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Acts #13 (chapter 4:1-12)
The Book of Acts
The Persecuted Church: The Beginning
Acts 4:1–12
 
Historians tell us that in the first decade of the church’s life, there were at least five outbreaks of persecution.  It all started in Jerusalem with what we read in Acts 4 when the church is, at best, only weeks old and filled with brand new believers.
 
Before long, we will read of the murder of Stephen and the death of James.  And before the book of Acts is finished, it will have spread from Jewish persecution to include Gentiles as well.
 
And the farther you progress through human history, the more cruel and bizarre it becomes.  Under Nero, they would sew the skins of animals to Christians and feed them to hungry dogs.  They were drenched in wax and then lit as torches to light parties.
 
Then came Domitian and he used the racks to literally pull the bodies apart. They were seared.  They were burned.  They were boiled.  They were scourged.  They were stoned.  They were hanged.  They were lacerated with hot irons.  They were literally impaled on the horns of bulls.
 
And it's still going on today.  We recently watched a documentary produced by the IMB regarding the persecuted church in the world today and estimates are there may be as many as 100 million persecuted Christians in the world today.
 
There are occasions when it is less and when it is more, when it is deadly and when it is only social.  There are seasons when Christianity is tolerated and when it’s not tolerated.  There are times when persecution is psychological and times when it’s absolutely lethal.  There are times when it’s simply disdain and rejection. 
 
But whatever form it takes, there is always going to be persecution because Satan hates God, Satan hates Christ, Satan hates Christians and the kingdom of darkness hates the kingdom of light.
 
So it shouldn't surprise that here in its earliest days of existence, the church is persecuted.   And as the church explodes and begins to grow, so does the persecution intensify as Satan tries to stop the work of God. 
 
As we saw last week at the end of chapter 3, Peter has just finished the second sermon of his career.  After the first, 3,000 souls were added to the church, and notice what we read about what happens after the 2nd.
 
Acts 4;1-4
 
By the way, the reference to "men" there in the verse is a word that means males as opposed to females.  So, there were 5,000 males who believed.  We don’t know how many other women believed, but I think it safe to assume there were many.
 
So this is explosive growth.  In just a few days time, there are at least 8,000 converts and probably many more, and they are now out there doing the work of evangelism as well. 
 
That means this isn't just some passing fad.  This isn't just a novelty. This movement is legitimate and it is quickly becoming a threat to the Jewish system.  You can’t have thousands of people congregating inside the temple courtyard in the name of the man who had just been crucified as an imposter and a false Messiah.
 
So, they have to react, and they do and it is with persecution. 
 
verse 1
 
This first attack is launched by three primary groups. 
The priests are the ones who officiated at all the temple sacrifices.  Priests served in rotations for two weeks.  So whoever happened to be serving at the times were a part of this opposition coalition.  
 
Then there was the captain of the temple guard. He was the head of the temple security forces. The temple was policed very carefully. 
 
Then there were the Sadducees, who were the minority religious party.  They ran temple operations.  The priests served under their direction. 
 
They were also a part of the religious hierarchy of Judaism.  They believed that only the Pentateuch, the five books of Moses was inspired by God, and the rest of the Old Testament was just commentary on the Pentateuch.  And, since there was nothing in the Pentateuch about resurrection, they didn’t believe in resurrection. 
 
 
So the Sadducees were the operating power and authority in the temple.  The priests were the hands-on-deck who carried out the daily and weekly temple operation, and the temple police provided security.
 
Verse 2
 
They are "greatly disturbed”.  That's probably an understatement.  This is a very strong word that occurs in only one other place in Scripture and that is in the book of Acts. 
 
It's found in chapter 16, verse 18 , where it describes Paul’s attitude when this woman who is controlled by an evil spirit comes at him and has to silence the demon.  The Bible uses this same word to describe Paul as "greatly disturbed", and rightfully so!
 
So this is strong word.  They are troubled.  It carries the idea of extreme agitation.  So what was it that had them so riled up? 
 
Verse 2 tells us.  First of all, they were teaching the people. 
 
So why did that bother them so much?  Think about it like this:  What if you showed up today at a Jewish temple with about 10,000 Christian friends, and launching a class in New Testament theology.  That’s not going to go well. You’re not invited.  This isn’t your place.
 
The priests and the leaders were the official teachers.  They were the ones with the authority and credentials to teach the things of God. 
So this is highly disturbing that they were teaching the people, and especially in light of what we read down in
 
verse 13
 
So on the one hand, we have this highly trained and educated Jewish teachers and on the other hand, this ignorant followers of Jesus Christ. 
 
