Acts 4:1-35

Acts 4:1-35

No Other Name

Introduction:  We have a hard time relating to persecution, don’t we?  Most of us have never known significant opposition to our faith in Christ.  The worst we can claim is that we were once the butt of a religious joke or that a relative thinks we’re fanatical, or maybe a door was slammed in our face while canvassing our neighborhood on behalf of a Sunday School contest.  

Not everyone is so fortunate.  This Wednesday, I understand, a verdict will be handed down in a Greek court to determine the fate of three young men who are charged with the crime of giving a Bible to a sixteen-year-old boy.  They face the possibility of seven years in prison, on top of the time they already spent in jail before being granted bail.  

In the history of Christianity, the predicament of “the Athens Three” is far more common than the religious freedom we enjoy.  Persecution has almost always been part and parcel of true faith in Christ.  Jesus promised it, and the fact that we haven’t experienced it is something for which we should thank God more than we do.  On the other hand, perhaps we shouldn’t be entirely happy over our situation, for it is probable that the Church in the United States is not healthier or more effective than it is primarily because of its lack of opposition.  

Persecution is never enjoyable, but it can be profitable, and we will see that clearly this morning in the account provided in Acts 4 of the first persecution to face the newly founded Christian church.  Opposition enabled Peter to proclaim at the highest levels of the nation the greatest truth of the Christian faith—the uniqueness of Jesus Christ as the only way of salvation.  It also produced great vitality in the Church.  

You will recall from our study two weeks ago that shortly after the Day of Pentecost Peter and John went up to the temple to observe the afternoon hour of prayer.  Sitting by the Gate Beautiful was a man who had been lame from birth over forty years before.  When he solicited alms from the apostles they stopped and Peter said to him, “Silver and gold have I none, but what I have I give you—rise up and walk.”  Immediately the man was healed, and he bounded into the temple area singing, shouting, and dancing.  

The man was well-known in Jerusalem, and his healing brought a great crowd together, which Peter took as an opportunity to preach another stirring message about the resurrected Christ and the need of the Jewish people to repent regarding their attitude toward Him.  The results were again amazing in that thousands became believers.

Now let’s read chapter 4:1-35: 

As they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to them, 2 being greatly disturbed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. 3 And they laid hands on them and put them in prison until the next day, for it was already evening. 4 But many of those who had heard the message believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand.

5 On the next day, their rulers and elders and scribes were gathered together in Jerusalem; 6 and Annas the high priest was there, and Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and all who were of high-priestly descent. 7 When they had placed them in the center, they began to inquire, “By what power, or in what name, have you done this?” 8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers and elders of the people, 9 if we are on trial today for a benefit done to a sick man, as to how this man has been made well, 10 let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by this name this man stands here before you in good health. 11 He is the stone which was rejected by you, the builders, but which became the chief cornerstone. 12 And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among mankind by which we must be saved.”

         13 Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus. 14 And seeing the man who had been healed standing with them, they had nothing to say in reply. 15 But when they had ordered them to leave the Council, they began to confer with one another, 16 saying, “What are we to do with these men? For the fact that a noteworthy miracle has taken place through them is apparent to all who live in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. 17 But so that it will not spread any further among the people, let’s warn them not to speak any longer to any person in this name.” 18 And when they had summoned them, they commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, make your own judgment; 20 for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.” 21 When they had threatened them further, they let them go (finding no basis on which to punish them) on account of the people, because they were all glorifying God for what had happened; 22 for the man on whom this miracle of healing had been performed was more than forty years old.

23 When they had been released, they went to their own companions and reported everything that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24 And when they heard this, they raised their voices to God with one mind and said, “Lord, it is You who made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything that is in them, 25 who by the Holy Spirit, through the mouth of our father David Your servant, said,

Why were the nations insolent,
And the peoples plotting in vain?
26 The kings of the earth took their stand,
And the rulers were gathered together
Against the Lord and against His Christ.’

27 For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever Your hand and purpose predestined to occur. 29 And now, Lord, look at their threats, and grant it to Your bond-servants to speak Your word with all confidence, 30 while You extend Your hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Your holy servant Jesus.” 31 And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness.

32 And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them. 33 And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all. 34 For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales 35 and lay them at the apostles’ feet, and they would be distributed to each to the extent that any had need.

