For the text of Acts 4, click here.
Following the healing of the crippled man in chapter three the Jewish religious leaders (click here for a picture of Caiaphas’ ossuary-bone box) arrest Peter and John. They ask Peter and John all the right questions – “By what power or what name did you do this?” Many who practiced magic in the ancient world would attempt to heal people by manipulating the name of a little “g” god. The common belief was that to know the name of the deity in some way granted you some power or control over them. In the Old Testament the third commandment has hints of this – to not misuse the name of the Lord. God is telling them, as with many of the other commandments, to not be like the other nations or practice what they practice. You cannot manipulate or control God. Jesus did not call on the name of God when he healed. Peter and John healed this man in the name of Jesus in Acts 3:6.
You think Peter has an answer for their question, “by what power or what name did you do this?” Speech #3 commences but this time for a different crowd. The first speech was to Jews from all over the world. His message? Christ. The second speech was to Jews in/around the temple. His message? Christ. Do you sense a pattern forming? This third speech is now to the religious establishment. Again Peter preaches to them Jesus Christ and their responsibility for his death.
These leaders just didn’t get it. Instead of being astonished at the truth of Peter’s words, they are astonished that these men speak so boldly and with no education. They weren’t “cut to the heart.” They didn’t marvel at the power of God. They marvelled over these men’s lack of educational pedigree. Their decision? They tell Peter and John to speak no more in the name of Jesus even though the man they healed is right there with them! Can you be any more self-centered than to demand that people stop healing others to save face!?! Peter and John reply that they will indeed continue to speak and just as in chapter 1 where Peter says they are witnesses of these facts. Peter says, “we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard (4:20).”
You probably know the rest of the story. Peter and John join the other Christians and tell them what had happened. Their response? They prayed. This prayer did several things. The first thing this prayer did was put their focus where it needed to be – on God. Secondly this prayer showed the rulers of this world for who they really are? Powerless and impotent. Their apparent power is little more than cheap circus acts compared to God. This prayer depicts a realization that these earthly powers have been disarmed. The result? Faith that this case will be no different and that the powers that be are still really no powers at all. With this in mind and God as the focus of their lives they will continue to speak and heal in his name. 4:31 – God confirms his presence with them by divinely shaking the building and by filling them with his Spirit.
Solidarity. The chapter concludes with a brief account of the extent of their solidarity. Their solidarity did not extend only as far as common beliefs. That is about the limit most in churches today take it. For them they were united by God’s Spirit, how could they not be united in their lives and their possessions? They will prosper together, grow together, suffer together.
What threats do we face today that can help us show our solidarity with each other? What principalities and powers stand before us that can embolden us to band together and fight against the powers of darkness? In that day the church was growing every day! And yet they faced resistance, persecution, and eventually even the threat of death. What is it going to take for us to mobilize against the forces of darkness and oppression that are just as alive and well in the world today? Or even more difficult is when we find ourselves in the shoes of these religious leaders, condemning those who are God’s frontline troops in the war against sin all because that is not how we would have done it or it doesn’t bring us glory. Let us do as those Christians did and be in constant prayer for boldness. Let us remember that anything that is not part of God’s purposes is just as they prayed, “in vain.” But let’s not stop with a good sounding, scriptural prayer. Let us also move forward with boldness to speak the word of life to a world that is consumed with death. Let us take a day and leave our desks and books behind and go into our neighborhoods to seek and save the lost, boldly and in Jesus name. And before you go, let us never confuse bold with harsh. There is certainly a difference!