Study 6: The cost of commitment – Acts 4
When God uses us to set people free from whatever had previously bound them, Satan’s kingdom is diminished. This is not only because the loosed person will not easily be bound again by the same problem. It is also because Satan’s plans are now exposed to those who were present when the problem was dealt with, to their friends and associates. Losing one person is no great problem to Satan. It is the knock-on effect that can mean the loss runs into hundreds, thousands, or even millions of souls! (Imagine the pandemonium in the satanic kingdom when Billy Graham, Reinhard Bonnke or Joyce Meyer were saved!) We just don’t know what effect our work of sharing the gospel with a friend will have in time.
Therefore, Satan and his minions (Isaiah 14:12-15) will do all that they can to prevent the defection of their followers. The easiest way to try to prevent such a thing happening is to prevent the source of such defection from being effective – in this case Peter and John. Throughout the Book of the Acts of the Holy Spirit, we shall see how Satan steps up his opposition from threats to individuals to all-out attacks on individual Christians and groups of Christians in an attempt to stamp out the truth of God from being established in the earth. Satan is not creative. He even lost his angelic authority when he was removed from Heaven. So he really has no new ideas. He is a liar, and perverts the truth at any and every opportunity.
The attack here came from the priests, the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees. Peter and John were proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. (The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection of the dead). These were religious people, Jews, and they should have known better. Religious people should always know better, but unfortunately, the meaning of the word ‘religion’ explains their situation. Two latin words, ‘re’ (meaning ‘again’) and ‘ligeo’ (meaning ‘to bind up’) produce the meaning ‘to be bound up again’.
It is a sad fact that often persecution to a real work of God comes from within a church or churches where people in authority have established an entrenched and public position. They perceive that changing their mind and therefore their position in the light of what God is blessing will cause them loss of face, loss of authority or loss of job. They ignore the fact that they may be wrong, hiding behind their ‘position’ and flaunting their authority.
They approached Peter and John while they were still speaking to the people. Their plan was a damage-limitation exercise – stop this and stop it now! So because it was evening and presumably the lawyers had gone home, they threw them into prison for the night, Acts 4:1-3. Many people are frightened by this misplaced and misguided show of authority, and back down, stop ‘rocking the boat’ and submit to this patently misguided man-made ‘religious’ authority and wrong attitude. But not Peter and John. These two men had been with Jesus for three years, had seen the miracles He had done, had been taught by Him and knew their authority as they used His Name. They had put their faith into action and Satan, as always, was too late. His kingdom was radically diminished. One former crippled beggar had been healed and a whole host of people were eager to hear the reason and to place their trust in Jesus by becoming Christians also. Each new Believer would go home and in turn affect their family and friends, Acts 4:4.
Prison is never a good place to be. It is certainly not a good place to be when you are there for doing good to people and having their welfare at heart, but Peter and John had seen worse. They had seen the shameful, mock trial and rejection of the Person they now knew beyond doubt to be the Messiah. The Person Who had come from the very throne room of Heaven to provide the way for mankind to return to God; the Person Who had endured the worst death that man could inflict on another human being. So they knew what these people in authority were capable of, and how destructive they could be, and they were aware that when the morning came they could be subjected to horrific treatment. But they also knew that Jesus had broken the bonds of death and that though they themselves might die, they would never be separated from God again because of what had been done for them on Calvary’s Cross. They knew that death had lost its sting and that the fear that the grave had maintained over humanity had been removed for ever for those who have become Christians, 1 Corinthians 15:54-57.
So they would have been praising God for the opportunities that the morning might offer them. Sure enough, they were not disappointed! They were dragged before the supreme religious court. All those that the world counted important were there – the rulers, the elders, the teachers of the Law, even Annas, the properly elected High Priest was there with his family, and the usurper – the cringing, crawling Caiaphas, the Roman appointee – the very one who had prophesied following the raising of Lazarus from the dead, that Jesus would die not for Israel only but for all the children of God scattered around the world, John 11:47-53
Peter, the very one who had been very confident when he had been at Caesarea Philippi and had first recognised that Jesus was the Son of God, (Matthew 16:15-19) but who at His trial denied Him three times before the cock crowed now stood up, empowered by the Holy Spirit. The answer was a forceful and reasoned argument as to why and how the cripple was healed, and Who had done it. Peter was not afraid to lay the blame for Jesus’ death fairly and squarely where it belonged – at the feet of the authorities, the very ones who were there that day. It was they who had crucified Him, but God had overruled their motives and had raised Him from the dead and He is the reason why this 40+ year old formerly crippled man who could do nothing else but beg for a living was healed! And that is why you and I can become disciples today.
