachers.
4. Jesus Himself said the same thing: (John 14: 6) “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
5. Period. End of conversation. One way. One name. One Lord. One Savior.
6. But we do not impose faith in Jesus on people. We just offer the choice and proclaim the tragic consequences of rejection. We make the offer of the Gospel to all without discrimination. Anyone can come to the Father through Jesus.
III. The judgment of the council on the Apostles (vv. 13-22).
A. Sadly, even with the offer of salvation through Jesus, the Sanhedrin does not accept.
1. The irony is overwhelming: No one else had better access to God’s way and the revelation of Scripture than the Jews to whom Peter was speaking.
2. But they will not see, for their eyes are closed and their hearts are hardened against the Lord of Lords.
B. They look at the backwoods Apostles and see only “uneducated and common men,” who certainly are not capable of teaching them anything! Even though the council recognizes the influence of Jesus on them, they just won’t admit to their errors.
1. But the healed man standing in front of them forces them to accept the obvious: that someone somewhere somehow had done a truly remarkable miracle.
2. But their hard hearts are still more concerned about their position, status, and power.
3. If they were to admit the truth, they would lose everything they held dear.
4. They won’t even see the great improvement in Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimethea, sitting in council with them.
5. That is true “willful blindness.”
C. Their threats not to proclaim and preach and teach anymore of this Jesus that they can’t seem to get rid of, regardless of what they do, has all the effect of water on a duck’s back.
1. Peter tells them that believers have no choice: they can’t not speak about the Son of God who actually was resurrected and lives within them. It just won’t work any other way.
2. The Sanhedrin’s attempt to intimidate the Apostles flops. (No other word for it).
3. The presence of the healed man forces them to accept the inevitable.
Read Acts 4: 23-31.
IV. The church responds to persecution (vv. 23-31).
A. This part of the situation often goes unnoticed, but contains valuable lessons for us.
1. Although we are not being locked up for proclaiming Jesus, Christians in America are being fired, censored, and attacked by demonic forces with increasing regularity. SO HOW SHOULD WE RESPOND???
B. Note how the early church responded to the beginnings of persecution:
1. They PRAYED TOGETHER.
2. But look at how they prayed and what they prayed for:
a. 1st, they prayed NEITHER for judgment on those who are persecuting them NOR to avoid persecution.
b. 2nd, they pray FOR strength and enablement as persecution proceeds.
c. 3rd, they pray FOR boldness to preach the Gospel, NOT to cower in fear.
3. They depend on God to carry out the mission He has called them to accomplish.
a. They don’t want to sit on the sidelines, but to act WITH God in doing the mission.
4. They don’t try to convince God to get somebody else to do it for them, but they enthusiastically ask for more Holy Spirit assistance to help them do better and more for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
C. God gives them exactly what they ask for: confidence, strength, and particularly boldness. They get results from God just about the time somebody says “Amen.”
1. First, God shakes up the building.
2. Then, God shakes them up, giving them a “fresh helping” of the Holy Spirit.
What would happen to this church if we all prayed for boldness to proclaim Jesus???
Imagine what God could do for this community through us if we would just say “Use me.”
If you haven’t ever said to God, “Use me,” then it’s high time you did, lest you wind up like the Sanhedrin, with a hardened heart.
Today’s the day to say to God: “Use me. Give me boldness. Give me strength.”
God WILL do it – He’s done it for me, and He’ll do it for you.