And these are actually kind of technical terms.  They were unlearned.  That is, they hadn’t been trained in the law in the sacred writings.  They weren’t versed in Jewish theology.  They were ignorant of Sadduceean theology.  They were ignorant of Pharisaic theology as well.  They hadn’t been to the proper schools.  They were common men.  They weren’t professionals.  They were amateurs.  They were out of line.  Ignorant Galileans, who have stepped into the world of the educated and the wise and usurped the role of teacher right in the temple and are now teaching doctrine that they had condemned about a man they had killed.
 
And I'll just tell you, I like these guys!  I like this early church.  I like Peter and John. But no so with the temple leaders!  It bugged them, first of all, that they taught, and then it bugged them what they taught. 
 
verse 2
 
They were not only teaching the people, but they were preaching about Jesus, and more specifically that HE had resurrected from the dead.
 
So here we have an open confrontation to the authority of the Sanhedrin who had unanimously condemned Jesus to die as an imposter, and they are declaring that he resurrected which was openly rejected by the Sanhedrin. 
 
And thousands of people are gathering to listen, and as a result of what they hear, they are being converted to Christianity.   
 
So what are they going to do? 
 
verse 3
 
They arrested them and put them in jail until the next day. So Peter and John, according to chapter 3, verse 1, showed up a temple around the ninth hour, around 3:00 o'clock in the afternoon, and for the next three hours, they are at the temple teaching and preaching about Christ resurrecting from the dead, and by six or so, evening time, they are in jail where they will spend the night. 
 
And yet, in spite of the opposition, according to verse 4, thousands are saved through their teaching and preaching.  And this is more than the enemy can tolerate, so persecution begins. 
 
So how did the early church handle the persecution?  That's really what the rest of the chapter concerns itself with sharing.  They actually dealt with it in very practical ways.  And keep in mind, these are baby Christians in a church that is only a few weeks old, and yet they stood firm, even under intense persecution.    
 
 
For instance, number one, they were
 
- submissive to the persecution
 
verses 5-7
 
It is rather remarkable to me that they offer no resistance.  They laid hands on them. They put them in jail, took them out of jail, brought them before the Sanhedrin, sat them down in the middle, all without resistance.
 
Apparently they were paying close attention to what happened to Jesus and how He responded to His arrest.  And remember, it was Peter in particular who was going to take on the whole crowd with a sword.
 
They wind up "in the midst" of the Sanhedrin.  The Sanhedrin sat in a circle. There were 70 members plus the high priest.  This is the official supreme court of Israel, the same group before whom Jesus appeared. It’s made up of primarily of priests, scribes and elders, people of priestly families.  These are the bluebloods.  These are the officials, the officers, the people of power.
 
Verse 6 points out some members in particular.  There was Annas, the high priest.  He was the senior ex-high priest, but like a former president in America, we still call them president, even though they are not in office.  Annas still bore the title high priest.  He was the power behind everybody.  You remember when Jesus was first taken to trial, He went to Annas first.  He was a Sadducee.
 
 
Then there was Caiaphas.  Caiaphas was the current high priest.  The high priest was appointed by the Romans.  So in order to be appointed, you had to be in good favor with Rome, which meant you were a traitor to your own people. Caiaphas was also the son-in-law of Annas.  He had married Annas’ daughter.  Caiaphas is the President of the Sanhedrin.
 
Then there are two named John and Alexander, two important men who belonged to the high priestly family.  It is possible they may have been sons of Annas. 
 
All in all, this is a gathering of who's who in Jerusalem.  Lots of movers and shakers, and here in the middle are Peter and John, representative of the Christians, this group of troublemakers who are shaking things up.
 
And even though it seems like a desperate situation, it presents a great opportunity for Peter and John and the cause of Christ.  After all, if you are a compassionate God and you say to yourself, “The people on the Sanhedrin are lost and on their way to hell; they need to hear the gospel.  How is the best way to get the gospel message to them?"
 
Perhaps the only way to gather them into one group setting and share the gospel is to have your servants and messengers get arrested and put on trial.  There is virtually no other way that ignorant and unlearned men like Peter and John will ever get that chance otherwise. 
 
And almost on cue, they ask the set up questions.
 
verse 7
 
Well, you asked! 
 
And what jumps off the page is had they resisted or fought back, chances are they would not have had the opportunity to share what they did because they were submissive to the persecution.
 
