The following is the manuscript from a recent sermon I delivered at Oasis Community Church. Some portions are in outline form rather than full manuscript form. One should have his or her Bible close by while going through the expository section. The podcast link above is a recording of the actual sermon as delivered.
Text: Acts 4:1-14
1-4 Persecuted for the name
- 1-2 One of the things I want you to notice about this text as we make our way through it are all of the people who hold positions of power. Here we have the captain of the temple guard and the Sadduccees. These were powerful people in Jerusalem. It was the temple guard who arrested Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane and it was their job to keep order in the temple courts. They of course were accompanied by the Sadduccees, a powerful religious party made up of monied aristocrats, to which the chief-priestly famalies belonged. And this group of powerful men didn’t just saunter up to Peter and John, the Greek implies they came upon them suddenly in a show of force because they were throughly miffed or as Luke puts it, “greatly annoyed.” (ἐφίστημι).But why are these men so annoyed? Luke gives us two reasons: 1) because they were teaching the people, and 2) because they were proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. In short, they were proclaiming the gospel. This would have annoyed the Sadduccees first of all because these were common, uneducated men who were not authorized to teach in the temple, this was a privilege retained for the educated and powerful Scribes. Secondly, the Sadduccees would have been annoyed because the apostles were preaching that Jesus had been resurrected and they didn’t believe in resurrection! And thirdly, one of the reasons the Sadduccees were so powerful is because they had cozied up to the Roman occupiers and had become their political allies; as long as Rome was in charge, they retained power. But Jesus had been condemned for political subversion against the Empire and there is no doubt that the message of the gospel was, and is, radically subversive.
- 3 So, this annoyed group did what powerful people do when they feel threatened, the flexed their muscle and threw the apostles in jail. So Peter and John become the first people to be persecuted for the sake of the gospel, which as the narrative of Acts unfolds, becomes a rather common event. Over and over again, when someone preaches the gospel they are imprisoned, stoned, or in some other way persecuted. And of course, the same thing is true today. I think of Pastor Paul from India, his Bible stained with his own blood on account of his proclamation of the gospel.
- 4 But Luke is quick to insert at this point a bit of good news: many, though not all, who heard Peter’s preaching believed the message of the gospel and were added to the kingdom of God. [Belief: Santa Clause Syndrome]. Many of those in Solomon’s Porch accepted the gospel, others must have been ambivalent, and still others were annoyed. And if you think about it, even today these really are the three most common responses to the gospel when it is preached in its fullness: acceptance, ambivalence, and annoyance.
5-6 The powers are assembled
- The next day, the serious power holders were assembled: the rulers (people who held various positions administrative authority), elders (older men who had great influence in Jerusalem), scribes (those who were responsible for copying and teaching the law). But that’s not all, Annas (the acting high priest), and Caiaphas (the de facto high priest), were the most powerful men Israel, both of whom were party to arranging the arrest and condemnation of Jesus. That’s six different categories of very powerful people gathered together. Quite an impressive array to interrogate a couple of peasant fishermen from Galilee don’t you think? This assembly is called the Sanhedrin and it was the highest Jewish court, kind of like the U.S. Supreme Court.
- 7 So they put them in their midst and asked, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” Now think about that question for a minute. Here you have the most powerful men in Israel, all of whom believe their power or office is derived from God, one of whom is the high priest who on the Day of Atonement wears the name of the LORD on hid turban as he enters the holy of holies to offer sacrifice for the sins of the people, and they are asking a couple of back country fisherman what kind of power they think they have an in whose name do they exercise authority.
- So, they spent the night in jail and are being interrogated by the men who put Jesus to death. Peter and John were probably quaking in their boots right? Wrong!
8-11 Peter’s Offensive defense
- 8 Why aren’t they afraid? Luke tells us as he narrates Peter’s response: “Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said…” Notice what it doesn’t say. It doesn’t say, “Peter answered in his eloquence…” Peter was not really known for his personal eloquence was he? In fact, I have often thought it must have been incredibly difficult for him to keep up with Jesus for all those miles traveling through Israel, hopping on one foot because the other was stuck in his mouth J It also doesn’t say, “Peter had been up all night in his cell preparing his defense…” No, it says that Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit. An eloquent response comes out of Peter’s mouth, but the source was the Holy Spirit, just as Jesus had prophesied concerning His disciples, “And when they bring you to trial and deliver you over, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit” (Mk 13:39; cf. Lk 21:12-15).
- Read 9-10 Wooo, everybody thought Peter was going to be defending himself but he boldly turns the tables and moves to offense, and he doesn’t dilly dally around about it. It was done by Jesus Christ of Nazareth, “whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead.” Now let’s pause for a minute to consider the payload of that theological bomb Peter just dropped in their lap. First of all, Peter doesn’t just say Jesus of Nazareth, he boldly proclaims “Jesus Christ of Nazareth.” Christ isn’t Jesus last name, it is a title of power and authority, a title of kingship. The Caiaphas who is questioning the apostles is the same Caiaphas who asked Jesus at His trial, “are you the Christ, the Son of God?” and when Jesus answered in the affirmative, Caiaphas accused Him of blasphemy. Now Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, stands before this man and not only calls Jesus the Christ, he moves on to state the facts that although these powerful men crucified Jesus, God raised Him from the dead, and it was by Him that the crippled man was healed, which of course validates Peter’s claim that Jesus is the Christ.
