Peter and John Persecuted
Read Acts 4:1-31
- Proclamation (1-2)
- Persecution (3-22)
- Product (23-31)
As we heard last week Peter and John were defending the healing of the lame man as an act of God. When the Gospel is proclaimed, some people accept it, having been drawn by the Holy Spirit, and others reject it, and others get extremely angry. This was not only was true in the early church but it is true today:
There are many “hot spots” today when it comes to persecution of the Church. North Korea is in the news a lot these days, but what is not shared much is how God is working through the church there. Many of these stories have to be shared without details due to security for the missionaries and their associates. One such recent story involved a Chinese pastor and his wife who were living on the border with North Korea and would make frequent trips over the border to minister to those in North Korea. At one point the pastor’s wife went to help in the orphanages there, bringing rice to them and sharing the gospel. But in a culture where people generally don’t help each other without some personal incentive, her act of goodwill was viewed with suspicion leading to arrest.
North Korea proved to be much more dangerous than China. She was held in solitary confinement for 60 days, not knowing how long she would be imprisoned. “I felt like I was going to die there in the beginning,” she said. She faced repeated interrogations, they frequently changed the interrogators asking the same questions over and over again. They lied to her saying they also had her husband (which they did not) and that they had knowledge of all she had been doing in North Korea. After two months they moved her from solitary confinement to a regular prison, where she received very little food, still wearing the same clothes she had been when arrested. She was finally released after 72 days taking her and releasing her to Chinese authorities. When delivered to her family her daughter just stared at her not being able to recognize her and then just broke out weeping.
While this story ended on a positive note, many of our brothers and sisters in Jesus are dying for their faith let alone undergoing tortuous persecution. (while this sister had a traumatic experience her sentence was encouraging: “she was guilty of feeding people and sharing the gospel with them.)
If we were put on trial today, would we be guilty of doing the same?
So, going to our text, vs. 1 and 2, Peter and John have proclaimed the truth and are now giving account for their obedience. 🙂 Notice that the priests, the captain of the guard and the Sadducees came upon them.
All this commotion from the lame man who had been healed was hardly to be ignored! But notice the reason they were gathered…. Vs 2:
They were annoyed that Peter and John were teaching and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. Now, remember that the Pharisees believed in the resurrection of the dead while the Sadducees did not,
that is why they were “sad you see”.
Herein lies a scriptural principle, many will turn and repent at correct doctrine in the hearing of the scriptures, while others will be annoyed. This should be encouraging to us, for if we seek to proclaim rather than please our hearers, we find there a sweet peace that God blesses the preaching of His Word, not just that it is heard, but obeyed by its hearers.
So, faithful proclamation will sometimes lead to persecution which is our second point this morning. In fact over the next several chapters we will see this cycle of proclamation, persecution, and what it produces, which is furtherance of the gospel.
- Persecution (vs. 3-22)
Vs. 3 Persecution starts here, Peter and John are arrested and put in custody overnight.
(I love this….. The day is too far spent so like Court officials in any age wouldn’t want to miss dinner and a good night’s sleep before hearing this one! Afterall, they were guilty of a heinous crime, healing a 40 year old lame man causing him to rejoice and jump around. Let’s sleep on this one and pick it up in the morning. 🙂
I find this interesting given the fact that they didn’t seem to care about the wee hours of the morning when they tortured Jesus the night before He was crucified.
So while the officials here have taken them into custody, the text leads us to vs. 4 “But” a great transition word putting into contrast that while events are happening God is up to something. Vs. 4 “But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand.”
So, in Ch. 2:41 states that about 3,ooo souls were saved that day, following Peter’s sermon at Pentecost, then 2:47 states
And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”
Then here in vs. 5 it says that the number who had heard and believed was now 5,000. Talk about church growth! But notice that church growth was not merely body counting here, it was counted based upon certain criteria. The criteria was that they heard the Word and believed. A gathering of people to hear the Word is not what Luke was reporting, it was the good news that these people not only heard, but believed. This is significant when we consider how God counts. Paul says it this way concerning proclamation of the gospel to Jews in Romans 10:8-17: (Turn there, next book over….)
