A Study of Acts 4
Introduction: The book of Acts is filled with stories of amazing devotion, and it reads like the script of a movie. Last Sunday night we studied Acts 3, when Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer. They were evidently on their way to a large colonnaded area known as Solomon’s Portico. As they entered the temple there was a lame man sitting in front of the Gate Beautiful, and he asked them for a gift. Peter said, “Silver and gold have I none, but such as I have give I to thee. In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, rise up and walk.” Peter reached down and grabbed the man’s hand and pulled him to his feet. Suddenly the man’s feet and legs received strength and he want walking and leaping and praising God into the temple. A great crowd gathered on Solomon’s Portico, and Peter began preaching the Gospel But his sermon was interrupted when the temple police pushed through the crowd and arrested the two disciples. That’s where we pick up the story tonight in chapter 4.
Verse 1: 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.
It’s very interesting that there seems to be a shift from the Gospels to the Book of Acts as it relates to the Pharisees and Sadducees. In the Gospels, we read a great deal about the Pharisees and their opposition to the Lord Jesus Christ. In the book of Acts, it seems to be the Sadducees that take the lead in opposing the growth of the church. Why is that? Perhaps one of the reasons is that the Pharisees believed in the concept of the resurrection of the body, but the Sadducees didn’t. In today’s terms, the Pharisees were like the fundamentalists and the Sadducees were like the liberals. The Sadducees didn’t believe in the resurrection. It is difficult to define the theology of the Sadducees, because most of the historical records were destroyed when Rome destroyed Jerusalem in AD 70, and the Sadducees became extinct. But the Jewish historian Josephus, who was a Pharisee, tells us that the Sadducees didn’t believe in the afterlife or in immortality. And later on in the book of Acts, Luke tells us that the Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection or in angels or in spirits. The message of the early church was the message of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the Sadducees reacted very violently to this, and perhaps that’s why they seem to take the lead in attacking the church in the book of Acts. Notice the next verse:
Verse 2: They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people, proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. The apostles were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead—only the resurrection of Christ, but the resurrection in Christ of those who follow Him.
Verse 3: They seized Peter and John and, because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day. This is historic. This is the first time that someone ever found themselves behind prison bars for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is the beginning of persecution, and it’s the beginning of Gospel imprisonment. Since this day, the stories of Christian being imprisoned stretch back through history like a chain of iron. I wrote a book many years ago entitled On This Day in Christian History, and I documented a number of stories from church history having to do with the imprisonment of Christians. Some of them are well known, such as John Bunyan, who was locked away in Bedford Prison in Bedford England, and there he wrote his great books like Pilgrim’s Progress. But most of these stories are unknown to us and forgotten to history but not to God.
This morning I mentioned Saeed Abedini, who is an Iranian pastor being held in prison in Iran. Today a new update was posted to the Facebook page that gives updates about him. It said: “Saeed’s father was able to visit Saeed in prison yesterday. Saeed was quite shaken as he had to witness 6 fellow prisoners being beaten and taken to be executed (hanged) that day. It was a hard and dark day having witnessed that and seeing life being taken. The prison visit was also very hard as the families of those who were executed were crying and wailing. It was also an emotional visitation as it is getting closer to Jacob’s 7th birthday. Last time Saeed saw Jacbo he was 4 years old. Thank you all for praying. Please continue to pray for Saeed to have the strength to endure in that harsh prison and that Jesus would continue to meet him there and give him hope. Please pray that this will be the year that Saeed is released. Love you all. Naghmeh.”
That breaks our hearts and we feel like we should do something. But Pastor Saeed is only one of thousands of Christians behind bars right now for their faith, and it all had its beginning very, very early in the Christian story, here in Acts 4. But the cost was worth it, as we see in verse 4:
Verse 4: But many who heard the message believed; so the number of men who believed grew to about five thousand. From 12 to 120 to 3000 to 5000. When it says that the number of men who believed was 5000, I frankly don’t know if the word “men” was generic or not. If not, and if you added an estimated total for the women and children who believed, you might have 15,000 or 20,000 or more. This was explosive growth. No wonder the authorities were alarmed.
Verse 5: The next day the rulers, the elders and the teachers of the law met in Jerusalem.
This would have been the Sanhedrin, which was the name of the Jewish ruling congress or council. It was a group of about 70 men (technically, 71). The met in a room in the temple complex known as the Hall of Hewn Stones, and it was presumably here they had gathered to condemn the Lord Jesus Christ.