God is opening up a door and providing an opportunity and the only way to take advantage of it is to be submissive.
 
Second, the proper response to persecution means you must
 
- find your strength in the Holy Spirit
 
verse 8
 
This is not the time to be spouting off your own wisdom and defense.  If ever there was a time when you needed the Holy Spirit to speak through you, this was it.
 
And the key to being filled with the Holy Spirit is abandoning trust in yourself.  It’s when you’re weak that you become strong.  And Peter simply yields to the control of the Holy Spirit and He provides the words that need to be said.
 
Is that not what Jesus promised would happen when He came to them in the Upper Room?  He said, “Don’t worry about that what you'll say.  I’ll tell you what to say.  I’ll show you what to say.”  Yield yourself to the Holy Spirit.  This is about faith.  This is about trust.  Don’t be fearful.
There’s a third response found here, and it may be the most important and that is
 
- boldly proclaim the gospel
 
Now that could be a little counter-productive because they've been arrested for doing exactly that and now their life is on the line.  They probably could have been dismissed if Peter had said, “You know what, guys, we’re so sorry.  We didn’t have a permit.  We didn’t get permission to take over the temple.  We’re really sorry we messed with the ambiance.  We’re sorry we got carried away, so I'll tell you what.
 
 There’s a lot of places outside of town or in some other town or even in some other country and we’ll just go keep to ourselves somewhere.  I'll tell you what we can do.  We can just build us a little building and gather up once a week and tell each other about how wonderful Jesus is and you won't have to worry about us messing things up anymore.
 
And if they had done that, they certainly wouldn't have been the last to do it because the church has become expert in that approach.  But they don’t do that.  When you're filled with the Holy Spirit, then what the Holy Spirit wants to say and do comes out. 
 
So Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit said to them,
 
verses 8-12
 
Whoa!  He just hauls off and preaches the same message that got him arrested! In fact, he not only preaches the gospel, he goes on to say Jesus is the only way to be right with God!
 
Then, the indictment comes.  You've brought us here and put us on trial for doing a good deed for a sick man.  So if you've arrested for a good deed, then this must be an unjust court, right?  If that’s the reason we’re here, this is an unjust arrest.   And Peter turns the tables by indicting his indicters. 
 
So if that's what's happening, if that’s why you’re indicting us, if that’s why we’re here because we did a good deed for a sick man and made this man well, then you need to know that it was done in the name of and by the power of Jesus Christ, the Nazarene, whom you crucified.  This man is standing here upright and in good health because of Him.” 
 
Then, verse 11, he reminds then they rejected their Chief Cornerstone.  They sentenced Jesus to death.  They killed their own Messiah, and verse 12, and He is the only One Who can provide the salvation that you need. There is salvation in no one else.
 
Sometimes that’s hard to say, particularly, in a religious environment.  Would you like to have the responsibility of walking into a Jewish synagogue or Muslim mosque and telling them, “You, have rejected the only Savior and you must repent because salvation is available only in Jesus Christ”? 
 
That’s what Peter did in the most sacred building in the world.  The point is simple.  You asked us by what authority and in what name we did this?  It is in the name of the one you killed, God raised, who is now alive, and it is by Him and His power that this man was healed.  That means Jesus is not dead.  He is alive, and only He is the source of and means of salvation.
 
That’s the exclusivity of the gospel.  It’s so disturbing to me how many times I hear professing Christian people, even ministers want to somehow soften that exclusivity up.  “Well, who am I to say who God will accept?  I don’t know.  That’s up to Him, not me.”  People say silly things like that, heretical things like that all the time.    
 
Peter knew is life was on the line.  So did John, and yet they refused to back down from the exclusivity of the Gospel.  Instead, they said, “There is salvation in no one else for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.”  We can be saved, but in only one name.
If there is no gospel, there is no salvation.  Leave out Christ, and there is no salvation.  Apart from Christ and the gospel, there is no salvation.  “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” He said.  “No man comes to the Father but by Me.”
 
So in persecution, how did they respond?  First, with submission knowing God has a plan and that God is going to open a door even in the persecution and maybe take me to a tribunal that I would otherwise have no access to. 
 
Secondly, fall with all your weight and all your weakness on the power of the Holy Spirit and the promise of the Holy Spirit to fill you, empower you, and give you the things to say. 
 
Thirdly, boldly present the gospel and don't  compromise its message. 
 
 Well, that’s how persecution got started.  We’ll see next time more about how it continues.
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