Concluding Peter’s Lecture at Pentecost
[Acts chapter 4, verses 13-21]
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Last week in our ongoing study of the writings of the apostle Luke, we left off at verse 12 of Acts chapter 4. At this point, it is still the evening of the day of Pentecost, Peter and John have just been taken to jail for creating a disturbance and for incitement, and Peter and John are now standing before the authorities as they give an account of themselves and their activities. Peter had just told them that Jesus was the Son of God whom they were responsible for crucifying, as he relates in verse 12, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” Today as we take up at verse 13, Peter finishes the account he is giving as they stand before the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council that still exists today, beginning at verse 13.
“When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and took note that these men had been with Jesus. But since they could see the man they had healed standing next to them, there was nothing they could say. So they ordered them to withdraw from the Sanhedrin, and then conferred together. ‘What are we going to do with these men?’, they asked. ‘Everybody in Jerusalem knows they have done an outstanding miracle, and we cannot deny it. But to stop this thing from spreading any further among the people, we must warn this man to speak no longer to anyone in this name.’” (Acts 4, verses 13-17)
Simply put, the Sanhedrin was ‘blown away’ by two things – first, the very idea that Peter and John had healed this crippled man was evidently too much for them (“they were astonished and took note that these men had been with Jesus”). That’s because the crippled man had been healed by the power of the Holy Spirit of the risen Lord Jesus Christ (“since they could see the man they had healed standing next to them, there was nothing they could say”)! How could they believe in the Holy Spirit when they never had believed Jesus was the Christ, the Anointed One in the first place? Instead, they thought Peter and John had done it by some mysterious power – basically, by some unknown technology. Second, they couldn’t wrap their brains around the fact that they had crucified the promised Messiah. They simply refused to believe that Jesus was who he said he was, and to this day the overwhelming majority of the Jewish people have followed suit, refusing to acknowledge that Jesus ever existed. How sad it will be for them when the Lord returns; they will see sorrow beyond measure!
The ruling council was flummoxed by the powerful words and compelling testimony of Peter and John – not counting the fact that they had healed a man who had been crippled all his life – and by their familiarity with this man, who had spent all his adult life begging at the temple gates. So they had what we would call a closed-door hearing. “’What are we going to do with these men?’, they asked. ‘Everybody in Jerusalem knows they have done an outstanding miracle, and we cannot deny it.’” Those of you who have been following this from the beginning, at chapter 1 of Luke’s gospel, knows that the Sanhedrin were corrupt beyond belief, similar to the corruption that still exists in modern organized religion, and especially in government. Anybody who is utterly corrupt belongs in the back of the church, not up at the front. And so it was with these people. The above conversation that the members of the Sanhedrin had among themselves is very similar to any governing body that finds itself caught up in corruption. The solution to corruption is replacement of and prosecution for the wrongdoers, each and every time. But for now, after their little conference, the two prisoners Peter and John are brought back into the room.
“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, ‘Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.’ 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 40 years old.” (Acts 4, verses 18-22)
Verses 18-19 have been the launching point for many an argument about being law-abiding citizens – Christian or not – ever since they were first written down around the year 80AD. Some say this means that although we should indeed remain law abiding out of reverence for the Lord, we are not duty-bound to obey laws that contradict Scripture. One example would be the current topic of ‘medical marijuana’, which is outlawed by the federal government as a dangerous substance while opioid pain-killers (which killed 38,000 people last year alone), tobacco products (which kill 50,000 people annually) and alcoholic beverages (which killed 35,000 more last year) all remain perfectly legal. Obviously something is very wrong with this picture! The marijuana plant – whether any of you are in favor of legalization for medical use or against it – is a creation of Almighty God from the third day of creation (see Genesis 1: 11). Moreover, any creation of Almighty God’s is put here for our use, and should not be restricted by religion or legislation (see Acts 10: 15), as it is written, “Do not call anything unclean which the Lord has made clean.”
On the other hand, there are those who say this proves that it is wrong to break the law, even if it contradicts Christian beliefs. People from this ‘school of thought’ point to Peter and John being jailed as proof, and then they’ll quote Romans 13, verses 1-5 as proof of their correctness. These are individuals and even whole families who come from strictly hierarchical churches, such as the Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Wesleyan and most of the American Baptist churches, among others. But as we’ll see as we get further along in our ongoing study of the Book of Acts, we will continue to learn that this is not the case with true Christianity. As it was back then, so it is much the same today. When confronted by something that completely contradicts the established order of things, authoritarian organizations are stymied and feel threatened by it, whether they are religious or governmental in nature. “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.”
How do you stop something that God has started? You don’t. Today’s Internet is a lot like that. I’m not implying that God invented the Internet, but a few of his creations certainly did, and now look what we’ve done with it! The ‘resistance’ cells and the ‘patriot movement’ here in the US are additional examples of this. You cannot punish somebody for doing good, that never works. Back then it was Peter, John and whoever else got locked up with them. Today, it’s government whistle-blowers like Edward Snowdon, Chelsea Manning and Reality Winner, and other American political prisoners such as Leonard Peltier (search those). Innocent people are still being punished, but Truth marches on. And next week we’ll move on to part 3 of Acts chapter 4. Shalom….