I want to finish out the conversation about the persecution in Acts 4 by discussing: THE RESOLVE AMIDST PERSECUTION
In order to fully capture the essence of the apostles’ resolve, we are going to look at two components: The Court’s Contempt and The Believer’s Boldness.
Today’s blog will discuss The Court’s Contempt.
- An Unexpected Marveling
Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus (Acts 4:13).
The Sanhedrin, as powerful as they were, likely thought that bringing these men before them might intimidate them, causing them to back away from their message, and putting this dust-up to rest.
Of course, that didn’t happen. Luke tells us that these leaders took notice of “the boldness of Peter and John.” It was certainly an act of courage that couldn’t be ignored. Beyond their boldness, they recognized “that they were unlearned and ignorant men.” In other words, they were uneducated. They had not gone through any type of formal training in the rabbinical schools. They were just laymen, they had no professional theological training.
Yet we find these Galilean fishermen using Scripture effectively to make their case before the equivalent to the Jewish Supreme Court.
In fact, not only did Peter have a better command of Scripture than the religious leaders, he actually used it like a sword to cut them to their hearts.
John Phillips says: There was no
“… denying the boldness of Peter and John. Everything in their surroundings should have overawed these two peasants. They were standing in the impressive surroundings of the nation’s supreme court, facing the nation’s richest, ablest, most aristocratic, educated, and powerful men. They were a couple of country bumpkins who should have stood there mumbling apologetically, with shuffling feet and downcast eyes. Instead they looked more like what they really were, ambassadors from the courts of heaven. They stood as those who had an ultimatum to present – surrender or war.”
Their wisdom and boldness were such a shock to the Sanhedrin, verse 13 tells us “they marveled.”
Beyond their marveling, however, the Sanhedrin took notice of what caused these men to be so wise and bold. “… they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13).
Countless times throughout His public ministry, Christ would be confronted by the religious leaders, questioned in a similar way, and then He would respond with boldness, authority, and an appeal to truth.
Even the Jewish officers when reporting to chief priests and Pharisees said of Jesus in John 7:46, “… Never man spake like this man.”
They were like Jesus because they were in contact with Jesus through the Holy Spirit.
Alexander Maclaren said, “A soul habitually in contact with Jesus will imbibe sweetness from him, just as garments laid away in a drawer with some … perfume absorb fragrance from that beside which they lie.”
Considering their filling with the Holy Spirit, Kent Hughes asks, “Practically, what does this mean for us? When we are filled with the Holy Spirit, Christ is the focus of our lives. The Holy Spirit does not promote Himself. He promotes Christ.”
Could that be said of us?
- An Undeniable Miracle
And beholding the man which was healed standing with them, they could say nothing against it. ...Saying, What shall we do to these men? for that indeed a notable miracle hath been done by them [is] manifest to all them that dwell in Jerusalem; and we cannot deny [it] (Acts 4:14, 16).
The Sanhedrin was forced to deal with the miraculous healing of the lame man. This was not something that could be hidden or covered up or simply explained away.
They couldn’t claim it didn’t happen, because they acknowledged this miracle was witnessed and known by “all them that dwell in Jerusalem.”
They couldn’t claim the man was an actor brought in to play a part at a healing crusade like many hucksters do today.
No, this man was more than “forty years old” (Acts 4:22), and he’d been “lame from his mother’s womb” (Acts 3:2).
Beyond that he was a fixture in the community because from a young age he was “laid daily at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, to ask alms of them that entered into the temple” (Acts 3:2).
This was an issue that simply wasn’t going away, so they had to attempt some damage control. But deny the miracle, they could not.
- An Unscrupulous Meeting
But when they had commanded them to go aside out of the council, they conferred among themselves, Saying, What shall we do to these men? For that indeed a notable miracle hath been done by them [is] manifest to all them that dwell in Jerusalem; and we cannot deny [it]. But that it spread no further among the people, let us straitly threaten them, that they speak henceforth to no man in this name (Acts 4:15-17).
