Those Who Crucified Christ Put Peter and John In Jail
[Acts chapter 4, verses 1-12]
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Last week when we completed chapter three of the Book of Acts it was still the Day of Pentecost, and a large crowd had gathered when they heard the sound of what evidently sounded similar to a hurricane. The apostles Peter and John, together with much of the remainder of the 120 who had been in prayer together in the Upper Room, had come to explain things and reassure the crowd regarding what they had just seen and heard. So this week, as we continue the dialog between Peter and a few of the onlookers, we find the Roman authorities coming on the scene to break up the crowd, and to charge Peter and John with incitement. Except there was more to it than just that. So today let’s begin at verse 1 of Acts chapter 4.
“The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducee’s came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people. They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. They seized Peter and John, and because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day. But many who heard the message believed, and the number of men grew to about five thousand.” (Acts 4, verses 1-4)
First, you’ll notice the same people (“The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducee’s”) who came to the garden at Gethsemane to arrest Jesus were there to arrest Peter and John (see Luke 22, verses 49-53). Also, anytime you have something happen that poses a threat to an established way of life, or to a way of thinking, opposition to that ‘something’ invariably springs forth. Jesus’ teaching that “the Kingdom of God is at hand” flies in the face of organized government, or at least in its current form. It most certainly flies in the face of empires and dictators – you know, like Roman empires. Also, as Luke wrote later, “They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead.” Everybody knows, the Roman authorities were saying, that you can’t rise up from the dead. Or so they thought. So, this worship of a crucified Jesus was deemed a cult and a disruptive influence by the Roman authorities. The priests and the captain of the temple guard were there to enforce Rome’s declaration against organized Christianity as it was at that time.
Notice the time frame here in verse three. “They seized Peter and John, and because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day.” Yet back in chapter 2 verse 15 Luke wrote, “These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning!” So from the time of the “mighty rushing wind” of the arrival of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost until the time of the arrest of Peter and John was about nine hours, assuming they were seized by the temple guard at around 6PM. So many people had been there for this event that the 120, who had received the Holy Spirit and who were preaching the Word of the Lord in other languages, required the entire day for the message to be delivered and disseminated! That message was and is that the risen Lord Jesus Christ was himself the new covenant, that he had come “not to abolish the Old Law, but to fulfill it.” Moreover, the eternal life gained by Jesus Christ through his Supreme Sacrifice for us all means that eternal life is equally available to all of humanity without qualification, just as Jesus sacrificed himself for us all – again, without qualification, for which he achieved immortality himself. This is the crux of the message of the Gospel in a nutshell.
“But many who heard the message believed, and the number of men grew to about five thousand.” This just goes to show you, if something is derived from a sufficient amount of truth, goodness, empathy, love and compassion, it is simply unstoppable. Moreover, when one encounters an earth-shattering event such as the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ on the morning of the 3rd day afterward, which resulted in his enthronement at the right hand of Almighty God, that encounter is by definition a life-changing event. The word ‘epiphany’ comes to mind, so does the phrase ‘paradigm shift’. That epiphany, that paradigm shift straight from heaven, is what the crowd of 8-10 thousand people heard that Day of Pentecost. And, that epiphany they all experienced resulted in the salvation of 5,000 men, not counting any women and children who were there. If any of them were the families of the 5,000 saved men, their salvation was assured as well. That’s what happens when one leads a life like that of Christ, and that’s a measure of the awesome power of the Holy Spirit of the Risen Lord! And now let’s conclude today’s lesson starting at verse 5.
“The next day the rulers, elders and the teachers of the law met in Jerusalem. Annas the high priest was there, and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander and the other men of the high priest’s family. They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: ‘By what power or name did you do this?’ Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: ‘Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are 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 who God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. He is ‘the stone you builders rejected, who has become the capstone’. Salvation is found in no one else for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.’” (Acts 4, verses 5-12)
So, just like Jesus, their mentor and teacher, Peter and John spent the night in jail awaiting trial. Except in their case, they were not executed like Christ, since it was not yet their time. Peter would later be martyred, and John would live into his 90’s. He died on the island of Patmos in exile, where he wrote the Book of Revelation as it was dictated to him (see Revelation 1, verses 10-15). Caiaphas the high priest – the same Caiaphas as the one whose servant got his ear cut off by Peter during Jesus’ arrest – was presiding over the hearing that morning, but it was Peter who stole the show (the apostle John was evidently the strong, silent type) when he began by saying, “If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are 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 who God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.” Then he quotes the Bible, as he had the previous day, but this time from Psalm 118: 22: “He is ‘the stone you builders rejected, who has become the capstone’.” Peter was telling them they had their theology backwards!
Jesus, who the religious establishment of his day deemed unfit for service in the priesthood, and judged to be a criminal who they accused of sedition against the Roman Empire, was the very foundation of the Movement that Rome had tried to stop. Actually, they did, but only for 3 days! Too bad, Satan! Get back to hell where you belong! And, Jesus was the very man Jerusalem had tried unsuccessfully to stop, thinking he was a false messiah when in fact Jesus was the ‘real deal’. “Salvation is found in no one else for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” That’s the entire Gospel message right there in a nutshell! Nobody else but Jesus Christ died on a cross for anybody! Never has this happened in the entire history of humanity, excluding Jesus. He is the lone standout in this regard, and that is why we call him “Savior” and “Lord of Hosts”! Buddha didn’t do it, neither did Mohammad or Confucius, and neither did Brahma. Only Jesus died for our sins, and that means yours, whether you want to acknowledge it or not. Isn’t it time for all of us to acknowledge him? If you haven’t already done so, ask Jesus right now to be your Lord and Savior, and make him the new manager in charge of your life. Don’t worry, you’ll still have plenty of input that Jesus wants you to hear, and for you to hear from him. Open your mind and heart to Jesus! His “yoke is easy” and his “burden is light”. See you next week….