Main Point: The resurrected Jesus is working to build his church.
We are a people who hold to the absolute necessity of Jesus Christ. Without Jesus, we can do nothing! But why is that? How did the exclusivity of Christ come to be? Should it be? Isn’t it demeaning and barbaric to tell another person that he must believe in Jesus in order to truly know God or enjoy the next life? Can’t we just settle down and let people honestly hold their own beliefs? Come on, why is the Christian faith any better than other faiths? I mean, if you were born in another country, wouldn’t you just adopt that country’s religion?
And while we are turning down the heat on belief, shouldn’t we turn down the heat on public religion in general? I mean, it’s okay to believe whatever you want, as long as that belief stays in the privacy of your own home. Don’t bring your religion to school or work or the public square.
Thankfully, faith in Jesus and the consequences of faith in Jesus are the focus of Acts 4:1-12. Jesus, through Peter and John, healed the man born paralyzed. This man’s subsequent walking, leaping, and praising God drew a crowd. Peter and John then preached Jesus in all his glory calling the people to repent and believe in Jesus.
But remember, Peter and John are preaching Christ in the temple. The temple is the place for truth to be taught and defended. As we see in Acts 4:1-12, the guys who crucified Jesus are not very open to the disciples telling everyone that Jesus has been raised and is working powerfully to fulfill all of God’s promises.
The theme of resurrection has been coursing through Acts 1, 2, and 3. Now, as we begin chapter 4, the resurrection is again central. Let’s read Acts 4:1-12 and seek, by the Spirit’s help to understand and believe these truths.
Read Acts 4:1-12
Church, this truth is for us.
I. We are witnesses to the resurrection (1-4)
God’s call on each of our lives is that we will know Christ and make him known. This is what Peter and John are doing.
- Peter and John were teaching the people
Verse 1 sets the scene, Peter and John are teaching in the temple. Peter and John are teaching, and a group of heavyweights comes upon them all kinds of mad at them. Look at Acts 4:2, they are “greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.”
We see the basic content of their teaching in Acts 3. Jesus is the suffering Savior, a better Moses, a better David, and the source of Abraham’s blessing. A key to understanding Acts 4 is understanding who the Sadducees were in that day. Basically, the Sadducees were the ruling party of the Jews. The high priest and his family were of the Sadducees. The Sadducees controlled the religious practice of the day. They controlled the temple, the sacrifices, and the teaching. The High Priest was a Sadducee and the captain of the temple was a Sadducee. To put it simply, the priests and the police were Sadducees.
Theologically, the Sadducees were materialists. They believed in only the material. There are no angels or demons and no Holy Spirit. They held to only the first five books of the Old Testament. They believed that at death the soul and body died so there is no afterlife or resurrection. There also are no miracles. It appears the Sadducees also believed that the messiah was only an idea that found its fulfillment during the days of the Maccabees (F. F. Bruce).
The Sadducees were greatly annoyed that Peter and John are claiming a miracle happened because Jesus the Messiah died, rose again, and is pouring out his Holy Spirit on God’s believing people. And besides the theological disagreement, the Sadducees are dependent upon the Romans who are ruling the land at this time. The Sadducees are in control politically also; they are the priests, police, and politicians.
Everything Peter and John are doing and saying is challenging everything the Sadducees are doing and saying. The central issue is the resurrection
- Peter and John were preaching in Jesus the resurrection
Acts 4:2, “proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead.”
Now, alongside the Sadducees is another religious group called the Pharisees. The Pharisees were a much smaller and less influential group but still powerful in their own right. The Pharisees did believe in miracles and in the resurrection. But the Pharisees held to a general resurrection at the end of time. The Pharisees had no concept of the resurrection of one, much less the resurrection of the Messiah (Bock, 187). This means no one was expecting a crucified and resurrected Messiah. The Sadducees who controlled the temple and the teaching denied the resurrection. The Pharisees, disciples of John, and disciples of Jesus all had no concept of a suffering and raised Messiah.
So, when Jesus rises from the dead and pours out his Holy Spirit to empower his people, this is a new thing. The resurrection isn’t just a hope; the resurrection has begun!
It is John, now teaching and preaching in Acts 4, who records Jesus’ words, “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment” (John 5:25-29).
Peter and John are teaching the people that the promised Messiah, the better Moses, the better David, and the blessing of Abraham have come in the crucified and resurrected Jesus. Know this,
- Teaching and preaching bring results
One result of faithful teaching and preaching is opposition. Peter and John were arrested because they were preaching and teaching. Peter and John are ultimately commanded to stop preaching and teaching. In chapter 5, the apostles are arrested and beaten for preaching and teaching. In chapter 7, Stephen is killed for teaching the people and preaching the resurrection. The truth is always opposed. But John Stott puts it well, “The Sadducees could arrest the apostles, but not the gospel” (96). One result of faithful preaching and teaching is opposition. The other result is salvation.
