Let's do just a little review to begin this morning. After Jesus' ascension, the apostles waited in Jerusalem as they had been told for some great power to come upon them. The power of the Holy Spirit came upon them on the Day of Pentecost. This Spirit of God gave them powers to heal the diseased, to communicate to others in foreign languages, to understand the teachings of Jesus that had confused them earlier, to discern good from evil, and it gave them boldness and knowledge to teach His message. The Spirit of God was indeed in these men. As a result, 3000 repented and obeyed God's message on that first day of the Lord's church, the day of Pentecost. They devoted themselves to teaching, fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers and had all things in common. They enjoyed favor with all the people. Daily others were being saved. The apostles continued performing other signs and miracles (Acts 2:43).
Some amount of time later, perhaps a few weeks or months after Pentecost, one of these miracles was performed upon a lame man by Peter and John within the temple compound, at the Gate called Beautiful somewhere around 3 o'clock p.m.. I assume this miracle caused such a commotion that it was blocking this large entrance into the temple proper, so they moved out of the doorway and back into the shade of Solomon's Portico. There Peter and John boldly explain that the man crippled from birth was healed by the power of God through the name of Jesus, the Author of Life, who was crucified during the past Passover festival.
To read the account of this miracle just takes a few minutes, but to continue the reading into chapter 4, we can tell they were there for quite some time. For while Peter and John were still speaking to the crowd, they are arrested and put into jail at EVENING TIME. For at least two or three hours these men speak boldly about their Lord and Master, His death and resurrection and their meaning. From verse 4 of chapter 4 we know that many more believed in Jesus because of this miracle and the subsequent teaching. Perhaps Peter and John told the message more than one time as news around Jerusalem spread and others came to see the healed man for themselves. But during the deliverance of the message, Peter and John are interrupted. They don't get to finish their message to the crowd.
This infant church reacts to its first CRISIS. What are we going to do with OUTSIDE THREATS. Persecution. Next week we'll see how the church deals with its second CRISIS, an internal problem. But this week we see opposition setting in from outside. The Jewish authorities, who thought they had rid themselves of this "Burr," have to acknowledge the influence and power of this Jesus is still going strong. It was going to be some 60 years later before the Jews passed a law saying that Christians were not welcome in their synagogues. (They would have said temple, too, but it had already been destroyed by that point in 90 A.D..)
The priests, the captain of the temple and the Sadducees oppose the teaching of Peter and John. The Levitical priests oppose it because they were the "ordained religious leaders of God." They were to be without any physical defects or blemishes. They were to have the appearance of perfection because they had awesome responsibilities. They were chosen or set apart for Jehovah as His own, being holy, and being allowed to come or bring near to the presence of God. Their sinfulness, however, got in the way as attested to throughout the Old Testament and the book of Hebrews. Their holiness was represented in outward form only by the act of consecration and the robes of office. They were to burn the incense every morning and evening, light the lamps, etc., in the Holy Place. They were to tend to the fire at the alter of burnt offerings and see to the offerings. They were to keep the Jewish nation unspotted by declaring lepers unclean, adulterers purged and to appraise things dedicated to the sanctuary. Finally, they were to instruct the people in the law. They were to see to it that no UNLAWFUL thing be taught to the people. After this nation had been carried away into captivity because of apostasy, they took this last duty of watching what was taught to the people very seriously. With blinded eyes they could not see that Jesus or His followers had come not to destroy the Law, but to fulfill it.
The captain of the temple guard also had an interest in this commotion. He was in command of about 400 men which gave him a lot of prestige in Jewish circles. Besides guarding the temple money, making sure women stayed where they belonged and Gentiles stayed out of places they didn't belong, they were to preserve the orderly, worshipful atmosphere in the temple and to see that the wishes of the religious leaders were carried out. Since the leaping and shouting of the healed man had attracted attention, and since the crowd that had gathered was still present in the temple area, this captain was vitally interested in what was going on.
And of course the Sadducees were mortified by this new teaching being presented by Peter and John. As Sadducees, they did not believe in a life after death, so how could they come to terms with a resurrection? Much less a resurrection of a political rebel like Jesus whom they had crucified.
So Peter and John are arrested. They know that tomorrow they will be facing a trial in front of the Sanhedrin. What went through their minds that night? Did they sing as another "dynamic duo" will do in Acts 16? We're not told. I wonder if they slept well? I wonder if their thoughts went back a few months earlier to the last trial that they had any dealings with in front of this group. If we can accept that John is the disciple mentioned in John 18:15, as most scholars do, then we know John was present at Jesus's mock trial at Annas's house. In fact, verse 16 of John 18 tells us that disciple and the high priest knew each other. John witnessed Jesus being struck by one of the guards after He had answered the high priest's question.
Peter on the other hand couldn't decide what to do. He had followed the procession from the Garden of Gethsemane to Annas's house, but he had stayed outside. John went back out to bring Peter in to witness the trial, but upon entering he was accused by the maid at the door of being a disciple of Jesus. To which he immediately denied he was. He goes back outside to the warm fire and is accused twice more of being Jesus' disciple and even swears with an oath that he is not His disciple. Then the cock crows, and Peter mentally crumbles as he realizes he had just fulfilled a prophecy of Jesus that he would deny Him three times that night. Peter's human measure of courage would not stand up to opposition given to his Teacher - the Teacher he had said in front of the other disciples was the Christ, the Son of the living God (Matt 16:16) - the one who had said, "I will lay down my life for you," (John 13:37) shortly before he ran away in cowardly shame. He had lacked the courage to even go into the trial.
Now these two men were facing a similar situation. Were they cowering in the night? They were without their Master, but now they had His Spirit. God was with them and in them. They could readily recall the words of their Master that we have recorded in the book of John. Turn to John 15:18ff.
They would recall these words with the help of the Holy Spirit. Did they concentrate on the sentence saying, "whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God"? Peter and John knew this group of men thought they were rendering service to God. Were they afraid for their lives?
No! When asked the next morning by what power they had done this miracle that could not be denied as a miracle, "Peter the Denying Coward," filled with the Holy Spirit, becomes "Peter the Dynamic messenger of God." For the first time, the Sanhedrin are told, "You killed the Messiah - the stone which you rejected has become the head of the corner. 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 it is. This rock that they rejected might now just have well been a rock hurled at their heads. This was a condemning accusation from Peter. The man on trial for a good deed accuses the trial givers of the most devastating action against God since the Fall in the Garden. If you are a football fan, Peter and John had the opening kickoff. The Sanhedrin received the ball, but fumbled on that kickoff. It was recovered by Peter and carried into the end zone for the score against Satan. The opposing team can do nothing but walk off the field.
What were the effects of the trial and Peter's offensive defense?
They were of one heart and soul. They thought alike; they had empathy for each other. They were a team united. They had great love for one another. This is such a contrast to the Church in Corinth where Paul is having to rebuke them for going to court against each other in 1 Corinthians 6. Turn over there and read of their attitude problems sometime. Instead, this young church in Jerusalem is on their honeymoon. They are in love not only with the Lord, but also with each other. They are not in love with the world or the things in the world for they will give them up easily for each other.
As this chapter ends on such a positive note about the churches' love, I'd like to end with some quotes from the apostle John, taken from I John, about love.
West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR