My Life Group lesson for April 3, 2016, using Lifeway's "Explore the Bible" commentary as a guide ...
What is the bravest thing you’ve seen someone do? What does bravery mean to you? What motivates people to accomplish acts of bravery?
At the same time Jesus demonstrated supreme courage in suffering, His disciples fell away in fear for their lives. Even Peter, who had pledged to stand courageous with Jesus, denied the Lord three times.
But Jesus’ resurrection changed everything. The Risen Christ, through the indwelling Holy Spirit, provided believers spiritual power and courage they had never known before. They would need this power and courage as they faced persecution for Jesus’ sake.
Today we will examine one example of bravery that involved the early church leaders, Peter and John.
Just like these first believers, we are called to live a life of faith and courage.
UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT
*** Before Easter we studied the first few chapters in Acts, including the ascension of Jesus, Pentecost and the birth of the early church.
*** Acts 3 provides an example of a miracle performed by the apostles, when Peter and John healed a man who couldn't walk, and gave the credit to Jesus.
*** This got the attention of the Jewish religious leaders. That's where we pick up in chapter 4.
THE CHALLENGE (Acts 4:1-7)
1 Now as they were speaking to the people, the priests, the commander of the temple police, and the Sadducees confronted them, 2 because they were provoked that they were teaching the people and proclaiming the resurrection from the dead, using Jesus as the example. 3 So they seized them and put them in custody until the next day, since it was already evening. 4 But many of those who heard the message believed, and the number of the men came to about 5,000. 5 The next day, their rulers, elders, and scribes assembled in Jerusalem 6 with Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John and Alexander, and all the members of the high-priestly family. 7 After they had Peter and John stand before them, they asked the question: “By what power or in what name have you done this?”
*** Law and Order.
--- As we begin, Peter and John had been preaching in the temple for a few hours with a lot of success.
--- After Pentecost there were 3,000 saved. Here we see that number climb to 5,000 men, which doesn’t even include the women and children.
*** Opposition appears.
--- With the success of the early church we also see Jewish religious leaders take note and try to stop it, in the form of priests, the commander of the temple police, and Sadducees.
--- The commander of the temple police was a powerful individual with authority second only to the high priest. His job was to maintain order in the area of the temple. He commanded a number of armed guards responsible for maintaining order in Jerusalem and particularly in the area of the temple.
--- The Sadducees were one of three powerful religious sects among the Jews (along with the Pharisees and Essenes).
The Sadducees had serious problems with letting Peter and John preach doctrines that went against the Sadducees’ doctrine.
Sadducees, unlike the Pharisees, only accepted the first five Books of the Old Testament (sometimes called the “Torah” or “law of Moses”) as authoritative.
They did not believe in survival after death, final judgment, and resurrection. The Sadducees were infuriated that Peter preached that Jesus was the resurrected Messiah. The declaration that Jesus was the Messiah was heresy to them.
*** Take them into custody, boys.
--- Peter and John were seized and held overnight because it was late in the evening.
--- It’s likely that word spread quickly through the Christian community. The church members gathered to pray for their safety and release.
*** Peter and John are brought before the Sanhedrin.
--- Peter and John were in a volatile situation: standing before the 71-member Sanhedrin that included two rulers (Annas and Caiaphas). This was the same body that tried and convicted Jesus (Luke 22:66).
--- Verse 6 refers to Annas as the high priest, which he was from A.D. 6–15, and at this time his son-in-law, Caiaphas, served as high priest. The Gospels and Acts agree that Annas wielded the greatest power even though Caiaphas was formally the high priest (A.D. 18–36).
*** Question - What is your typical response to confrontation? How would you have handled being brought before the leaders?
THE ANSWER (Acts 4:8-12)
8 Then Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit and said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders: 9 If we are being examined today about a good deed done to a disabled man—by what means he was healed— 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 and whom God raised from the dead—by Him this man is standing here before you healthy. 11 This Jesus is the stone rejected by you builders, which has become the cornerstone. 12 There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to people, and we must be saved by it.”
*** That’s a bold strategy, Peter.
--- Peter took a risk in speaking boldly and directly to these highly regarded religious leaders.
--- The religious leaders thought that with the death of Jesus that all the talk of Him as the Messiah would end. As a result, they likely thought Peter and John would be intimidated by them and afraid to speak out.