- 11 But he doesn’t stop there, he continues to validate his claim that Jesus is the Christ by quoting from Psalm 118 and identifying these powerful rulers gathered together as the builders who rejected Jesus as the Christ. Peter is supposed to be on defense here, but clearly he is making offensive maneuvers, offense that the rulers find offensive J
12 No other name
- Wow! No other name. Think about how those words would have fallen on the ears of their audience. No other name? Think about the high priest who wore the covenant name of God on his turban. No other name? They had to take such a declaration as blasphemous and surely that statement alone would have been enough to order the execution of the men, but as vv. 13-14 tells us, there was nothing they could say, they couldn’t challenge a single word Peter said because the man who had been healed through the miraculous power of Jesus was standing right there in front of them.The power these men thought they had is exposed as a charade. The ultimate weapon of worldly power is death. It was the weapon of the Roman Empire, it was the weapon of the Sanhedrin, even today it is the weapon of the various power structures of the world. The Sanhedrin used death to try to get rid of Jesus but death couldn’t hold him. Because of the resurrection of Jesus, the power of death has been overcome. As the Apostle Paul said, “Death has been swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory, O death, where is your sting?” (1Co 15:54-55). The systems of power in this world have been disarmed by the overwhelming power of the gospel. Just as Paul wrote to the Colossians, “He [the Father] disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in Him [Jesus]” (Col 2:15).
- How many have this v. memorized? Why did you memorize it? Because it proclaims the exclusivity as Jesus as the Savior, the exclusivity of the gospel. There is no other name because there is no power to save in any other name. Think about that in our current context. That means that there is no power to save in the names that are on the lips of so many millions of people. Not in the name of Buddha, Krishna, or Muhammad; not even in the name of Oprah or Dr. Phil! Only in the name of Jesus, the Lord, the Christ, the Messiah, the King. There simply is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.
- But have you ever asked yourself, “Saved from what?” It is tempting to hyper-spiritualize this and come up with something like, “well of course it means saved from the flames of hell.” And that is true insofar as it goes. But this is all too often misconstrued. This is not salvation for your soul but for your entire being (mind, body, soul, spirit). Certainly this refers to what you might call eschatological salvation, salvation from God’s final judgment and entrance into eternal life. But if you really read Luke-Acts you find that salvation is not just an end-game scenario, something for the next life; it is something begins its effect in the here and now. It’s deliverance from many of the effects of sin even in this life. It’s salvation from the overwhelming burden of wickedness, salvation from guilt, salvation from shame, salvation from social isolation and alienation, it’s salvation from spiritual sickness, and sometimes even salvation from physical and mental illness, but ultimately, it’s salvation from death. It’s a holistic salvation that begins now and is culminated in the resurrection.
- Consistency of Peter’s gospel message (Ac 2:39; 3:14-20; 4:8-12)
- Jesus is the Christ!
- You killed Him.
- God raised and exalted Him!
- So what are you going to do about it? Repent.
- Divine orchestration and shocking grace. Think about this. Just a few weeks after the death of Jesus an event that sent his disciples reeling, denying Him, and running for cover, just a few short weeks later, two of those men stand before the council that is responsible for the murder of Jesus, the most powerful men in the land and boldly proclaim the gospel. Isn’t the depth of that grace shocking? And the grace isn’t just for the hearers, but also the proclaimer. The gospel was preached in power to the men who crucified the Son of God by the man who denied Him three times and it was all arranged by God! My friends, what better example of unearned merit can there possibly be?
- But you know what is even better? God is still doing it; He is still making divine arrangements.
- I know a man… mosque, filled with the Spirit, proclaimed the gospel without fear. Became a Holy Spirit junky, who couldn’t wait for his next fix J
- It is no accident that we are all here this morning because God has called us together to hear the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ, maybe to hear it once again, maybe to hear it for the first time. Either way, this is the message:Because of our sin, we are all responsible for the death of Jesus (! just as if we were members of the Sanhedrin or were among those who shouted “Crucify Him!” We are all guilty of the death of Christ), and though human beings killed him, God raised Him up again, exalted Him to a position of genuine power, gave Him the name of Lord of Lords, and King of Kings. This is the message of the gospel, my friends: Jesus is Lord and there is no other power. He invites you to enter His kingdom.In this church today I assume there are three groups of people.
- Perhaps you have genuinely accepted Jesus as Lord,
- Perhaps you have been ambivalent to Him,
- Or perhaps you have been annoyed or even hostile toward Him, perhaps you have even denied Jesus.
- But I am here to tell you today that the past is insignificant and the grace of God goes deeper than all of our sin. Today is all we have and today, in the name of Jesus, I invite you to genuinely trust in Him, to repent of sin, and to enter the kingdom of God. For there is no other name… Amen.