Jesus – Prince and Saviour

God exalted Jesus to his own right hand as Prince and Saviour that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel.

Acts 5:31

Do you ever find yourself wondering why you’re doing something? Sometimes when I’m at work my boss asks me to do something which seems to me to have no purpose whatsoever. I get on with it, of course, but am left wondering what the point of this particular task is. The same was true when I was at school. I went to a school where I had to study Latin, but I really did not see the point. Now, of course, I understand why Latin is useful to know, and I wish that I had tried harder in my lessons!

There was no doubt at all as to what Jesus’ mission was. God was in no doubt at all as to why he sent his only son to Earth. Jesus was in no doubt as to his task. And now the apostles clearly have no doubt about the reason for Jesus living amongst them. This is expressed very clearly in this quote from Peter’s speech to the Sanhedrin after they find themselves up before them once again. When Jesus ascended into heaven, God brought him to his right hand to rule with him. Jesus rules with God as his Crown Prince, his son, who is given responsibility over all things. God also raised Jesus to be Saviour, saving the souls of all his people. He was Saviour so that he could give repentence and forgiveness of sins. As a consequence of Jesus’ death and resurrection, he has the authority to wipe our sins away – if we ask for forgiveness. In this verse Peter specifies that Jesus has authority to take away the sins of the people of Israel, since these were the people the Sanhedrin were most concerned about. Since Jesus himself commanded the apostles to “make disciples of all nations,” however, we can be confident that Jesus can forgive all peoples, and not just the Jewish people.

This short verse hidden away in Acts 5, which doesn’t even get a mention in my study Bible, seems to me to be tremendously powerful, and to encapsulate the gospel message in just a few words. Give thanks today that God has made Jesus the Saviour, who can give repentence and forgive our sins!

Mission Leading to Growth

Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number.

Acts 5:14

When I first joined Twitter in May 2007, I knew almost no-one else who used the micro-blogging service, and didn’t really understand what the point was. At that point, I was member number 6,412,182. Now, three years later, Twitter is used by about 154,000,000 people around the world. It’s strange how few people were interested, and then all over a sudden, perhaps a year ago, everyone was talking about Twitter and the number of members grew exponentially. People told people, who told people, who told people, and suddenly the world and his dog (well, maybe not the dog) are on Twitter.

The early church experienced sudden and rapid growth too. After Jesus’ death, many who had been followers drifted away. When the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles at Pentecost, however, and inspired their teaching, more and more people came to faith. Today’s verse is just one of many in Acts that talks about the huge growth experienced by the church. The reasons for that growth are clear. The apostles were doing as they had been instructed to do by Christ, and were acting as his witnesses to all those with whom they came into contact. They were filled with the Holy Spirit, and that enabled and equiped them for the ministry to which God had called them.

God calls us all into ministry. It might not be standing outside a temple teaching, it might not be healing, but we are certainly called to serve our Lord. What is important is that we fulfil the ministry to which we have been called. We need to pray that God shows us what he wants to do. Once we have established what our calling is, we can be assured that the Holy Spirit will enable, equip and support us, just as it did the apostles. We can also be certain that by doing so, we will be helping to further God’s kingdom, and we too will see real growth in our churches.

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?

They heard the message and believed

But many who heard the message believed, and the number of men grew to about five thousand.

Acts 4:4

I used to teach in a large boys’ school right in the middle of the City of London. Whilst there, I took on the running of the Christian Unions, which was a real privilege, because it was a unique opportunity to teach young people about Jesus, but also because the boys were very receptive to listening to and talking about ideas. It was still at times hard work to entice students to come along, so I used to provide food. At the end of each term we had a party, in which we had extra food, which usually brought in crowds and crowds. The school had a large number of Jewish students, and on one occasion I witnessed the interesting sight of seeing Jewish boys arguing over whether Prawn Cocktail crips were Kosher or not! Once we had given out copious amounts of free food, the boys settled down to listen to a talk based on a passage of scripture.

The food might have been the important bit of the meeting to the boys, but to me the crucial element was also the Bible teaching, and this is something that the apostles firmly believed too. Throughout Acts, we see larger and larger numbers of people joining the early church, and the principle reason for this is always the faithful teaching of the message, which works in people’s hearts, challenges their beliefs, and ultimately convicts them of their sin and leads them to follow Christ. Here in this verse, in only the fourth chapter of the Acts, we see the number of followers growing to 5,000, quite a sizeable number for such an early stage of the apostles’ mission, especially considering the relatively small population of Jerusalem at that time. Luke believes that the principle reason for this is because of the preaching of message, which led people to believe in Christ.

We must never miss an opportunity to share the Word of God with people. Grasp every opportunity that you have to do just that in the week ahead.

The acts of the church

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

Acts 2:42

As a child, I was heavily influenced by the books I read. I was brought up on a diet of Swallows and Amazons and Famous Five, so all I wanted to do was go sailing, have secret meetings and bust criminal gangs. My grandfather built me a boat, so that was no problem. Busting criminal gangs is not really something that people would recommend for ten-year-olds. Secret meetings, though – well that’s another matter! One day I tried to organise a secret meeting for my brother, and the boy who lived opposite. We met in the shed in my garden (just like the Secret Seven!) and tried to decide what we should call ourselves. We couldn’t decide a name, let alone what we were going to do, so that proved to be our last meeting!

The New Testament, and Acts in particular, is packed full of useful information and guidance for churches. There’s no need for churches to wonder what they should be doing – all the information can be gleaned from the Bible! Here, at the beginning of Acts, we have a very famous, and quite simple verse, which tells us what the essential activities of the church should be. Since we are all members of the church, this advice is just as valid for us as individuals! The early members of the church here in Acts first of all ensured that they studied the teaching of the Apostles. We should ensure that we place primary importance on the study of God’s word in the same way. They also devoted themselves to fellowship, meeting together to discuss God’s word and to support one another. They undertook the breaking of the bread, which today we would probably call Holy Communion. They also placed great importance on prayer. If these four activities were considered so important to the early church, we should seek to follow their example and to undertake these activities ourselves. That is why it is so important for a Christian to belong to a church, since only by meeting together with other Christians can these things be done effectively.

We at Crossring also devote ourselves to these four activities. Our whole site is built around the word of God – why not take a look through our articles and read them for yourself? Together, we can help each other to understand the Bible better. We also have a forum, where we can meet together to discuss the Word, and to support one another. We also have a prayer forum where you can share prayer requests.

Most importantly, though, if you are not a regular member of a church, do give serious consideration to joining one. You will find it hugely helpful in your faith, and, you never know, you may even enjoy it!