--- Instead, Peter used the opportunity to share the Gospel.
--- Peter had been filled with the Holy Spirit and wasn’t going to back down.
--- Peter points out that he and John were on trial for healing a disabled man. This is something Jesus had been through.
--- The leaders gave Peter an opening by asking him in what name does he heal. Peter took the opportunity to say the name Jesus Christ, then stuck it back at them by pointing out that because of them He was crucified.
*** Peter brings the Truth.
--- In verse 12 Peter proclaims that “there is salvation in no one else” except the name of Jesus Christ.
--- Jesus Himself said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man cometh unto the Father but by me” (John 14:6).
--- That’s it, that’s the list. Today’s so-called tolerant culture – the same folks who panic at chalk on a sidewalk but punish Christian wedding cake bakers - demands acceptance of all religions as equal.
--- The Bible never says that all religions are the same. It says that Jesus is the only way to be saved. Jesus is not the best way to Heaven. Jesus is the only way to Heaven.
*** Question - What factors in today’s culture make it more difficult for Christians to be bold in their faith and witness? What examples in the news have you heard of recently that are an obvious attempt to put Christians “in the hot seat” for their beliefs?
THE RECOGNITION (Acts 4:13)
13 When they observed the boldness of Peter and John and realized that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed and recognized that they had been with Jesus.
*** The Holy Spirit isn’t a “Phenomenon.”
--- The trial didn’t exactly go as the religious leaders planned.
--- They get bug-eyed when they hear Peter and John speak, as if these lowly Galileans – a.k.a. “hicks from the sticks” - had been made into geniuses like in “Flowers for Algernon,” or had a brain tumor that gave them super smarts like John Travolta in “Phenomenon.”
--- The religious leaders are amazed that Peter and John spoke with love and boldness in the power of the Spirit.
--- They considered Jesus uneducated and untrained, yet they could not match His knowledge of Scripture. Now Peter and John demonstrated a similar knowledge and courage.
--- Verse 13 helps us understand what made Peter and John so courageous. It wasn’t their education or their training. It was simply that “they had been with Jesus.” Jesus had spent three years with them teaching them how to be faithful in small things, such as letting Jesus teach a crowd from one of their fishing boats (Luke 5:1) to helping Jesus feed the multitude (John 6:114).
--- Four years prior to this trial, Peter and John would never have imagined themselves in this situation. Peter, a fisherman on the Sea of Galilee, could not have predicted how his life would change before meeting Jesus. Jesus called him to be a fisher of men, and now he stood before the supreme court of Judaism in Jerusalem to defend the gospel.
--- The Sanhedrin ultimately let Peter and John go (see Acts 4:21) in order to avoid an uprising and because they had no concrete charges to bring against them.
--- The opponents of the gospel were powerless to stop its advance. The boldness of the disciples and the power of the Holy Spirit continued to prevail over the efforts of opponents to stop their evangelistic efforts.
--- Believers today should be encouraged by the example of the early church. Many institutions of power have become hostile to the preaching of the gospel. Christians may become discouraged in the face of such formidable opposition. We should remember the example of success in the early church.
*** Question - What role did Peter and John’s perceived weakness play in their being effective witnesses for Jesus? How can God use our perceived weaknesses to bring honor to Himself?
I look around the class and see so many awesome people, so many strong Christians. You guys are kind, loving, and outspoken - almost no jerks! – and we’re exactly who God uses to spread the Gospel.
Peter and John were not responsible for the healing of the crippled man, and they did not take credit for it or become prideful in their actions. Christians can certainly count on the Holy Spirit to equip them to speak with boldness and power, but all honor and glory for anything that is accomplished goes to Jesus Christ.
*** (1) Even in the face of pressure, we must lovingly preach the revolutionary gospel of Jesus Christ. The power of God is greater than the pressure of man.
*** (2) The apostles proclaimed the gospel in the power of the Spirit. Christians are full of the Spirit.
*** (3) It doesn’t matter if you have a Ph.D. or if you’re naturally eloquent, God can work through us to spread the Gospel. We can speak boldly as we are filled with the Holy Spirit. We never know what God has in store for us when we trust Jesus. A great God can do great things with humble servants.