Chapter 10: Prejudice, priority, prayer and practice
13 Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marvelled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus. 14 And seeing the man who had been healed standing with them, they could say nothing against it.
15 But when they had commanded them to go aside out of the council, they conferred among themselves, 16 saying, ‘What shall we do to these men? For, indeed, that a notable miracle has been done through them is evident to all who dwell in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. 17 But so that it spreads no further among the people, let us severely threaten them, that from now on they speak to no man in this name.’ 18 So they called them and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus.19 But Peter and John answered and said to them, ‘Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. 20 For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.’ 21 So when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way of punishing them, because of the people, since they all glorified God for what had been done. 22 For the man was over forty years old on whom this miracle of healing had been performed. 23 And being let go, they went to their own companions and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them. 24 So when they heard that, they raised their voice to God with one accord and said: ‘Lord, You are God, who made heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in them, 25 who by the mouth of Your servant David have said:
“Why did the nations rage, And the people plot vain things? 26 The kings of the earth took their stand, And the rulers were gathered together Against the Lord and against His Christ.”
27 ‘For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together 28 to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done. 29 Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word, 30 by stretching out Your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus.’
31 And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.
32 Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common. 33 And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all. 34 Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, 35 and laid them at the apostles’ feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need. 36 And Joses, who was also named Barnabas by the apostles (which is translated Son of Encouragement), a Levite of the country of Cyprus, 37 having land, sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
Prejudiced? Convinced? Changed?
The prejudiced Council leaders are given the opportunity to rethink their position, to reset their moral compass, and even to enter into the blessing of accepting the apostles’ message and turning to Christ for forgiveness. Will they be convinced and change their position? Or are their minds like concrete: all mixed up and permanently set? One rhyme says, ‘A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.’
Why should they change their minds? There are four main reasons.
First, they know that the temple veil between the holy place and the most holy place was torn from top to bottom, as Jesus died on the cross. This signalled that through Christ crucified the way was now open to know God. It was one of several miracles which accompanied Calvary.1 God ensured that no one should forget the day that His Son died.
Second, they are well aware that the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus is watertight. Many and varied first hand, credible, corroborated witnesses—friends and foes of Christianity—confirm it is so.2
Third, they cannot explain how the two ‘uneducated and untrained men’, Peter and John, can speak with such composure, confidence, clarity and authority under such personal pressure. They recognise that they ‘had been with Jesus’. They can see what a huge difference that has made to the apostles.
Fourth, they have to admit to each other that in the healing of the lame beggar ‘a notable miracle has been done’ and cannot be denied. The only evidence, plentiful as it is, and the only explanation given are that this healing came only by faith in the name of Jesus.
Should they not therefore, turn to Jesus themselves and urge others to do so? Why do they not turn from their own sins, thank Jesus for dying for them on the cross, and put their faith in that amazing Person and in His name? Is that what they do? No! It is not! They do not revere and trust in the name of Jesus. Instead, they oppose it. They are determined to stop it spreading any further, in spite of all the blessing which has come through that name. Such is their guilt and spiritual blindness that they agree together to warn Peter and John not to ‘speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus’. Today, Christians face similar opposition worldwide. It can come from individuals, other religions, atheists, evolutionists, those with a different moral agenda, and ungodly authorities. Even in some countries which owe much to the hugely beneficial effect of Jesus Christ on their society, the anti-Christian cry is heard. Some hypocritically oppose free speech by Christians on some matters but uphold it for anyone else! How like the Jerusalem Council.
Do you oppose Jesus? Or do you just try to ignore Him, or delay responding to Him in repentance and personal faith? He is not your enemy! Recognise Him as the potential ‘Friend who sticks closer than a brother.’3 for all who turn from their sins and trust in Him. He wants to bless you, not harm you. Put your fears behind you and pray to Him.
Peter’s and John’s priority now is to offer God’s forgiveness of sins and eternal life to all who will do a ‘U turn’ from sin and come to Christ as Saviour. Eventually this priority, and their faithful preaching, will cost Peter his life and John his freedom.4
Now they ask the Council of supposedly moral religious men to judge whether the two of them should obey the Council or God. In today’s popular phrase, that is a ‘no brainer’ to them! They must obey God and stay faithful to His word: they have made their choice.
