Simon Peter was preaching Jesus and suddenly there was a display of authoritative, iron-fisted power
as the temple guards elbowed their way through the crowd.
They arrested Peter and John by dragging them off, and putting them in jail until the next day.
The most remarkable thing about this arrest is the reason.
These apostles were not proclaiming the overthrow of the Roman government.
If they had been, we might have expected such a reaction from the authorities.
Nor were they protesting against some of the social evils of the day.
Peter had not raised a word of protest against the widespread practice of slavery
throughout the empire, even though half the people in the Roman Empire were slaves.
And he did not say anything about the burdens of excessive taxation
which the Romans had levied against the people.
He did not give an explanation, from a human point of view, as to how the miracle had happen to the lame man.
He did not explain from a medical point of view the changes that took place
in the body of the man who had been lame.
There was no explanation of the part that Peter and John had in the miracle.
There was no discussion or description of how close they had lived to the Lord,
and how strong they were in the faith.
"Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel,
that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead,
even by him does this man stand here before you whole."
The message, which the authority is regarded as too radical to tolerate,
was the simple proclamation of Jesus and His resurrection from the dead.
For this sermon Peter and John were thrown into jail before they could even finish their message.
This great message is proclaimed and there is joy for mourning, beauty for ashes,
hope for despair, and courage for cowardice.
So desperate were these people and so tired of emptiness and of sin,
that 5000 souls turned to Christ to begin a new life in Him.
Wouldn't you think that the authorities would be pleased that the rulers of the city would be happy
that men and women were finding the answer to their lifelong search?
Why, then, were they so annoyed with this message about Jesus?
It is certainly clear that they sensed a threat.
So they stopped Peter and John in the midst of the message until they could put
their finger on what it was that bothered them, as we read in the next section of Acts 4: 5-12.
Most of us do not need someone to tell us what to do; we already know what we should be doing.
As Mark Twain said,
"I don't need anyone to tell me what to do. I'm not doing half of what I know to do, now."
What we need is someone who will make us want to do what we ought to do.
We need someone to give us a new heart.
a new outlook, a new ability, a new capacity, and a new life.
That is what Jesus of Nazareth did for these 5000 people, and that is what
Jesus continues to do day after day.
To these rulers that was political heresy.
They wanted no changes.
And that is what our world is saying today.
So the arrest of the apostles was due not so much to the miracle which they had wrought
as to the claims of which the miracle had been the occasion and the proof.
It was the sermon of Peter which aroused the antagonism of the rulers.
The disciples were preaching Christ and His resurrection, and they are thrown into jail.
The leaders of the temple had vested interest, and wanted no truth proclaimed
that would threaten their interests.
When will the world ever learn that persecutors may imprison the apostles of truth,
but cannot imprison truth.
Now observe the authorities: the priest, captain of the temple, and the Sadducees.
The priest representing religion, the captain of the temple representing government,
and the Sadducees representing skepticism.
So here we have religion, politics, and infidelity joining forces to crush the young church.
The Sadducees, Pharisees, Herodians and various pagan groups opposed the Christian movement,
but each for different reasons.
The Sadducees were a minority, but as a wealthy aristocracy, they controlled the temple
and were powerful in the government.
Much of their wealth was in lands, which was property that could easily be confiscated
by a conquering nation.
This, in part, accounts for the fact that they were willing to collaborating with foreign rulers.
Since the major concern of the Sadducees was to maintain their power
in the nation and over the temple, they cultivated the good will of the Romans.
They determined at all cost to maintain order among the Jews, for in the eyes of the Romans
the one unpardonable sin was the insubordination of any of her subject nations.
The high priesthood was by Roman appointment.
Even the high priest's robes were kept by a Roman official and issued to him
only when needed for the ritual services.
All this aristocratic group was daily dependent upon Rome.
And any semblance of sedition or revolt could bring down the wrath of Rome,
and the Sadducees could be held accountable for the trouble.