Of course, as Paul points out throughout his letters, it was ultimately Satan, who had the religious people and the great men of the world in his pocket; he was behind the plan to deny the world the way back to God – the crucifixion – but he had no idea what he was doing! ‘…. if they had, they never would have crucified the Lord of Glory’, 1 Corinthians 2:6-8. Satan’s idea of crucifixion was the end of all hope – death and ignominy, teaching the disciples a lesson they would never forget and consigning them to unbelief for ever. God’s plan was that through the crucifixion, all sin would be taken away for those that put their trust in Jesus, and the way would be made open for all men if they wished to come back to fellowship with their loving Creator. Not only that, but that all sicknesses would be overcome by the stripes at the scourging of Jesus and that healing would be available to all.
Isaiah, writing hundreds of years before Jesus prophesied about Him: “Yet it was our grief He bore, our sorrows that weighed Him down. And we thought His troubles were a punishment from God, for His own sins! But He was wounded and bruised for our sins. He was beaten that we might have peace; He was lashed – and we were healed! We – every one of us – have strayed away like sheep! We, who left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet God laid on Him the guilt and sins of every one of us! … He bore the sins of many, and He pleaded with God for sinners“. Isaiah 53:1-12
What do we really believe about Jesus? Do we recognise that there is nothing good that we can do to make up for our sinfulness? There is nothing we can do to make Him love us more. It is only by relying on the work that Jesus did at the Cross that we can benefit from the provision of salvation, forgiveness from sins daily, and the healing and prosperity in every area of our lives that come with it. Certainly not by our ‘good works’.
The Jews had rejected the cornerstone – the One that keeps the others straight when a builder builds a wall of any sort. For the Believer, this cornerstone is Jesus, 1 Corinthians 3:10-15. No other foundation will do in our own lives. All our efforts will be tested at Christ’s Judgment Day to see what kind of material each builder has used. Our work will go through the fire and if it has the right motives and obedience, it will survive and we will enter Heaven and be rewarded. If our work burns up, we will suffer great loss. This Believer himself will be saved and will enter Heaven, but like a man escaping through a wall of flames.
Peter spoke plainly for all to hear once and for all. Although the builders – the religious people in Israel had rejected this cornerstone, it did not mean that it was the wrong cornerstone. In fact quite the opposite is true.
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 4:12. Jesus said:
‘I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No-one comes to the Father except through Me’, John 14:6.
Every other religion relies on you doing something to get to God. Christianity relies on the finished work of Jesus, the Anointed One (Christ). The Way is in a person; it IS a Person; it is Jesus. So you and I need to lay the right foundation in our lives then we must get on and build with all our might, setting the Cornerstone in place, putting into our lives things that will stand the fire of God’s judgment. We do not want to receive the salvation that God had so richly provided for us only to enter heaven and see all our work burned up because we refused to live our lives in accordance with our Maker’s instructions, do we? 2 Timothy 2:21
Peter and John knew what being Christians meant. They were entirely committed to what they had seen and heard during their time with Jesus. They were prepared to overcome Satan by the Blood of Jesus – by what Jesus had done for them on the Cross at Calvary – because they knew that they had eternal life, that if they were to die, they would go to be with the Lord forever. Death held no fear for them. Jesus’ Blood was sufficient. It had washed away their sin and now they had direct access to God. They had been justified (Just-as-if-I’d-never-sinned). They also overcame Satan by the word of their testimony – what had just happened as a result of trusting in Jesus, Revelation 12:11. The man lame from birth had just been healed in the Name of Jesus.