What were the religious leaders to do with such a disruption? What were they to do with this name they hoped they had gotten rid of forever?
Matthew Henry says,
“If they would have yielded to the convincing commanding power of truth, it had been easy to say what they should do to these men. They should have placed them at the head of their council, and received their doctrine, and been baptized by them in the name of the Lord Jesus, and joined in fellowship with them. But, when men will not be persuaded to do what they should do, it is no marvel that they are ever and anon at a loss what to do. The truths of Christ, if men would but entertain them as they should, would give them no manner of trouble or uneasiness; but, if they hold them or imprison them in unrighteousness, they will find them a burdensome stone that they will not know what to do with.”
And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil (John 3:19).
That reminds me of something Adrian Rogers would often say: “Jesus Christ will be either a stepping stone into heaven or a stumbling stone into hell.”
They determined since the miracle was legitimate and there was no denying it, what they could do, is try and stop the teaching of Christ from spreading any further. So they decided, “… that it spread no further among the people, let us straitly threaten them, that they speak henceforth to no man in this name” (Acts 4:17).
Matthew Henry said the leaders treated this
“… as if that healing institution were a plague begun, the contagion of which must be stopped. See how the malice of hell fights against the counsels of heaven; God will have the knowledge of Christ to spread all the world over, but the chief priests would have it spread no further …”
- An Unavoidable Moment
But that it spread no further among the people, let us straitly threaten them, that they speak henceforth to no man in this name. (18) And they called them, and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus (Acts 4:17-18).
Essentially, they brought them in and said, “You can’t talk about Jesus anymore.”
Most of us seem to have no trouble verbalizing our opinion on sports, politics, the economy, and such. We will generally share it whether people want to hear it or not.
Yet, when it comes to speaking about Jesus, for some reason we fail to speak up.
Not the apostles. They couldn’t keep it in.
Matthew Henry said,
“There is not a greater service done to the devil's kingdom than the silencing of faithful ministers; and putting those under a bushel that are the lights of the world.”
They didn’t tell them to stop ministering. They didn’t tell them they couldn’t meet and worship. They didn’t tell them they couldn’t do any good works or deeds or that they couldn’t have communion. They didn’t even tell them they couldn’t preach or teach.
They just told them they couldn’t do any of those things “in the name of Jesus.”
I like what John Phillips said. “The great concern of the Sanhedrin was not to get to the truth but to stop the truth from spreading.”
I called this an unavoidable moment, because, as I mentioned in the first blog in this series, Jesus prepared the disciples for this time.
If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also (John 15:20).
They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service (John 16:2).
Not too much time passed between Christ’s warnings about persecution, to it becoming a reality in their lives.
Our enemy fears the name of Jesus above all else.
Have you ever wondered why there is no opposition from the world to Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Eastern Mysticism, or even witchcraft?
It’s because they don’t name the name of Christ.
The spiritual attack centers on the name of Jesus.
Why is that? Well, Peter told us why: “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
The unregenerate man can’t stand the idea that there is something he can’t do for himself.
Prideful, unregenerate man can’t stand the thought of absolute truth and absolute authority.
Prideful, unregenerate man can’t stand the thought of bowing the knee in humble submission.
Other religions don’t require such cross-bearing and dying to self.
Christ demands it, and thus He is hated for it.
Nonetheless, all will one day confess Him.
Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of [things] in heaven, and [things] in earth, and [things] under the earth; And [that] every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ [is] Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:9-11).
Most of us will face a time like Peter and John where we are encouraged, or maybe even ordered, to “leave the Jesus stuff out.”
Maybe that happens in the workplace or at hunting camp or on the boat fishing with a friend.
Maybe it happens amongst our friends or even our own family.
Maybe it comes from a tyrannical government that has forgotten our religious freedom.
Whatever form it comes in, we have a decision to make just like Peter and John.
Will we buckle under pressure?
Will we give in to the powers that be?
If we haven’t already purposed in our hearts prior to the battle, the chances of us standing strong in it are unlikely.
The apostles had their minds made up, and when it was time to stand, they stood.