The healing of the lame man leads to the arrest and arraignment of the Apostles.  (1-7)

Apparently drawn by the report of a large crowd of people in the Temple area, the Temple police seize the Apostles at the direction of the captain of the Temple guard. 

         Reasons for the arrest (1-4).  One reason is clearly stated, namely the Jewish leaders “were greatly disturbed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.”  It is not hard to see why they would be disturbed by this.  In the first place, the Sadducees did not believe in resurrection, presumably because it was not mentioned in the Pentateuch, which they considered more authoritative than the rest of the Old Testament (23:8).  But to preach resurrection in the case of Jesus was doubly offensive, for they had put Him to death.  If He were really resurrected, it would prove that they were wrong in having put Him to death in the first place, which is the very point Peter was making so clearly in his sermon.

There is, however, another reason for the arrest, found in verse 4.  There we are told that the number of men who believed Peter’s message was about 5,000.  Now this may not be the number of converts from the sermon in chapter 3; it may be the total number who had become Christians since the day of Pentecost.  But still that is a sizeable number, considering that women and children were not included in the count.  Jerusalem was not the huge metropolitan city that it is today.  Estimates of its population range from 25,000 to 250,000.  Even at the higher number, which is probably closer to the truth, it is obvious that the growth of the church in its first few days was significant, reaching perhaps from 10% to 20% of the population.  This clearly threatened the power structure of the political rulers. 

Granted, those aren’t very good legal reasons for arresting someone.  After all, the Apostles aren’t advocating the overthrow of the Roman government or the assassination of the high priest.  But it was sufficient reason to motivate the Jewish leaders.  

Procedure of the arraignment (5-7).  Luke tells us that by the time the Apostles were arrested it was already evening, too late to get the Sanhedrin, the ruling legislature, together.  So, the apostles were simply incarcerated for the night and arraigned the next morning. 

The Sanhedrin was the highest court in the land.  Its august membership was drawn from the two leading parties, the Sadducees and the Pharisees, and totaled seventy men, in addition to the High Priest, who presided over it.  Luke, however, refers to the members by profession, rather than by party: the rulers are members of the high priestly family, the elders are representatives of the people, and the scribes are the rabbinical experts, the lawyers, if you will.  The Sanhedrin always sat in a semi-circle, and the Apostles are placed in the middle of the group and are questioned:  “By what power, or in what name, have you done this?”

The situation looks pretty bleak, doesn’t it?  Time for a little knee-knocking.  Maybe they can just apologize for causing a ruckus and promise to restrict their preaching to their homes.  After all, the Scripture says that “a soft answer turns away wrath.” (Proverbs 15:1) On the contrary, …

Arrest and arraignment lead to an opportunity for witness.  (8-22)

Peter, always the spokesman, answers the Council but not in his own power.  The text says clearly that he was filled with the Holy Spirit.  He was controlled by the Spirit, in fulfillment of the promise that Jesus had made in Mark 13:9-11:  “But be on your guard; for they will deliver you to the courts, and you will be flogged in the synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them.  And when they arrest you and deliver you up, do not be anxious beforehand about what you are to say but say whatever is given you in that hour; for it is not you who speak, but it is the Holy Spirit.”  

Peter gives no thought to using guarded language that might make their lot easier.  In fact, he seems to rejoice that he now has an opportunity to preach the Gospel even to the Sanhedrin.  As to the miracle concerning which they are questioning him, he is quick to point out that it was a “benefit,”so there should be no ground for complaint.  As to the source of the power behind the miracle, the answer is “Jesus Christ of Nazareth.”  The One who went about doing good is still at work through His followers.  

Peter could have stopped there, and he would probably have received a mild rebuke from the Sanhedrin, for other miracles had been wrought in Jerusalem without inciting the wrath of the authorities.  But the urge to bear a testimony to his Lord before the rulers was irresistible.  He might not have another opportunity.

So rather than continue to talk about the one who had been healed, Peter returns to the theme of the death and resurrection of Jesus.  The rulers had crucified the Savior, but they had not thereby been able to bring His career to an ignominious end, for God had raised Him from the dead.  It is particularly striking that neither on this nor on any previous or subsequent occasion did the Sanhedrin take any serious action to disprove the apostles’ claim that Jesus had risen from the dead. Had it seemed possible to refute them on this point, how readily would they have seized the opportunity!  And had they succeeded, how quickly and completely the new movement would have collapsed!

