ACTS4v1to12: PETER AND JOHN BEFORE THE SANHEDRIN.
(A) Introduction (Read the passage.)
It wasn't very long before Peter and John came to the notice of the establishment. It is unfortunately true that through the centuries the establishment has generally been unsympathetic to spirit-filled, Christian activists. It will be interesting to see how Peter and John fare in their first brush with authority.
(B) Peter and John's conflict with the establishment.
There were two matters that brought the two disciples into conflict with the priests:
Although Peter and John had done a good work in healing the cripple the priests did not like the two men using that as an opportunity to preach Christ.
Christians who do good may be tolerated by people hostile to the gospel but only if they keep their mouths shut about Jesus. It is an interesting question: how far are Christians ever justified in agreeing to keep quiet about Jesus? Is it right to do humanitarian work in a Muslim country on the understanding that no attempt will be made to win others for Christ?
It is a great pity when a Christian is in a position to influence others and does not take the opportunity to do so. I was saddened that Prime Minister Blair was so embarrassed on being asked whether he and President Bush prayed together. It was even worse when he allowed his Director of Communications to shut him up by saying, "We don't do God." It is the duty of all Christians, great and small, to use every opportunity to speak up for Jesus. If this results in approbation and loss of votes that is a small price to pay for serving the Saviour.
The establishment always thinks it knows best. For a short time I taught RE in a Church of England Secondary School. I was told that I could teach about Christianity but not teach Christianity. I suppose I could teach about Jesus but not teach Jesus! I found it difficult to make the distinction. Certainly the RE adviser did not like me making frequent use of the Bible. In History a lot is made of using primary source material. The primary source of Judaism and Christianity is the Bible yet I was discouraged from using it. The RE adviser told me, "I would rather have an atheist teaching RE than a person like you." He and his ilk, establishment figures, knew best and I was soon replaced as an RE teacher.
Religious establishments are very jealous of their privileges. They are custodians of the eternal verities! Members of these establishments despise laymen - especially enthusiastic ones.
Corrie ten Boom writes about her work for the YWCA in her book, 'In My Father's House.' She tells the story of Pietje a little hunchback girl who was blessed by the verse in Romans8v34: Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died - more than that, who was raised to life - is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Peitje realised that Jesus was both her Judge and her Advocate and that if Jesus was interceding for her she had nothing to fear. Pietje died young but, because of Jesus, she died with nothing to fear.
Shortly after Pietje's death Corrie attended a meeting of the leaders and board members of the YWCA - the establishment of that movement in the Netherlands. During the course of the meeting one influential female member of the committee said, "I don't like the method of your clubs in Haarlem. All that preaching you do! I don't think it is right. I believe in Christian surroundings, and bringing girls into a Christian atmosphere - that will attract far more girls than just Bible talks will. I preach by my behaviour rather than by what I say."
The consolation of the hunchback was not a Christian atmosphere but what she learned of Jesus in her Bible study. Why is it that religious people oppose teaching the young about Jesus? Is Jesus going to do them any harm?
(b) They were preaching something the priest did not believe.
One of the easiest ways to annoy people is to tell them something they do not want to hear. They may be so wild that they do not hear anything else you say. They may be so angry that they behave unreasonably. We shall come across several instances of this in the book of Acts!
There are some folk in the Grace Baptist churches of Suffolk that will stop away from the Sunday services if they know the visiting speaker uses the NIV of the Bible. It would take a brave man to tell them that their blind devotion to the Authorised Version is tantamount to idolatry. This is not something they wish to hear and might produce the sort of fury that Stephen engendered in the Sanhedrin before his stoning.
Many of us have subjects we get stirred up about. I never like to hear a preacher consign the wicked to everlasting torment. It annoys me for a variety of reasons - not least because I believe it is untrue. See article on Heaven and Hell. But I try hard to put my disagreement to one side and listen carefully and sympathetically to all the other things the speaker has to say.