“But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For t“everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
So, we are reminded once again that scripture is sufficient to proclaim Christ and Him crucified that many might be justified. See the pattern here, preaching, hearing, believing, calling, saving. The Word is proclaimed, people hear it, some believe it, by faith they call on the name of the Lord and they are saved.
Do you believe the gospel this morning? It is a glorious communication of hope to our souls. I encourage you this morning, if you have never trusted Christ and His atoning work on your behalf, I can think of no better time than now.
So, back in Acts 4:5 we see that
“the next day their rulers and elders and scribes gathered together in Jerusalem, 6 with Annas the high priest and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family.”
This had also happened on the eve of Christ’s crucifixion. While that evening Peter had denied that he knew Jesus we see something entirely different now about Peter a couple months later. John 18 informs us that John the disciple probably had ties to Annas the high priest. Not much is known about Alexander. When they gathered, what is the question they ask?
Vs. 7 By what power or by what name did you do this?”
As a curious reader I cannot help but wonder what they thought the answer would be to this question. Who else can heal a man born lame? Answer: God. But this doesn’t register since they killed Jesus, or so they thought and now it is like their problem rose from the dead…..and He did. This is a beautiful display how Christ comes to some as life itself (as with the beggar) and yet he is a fragrance of death to those who reject Him. 2 Cor. 2:14-17 says,
“But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God,in the sight of God we speak in Christ.”
Vs 9 – Peter filled with the Spirit begins to answer. If you remember right the Lord Jesus promised that He would give the words when they were brought before authorities.
“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the gentiles. When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” Matthew 10:16-20
So, God is giving witness through Peter here and he says, (Read vs 8-12)
“Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, 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. This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. 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.”
Peter politely addresses those in authority, he acknowledges the charges, explains the conditions of the charges (that they didn’t do it Christ did) that yes although they killed Jesus, He lives and is working among them.
You cannot silence the Lord! Have you learned that yet? You may try to not listen, you may seek to ignore, you may flat out deny Him like Peter, or claim you are hearing voices, but I tell you this morning, the gospel comes crystal clear to those who have been drawn by the Father. You see the madness of arresting someone for doing good? Whether it is here in our text or the pastor’s wife in North Korea. Serving and proclaiming Jesus seems like madness to a l0st and dying world with no hope.
But this ‘madness’ must be proclaimed as Peter says here in verse 12 that there is no other way! No other name by which we must be saved. No name like His! His name is powerful because He is powerful, He is God! To try to explain away His Words and Works through our own faulty thinking is to end up in madness! Rejoice for He reveals Himself in us and through us.
So what is the their response? Vs. 13 When they saw the boldness of Peter and John and saw that they were uneducated, they were astonished. It seems they were surprised about Peter’s use of the scriptures and the defense he is making and yet Peter seems to be holding his own against the most religiously educated of his day. This is significant in light of the Lord speaking in and through him.
Let me encourage you, that while we are huge on encouraging everyone to get the education and learning they need, there is nothing to be ashamed of about where you are at today in your education and that God has given you the tools to share your faith with simplicity with others by the power of the Holy Spirit. May the same be said of us that was said of John and Peter at the end of verse 13,
“And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.”
When you are with Jesus it shows. You start to strangely resemble Him! But with that blessing sometimes comes persecution. Peter and John were just learning what Jesus had taught them earlier in Luke 9:23,
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
Look at vs. 14-17 There are 3 “buts”:
…”But seeing the man” ( vs. 14)
…”But when they had commanded them to leave the council” (vs. 15)
…”But in order that it may spread no further among the people” (17)
These are the leading thoughts that challenged the religious leaders control over the teaching of Peter and John.