Then Peter went to the OT, specifically Ps. 118:22, to press home this truth in a daring fashion.  He identifies Jesus as “the stone which was rejected by you, the builders, but which became the very corner stone.”  The Jewish leaders are here viewed as builders looking for just the right stone with which to complete the edifice of Judaism by satisfying the nation’s Messianic hopes.  They had scornfully rejected God’s Man as not meeting their requirements, and they had done so by inflicting on Him a shameful and violent death.  God had answered by raising up His Son and making Him “the Cornerstone.”

The key thought in his testimony, however, doesn’t come until verse 12, where Peter states forcefully that salvation is found exclusively in Jesus and in no one else.  His is the only name through which people can receive salvation.  And that salvation is a must for sinful people.

I want to pause for a few moments and dwell upon the implications of that statement that “there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved.”  The liberals have always challenged the notion that Jesus is the only way, asserting that if a non-Christian is sincere and believes in God, he will go to heaven.  We expect such viewpoints from liberals.  But what disturbs me is the extent to which the biblical truth of “no other name” has been watered down even in some evangelical circles.  

Just after the last Southern Baptist Convention, which was a real donnybrook between the conservatives and the moderates, a leader from each camp was debating the issues on the Phil Donahue Show.  The conservative was a man named Paul Pressey, and I can’t remember the name of the moderate, which is just as well.  Donahue asked them both point-blank if a person had to believe in Jesus in order to be saved.  Pressey said “yes, that’s what the Bible teaches,” but he was ridiculed by the moderate for his narrow-mindedness.  The moderate claimed that God is a God of love and grace and isn’t going to send everyone to Hell that the conservatives have consigned there.  But, I thought, God is also a God of His word.  How can we rely on His love if He lies about such things as the fact that there is no other name by which we must be saved?

I’m not trying to pick on the Baptists.  There are those in many evangelical groups who are alleging that a person need not know the name of Jesus in order to be saved by the name of Jesus.  They tell us that if a tribal native in the heart of Africa sincerely seeks God, then God will save that person through the death of Christ, even though the person may never hear of Christ.  I think that is very dangerous thinking.  

But what about the heathen?  I see a good deal of evidence in the Scripture for the fact that God will enable those who sincerely seek His face to come to know Jesus, even if He has to perform a miracle to accomplish it.  Let me share two biblical examples with you.  (1)  The Ethiopian eunuch.  (2)  The Roman Centurion in Acts 10.  We will, of course, examine both of these examples in more detail later in our study of Acts.

Well, Peter has boldly proclaimed the uniqueness of Jesus, and the result is that the court is stymied.

The court fails at a verdict but issues an order.  First, we are told that they marvel.  What astounds them is the confidence of Peter and John in view of the fact that they are uneducated and untrained.  They hadn’t had logic or rhetoric or debate.  They hadn’t been to Hebrew school.  They are just fisherman, but they speak with confidence and authority.

Then it dawns upon them:  it says, “they began to recognize” them as having been with Jesus.  Jesus also had been uneducated but was adept in handling Scripture.  He too had belonged to the backwoods country of Galilee, yet He had won the favor of the people.  Nothing they had ever said or done to Him seemed to trouble Him, and now here were men who were reflecting the same spirit.  Jesus, the thorn in their sides, had finally been removed, but now it appears that Jesus has succeeded in reproducing Himself in His disciples.  Would they ever be rid of Him?

For the moment the Sanhedrin is non-plussed.  No objection could be raised against the miracle, for the formerly lame man had accompanied the apostles into the very council chamber.  What was needed was time for private consultation.  To that end the apostles were removed while the members conferred with one another.  

The Sanhedrin decides upon a strategy of containment.  They will limit their losses by ordering the disciples to stop speaking anymore in this name—no preaching, no teaching, and no personal conversation.  But if the Council hoped this would solve their problem, they are immediately disillusioned.

The verdict elicits a daring response from the Apostles.  (18-22) They don’t ask for 24 hours to think over the proposal.  They don’t plea bargain for the right to preach in their homes instead of the Temple.  Since the Sanhedrin members are judges, Peter and John ask them to judge whether it would be right before God for them as apostles to obey the prohibition of the Sanhedrin rather than heed the command of God.  Then they give their own verdict:  “we cannot stop speaking what we have seen and heard.”  In two weeks, Lord willing, we are going to discuss in more detail the whole issue of civil disobedience, broached here but much more prominent in chapter five.  

