Text: Acts 4:1-22
1 As they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to them, 2 being greatly disturbed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. 3 And they laid hands on them and put them in jail until the next day, for it was already evening. 4 But many of those who had heard the message believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand. 5 On the next day, their rulers and elders and scribes were gathered together in Jerusalem; 6 and Annas the high priest was there, and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of high-priestly descent. 7 When they had placed them in the center, they began to inquire, “By what power, or in what name, have you done this?”
Years ago there was a traveling preacher who was riding from one city to the next to lead a series of evangelistic meetings. Sometimes he would preach in a church, or maybe under a tent in open field. Occasionally he would share the gospel on the corner of a busy street, wherever an audience would gather.
As his horse was galloping along, he was struck by the realization that it had been three whole days since he had faced opposition. In the last several towns, he couldn’t recall anyone mocking his faith. He hadn’t been threatened. No one interrupted his sermon. No one called him names or laughed at him. There wasn’t a single egg hurled at him when he stood up to speak. He had come to expect that kind of treatment. It was unusual to go so many days without facing any type of persecution. Most of us would think of this as being a good thing, but the preacher was concerned.
He stopped the horse and wondered, “Have I done something wrong? Could it be that I’ve compromised the message, telling people what they want to hear instead of what they need to hear?” Right there, on the side of the road, he dropped to his knees and began to pray. “Lord, I am willing to suffer for the sake of Christ. Grant me the courage to share the gospel openly without fear, no matter how I am received.”
About that time a rough fellow approached on the road and recognized him. He muttered, “I’ll fix that preacher.” Picking up a rock he flung it towards the evangelist. It missed the mark, falling harmlessly to the ground a few feet away, but immediately the preacher jumped to his feet praising God. “Thank you Lord, now I know everything is alright.
I’m sure most of us don’t get excited when people give us a hard time for our faith. We would rather avoid those kinds of situations altogether, but Scripture tells us we should expect it. Sooner or later, everyone who follows Christ in this world will encounter some form of opposition.
People may not throw rocks at us, but some will hurl ridicule as we seek to live out our faith. We may lose friends as we tell them about Jesus. Our neighbors might talk about us behind our back because they resent our values and beliefs. We may get passed over for a promotion at work. People might laugh at us, slander our reputation, or call us names. Don’t be surprised. Jesus told his disciples, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first… No servant is greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also,” (John 15:18-20). It’s not just something that evangelists or missionaries have to deal with but all believers.
For the most part, believers in this country have had it easy compared to those who live in other parts of the world where Christians face the constant threat of being thrown into prison and fear for the lives everyday. But things are changing, even here, and our culture is growing increasingly hostile towards the gospel. People will call you narrow minded if you believe the Bible is the Word of God. They will say you are judgmental if you talk about sin and our need for a Savior. They will argue with you when you tell them that Jesus is the only way to the Father. They will accuse you of prejudice when you uphold God’s design for marriage and family. More and more we see the Christian worldview being mocked on television and news articles.
It is not an easy time to be a follower of Christ. We might be tempted to remain silent and keep the message of Christ to ourselves, but God doesn’t want his people to live in fear. He calls us to live out our faith in spite of opposition, through the confidence he supplies.
We find a great example of this in our passage this morning. A couple of months had passed since Jesus rose from the dead, and the apostles began sharing the good news in Jerusalem. One day Peter and John were going to the temple to pray, when they saw a crippled man begging for alms at the gate. Peter told him, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ, get up and walk.” The man’s legs were strengthened, and stood on his own two feet for the first time in his life. It was a miracle. He leaped for joy, running back and forth through the courtyard praising God. When a crowd of people gathered around them to see what all the commotion was about, Peter took the opportunity to tell them about Jesus. He delivered a powerful sermon, showing them that Jesus is the Messiah. He urged them to repent, turning to God in faith, so their sins could be wiped away.
As the crowd listened to his words, many believed. Thousands of people trusted in Christ as their Savior. It was incredible, but the religious leaders were not happy when they saw what was happening. Before the crowds went home, the temple guard showed up to arrest Peter and John. The two apostles spent the night in prison, and the next morning they were dragged into the council chambers to be questioned by the religious authorities. In Acts 4:5 we are told… 5 The next day the rulers, elders and teachers of the law met in Jerusalem. 6 Annas the high priest was there, and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander and the other men of the high priest’s family. 7 They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: “By what power or what name did you do this?”
We can imagine how intimidating this would have been. Here they were, standing in the center of the room, surrounded by the most powerful and influential leaders in the country. This group was called the Sanhedrin, and it was like the Senate or the Supreme Court of Israel. It was made up of seventy men from the priests, elders, and scribes, and the high priest presided over the entire assembly. They met in a hall adjoining the southwest part of the temple (Expositor’s Bible Commentary). As we read through the list of names some of them might sound familiar. They were the ones who put Jesus on trial, and handed him over to the Roman authorities to be crucified. Peter and John must have realized how serious things were. How would they respond? Weeks earlier, they ran for their lives in the garden of Gethsemane when the soldiers came to take Jesus away. Would they do the same now? Would they bail on the ministry entrusted to them by the Lord. No, they stood their ground and courageously proclaimed the name of Jesus. Their example shows us…
The Holy Spirit will give us confidence to live out our faith in the face of opposition. (v.8-10)
Look at verse 8-10.