Verse 6: Annas the high priest was there, and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander and others of the high priest’s family. Just a few years ago, in 1990, while construction workers in Israel were building a new road in Jerusalem, they found the burial chamber for Caiaphas and his family. This was the most powerful family among the Jews. Annas was the old man, and five of his sons held the position of high priest. Caiaphas was his son-in-law, and evidently they rotated the high priesthood among them.
Verses 7-8: They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: “By what power or what name did you do this?” Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people!
This was a different man than the one who had lost his nerve on the night Jesus was arrested. Now, he is said to have been filled with the Spirit. Now we’re going to have Peter’s fourth sermon in the book of Acts. In chapter 1, 2, 3, and 4.
- In chapter 1, his sermon was a very brief explanation of what happened to Judas and the importance of electing a new apostle.
- In chapter 2, it’s the message on the Day of Pentecost.
- In chapter 3, it’s the sermon we looked at last week, preached in Solomon’s Portico, which was interrupted by the temple police, who arrested him and John.
- Here in chapter 4, it is before the Sanhedrin.
Verses 9-10: 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, 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. The great irony of history is that Christians are so often persecuted for doing acts of kindness and doing good things.
Verse 11: Jesus is “the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.”
This is a quotation from Psalm 118. And now in the next phrase we have the great statement in the book of Acts for the exclusivity of Jesus Christ. In the Gospels, the defining statement is John 14:6, when Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but through Me.” Here in the book of Acts, the defining statement on the exclusivity of Christ is Acts 4:12:
Verse 12: Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name given to mankind by which we must be saved. This is why our society hates us today. Lee Strobel was an atheistic journalist who, after pouring over the evidence for the truthfulness of Christianity, became a follower of Jesus Christ and began applying his investigative journalism to the defense of the faith. Today his “Case” books (like The Case for Faith and The Case for a Creator) are bestsellers. Lee readily admits that before his conversion, he disliked one verse of Scripture more than any other – John 14:6, where Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”
“This was the statement I found most offensive,” Strobel wrote of his pre-conversion view of this verse. “It’s one thing to claim to be a way to God—but the way? That sounds pretty intolerant!” Strobel feels differently now, for, having come to Christ and grown in his understanding of truth, he teaches that John 14:6 is one of the greatest statements of one our greatest doctrines.
“Many people consider it arrogant, narrow-minded, and bigoted for Christians to contend that the only path to God must go through Jesus of Nazareth. In a day of religious pluralism and tolerance, this exclusivity claim is politically incorrect, a verbal slap in the face of other belief systems… When I was an atheist, I bristled at assertions by Christians that they held a monopoly on the only correct approach to Christianity. ‘Who do they think they are?’ I’d grouse.”
It’s interesting that some people claim that the Gospel of Christ is no longer relevant if it claims to be exclusive, or the only way to God. People say, “To be relevant you have to be tolerant, you have to accept the fact there are many ways to God. Christianity is only of them.” But the opposite is true. If Christianity is only one of many ways to God, it is irrelevant. It no longer matters if you’re a Christian. It’s the exclusivity of the Gospel that preserves the relevance of Christianity in every age.
Well, Peter had the courage to speak these words in the lions’ den, and he didn’t flinch or hesitate as he said this.
Verse 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. That’s the greatest compliment and the greatest qualification of all. To be effective for Christ, you don’t necessarily need an Ivy League education, but you do need to know what it is to be with Jesus, to walk with Him.
I love that word “ordinary.” That describes most of us. God does extraordinary things with ordinary people, and only ordinary things with extraordinary people. It’s better to be ordinary, and sometimes it’s all right to be unschooled. I suppose it depends some on the school.
Now, here’s an interesting thing. Peter and John weren’t alone in standing before the Sanhedrin. The lame man was there too, the one who had been healed in the previous chapter. How did he get there? What was he doing there? Peter and John could not have gone to fetch him. The Sanhedrin had apparently met in unscheduled emergency session. I’m not even sure the other apostles knew to be there. How did this lame man happen to show up? I have a theory. We know there were two believers among the 70 or so members of the Sanhedrin – Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea. These two old fellows were intrepid and agile for their age, and I can just imagine they did some quick scheming and saw to it that Exhibit A was there to support the apostles. Look at verses 14-15:
Verses 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 gong 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.”
Well, good luck with that. That’s what our secular society is trying to do today. They’re trying to shut up Christians. They are trying to silence the church. They cannot do it. As long as we have breathe in our lungs, we’re going to share the Gospel. We’ve been commissioned to do that, and that’s why we’re on this earth.