Look at Acts 4:4, “But many of those who heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand.” Three thousand believe at Pentecost and the number of believers grows steadily to five thousand. The Sadducees have to do something to stop what they perceive as an attack on truth and their way of life. Peter and John are arrested and forced to give a defense. Here is
II. How to give a defense (5-12)
The first thing you need to do is
- Expect the gatekeepers to call you to give a defense
In this situation, the gatekeepers are, verse 5, the rulers and elders and scribes with the high priest and the high-priest’s family. Now we are adding the equivalent of our lawyers and our supreme court. These are the first century gatekeepers: priests, police, politicians, lawyers, and supreme court. Since trade is controlled by the Romans and the Romans are in control of the priests, there is no area of life outside the realm of these gatekeepers.
Today the gatekeepers are similar. We have priests, police, and politicians. We have lawyers and courts. Add to this human resource departments and the power of large corporations. These gatekeepers tell us what is acceptable and what is unacceptable. Facebook will shut you down. Twitter will cut you off. The central issue is no longer the resurrection, but power is still being wielded against the truth. If you want to work, you have to think this way about gender and sexuality. If you want to win the contract, then you must pass these laws and reject those laws. If you want our business in your state, then you have to deny your religious beliefs and do what we say.
The gatekeepers are still here and still enforcing their standards. One way or the other, if you teach the truth and preach the resurrection of Jesus, then expect opposition. When opposition comes
- Depend on the Holy Spirit
Jesus told Peter and John, “everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God, but the one who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God…when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say” (Luke 12:8-12).
This is just my imagination, but I imagine Peter and John in chains. Peter says to John, “What are we going to do? What are we going to say?” John replies, “Remember what our Lord said, ‘the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say. The Spirit poured out on us, the Spirit healing through us, He will tell us what to say. Depend on the Holy Spirit.”
Listen to Romans 8:14, “all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” Do not worry about what you will say tomorrow. Instead, focus yourself on following the Spirit today. The Christian following the Holy Spirit according to the word in his home and in his work will be the Christian who follows the Holy Spirit in days of opposition and persecution. Don’t worry about what you will say tomorrow. Instead, concern yourself with following the Holy Spirit today
Back to Acts 4 verse 7, the gatekeepers demand that Peter and John explain, “By what power or by what name did they heal the paralyzed man.” Expect opposition, depend on the Spirit, and
- Preach Christ
Read verses 8-10
Max Anders makes an insightful comment when he says, “Peter and John could have said, ‘God did it’ and been dismissed. Bringing the truth of Christ brought opposition” (Anders, 60). Most cultures are okay with vague religion that does good to the poor but makes no demands on the hearts of men. It’s okay to open hospitals, teach people to read, and feed the hungry, but the minute you start talking about personal guilt, practical holiness, and eternal consequences then you’ll have problems.
Peter and John are relentless concerning the fact that these men crucified Jesus of Nazareth. In Acts 4:10, Acts 3:15, Acts 2:36, and Acts 2:23 the same message is proclaimed, “You killed Jesus, but God raised him from the grave.”
This is amazing because it was only a few weeks ago that Peter and John were at Caiaphas’s house and Peter was terrified by the questions of a young girl (John 18:15-18). The girl could do little to Peter, but Peter is afraid and denied Christ. Now, the same men who killed Jesus are questioning Peter and Peter preaches Christ. This is the power of the Holy Spirit working to transform a man. Expect opposition, depend on the Holy Spirit, and preach Christ. Let’s get specific on that point
III. How to preach the true Christ
Peter and John preach Christ with power and clarity. If Peter and John were cooking a meal it would be the thickest richest steak. The gatekeepers want us to go no further than a paper-thin slice of turkey, but life is found in the riches of Christ. Let’s chew on the truth found in this defense.
- Jesus is the second person of the Trinity
There is no room here for the idea that Jews, Muslims, and Christians worship the same God. The true God is Trinitarian. In verse 10 we have a reference to Jesus of Nazareth; that is our fully human reference. Jesus, the eternal Son of God, was born of a virgin and lived a fully human life. That’s the Jesus we’re talking about. The only begotten son of God, Jesus of Nazareth, was crucified by the Jerusalem Jews and raised by God (v10). Remember our Bible study principle that anytime you see a reference to Jesus and to God we’re looking at God the Son and God the Father. God the Son was raised by God the Father and then poured out God the Holy Spirit to empower his church to be his witnesses. True Christianity is unashamedly Trinitarian.
