Pray and Proclaim (Acts 4:1-31)
Arrested for Proclaiming Christ (verses 1-4)
The religious leaders could not tolerate the Apostles’ teaching about Jesus and the resurrection from the dead. Just weeks prior, they had gone out of their way to convince the Roman authorities to have Jesus crucified, but now affection for Him was growing! Jesus had warned His disciples about this coming opposition, reminding them that they would be persecuted in the same way that He Himself was (John 15:20-21). Surely, the arrest and trial of Jesus was on the Apostles’ minds as they also were arrested. Would the result be similar? Would they, like their Lord, be unjustly condemned and crucified? Yet, though the apostles were confined to a jail cell, the gospel could not be arrested and people continued to believe as the number grew to five thousand.
Answering Religious Leaders: “By the Name of Christ” (verses 5-12)
After spending the night in jail, the formal investigation began as they were brought before the three groups of the Sanhedrin: the rulers (priests), elders (lay leaders), and scribes (lawyers). Standing before the Sanhedrin, Peter was courageous, forthright, and simple in his witness, answering them in the exact way that first landed him in jail to begin with. Again, Peter drew all the attention back to Jesus by pointing out that they had crucified Him, but God raised Him from the dead; they had rejected Him, but it was for them first that God had sent Him; salvation is available to them, but only in Jesus. Whether preaching to the crowds or answering questions in court, Peter is preoccupied with promoting Christ’s honor. His appeal to them is to stop rejecting the only One that can save!
Admonished: Do Not Proclaim Christ (verses 13-22)
Peter and John were obviously just “normal” men, but they were noticeably confident and they spoke with boldness. This boldness is likely the result of previous prayers similar to the one we see in this chapter (4:29, 31). They were recognized as having been with Jesus because, as they depended on the Holy Spirit, He was enabling them to live the way Jesus did. The Jews were fearful that Christianity would spread through these emboldened and empowered men, so they issue a stern warning to the Apostles not to speak or teach in the Name of Jesus. What the religious leaders really wanted was for them to dilute the message a little bit; take some of the focus off of Christ. In other words, they were saying, “You can teach and preach, but not about Jesus.” Openly and defiantly, yet not without respect, Peter and John made clear that they could not stop speaking the truth. While the Jewish court wrongly assumed that they were speaking on behalf of God, the Apostles remind them that they were only a human institution. The church cannot obey orders to give up that which characterizes it, but it must be willing to pay the price for refusing to keep quiet.
Acknowledgement of God in Prayer (verses 23-31)
When they had heard what the religious authorities said, rather than reconvening to strategize about a new approach in light of the threats, the church prayed. They recalled God as Creator of all things and reminded themselves that He is the Lord of all history. As Psalm 2 had foretold, Herod and Pilate conspired together to do what God determined they would do in rejecting His Son, but now there is no distinction made between the Gentiles and the people of Israel. In other words, no matter your lineage, if you reject Christ you are not God’s people. In light of the opposition they were facing, the church confidently brought the situation to God, trusting that all things are under His kind control. Rather than asking the Lord’s hand to destroy their opponents, they instead ask for His hand to be extended in mercy (v30). As a bookend to Acts 2:1-2, the place where they are meeting is shaken and they are filled with the Holy Spirit to then continue speaking boldly.
– What is the difference between saying “Jesus is Savior” and “Jesus is the only Savior”? What makes the second statement so much more offensive to the world than the first? Is it unloving or arrogant to make a statement like that? Why not?
– What lessons can we learn about prayer from the model that we seen in verses 24-30? When you face seemingly insurmountable challenges, how do you tend to respond? Do you recall to mind God’s power as Creator and His sovereignty over history? Do you entrust your cares to Him and pray for what is needed in the moment?