The Courage of the Apostles

1The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people.2They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. 3They seized Peter and John, and because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day. 4But many who heard the message believed, and the number of men grew to about five thousand.

5The next day the rulers, elders and teachers of the law met in Jerusalem. 6Annas the high priest was there, and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander and the other men of the high priest’s family. 7They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: “By what power or what name did you do this?”

8Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! 9If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed,10then 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. 11He is
” ‘the stone you builders rejected,
which has become the capstone. 12Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”

13When 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. 14But since they could see the man who had been healed standing there with them, there was nothing they could say. 15So they ordered them to withdraw from the Sanhedrin and then conferred together. 16″What are we going to do with these men?” they asked. “Everybody living in Jerusalem knows they have done an outstanding miracle, and we cannot deny it. 17But 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.”

18Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19But Peter and John replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. 20For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

21After 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. 22For the man who was miraculously healed was over forty years old.

23On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them. 24When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. “Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. 25You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David:
” ‘Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
26The kings of the earth take their stand
and the rulers gather together
against the Lord
and against his Anointed One. 27Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. 28They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. 29Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. 30Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”

31After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.

32All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. 33With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. 34There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales35and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.

36Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), 37sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.

Acts 4

What do you think counts as a courageous action? When I was little, I used to associate courage with lion tamers, who would put their heads into the mouths of their lions. Now I’m a little older I think of that more as stupidity than courage! Nowadays, I associate courage more with soldiers fighting in other countries, especially Iraq and Afghanistan, who find themselves confronting a dangerous enemy every day. Do you associate courageousness with faith? Maybe you think that Christians in countries such as China are courageous, but do you think of yourself as having courage? Courage was something that the early Christians had to have, and it jumps off the page as we read Acts 4.

Peter and John need plenty of courage in this chapter from Acts as they find themselves up before the Sanhedrin. They have been courageously preaching and teaching about Christ, even though they know what had happened to Jesus himself. When they are arrested, they know only too well what could happen at this stage. Christ himself appeared before the Sanhedrin, and it was this council that handed him over to the authorities and consequently brought about his death. Now Peter and John have come to the council’s attention. The apostles’ courageous teaching has angered the religious leaders, since they have been proclaiming that belief in Christ can lead to believers gaining resurrection from the dead, an idea that was categorically rejected by the Sadducees. What’s more, Peter and John have healed a cripple, which has created quite a stir around the city. Their actions have won them more than 5,000 followers, provoking real concern amongst the religious leaders, who feel greatly threatened. The leaders, therefore, waste no time in pulling Peter and John in. They arrest them in the evening, and put them into prison in preparation for the trial the next day. Teaching in the face of adversity, just as Peter, John and the other apostles had been doing, was a very courageous action.

Peter and John had to be courageous as they appeared before the Sanhedrin. This council could have terminated their ministry right there and then, yet they defended themselves with courage. They also presented the Sanhedrin with a real difficulty; the religious leaders did not know what to do about the healing of the cripple. They can reject the idea of resurrection of the dead as a lie, but the cripple the apostles healed is standing there in the courthouse with them. There is clear evidence that this man has been healed. What worries the Sanhedrin is that if they can really heal a cripple the rest of their message might also be true. Peter certainly believes that there is little difference between healing physical ailments and eternal salvation, and believes that both flow uniquely from Christ; he states in verse twelve that “salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” Peter is clear that the crippled beggar was healed through Christ, and believes that similarly Christ alone can grant salvation. They found themselves with a real problem; they faced a group who were shaking up the city, who were a real threat to their own beliefs, were recruiting large numbers of people, and yet had the weight of evidence on their side. Christ challenged the existing order before he was executed, now his followers were continuing to prove to be a challenge. His followers were not intimidated, but faced them with courage.

The apostles had courage because they believed in their message. They had followed Christ at close quarters, and had seen the miracles he had performed. They were witnesses to both his death and resurrection. They had watched him ascend into heaven. Consequently, there was no doubt at all in their minds that they were speaking the truth. They believed that those who followed Christ could have eternal life. They also believed that it was through Christ alone that salvation could be gained. They therefore proclaimed with courage the uniqueness of Christ to all who would listen in Jerusalem. That message provoked a strong response, hence they find themselves before the Sanhedrin. As they seek to defend themselves, they tell the council that they are the servants of Christ, saying “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.” They are clear that it is Christ who has healed the cripple, not them. In the end, Peter and John escaped serious punishment, but still found themselves being warned not to speak of Christ again. The priests had to find some way of stopping the mass conversion of people to the new Christianity, and they desperately tried to silence the message. When they were sent away from the council they told them that they should “judge for themselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you [the council] rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” Even as they departed from the council, they were still displaying real courage.

Peter and John drew courage from the Holy Spirit. When Peter found himself up against the council, he was filled once again with the Holy Spirit, which supported him as he gave his defence. It was clear to the Sanhedrin that something remarkable had happened to Peter and John; here were two ordinary, uneducated men, yet they addressed them with great wisdom and courage. Luke tells us that the members of the council were “astonished” by what they saw. They recognised, however, that both Peter and John had been with Jesus, and clearly felt that it was because of Jesus that they were able to speak so well. The Holy Spirit continued to grant the apostles courage, even after the trial. Their parting shot was that they could not help teaching about Christ, and they rejoined the rest of the believers, and prayed together that God would continue to perform “miraculous signs and wonders” through the name of Jesus. Despite the fact that they could potentially have lost their lives for what they had been doing, the first thing they do when they are released is to pray that God will continue to work through them! The Sanhedrin might threaten them, but ultimately could not stop them from their mission to spread the gospel.

Peter and John demonstrate great courage in this chapter of Acts. They preach the message of Christ courageously, and that gains the attention of the religious leaders. The apostles find themselves up in front of the Sanhedrin, which has been antagonised by the message that the apostles have been teaching. Yet Peter and John have courage, because they believe in their message. They don’t give up on their beliefs when they find themselves facing difficulties, but defend their ideas, potentially facing death in the process. Peter and John are not alone, however, They are filled with the Holy Spirit, which equips them for the problems they face, and gives them the courage and the words they need to face the council. Do we courageously tell people of our beliefs? Do we talk to people about our faith, even when we know it could lead us into trouble doing so? Do we trust that the Holy Spirit will equip us to face any difficulties we encounter by sharing the gospel of Christ? Peter and John are radical missionaries for Christ, and find themselves unable not to speak of Christ to all they encounter. Are we as excited as Peter and John about our faith?

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