It is an embarrassing moment.  All the Council can do is to repeat the warning and add threats should the ban be ignored.  

The final scene in our chapter shows that …

Persecution leads the Church to prayer and revival.  (23-35)

Verse 23 says that “when they had been released, they went to their own, and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them.”  I would expect the Church to view their predicament as a major crisis, with people offering prayers for deliverance.  Since each person would have his own idea about how to deal with the situation, I would also expect conflict and debate.  But this is not at all what we find. 

They focus not on their predicament, but on God’s sovereignty.  They begin, “O Lord, it is Thou who didst make the Heaven and the earth and the sea, and all that is in them.”  And then, after reiterating what the enemies had done to Jesus, they conclude by saying that they only did “whatever Thy hand and Thy purpose predestined to occur.”  God is not unmindful of the situation.  He is not surprised by the course of recent events.  They are on the side of the King of the Universe.  

Once again we find them also going to the OT Scriptures for comfort and encouragement.  This time they find in Psalm 2 a record of the vanity of the effort of the Gentile nations to free themselves from divine control.  You know the Psalm:  

         “Why are the nations in an uproar, and the peoples devising a vain thin?  The kings of the earth take their stand, and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord and against His Anointed, saying:  ‘Let us tear their fetters apart, and cast away their cords from us!’  He who sits in the heavens laughs, the Lord scoffs at them.  Then He will speak to them in His anger and terrify them in His fury.”  

They see in this Psalm a prediction of the rejection of Messiah Jesus.  The kings in the Psalm are represented by Herod Antipas, the rulers by Pilate, the Gentiles by the Romans, and the peoples by the Jews.  

What is most surprising about the prayer, however, is that we find no petition for reprisal or even for deliverance.  There is no request that they be spared the rigors of persecution in the future. 

They pray not for deliverance, but for boldness.  What they want is divine restraint so that the testimony to the Savior can continue.  They plead for God to continue the signs and wonders so that more people might be won to faith in Christ.  And the answer comes quickly, first in the form of a physical sign, the shaking of the building where the company was gathered, and then in a renewed filling with the Spirit as the means of boldness.  The disciples lose no time in using this fresh manifestation of divine power. 

They experience not conflict and weakness, but unity and power.  In the last few verses of our text, we are told that the believers were of one heart and soul on this matter, even to the extent that every one of them renounced his right to private ownership.  When persecution is severe to the point that one doesn’t know whether he will survive, property becomes meaningless.  And along with the unity came power:  “And with great power the apostles were giving witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus and abundant grace was upon them all.”  

Conclusion:  Lloyd John Ogilve has written a striking comparison that I would like to share with you:  

         “Here are two assemblies of God’s people, the Sanhedrin and the early Church.  Both believed they were being faithful and obedient to the truth.  One was protective and defensive; the other was powerful and dynamic.  One believed it was appointed to conserve the past, keep the peace, and conserve the status quo.  The other believed it was called to communicate the love of God, witness to a miraculous intervention of his power, and to live in the resources of his persistent presence.  One was maintained for preservation; the other was maintained by prayer.  One was based on what God had given long before; the other was based on what God was doing right then.  One was symbolized by blandness and boredom; the other by boldness.  The Sanhedrin and the early Church—what a comparison, indeed!  In it we see crystallized two types of Christians and two examples of what the Church can be today.  The disturbing questions are:  In which assembly would we be most comfortable?  If we had to identify our congregation, would it be most like the Sanhedrin or the early Church?”

I would like to close by saying that where the church has compromised its message and allowed that there may be other ways of salvation than personal faith in Jesus Christ, it has almost always become weak and anemic.  I was curious to note that one major denomination in the United States had a special convocation here in St. Louis this past week.  This denomination has been losing members for the past 20 years, with a total decline of over 2,000,000.  Instead of hiring a consulting firm, they brought the pastors of their 70 fastest growing churches together to answer the question, “What are you doing right than can be copied in other churches.”  

I don’t know if they’re going to find the right answers, because I don’t know if those 70 churches are growing for the right reasons, but I do know that the biggest problem that particular denomination has is that it has quit proclaiming that “there is salvation in no one else, and that there is no other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved.”  That’s their biggest problem, bar none. But where the church continues to preach that there is no other name, it is vital, healthy, and growing. 

May I make it perfectly clear this morning that there is no other name whereby you must be saved.  Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life.  Come to Him in faith and He will in no wise cast you out.  


Civil disobedience