Read or listen to Acts 4
In the United States, you can’t make something illegal after someone does it. You can’t just declare someone an outlaw. Our Constitution calls these things ex post facto laws and bills of attainder.
Two thousand years ago in Jerusalem similar such practices were just a way of life. If the ruling religious council said you were guilty, then you were guilty. There were procedures. There were opportunities for the accused to speak for himself. There were witnesses. But these religious leaders decided what was appropriate with few boundaries as to how they reached the decision.
So the Sadducees, the Captain of the Temple Guard, and other religious leaders seek out Peter and John and throw them in jail. The next morning they are brought before the ruling leaders. Among all who are seated in this council, surely the Sadducees are the ones with the most at stake.
It’s hard to teach there is no resurrection when these Galileans are doing all sorts of incredible things in the name of the resurrected Jesus. This resurrection stuff is going to cramp the style of the Sadducees. The rest of the Jewish leaders are not too hip on this new way either.
So they haul these fishermen in front of them and show them that they are out of their league in trying to be religious leaders. The problem is that the leaders expected to see these men squirm in front of them and somehow Peter begins to speak as a skilled orator.
In the course of his defense, Peter speaks the truth about Jesus. Peter has been this direct a couple times before.
- The crippled man was healed in the name of Jesus.
- This is the same Jesus that you had killed.
- This is the same Jesus that God raised from the dead.
- There is no salvation except through Jesus!
There is another factor here that frustrates these elders and priests. The man who was healed is standing there with Peter and John.
There were many witnesses.
There was no putting this genie back in the bottle.
The whole town knew what happened.
The council sends these men out so they can huddle.
They really are not concerned with resolving the facts. They are looking at consequences. If they punish these men for doing what surely was a miracle, who knows what the people will do.
They call Peter and John back in and give them a warning. Don’t use that name any more in anything your do! Add your own body language, probably something involving shaking a pointy finger towards these two apostles.
Do you remember the encounter of the man blind from birth whom Jesus healed? After being grilled by the religious leaders, he turned the tables on them. He put them on the defensive by speaking a first person testimony. I was blind, but now I see.
It’s déjà vu all over again.
Without apologies to Yogi Berra, the religious rulers of the day had been through this before. Now Peter and John put the ball in the council’s court.
OK, you tell us what is right. Do we obey God or obey you?
Courtroom lawyers maneuver for hours to get a witness to a point where they have a no win scenario in answering the question posed to them. Peter and John were filled with the Spirit and got there much sooner.
Could these leaders really say obey us over God?
Telling Peter and John to obey God would endorse this new way.
The leaders did the only thing they could manage at the time. They warned them again and sent them away.
Peter and John return to their friends, tell their story, and pray together.
It’s a different sort of prayer. It is prayer that confirms prophecy through the history the disciples were living. What the Psalmist wrote was enacted by Herod and Pilate, Jew and Gentile.
Following the prayer, the place was shaken and all were filled with the Holy Spirit.
These new believers shared everything and there was no need. Once such man who sold everything and gave what he had to the apostles was a Levite from Cyprus named Joseph, but more frequently called Barnabas, meaning the son of comfort or the son of encouragement.
And oh, by the way, another 5000 came into the Kingdom of God.
God doesn’t care if you are the favorite or the underdog. If He calls you to do something, He will equip you sufficiently for the task.
That’s true for first century Jerusalem and twenty-first century America.
Don’t ever doubt what God has called you to do. He will equip you for every task.
Read Acts 4 in The Message