Peter and John were in no doubt. Their times were in God’s hands. For them death was merely a transition between time and eternity and that is how it will be for us if we have become a Christian. We never again need to fear death. Jesus has overcome it on our behalf, Hosea 13:14; 1 Corinthians 15:46-58.
Knowledge of what Jesus has done for us should empower us with boldness. If it does not, then we need to go back to read again the Bible verses that relate to our salvation. Talk with people who know God. Pray with them and ask Jesus for help in understanding what He has done for us. Ask to be filled with the Holy Spirit, then we can live our life for God. It is not ours anyway so let God take it.
The religious leaders were astonished at the courage and boldness of these ordinary working class and uneducated men, and they took note of whom they had been with, Acts 4:13. The Name of Jesus is the Name by which healing and reconciliation flow, but it strikes fear into the hearts of men and women who refuse to believe. Instead, these men were leaders of a people that they encouraged to live in fear, and as a result they actually did live in fear. They, at any time, could have had their lives changed forever, like members of their group Nicodemus John Chapter 3 and John 19:39 and Joseph of Arimathea Luke 23:50-53 did have, but the others chose to reject the life offered to them.
These men were speechless as they saw the man who had been healed standing there. This man had never stood in his entire life and he was now more than 40 years old (Acts 3:2 and Acts 4:22), so they had in front of them irrefutable proof of the power of Jesus’ Name to heal. Furthermore, everybody living in Jerusalem had heard what had happened, so there was no use in denying it, Acts 4:16.
The big problem for these leaders was how to stop the erosion of their self-proclaimed authority! They were concerned that people who would otherwise have pledged their allegiance to the Temple, and therefore their finances in that direction, were now becoming involved with this new Way. It seemed to have more power than they had, and stemmed from Jesus of Nazareth who had roundly criticized these self-same leaders as ‘the blind leading the blind’, Luke 6:39 They warned Peter and John not to preach any more in the Name of Jesus. But how could they possibly comply? Jesus had changed their lives and they had seen Him change so many others’ lives even as recently as the life of the man they were in court about! So Peter and John quite rightly said to them: ‘For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard’. Acts 4:19-20
As for you and me, when faced with a situation where we need to know what God’s will for us is, we should always refer to the Bible. Never rush into a decision, Never take what is a person’s opinion as fact, unless you do know them as close Christian friends. If you hear nothing from God, either continue to wait, or do not do what you had planned to do. In this case, the disciples (Peter and John) were called in front of the Sanhedrin again and warned not to preach again in the Name of Jesus. This instruction, even though it came from men they would have previously regarded as ‘close to God’, was wrong. It did not stand when compared to the Old Testament, never mind all they had since learned from Jesus. So the decision as to what to do was a relatively simple one. And they made it, telling the most senior religious people in the land that their threats were wrong.
Threats are always wrong when it comes to preaching the Gospel. Loving people, helping them, taking Christianity to them, and preaching the Gospel to them is never wrong and the results will always prove it in terms of lives changed and praises given to God. The religious leaders could find no answer to Peter and John except to threaten them. Threats signify insecurity. If a person cannot provide you with good reason and correct contextual scriptural backup for their reason, don’t support their insecurity.
God is a God of love. Our Church is a fantastic place for us to learn how to relate to and to deal with people! None of us is perfect, and none of us gets things right all the time, but in a Church built on the loving principles of Jesus (He is the Head of the Church), there is room for people to get things wrong – and to forgive and to be forgiven. Given all that we have just read, the Bible states this:
A victorious stand against Satan will always result in excitement and praise to God. Never forget to pray. Prayer involves listening as much as it does speaking. If you talk all the time, God can’t get a word in edgeways. Getting God’s Word on a matter always results in more power. They knew the spiritual foundations on which they stood. They knew where the threats came from, and they recognised that even when these evil men, Herod and Pontius Pilate, met together with the Gentiles to conspire against Jesus, the most they could achieve was what God had already planned, and planned for His glory!
