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PETER AT THE COURT OF THE SANHEDRIN

Acts 4:1-4:22
Key Verse: 4:19,20

PETER AT THE COURT OF THE SANHEDRIN

Acts 4:1-22

Key Verse: 4:19,20

“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.”

In the previous passage we studied Peter’s second message. The message contained the gospel of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the need for repentance and the restoration of everything in Christ. It was addressed to the crowd of people who came running to him. In today’s passage Peter and John were caught and stood before the Sanhedrin, Jewish ruling council. Humanly speaking, it was a dreadful time. But they confronted this situation with uncommon courage and Peter even delivered his third message in Acts, which is remarkable.

First, teaching and proclaiming the resurrection of the dead (1-4). Look at verse 1. “The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people.” At that time Sadducees were ruling class of wealthy aristocrats. They collaborated with the Romans and occupied the priestly office. They were few in number but were of much worldly influence in the name of God. They denied the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead. And the captain of the temple guard was the high priest’s right-hand man at that time.

Look at verse 2. “They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead.” Of course, the apostles were genuinely proclaiming the resurrection of the dead to the people, not intending to attack the Sadducees, who did not believe the life after death. As we studied so far in Acts, Jesus’ resurrection is of supreme importance. After being raised from the dead, Jesus himself gave many convincing proofs to his disciples that he was alive. The apostles repeatedly delivered the message that God raised Jesus from the dead. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the foundation of Christianity. Nonetheless to say, Christ’s resurrection is directly related to the resurrection of the dead. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 5:12, “But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?” When we believe in the resurrection of Christ, we can believe that death is not the end of everything but a transitory moment for the life everlasting. The resurrection of the dead is the hope of all believers, while it can be a disturbing frightening thing to those who are practically atheists.

Look at verses 3,4. “The 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.” To the Sadducees the apostles were agitators to disturb the people of the nation which could cause them to lose Roman’s favour for them. So they seized the apostles and put them in jail. They could arrest the apostles and put them in jail, but not what they preached. It is as Paul said in 2 Timothy 2:9, “…I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained.” Many who heard the apostles’ message believed. Humanly speaking verse 4 could have been like this, “Many who heard the message could not believe out of fear when Peter and John were caught and put in jail.” But the fact is that many who heard the message believed although Peter and John were imprisoned. They believed regardless of how the people in authorities would treat them. Here we see the mystery of faith. Faith can spring up against any power of the world. How can one believe? It is through hearing the message of the gospel. Romans 10:17 says, “…faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” This is the reason God’s people must speak the word of God. Faith will be produced in the hearts of those who hear the words of the Bible. Acts 18:9,10 says, “One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: ‘Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.” The Lord Jesus had many people in city of Corinth whom he was going to save. So he gave a clear direction to Paul to speak continually despite the opposition. Thank God for blessing our 1:1 ministry richly. May our missionaries and student leaders continue to speak the word of God in the Bible house or in campus, for we believe that there are many students in U of T whom the Lord is going to save. Those who hear the word of God can believe.

Second, witnessing at the court of the Sanhedrin (5-12). Look at verse 5. “The next day the rulers, elders and teachers of the law met in Jerusalem.” According to verse 15 they were the members of the Sanherin, Jewish ruling council with supreme authority, consisting of 71 members. Verse 6 says, “Annas the high priest was there, and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander and the other men of the high priest’s family.” Here we see the corruption of the priestly office. Gathering in Jerusalem what did they do? Look at verse 7. “They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: ‘By what power or what name did you do this?’” Certainly they knew by what power and what name the apostles did this. They knew that it was the power of God through the name of Jesus, since they heard the healing of the cripple and their message of the resurrection of the dead. But they did not want to acknowledge it. Rather, they wanted to find a charge to condemn the apostles. To the Sanhedrin and to the people of Jerusalem the name Jesus was the name they had condemned to death. They tried to manipulate the case so that they might hear the name Jesus from the mouths of the apostles so that they could also condemn the apostles as they had condemned Jesus. Peter and John stood at the dreadful trial before the Sanherin, the very trial Jesus had gone through.

How did the apostles react at the interrogation full of intrigues? Look at verses 8-10. “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 whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.” It seemed that Peter took initiative for the case, when they did not mention a specific charge for the apostles. He stated the charge as “an act of kindness shown to a cripple.” What an interesting charge! Anyway, as the answer to the charge, Peter said of the name Jesus. Peter was not afraid of speaking the name of Jesus or hesitant to speak the name at all. Since it was a clear fact that the cripple walked in the name of Jesus, he could not deny it and so consequently could not deny the name, although it meant risking his own life.

Furthermore he pointed out their sin of crucifying Jesus, saying to the nation’s top leaders, “Jesus Christ of Nazareth whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead…” He could say to the crowd of ordinary people, “God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ,” (2:36) and “You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead” (3:15). But how could he deliver it to the chief authorities of the nation? Yet, that’s what Peter did and his message was consistent regardless of who the audience were. It must have been a terrifying message to the Sanherin members, who actually let Jesus be killed thinking that he would be no more!

