Introduction

This week’s lesson will be the penultimate lesson of this quarter.  In our lesson this week, we are going to be taking a look at the courage of the apostles in ministering a new way – that is the way of Christ.  The example has been set for having courage for the Lord through the Old Testament lessons that we have been learning.  So, let’s take a look at what the apostles do in the New Testament.  This week’s lesson is being taught from Acts 4:6-21.

Peter and John Before the Sanhedrin

Our lesson opens with Peter and John standing before Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander – the Sanhedrin council (v. 6).  This is the same council that Jesus stood before prior to His crucifixion (Mark 14:53-65).  These were some of the same religious leaders that thought so highly of themselves that they consistently found a way to question and antagonize Jesus where He went.  I say all of this because I want you to understand that these were people who were very familiar with Jesus.

The Sanhedrin council

Now, Peter and John were standing before the Sanhedrin because they had been arrested for preaching Jesus Christ and His resurrection before the Sadduccees, the people, and the priests (Acts 4:1).  Let us remember, these were people who had bent the law to their desire – they were very strict about their religion which Jesus often criticized as being hypocritical to the Law and to the Lord.

So, we see they have a question for Peter and John.  They ask, “By what power or by what name have you done this (v. 7)?”  To me, what is very fascinating about this question is that authority was still clearly on the mind of these religious leaders.  Remember, they asked this same question to Jesus when He stood before the council (Matt. 21:23).

At that occasion, Jesus responded to them with a question asking, “The baptism of John – where was it from?  From heaven or from men?”  They were unable to give a direct answer to Jesus’ question, so they answered, “We do not know.”  So, Jesus then responded to their question about authority by telling them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things (vss. 23-27).”  Now, on other occasions prior to His arrest, Jesus did say that He and the Father were one and the work He did was on His Father’s behalf (John 10:25, 30).

Peter’s response to the council

So Peter begins to respond to the council’s question about authority.  Let us notice that he was filled with the Holy Spirit when he began to respond to the council.  Now, the Holy Spirit had fallen on the disciples at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4).  The disciples had been going out teaching and healing through the Holy Spirit already, prior to this arrest.  

So, when we see that Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit, let us know that the Spirit was already dwelling in him.  I believe we would better understand this to mean that Peter was filled with the words and the courage of what to say to the council by the Holy Spirit in that moment.  Again, let us remember that Jesus the Holy Spirit would call to remembrance the things that Jesus taught and that Spirit would teach us what we should say (John 14:26).

In what Peter says to the council, you will notice that he speaks to what angered the council in a little bit more of a detail.  He mentions that he and John had done a good deed to a helpless man through the name of Christ.  Peter specifically says, “If we this day are judged for a good deed done to a helpless man, by what means he has been made well (vss. 9-10).”  

Well, we know the means by which Peter and John had been healing those who were in need of healing – it was through the name of Christ and the Holy Spirit.  This we know from what is recorded of a healing event in Acts 3:1-7.  (This is the event that Peter is referring to as well as the first time we see him heal anybody after receiving the Holy Spirit.)

So, Peter stands boldly before the religious leaders and we see that he actually preaches Jesus Christ in front of the same people who led for the crucifixion of Jesus (vss. 11-12).  This is some true boldness that we are seeing here from Peter because he would have had to known that he was also putting his life on the line by speaking the name of Christ.  These were men that absolutely detested the name of Christ and Peter was standing before them speaking His name and performing miracles in the name of Christ as well.

The council’s response

The council, when they heard the message that Peter had delivered to them, marveled (v. 13).  Now, some of us will take the fact that they marveled at Peter to be a good thing, but we will see that their marveling was not because they were impressed or had received the word genuinely in their soul.  No, we are told that they marveled because they considered that Peter was an uneducated and untrained man.  I believe the council viewed the apostles in this light because they were not raised up to be Pharisees – so they were considered uneducated and untrained.  Whereas someone like Paul would have been considered educated and trained because he was taught by men like Gamaliel, who was a teacher of the law (Acts 22:3).

So, we are told that the council sends both Peter and John out from the council so that they confer with one another on how to handle this situation.  What is interesting about what the council chooses to discuss is that their discussion on handling the matter is very similar to their thinking on how they handled Jesus.  For a time during Jesus’ ministry, they were afraid to move against Him because they feared the people’s response to their actions.  You see, many people loved the miracles and teachings of Christ and these men feared any action against Jesus would lead to them losing their power.

On this matter, the council concludes that they need to put a stop to Peter and John doing any work in the name of Jesus.  They even acknowledge that a miracle indeed had been done to the lame man, but instead of supporting the ministering of Christ which was clearly doing good, they choose to attempt to hold on to their little power.  They do not want the name of Jesus to be spoken of or taught (vss. 14-18).  Their goal is to put a clamp on the name of Christ so that it does not get spread across the land.  Again, they are desperately trying to hold on to some power that began to evaporate the day Christ started His ministry.

Peter and John’s courage speaks again

Now, these men believe they have set the law that Peter, John, and any others that would speak the name of Christ should follow.  They were used to being able to set their laws to establish their ways for others to practice, so I imagine what happened next was something unexpected for them.  You see, they probably thought Peter and John would rollover to their decision, but we see that Peter and John were still filled with that courage brought on by the Holy Spirit.

We are told that both Peter and John spoke in response this time around.  They say to the council, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard (vss. 19-20).”  What an absolutely perfect response to these men who were considered to be the religious leaders in Jerusalem.

In their response, they essentially say that the Lord is ultimately the one who has the final say and that they would leave it up to His judgment.  Let us remember that these men were commissioned by Jesus, God in the flesh, to teach, preach, and share His gospel.  So, Peter and John certainly knew that they were in the right.  They say to the council that they much rather take the word of the Lord than the word of men who think that they have some sort of authority over them.

The apostles’ resolve  

Let us remember, again, these were men who had Jesus crucified and both Peter and John are standing up to these men with their only care being the service in which they were doing of God.  So, they essentially tell the council that if they, the council, believe their words to hold more weight than the Lord’s word, then they, the council, could be the judge of that.  So, the council is essentially left with a decision to make – potentially go against the word of God, who they claim to believe in, or not go against the word of God and let these men go.

Now, it is not covered in this chapter of Acts but in the next chapter of Acts, you will see that the council, again, arrested some of the apostles and put them on trial.  They were on trial, again, for preaching and teaching the name of Christ which the Sanhedrin thought they had stomped out in our passage of scripture for today’s lesson.  At that occasion, Gamaliel, the same one I mentioned earlier, delivered a bit of advice to the Sanhedrin.  He said to them, “if this plan or this work is of men, it will come to nothing; but if it is of God, you cannot overthrow it—lest you even be found to fight against God (Acts 5:38-39).”

Our lesson closes today with the council being unable to do anything but threaten the apostles with a threat that could bring no harm to them.  The council feared the people’s reaction to any harm being done to Peter and John because the people were rejoicing and glorifying God for their work (v. 21).  You see, the apostles were relentless in their boldness and courage for preaching and teaching the name of God.  Thanks to their hard work, the name of Christ spread throughout the land and the world, and it is still being taught and preached to this day.  We, again, must be filled with this kind of courage when it comes to our service of doing the good work in spreading the gospel of Christ.