The cowardly Council dare not punish them. Why? First, the two men have done no wrong (which is a gross understatement); and second, the religious leaders are scared of violent public reaction if they punish Peter and John. The people know what has happened to this lame beggar in his forties and glorify God for it.
Never think that being religious, even being a religious leader, means a person is forgiven or knows God. A Christian is a guilty sinner, forgiven and changed solely by trusting Jesus. He is ‘the way, the truth, and the life’,5 and the only Saviour.
Peter and John leave the Council’s corrupt court and join their Christian friends at a prayer meeting! They report back there. They are encouraged by reading from a Psalm about God’s power as Creator and about the coming of Christ, despite powerful opposition.6 They pray for God’s will to be done, that He will note the threats against them, and enable them nevertheless to speak the Lord’s word ‘with all boldness’. Boldness characterises the New Testament Spirit-filled church. Christians need Holy Spirit boldness today! In these early days of the church, they pray that God will convince those hearing the gospel message, by granting healings, signs and wonders through the despised name of ‘Your holy Servant Jesus’. God answers their prayers, not now with tongues like fire or with speaking foreign languages. God shakes the place where they gather, fills them with His Holy Spirit, and again they ‘spoke the word of God with boldness’.
Obviously we need to be sensible, sensitive and wise, but we do need His boldness to witness too!
The new believers not only share God’s message with others. They also share themselves and what they have with each other and with needy people. Some voluntarily sell their property and use the twelve apostles to distribute it wisely to support the needy.
A Levite7 from Cyprus, called Joses and later called Barnabas, does this. Barnabas means son of encouragement. We will see later that he lives up to his name.
Community living is not a requirement for all Christians or for all time. Circumstances and cultures change. Perhaps some of those who now benefit from community living are refugees and include widows. But generosity towards and care for others still apply, and mark out a person whose heart has been changed by Christ. Jesus can make a mean man generous and a selfish woman care for others.
If Christ is Lord of our hearts, His lordship will extend to our wallets, cheque books, credit cards, and hospitality. Because we have received so much from Jesus we should be generous too. Jesus said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’ and ‘Freely you have received, freely give’.8 Again much wisdom and common sense must be applied in following this through, but the expectation to be generous is laid upon those who have already received the free but invaluable gift of eternal life!9
Questions on Chapter 10
Prejudice, Priority, Prayer and Practice—Acts 4:13–37
A. How reasonable is the opposition of the Council to the apostles and their message? How do Peter and John deal with their hostility?
Acts 4:13–22, Isaiah 53:3, John 15:18, 2 Timothy 3:12, 1 Peter 3:15–17
B. What are the main features of the prayer meeting that follow the release of Peter and John? How do they compare with encouragements to pray found elsewhere in the New Testament?
Acts 4:23–31, Philippians 4:6–7, 2 Thessalonians 3:1–3, 2 Corinthians 13:7, Hebrews 13:8–21
C. What motivates these new believers to be so selfless, generous and supportive of each other?
Acts 4:32–37, Acts 20:34–35, Hebrews 10:24–25, 1 John 3:11–17
- Matthew 27:50–54, Mark 15:37–39 ↩
- See the first chapter of DayOne’s book The Resurrection—the unopened gift to consider this evidence. ↩
- Proverbs 18:24 ↩
- The Bible speaks about Peter’s anticipated death in John 21:18–19. Tradition is that Nero’s persecution of Christians claimed Peter’s life around ad 67. The unproven tradition is that he chose to be crucified upside down because he did not think he was worthy to be crucified head up, as Jesus had been. John was exiled to the Greek Isle of Patmos from where he wrote the book of Revelation. ↩
- John 14:6 ↩
- Psalm 2:1–2 ↩
- Levites, from the tribe of Levi, helped in the Old Testament period to maintain and transport the tabernacle. They were not priests (descendants of Aaron). Levites were consecrated to God to look after the sacrifices and material upkeep of the tabernacle and later of the temple. ↩
- Acts 20:35 and Matthew 10:8 ↩
- Romans 6:23 ↩