Peter and John were seriously outnumbered. A full compliment of the Sanhedrin numbered 71. Its members were in a different class to the two apostles. It consisted of politicians, lawyers and respected members of the community, all of whom were well educated and wealthy. The dominant group was made up of members of the high priestly families - Annas, Caiaphas, John and Alexander. They were wily collaborators with the Romans.
All these men knew one another. They were the insiders and exuded self-assurance and authority. What chance did the two Galilean fishermen have in such company? It was like two deck hands from Grimsby appearing before a Parliamentary Select Committee.
But... Peter and John had been called, chosen and commissioned by the King of Kings and Lord of All. Christians must never forget when opposed by the world whose they are and whom they serve. We do not speak upon behalf of ourselves but in the name of Jesus.
(b) They spoke up fearlessly for Jesus.
Peter and John named the name. It is much better to talk about Jesus than to talk about our faith. I listened to the Chief Security Officer of the Tower of London talk on Songs of Praise about the death of his son. He said that his faith was shaken but in the end it was his faith that sustained him. It is not really our faith but Jesus, by his Spirit, who supports and strengthens us in time of trouble. We must name the name.
It is never popular with unbelievers to bring Jesus into the conversation. My friend Tommy told me recently that when he was young Christianity made him feel guilty. I tried to tell him: "Tommy, Christianity is about forgiveness. Jesus is a saviour. He died that guilty men might be forgiven." But Tommy did not want to hear about Jesus. The name made him feel uncomfortable and it makes many unbelievers feel the same.
(c) Peter told the sophisticated, clever, powerful men of the Sanhedrin that they were wrong.
As I have already indicated, people in authority hate being told that they are wrong - especially by people of inferior status. Henry the Eighth knew that Thomas More thought he was wrong to divorce his wife and marry Anne Boleyn. He never forgave Thomas More for not attending his wedding. It was this, as much as anything, that cost More his life. Even the urbane captain of Brockley Cricket Club found the interventions of the Reed brothers difficult to bear. See story: He couldn't do it. Those in authority rarely forgive and forget when they have been bested!
There is one group that particularly dislikes being told it is wrong - the guardians of denominational orthodoxy. Sadly, they are the most unforgiving of all.
(d) Peter and John were uncompromising.
My heart still thrills to these words. The Christian position could not have been stated more clearly or emphatically. It is impossible for us to compromise upon the centrality of Jesus. He alone can save men. His death avails for Abraham, Moses, David and all the other heroes of faith. His death avails for every believer since Pentecost. His death avails for me.
Those who reject Jesus - reject salvation. This truth is liable to antagonise Jews, Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims. However Christians cannot compromise upon it. One faith is not as good as another. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life and no-one, just no-one, comes to the Father but by him.
(D) Peter and John were equipped to take on the Sanhedrin
Luke records: Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them...... v8. The Holy Spirit equipped Peter for the task of confronting the Jewish ruling elite.
What does it mean to be filled with the Holy Spirit? It might be helpful to think of an accumulator or a car battery. When I was a boy our wireless was powered by a couple of accumulators. During the course of a fortnight the accumulators ran down and by the end of the second week the volume faded. It was very frustrating not to be able to hear my favourite programme - 'A Journey into Space.' What a difference it made when we received our recharged accumulators. It is the same with a car battery. One night I parked and left my headlights on for two hours whilst I attended a course at the West Suffolk College of Education. I couldn't start the car at the end of the course. Woe! Woe! Woe! What a difference it made next morning when the AA recharged the battery. The engine sprang to life! A fully charged battery means that things dependent upon it: work to their full potential; are at their most effective; give good service.
The Holy Spirit had this effect upon Peter. It charged him up so that his thinking was clarified, he was given the right words to say and his own spirits were raised so that he spoke with confidence and conviction.
The Holy Spirit filled Peter so that he performed to his full potential. He was courageous, impressive and effective. Peter astonished the religious leaders. They found it hard to believe that an uneducated fisherman from Galilee could speak with such boldness and eloquence.
The Holy Spirit will fill us at need. If we are charged up and operating at maximum potential it is still possible to astonish the opponents of Jesus Christ.