8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers and elders of the people, 9 if we are on trial today for a benefit done to a sick man, as to how this man has been made well, 10 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.
Peter wasn’t timid as he stood before these leaders. He wasn’t afraid when he saw the angry expressions staring back at him. He opened his mouth and began to preach. In a sense, he turned the tables on them. These leaders brought the apostles there to accuse them of wrongdoing, but instead Peter accused these leaders of striving against the Lord.
It was as if an extra dose of courage had been poured into his heart, at the exact moment he needed it. Maybe he paused for a moment, in between breaths, and wondered “Where is this coming from. I know it isn’t coming from me.” The passage tells us in verse 8 that he was “filled with the Holy Spirit.”
This is a theme that is emphasized in the book of Acts. Believers were filled with the Holy Spirit, and amazing things happened as a result. In Acts 1:8 (NASB95) Jesus told them, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”
I’m sure this seemed a little hard to believe when they first heard this. “Who, us?” Yes, you, but not through your own strength. In the power the Holy Spirit will supply. They would come to realize that it wasn’t through their own ability the gospel spread. It was the Spirit of God working through them. There were times they didn’t know what to say, but the Holy Spirit gave them the words. There were moments they would have been shaking in their sandals, but the Holy Spirit gave them boldness. There were situations when they didn’t know what to do, but the Holy Spirit guided their path.
Later on in the chapter, Acts 4:31 (NASB95) tells us, “And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness.”
Do you want to know something amazing? The same Holy Spirit, who filled the apostles in the book of Acts, fills God’s people today. He dwells within us and empowers us to live for the Lord. When we don’t know what to say, he opens our mouth. When we are afraid, he gives us courage. When we are struggling with what to do, he directs our steps. So in those moments, when you are feeling weak or helpless or inadequate, remember that it’s not about you, it’s about Him. It’s not about what you can accomplish; it’s about what he can accomplish through you. So go forth in the strength that he supplies.
The other day I was trying to use a remote at the house to turn on the tv and it wasn’t working. It kept pushing the button, but nothing happened. One of the kids said, “Maybe it needs new batteries,” so I opened up the panel to check. It turned out, there weren’t any batteries inside. Of course it wouldn’t work, it needed power.
Scripture tells us that if you are a child of God, God’s Spirit is dwelling within you, and that means you have all the power you’ll never need to live for him. We can’t do it on our own, but we can do it in his strength.
There are times when we might feel discouraged. It feels like the world is drifting further and further from God, and we wonder if there is anyone stilling listening when His Word is preached. What can we do? Trust God to work through you. It isn’t about what we can accomplish, it is about what he can accomplish through us. If God could fill two fishermen from Galilee with the courage to stand up to rulers of the country, he can give us the courage to make an impact in our world.
Our relationship with Jesus will give us confidence to live out our faith in the face of opposition.
Look at verse 13. “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.”
The leaders noticed there was something different about Peter and John. On the one hand, they were common, ordinary men. They hadn’t studied in the prestigious rabbinic schools of Jerusalem. They didn’t have degrees in theology or public speaking. They were just a couple of blue collar fishermen from Galilee. But it was evident they had been with Jesus.
That was a tremendous compliment. I know they didn’t intend it that way, but what better thing could be said about someone than they have spent time with Jesus? Imagine someone talking about you, saying “I’m not sure what to think about that guy but I know this, he loves Jesus, …he spends a lot of time talking about Jesus, …he is constantly praising Jesus.” Wouldn’t it be wonderful, if this was what people noticed about us?
The time Peter and John spent with Jesus prepared them for the struggles they were now facing. They had witnessed all of the suffering Jesus was willing to endure for us. He was despised and forsaken, rejected by the people he came to save, spit upon, treated as a criminal, beaten and handed over to be crucified. If Jesus was willing to endure all of this for us, shouldn’t we also be willing to suffer his name?
And they saw how Jesus handled opposition. When people accused him of casting out demons by the power of the devil, Jesus didn’t let that stop him from doing good or helping others. He kept going. When he was falsely accused before the authorities, he didn’t lash out in anger or retaliate. He was focused on the work he came to fulfill. When the people hurled insults at him as he hung from the cross, he didn’t call down fire from heaven. He prayed for them, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”
Jesus was not overcome by evil, but overcame evil with good. He loved his enemies and trusted in his heavenly Father to vindicate him. Those were powerful lessons that Peter and John would never forget, and it helped them in the afflictions they faced.