John and Peter are pressing the religious leaders to embrace the reality of the Trinitarian God. God is three persons: Father, Son, and Spirit. The Son is eternally begotten of the Father while the Spirit proceeds eternally from the Father and the Son. The Father sent the Son, the Son died, the Father raised the Son, and the Father and the Son sent the Spirit. There is a deep well in the glories of the Trinitarian God. There is safety, security, relationship, and love in the Trinitarian God. When we preach Christ, we must settle for nothing less than the second person of the Trinity, fully God and fully man for our salvation.
Jesus is the second person of the Trinity and
- Jesus is the resurrected Healer
The Jerusalem Jews did not deny the existence of Jesus, just as most people today will not deny that a man named Jesus existed in 1st century Israel. What the Jerusalem Jews denied, and most people today deny, is that Jesus is fully God, was crucified then raised, is currently bringing refreshing through his church, and will soon return to restore all things. Look at how Peter and John put it in verse 10, “let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well.” Who healed this man? The Jesus whom you crucified has been raised and he healed this man. Darrell Bock levels the charge, “If Jesus is healing, then he is alive, vindicated by God, and they are culpable for his death” (Acts, 192).
Peter and John have no money and they have no power. Peter and John have nothing to offer in and of themselves. But Jesus is the resurrected healer. Jesus is working by his Spirit in his church to bring refreshing. We pray to God and ask for healing because Jesus is the resurrected healer.
Preach Jesus the second person of the Trinity. Preach Jesus the resurrected healer. And preach
- Jesus is the Cornerstone
Listen to Acts 4:11, “This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone.” Peter is quoting Psalm 118:22. Originally, Psalm 118:22 was a reference to David who was despised and rejected by the leaders but made a mighty king by God. Psalm 118:22 can also be applied to Israel that was a despised and rejected nation that became the people of God. Either way, those are foreshadows of the true and better stone who is Christ the Lord. The builders are obviously the Sadducees, the Pharisees, the priests, the police, and the politicians. They think they are building the people of God, but they are using the wrong stones and building the wrong building. They are 100% convinced they are doing God’s work, but they are 100% opposing God’s work because they have rejected God’s Son and Messiah.
The picture is a builder walking through a quarry, finding what could be the cornerstone of the building, but then rejecting it because of its faults. Maybe you reject Jesus the cornerstone because you don’t like his radical demand for your total allegiance, maybe you don’t like Jesus’ rules for sexuality and marriage, maybe you don’t like Jesus’ love for his enemies, maybe you don’t like Jesus’ rules for money and lending, praying or fasting. For hundreds of reasons people try to pick and choose only what they like about Jesus. But in the end this false and impotent Jesus has no stability for life. You may feel like you can control your Jesus or maybe your Jesus is more agreeable to your sensibilities, but the true Jesus is the Cornerstone. I can create an idol with my hands, with my mind, or with my theology. I can even call that idol Jesus but calling my idol “Jesus” doesn’t make my idol able to save. Only the true Jesus can uphold your life by his power, and he set the lines of your life with his life.
The fact that Jesus is fully God, resurrected healer, and cornerstone leads to the climax
- Jesus is the only Savior
Look at Acts 4:12, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” There is no other God. There is one God who exists in three persons. The Father has sent his Son as savior of the world (1 John 4:14). There is no other source of healing than the resurrected Healer. There is no other foundation for the temple of God than Christ Jesus the cornerstone. God has not provided many routes up the mountain or many ways to heaven. The true God has provided one way to be restored to him and it is through the righteous life, atoning death, and victorious resurrection of Jesus. Jesus is the only creator, sustainer, redeemer, and restorer.
The glorious Trinitarian God who created all things as a display of his glory is the glorious Trinitarian God who directs all things for the purpose of restoring all things through Jesus. The Triune God is our creator, our sustainer and our goal. We cannot get to God except by him. It is so dangerous that we can get to the “not-God” of our imaginations in a million ways but we can only get to the true God through his only Son. The Father has planned from eternity passed to glorify his Son by making his Son the only means of salvation. The Father planned to display the worth of his Son by making Jesus the only way a person can be reconciled with God. To save someone apart from faith in Jesus Christ would be to demean Christ himself. To save someone part form faith in Jesus Christ would be to deny the very purpose for which the Father sent this Son. The Father sent the Son to be the savior of the world. There is salvation in no one else. There is abundant salvation in Christ.
There is salvation and refreshing and forgiveness for you. I have preached Christ to you, now I plead with you to believe. Repent of your sins, believe in Christ crucified and raised, and you will be saved. This Christ is for you; receive him today. Pray to the Father admitting your sin, asking for forgiveness because of the Son, and asking for the gift of the Holy Spirit so that you can live a new life. God is God, he will care for you.