Their points for prayer which help us today: 1) Prayed in agreement; Acts 4:24 2) Recognised who they were praying to! Acts 4:24 3) Reminded God of the fulfilment of Scripture Acts 4:25-28; 4) Spoke out the problem to God Acts 4:29; 5) Prayed for a miracle in Jesus Name Acts 4:30.
You and I need never fear what man can do to us, because it will always work out for good provided that we are keyed into the Cornerstone, Jesus, Acts 4:27-28. They knew who was wrong and that God was right, so they continued to pray, Acts 4:29-30. Then when you and I speak with God, He will always answer, Acts 4:31.
When God appears, foundations are shaken. There is no difference in today’s Christianity. Our problem is that we do not get to grips with God. When we are working in line with the Word of God, we should expect places to shake at the power of His Presence. If they don’t, then you and I might have to review our relationship with Him! We should never be content with mediocrity. Let’s get back to the blueprint of the Book of Acts for our churches!
Being filled with the Holy Spirit will always cause us to be bolder in our witness for Jesus. These men and women received God’s power gladly and continued to preach the Gospel more boldly. What about us? Are we willing to receive the Power of God as we speak in obedience to His Word? God’s will is for all to come to know Him and for His Kingdom to be extended to the ends of the earth before Jesus returns! It may seem that He is being slow but that is His mercy to allow our relatives to come to know Him. Jesus really is coming and on that day there will be supernatural manifestations of God’s power so we need to get used to them and expect them now in preparation.
We need to be warning people with a holy boldness and signs and wonders so that people pay attention to the Truth. Even if we get persecution for speaking out for Jesus we must continue to be bold. They need to be stopped in their busy tracks before any more young and old people go to a Christless eternity. Peter and John certainly knew how to attract both the ordinary people and the religious leaders of their day and we have the same responsibility today, lifting up the Cross of Jesus. ‘Dear friends, while you are waiting for these things to happen and for Him to come, try hard to live without sinning; and be at peace with everyone so that He will be pleased with you when He returns. And remember why He is waiting. He is giving us time to get His message of salvation out to others. 2 Peter 3:9-16
Study 6: The cost of commitment – Challenge Questions
1. Read the Notes and the Bible Verses referred to in them. Highlight the points that ‘speak’ to you.
2. What do you think helped Peter and John to be so bold and courageous?
3. Do any of the points of the believers’ prayer help you? Acts 4:23-31
Read Acts 4:32-35.
4. The Believers shared everything; did they live in a commune? By sharing what they owned, do you think this affected those who were not Christians? Explain your answer.
5. Why were there no needy people among the Believers? Who shared out what was brought?
Read Acts 4:36-5:11.
6. This passage contains two contrasting stories about the sale of land. Why is it important that the Bible tells us HERE that the name Barnabas means ‘Son of Encouragement’?
7. Why were Ananias and Sapphira not commended for their bountiful giving?
8. Peter called Ananias a liar. Why was that? Is it important for Christian leaders to be forthright and truthful in the way they deal with others? Is it important for any believer to be forthright and truthful? Should there be a difference? Explain your answer.
9. Under what circumstances could Ananias have kept the money and lived? Why did Sapphira also die?
10. What does the story of Ananias and Sapphira say to you. How would you apply it to your life?
11. What was the result of the Ananias and Sapphira episode on the church? Why was that?
Read Acts 5:12-16.
12. The Believers met together in Solomon’s Colonnade. Why do you think no-one else dared join them? Were they popular with the people? Did people continue to become Christians?
13. What signs and wonders do you think were performed by the apostles?
14. Was everyone who came or was brought to the apostles healed and/or delivered? Should we expect that to happen today? Write down a reference from the Gospels to back up your answer.
Read Acts 5:17-42.
15. What happened to the Apostles? Why could the captain of the guard and the officers not find them in the morning? Where were the apostles?
16. Why was Peter so outspoken in his accusation of the rulers of Israel? Did this make a difference to them? What was the result?
17. Why did Gamaliel intervene? What was his recommendation? Did it change the punishment given to the apostles?
18. What warnings did the Sanhedrin give to the apostles? Did they pay any attention to them? Why?
19. What are you going to change in your life from this challenging study?