Years later, Peter would remind believers of our calling to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. In 1 Peter 2:21–23 (NASB95) he writes,
21 For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, 22 who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; 23 and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously;
We are called to follow in his steps. It makes me think of a hiking trail. There are places where the path becomes narrow. It winds back and forth, along the side of a hill. It is rocky and steep, and you’re starting to wonder if you’re going the right way. But just when you’re thinking about giving up, you see footprints in the soil ahead of you. Others have walked this path before you, and that spurs you on. Jesus walked this path before us. In fact, his path was more infinitely more difficult than we can imagine, but he calls us follow in steps, take up our cross and follow him.
When people give us a hard time because of our faith, we can remember Jesus, and all that he endured for us. Pray for the strength to follow his example. That’s certainly not easy. When people speak unkind words about us, we might have a few unkind words we’d like to say to them. But we hold our tongue remembering the example of our Savior. Instead of returning evil for evil, we can pray for those who persecute us, letting the love of Christ shine through. Who knows, maybe our kindness will catch them off guard and bring conviction.
Most of all, remember that you’re not suffering alone. The Lord is with you through it all, and you have brothers and sisters in Christ who share that experience. Peter and John stood together, and the Lord was right there by their side. We have each other, and the Lord walks beside us.
The urgency of the gospel will give us confidence to live out our faith in the face of opposition. (v.11-12)
Look at verses 11-12. Peter proclaims the name of Jesus and says,
11 “He is the stone which was rejected by you, the builders, but which became the chief corner stone. 12 “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.”
Peter and John were determined to share the gospel, and there was nothing the religious leaders could say or do that would stop them, because they realized what is at stake. There is a world of lost and broken people out there who are desperate for Jesus. He is the only one who has the power to save. There is no amount of religion can make us whole, and no other message can lead us back to God. We need Jesus. There is no hope for eternity without him. There is no forgiveness of sin without him. That’s why the apostles were so driven to share the good news with as many people as possible. It didn’t matter what it cost them: if they were threatened, or thrown into prison, or beaten, or martyred. They would proclaim the name of Jesus to their dying breath.
Their commitment inspires us to live out our faith with a sense of urgency. There are people all around us who need Jesus, and unless someone is willing to reach out to them with the gospel they will perish. It won’t be easy. It will require us to step outside of our comfort zone. It may involve hardship and difficulty. But it will be worth it.
Sometimes we lose that sense of urgency. We find ourselves making excuses: I’m too busy. I’m not the right person for the job. I don’t know if that person is interested in hearing about Jesus. I’m not sure what to say or how they will respond. There are a million other excuses we might come up with to convince ourselves that it’s not worth the effort. But we’re wrong. It’s why we are here. Christ has saved us, and places us where we are, to reach others with his love. Our mission is urgent, especially as we draw closer and closer to his return.
Imagine that you are standing outside your home, as it catches on fire. Your family is trapped inside and you hear them calling for help. What do you do? You could make excuses. It’s dangerous to rush inside. I might get hurt. I’m sure they can find their way out to safety on their own. Besides, the fire department will be here any minute. But you’re probably not going to do that. You will rush in, knowing that you are placing your life in jeopardy because you realize how urgent the situation is. It is a matter of life and death, and you have to do something.
That’s what the apostles teach us. We can’t afford to sit on the sidelines, and practice our faith in secret. We need to live out our faith, and tell others about Jesus, even though it will be difficult, because it is a matter of life and death. People might not always respond to our message. We might face ridicule along the way. But it’s worth it, because souls are at stake.
Romans 1:16 (NASB95) “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…”
Are we ashamed of the gospel? Are we afraid of how the world will respond when we life out our faith, and tell people about Jesus. The apostles weren’t ashamed. They realized this is why we are here, to lead other to a lifechanging, saving relationship with the Savior. The bottom line is that if we really believe there is salvation in no one else, we won’t stop talking about Jesus, to our friends, our family, our neighbors. There will be a sense of urgency to our life. We will want everyone to know the name of our Savior and hear the message of eternal life.
Don’t Let the World Silence Your Faith!
The religious leaders warned Peter and John not to speak about Jesus ever again. But in Acts 4:19–20 (NASB95) the reply, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; 20 for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.”
Yes, these were the most powerful men in the country, but they realized there is a greater authority that we must answer to – God. And they had to obey him. The high priest and elders and rulers of the people threatened them. They tried to intimidate them. They did everything in their power to stop them, but it didn’t work. Aren’t you glad? We wouldn’t be here today if the apostles had decided to go home and call it quits. We wouldn’t know Jesus today if early believers decided it wasn’t worth the trouble, and kept their faith to themselves. We wouldn’t have hope if people like Peter and John hadn’t risked it all to share the gospel.
Now we care called to do the same. We should be inspired by the courage of Peter and John to share our faith, and live out our faith openly even though we know it will not always be well received. Find strength in our fellow believers remembering that we stand together. Pray for boldness knowing that it will not get any easier.