Verses 18-19: Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to Him? You be the judges! And now we have one of the best Christian sound bites in history:
Verse 20: As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”
We cannot stop. We cannot help ourselves. We have no other option than to keep speaking.
Verses 21-23: 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. On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them.
Perhaps they went back to Solomon’s Portico or to the Upper Room or to some secret location. Perhaps the nucleus of the Christian leadership was there—the Twelve, the mother and brothers of Jesus, some of the leaders of the church. But Peter and John reported what had transpired during the previous twenty-four ours. That led to a great prayer. Interestingly, they did not pray for protection. They acknowledged the sovereignty of God and asked for boldness to keep preaching.
Verse 24: When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. “Sovereign Lord,” they said…
In what way is God sovereign? In three ways. First, he is the Creator.
You made the heavens and the earth and the sea, and everything in them.
They began their prayer by harkening back to Genesis 1:1, addressing their prayer to God, who made the heavens and the earth. And then they addressed God as not only the Creator but as the Communicator, the one who had inspired and given the Old Testament Scriptures.
Verses 25-26: You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of Your servant, our father David:
Third, God is not only the great Creator and the great Communicator, He is the Great Commander of History. In their prayer, the Christians quoted Psalm 2.
Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the Lord and against His anointed one [Messiah, or Christ].
A thousand years before Christ, the Holy Spirit predicted through the words of King David that the kings of the earth and its rulers would rise up against the Messiah when He came. And that’s just what happened.
Verses 27-28: Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed. They did what Your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.
Everything that happened to Jesus was foretold and forecast in the prophets. God is in control of history. He commands the time. The Bible says that civil authorities and secular rulers will oppose Christ and Christianity from the beginning. Now, having acknowledged God as the almighty Creator, the Communicator, and the Commander of history, they ended their prayer with a request.
Verses 29-30: Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable Your servants to speak Your word with great boldness. Stretch out Your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of Your holy servant Jesus.”
They asked for boldness and for an extension of their power to facilitate miracles.
Verse 31: After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.
How do we know if we’re filled with the Holy Spirit? One way is if we speak the Word of God with boldness. This is a recurring theme in Acts, as we’ve already seen.
- In Acts 1:8, Jesus said, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be My witnesses.”
- In Acts 2:4, we read how on the Day of Pentecost, the believers were filled with the Holy Spirit and went out into the streets sharing the Gospel in various tongues.
- In Acts 4:8, in our story tonight, we read, “Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them…” and he began preaching to the Jewish Ruling Council.
- And now at the end of the church, they prayed and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and the spoke the word of God with boldness.
I love the theme of being filled with the Spirit. It seems to me it is dealt with a little differently in the book of Acts than in the epistles. In the epistles, the fullness of the Spirit is what empowers us for effective Christian living. The classic text on this is Ephesians 5, when Paul tells us to be filled with the Holy Spirit, speaking to ourselves in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in our hearts, being thankful for all things, submitting to one another, and being the kinds of husbands, wives, parents, and children we should be. In the book of Acts, the emphasis is more on empowered Christian service. When we’re filled with the Spirit, we speak the Word of God with boldness. These emphases are not contradictory, but complimentary. When we are filled with the Spirit, Jesus is able to live His life through us. And when we are filled with the Spirit, He is able to speak His message through us.
Conclusion: So if I could sum up this chapter—Acts 4—I would do it this way and give you three points.
First, there is no other name. Tell us, Peter and John, you untrained and ignorant men, tell us in what name you performed this miracle and healed this man. I’m glad you asked. If you want to know the name of the person who really healed this lame man it is not Simon Peter. It is the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified. He is alive and He did this, and there is no other name given under heaven among men by which we must be saved. No other name.
Second, there is no other option. Well, Peter and John, as your religious and civil authorities we command you to preach and teach no longer in this name. Well, whether you think we should or not, the simple fact is that we have no other option. We cannot help ourselves; we cannot help but preach and teach in His name.
Third, there is no other power. We are filled with the Spirit, and it’s the fullness of the Spirit alone that enables us to conduct our ministries with spiritual power and effectiveness. That’s what I desire for our church and for you. That’s what I desire for our young adults in Salt Lake City this coming week. That’s what I want us to be known for on Easter weekend. May we be known in the community and in this world as a church that proclaims no other name but Jesus, no other option than spreading the Gospel, and no other power but the fullness of the Holy Spirit.
 Lee Strobel, The Case for Faith Youth Edition (Zondervan: Youth Specialties, 2002), 51-52.
 John MacArthur makes this point in Why One Way? (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2002), ix.