Vs. 14 the fact that the lame man is leaping around smiling is a downer for them for there is nothing they can say, but that this man was indeed healed. His testimony lived out before them has utterly silenced them as we see in verse 16 that all the inhabitants of Jerusalem are talking about it. How do you control such a growth of a following? Well, vs. 17 says all they could do was to warn them to no longer to speak to anyone in this name….that is, Jesus’ name. That is like telling a bird he cannot fly anymore or that Baptists can’t have fried chicken at their fellowship. It is in the very nature of Christians to speak of Christ no matter what anyone says.
So, in verse 18 it tells us that they pulled them back in and said no more speaking or teaching in this name.
Then, they should have put tape over their mouths at this point because in verse 19 they say,
“Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”
There you have it, obey God or obey man.
So, what could they do now, lest they be found to stand against obedience to God?
Well, verse 21 and 22 tell us that
“when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way to punish them, because of the people, for all were praising God for what had happened. For the man on whom this sign of healing was performed was more than forty years old.”
Control, fear of man, down right rejection of God is displayed here. Verse 22 mentions that this lame man was 40 years old. Back in chapter 3 we found out that he had this condition since birth! So this was a huge deal! God had done an amazing work in this man’s life. Walking and leaping and praising God were definitely in order. ( I think it is important here to note that you will not always get others to praise God with you, but when you have reason to praise God, do it. In addition, learn to rejoice with others! In fact Paul says rejoice always! )
However these religious leaders, all they could do is threaten them and demand obedience which they were not in the place to ask, let alone that their request was contrary to what God had commanded Peter and John to do…..to be His witnesses. An ordinary trip to a prayer meeting that led to a healing and a defense of the gospel that brought many to faith in Christ.
Have you ever wondered what happened to the prayer meeting? Ch. 3:1 says that they had gone up to the temple to pray at 3 in the afternoon the day before and now a full day later they find themselves released from custody and what do they do? They find their friends and respond to God in prayer! They had proclaimed Christ, they were persecuted and now what is the product? Prayer for boldness, which we see God answers.
Product (vs. 23-31)
“When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them.”
Isn’t it amazing to have Christian friends? Like-minded people you can report things to, pray with and even at times to have a shoulder to cry on!
So they report these things and look at their friend’s response:
“And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said,
“Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit,
See, good Christian friends don’t just pray for us they know the Bible, let alone the Old Testament and can quote it in prayer! Look here they reference Psalm 2 in praying for Peter and John.
“‘Why did the Gentiles rage,
and the peoples plot in vain?
26 The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers were gathered together,
against the Lord and against his Anointed’—
27 for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.
They see the continuity of the Old Testament to their time and that all are gathered against the Lord and His Christ, both Jews and Gentiles are guilty, but notice verse 28, it is God who is in control in all of this! Persecution is in God’s hand folks. God saw it beforehand! God is the author of this, not Satan. While Satan still continues to steal, kill and destroy God indeed holds all things together by the Word of His power.
Their prayer continues look at verse 29:
29 And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, 30 while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”
What is the prayer request? To continue to speak with boldness despite the threats of the religious leaders. Notice here the content of their prayer.
- Adoration of God (vs. 24)
- Allude to the Word of God and its fulfillment Ps. 2 (vs. 25,26)
- Acknowledgement that He has a plan (28)
- Appeal to God for help while God continues to work. (29,30)
Our prayer lives could be challenged and maybe more productive even if we looked at that in our own times of prayer. Are we showing adoration in our prayers, are we praying God’s word, are we acknowledging that He has a plan, and are we appealing to God for help in our time of need?
Notice that after they were done praying, verse 31 says this:
31 And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.
The place was shaken, they are filled with the Spirit and God answers their prayer because Luke records that they continued to speak the word of God with boldness which is exactly what the content of their prayer request to God was!
What about us? Are we boldly sharing our faith?
Are we finding it difficult? How can we keep silent after all God has done in us? OR has He done nothing because you have refused to repent?
Are we finding even a little persecution, be encouraged, Jesus said it would come, keep going, keep praying for boldness and keep sharing.
Regardless of where we find ourselves we can pray, for God is God and we know and hear His Word regularly and we know He has a plan, so let’s appeal to Him that He might work through us both individually and corporately.
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