Peter’s message did not stop as he defended the name of Jesus, unambiguously testifying to it. He added, “He is ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone.’” This is a quotation from Psalm 118:22, “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone.” This is the poetic expression of Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection implied. But Peter quoted it freely saying, “you builders rejected…he is the stone,” attaching “you” and “he.” While on earth, Jesus spoke these words in the parable of the tenants addressing to the religious leaders who were looking for a way to arrested him. It is written in all three synoptic gospels. Later on Peter also used these words in 1 Peter 2:7, saying “Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone.” Even in the court where his life could be lost, the message came out of his mouth spontaneously. This is a universal message. As he testified to Jesus, the scope of Peter’s message became wide enough to make a general statement based on the Scriptures that can be applied to all people.

Surprisingly, Peter’s message even went further. Look at 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.” What an extensive and exclusive message! And it was his own message, definitely inspired by God since he was filled with the Holy Spirit. It was also surely out of his deep understanding of Jesus’ teaching he had learned and his life together with Jesus. Peter lived in the limited place, the land of Israel and experienced with the names of limited people. Yet, he was certain that all people need salvation, and among all the widespread names under heaven the name Jesus is the only name for the salvation of mankind. It was because no one died for man’s sins except Jesus and no one was raised from the dead except Jesus. To Peter, each of the members of Sanherin also had to believe in the name of Jesus and be saved.

In this part we see Peter’s undaunted spirit and true courage at the court of the Sanherin. He had no hint of fear. Rather he was full of courage and assurance of Jesus’ name for man’s salvation and he even expressed his broken shepherd heart for the Sanherin members. In the past he could not defend the name of Jesus even before slave girls. But now he testified to the name of Jesus before the most authoritative people of the nation at the very court that had condemned his master Jesus. When Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit, nothing and no one could stop him from witnessing the name of Jesus.

Third, unshaken resolution to obey God (13-22). Look at verse 13. “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” They saw Peter and John only from human viewpoint. They did not know that their courage was not human courage, but the true courage that came from God through being filled with the Holy Spirit. When they saw Peter and John with human eyes only, they could not accept the heartfelt message given to them by Peter. They only wanted to destroy the apostles in the connection with Jesus, whom they had put to public disgrace to the point of crucifying him in the support of the manipulated crowd. But they could not carry out their evil scheme because of the undeniable evidence of the healed and standing cripple. Verse 14 says, “But since they could see the man who had been healed standing there with them, there was nothing they could say.” It is interesting that the man was standing there with the apostles. Probably, the Sanherin brought the man to the court also so that they might use him for a charge against the apostles. But it turned out to work for the apostles. Anyway, all things seemed to go against the authorities. So they ordered them to withdraw from the Sanherin and then coffered together. They wanted to have a secret meeting by themselves. Then what could come out of the meeting? Look at verses 16,17. “‘What we are going to do with these men?’ they asked. ‘Everybody living 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 these men to speak no longer to anyone in this name.’” They were full of agony and conflict between their evil plot and the undeniable fact. They were contradictory. Something good and outstanding had to be spread for the sake of their own people. But they wanted to stop it to save their skins.

Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. How did Peter and John respond at this? Look at verse 19. “But Peter and John replied, ‘Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God.” It seemed that their courage went up and up to be sky high. The Sanherin members were judges. When their judgment was not right, it was likely that Peter and John were helping them to make a right judgement before God. Peter and John became advisers for the Sanhedrin judges. They advised strongly that the judges in ruling council had to make judgment for people to obey God. The apostles were sure that their speaking in the name of Jesus was their obedience to God. So they said continually, “For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” In saying this they were risking everything even their lives to obey God and teach and speak in the name of Jesus as witnesses of what they had seen and heard. No one in the world could shake their resolution to obey God. We are reminded of Moses’ parents’ obedience that they hid him for three months, not being afraid of the king Pharaoh’s edict that every boy had to be thrown in the Nile (Ex 1:22; 2:2; Heb 11:23). Esther obeyed God, saying, “If I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16). It is said of John Knox, “He feared God so much that he never feared the face of any man.” Those who fear God can obey him.

The apostles resolved to obey God to testify to what they had seen and heard, speaking in the name of Jesus. As for Paul preaching the gospel of Jesus was his first priority in his life. He said in 1 Corinthians 15:3,4 “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” And he said in 2 Timothy 4:1,2, “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word.” The bottom line of preaching the Word or speaking and teaching in the name of Jesus is obedience to God. So he gave this charge to his beloved spiritual son Timothy, “Preach the Word” before God.

Look at verse 21. “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.” The people had a clear reason to praise God, for the man who was miraculously healed was over forty years old. This kind of work can be done only by God. Yet here how could it be possible that one group of people tried to punish the apostles through whom God had worked while another group were praising God for them. This is happening in the world. The name of Jesus divided them.

In this passage we see that Peter and John were seized and put in jail as they taught the people and proclaimed the resurrection of the dead. But those who heard the message believed. At the court of Sanherin Peter courageously testified to the name of Jesus by which a cripple was healed, and furthermore they addressed that Jesus is the only name under heaven for the salvation of mankind. When they were threatened again not to speak or teach in the name of Jesus, they expressed their resolution to obey God and keep speaking in the name of Jesus. This was not the result of human effort, but of God’s work through their filling of the Holy Spirit. May we seek to be such witnesses of Jesus.

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