The magnitude of the growing group of Christian disciples and their abounding enthusiasm
would be a cause for Sadduceean alarm.
The Sadducees were also annoyed because the apostles in testifying of the resurrection of Jesus,
testified also of the resurrection in general.
This was a thorn in their side for they did not believe in the resurrection.
And the priests could not endure the apostle's teaching the multitudes
because they were encroaching on their privileges as priests.
So the reason this message "grieved" the opposition varied.
The second verse furnishes the reply:
"Being grieved that they taught the people and preached through Jesus the resurrection from the dead."
The priests were "grieved" because these apostles should presume to teach,
and thus were seeking to replace their office as priests.
The captain of the temple was "grieved" because the social tranquility was disturbed
and the public peace was supposedly endangered.
The Sadducees were "grieved" because the disciples proclaimed a resurrection of the dead,
a dogma which they didn't believe.
So Peter and John were subjected to the first opposition to the Christian church.
The high calling of Christianity is something else.
The Christian message and meaning have been pitifully watered-down.
The call of Christianity means no more to many than a call to a better system of ethics
or a call to a higher morality, or a call to organized religious activity.
Jesus never issued such calls.
The call of the Master was clearly a call from and to Calvary:
"If any man will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross, and follow me."
These early disciples knew that when a man "took up his cross," he was not simply bearing a burden,
he was dying for a cause.
All the early apostles were insulted and persecuted by the enemies of their Master.
They were called to seal their beliefs with their blood.
Just listen at what it cost the disciples to follow Christ:
- Matthew suffered death by being slain with a sword in the distant city of Ethiopia.
- Luke was hanged upon an olive tree in the classic land of Greece.
- John was put in a cauldron of boiling oil, but escaped death in a miraculous manner,
and was afterward branded at Patmos.
- Peter was crucified at Rome with his head downward.
- James, the Greater, was beheaded at Jerusalem.
- James, the Less, was thrown from a lofty pinnacle of the temple,
and then beaten to death with a "fuller's club."
- Bartholomew was flayed alive.
- Andrew was bound to a cross on which he preached to his persecutors until he died.
- Thomas was run through the body with a lance at Coromandel in the East Indies.
- Jude was shot to death with arrows.
- Matthias was first stoned and then beheaded.
- Barnabas of the Gentiles was stoned to death at Salonica.
- Paul, after various tortures and persecutions was finally beheaded at Rome by the Emperor Nero.
Such was the fate of the apostles according to traditional statements.
So do not ever be indifferent to this thing called Christianity.
It was created for us by the blood of Christ and many have died for the sake of Christ.
For almost the first 300 years Christianity was forbidden.
Christians were publicly whipped, dragged by their heels through the streets until their brains ran out.
Their limbs were torn off, their ears and noses were cut off, and their eyes were dug out with sharp sticks
or burned out with hot irons.
Sharp knives were run under their finger nails.
Melted lead was poured over their bodies.
They were drowned, burned at the stake, beheaded, crucified, ground between stones,
torn by wild beasts, smothered in lime kilns, scraped to death by sharp shells,
and killed all day long.
All of us will not be called upon to die heroically or sacrificially.
But we are called on to sacrifice pride, pleasure, position, prosperity, and perhaps, even our very lives.
"Men would bid you rise to higher levels,
But they leave you on the human plane.
We must have a heavenly resurrection;
We must die with Christ and rise again.
Once there lived another man within me,
Child of earth and slave of Satan he;
But he was nailed to the cross of Jesus,
And that man is nothing now to me.
Now another Man is living in me,
And I count His blessed life as mine
I have died with Him to all my own life;
I have risen to all His life divine.
Oh, it is sweet to die with Jesus,
And by death be free from self and sin!
Oh, it is sweet to live with Jesus
As He lives the spirit-filled life within!"
Come Christian and die to self!
Come unsaved person and live with Jesus!
Sermon by Dr. Harold L. White
Email Dr. White at firstname.lastname@example.org