The power of the Spirit
(Act 4:13-14 ESV) 13 Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. 14 But seeing the man who was healed standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition.
It’s an important lesson. The skeptics had centuries of Greek philosophy to back them up. Their power was being eroded by men of little formal education. And yet their good works spoke more loudly than their degrees and philosophy.
Their good works validated their teaching. They’d not performed a resurrection, but they’d taken a man as good as dead and made him fully alive. In the face of such a deed, it was hard to argue philosophy.
Indeed, despite Peter’s and John’s lack of formal education, their boldness and the power of their words — and they were very bold — forced the men with earthly power to reconsider their position. After all, it was plain that such men would not be easily intimidated.
(Act 4:15-18 ESV) 15 But when they had commanded them to leave the council, they conferred with one another, 16 saying, “What shall we do with these men? For that a notable sign has been performed through them is evident to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. 17 But in order that it may spread no further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.” 18 So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.
This was a cowardly way out. And foolish. Peter was plainly not afraid of these men. But the leaders were afraid of the people. They knew that if they overplayed their hands, perhaps by having the Romans kill John and Peter, they’d lose the respect of the people. If they did nothing, they’d appear to approve the miracle and thus the teaching. Therefore, they tried to quiet the apostles.
(Act 4:19-20 ESV) 19 But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, 20 for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”
The boldness of Peter and John is astonishing. They stood in the courtroom, stared down their judges, and refused to obey. Indeed, these very words have inspired some of the greatest acts of civil disobedience by Christians over the centuries — from Martin Luther to Martin Luther King.
(Act 4:21-22 ESV) 21 And when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way to punish them, because of the people, for all were praising God for what had happened. 22 For the man on whom this sign of healing was performed was more than forty years old.
The reluctance of the Jewish authorities to punish such popular leaders wouldn’t last much longer. But for now, they tried to avoid the conflict, fearing the people.
(Act 4:23-28 ESV) 23 When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24 And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, 25 who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit, “‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? 26 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed’– 27 for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.
And so Peter and John returned to their church, reported the news, and the church celebrated by quoting Psalm 2 —
(Psa 2:1-6 ESV) Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? 2 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying, 3 “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.” 4 He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision. 5 Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, 6 “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.”
They saw that the true power of heaven rests in God’s people, not the civil authorities, and recalled the Psalm in which David pictures God laughing at the enemies of his Anointed. Jesus is king on Zion. What else matters? All opposition is laughable.
V. 28 is one of those few explicit references to predestination found in scripture. The Christians knew their prophecy, saw it coming true before their eyes, and declared that God has predestined these things.
But this is no random remark. It fits a theme begun in Peter’s sermon at Pentecost —
(Act 2:22-23 ESV) 22 “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know — 23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.
Both times, the message is that these things are happening this way because this is how God wants his plan, his story, to play out. God is in control.
Neither verse, however, addresses the Calvinistic version of predestination. Both are speaking of the flow of history, of God’s own acting in history, and God bringing his salvation as promised to Abraham and the prophets. We’ll have to sort through Calvin’s theories using other verses.
Prayer for boldness
(Act 4:29-30 ESV) 29 “And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, 30 while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”
The apostles had just been arrested and jailed, and the church prays for … more! After all, miracles such as the one performed at the Temple were changing the world, but only because the apostles proclaimed the name of Jesus in the face of persecution.
(Act 4:31 ESV) 31 And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.
And God immediately answered the prayer! Indeed, the answer came with audio-visual aids — a shaking that reminds us of —
(Jdg 5:5 ESV) 5 The mountains quaked before the LORD, even Sinai before the LORD, the God of Israel.
This “shaking” refers throughout the Old Testament to the overwhelming presence of God, more powerful than a mountain.
All things in common
(Act 4:32-37 ESV) 32 Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. 33 And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold 35 and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. 36 Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, 37 sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
Luke transitions from preaching with boldness to living with boldness. He repeats many of the themes from end of Acts 2 — implying that God’s approval (the shaking in response to prayer) is tied to the power of the apostles’ testimony and to the lives lived by the Christians. Luke sees it all as going together.
The unity of the church (“one heart and soul”) was so great that many members sold their lands to support the rest of the church.
It only makes sense. Thousands had been there at Pentecost as pilgrims from far away. There was no Western Union. The pilgrims would have quickly run out of money, but wouldn’t have wanted to return home just yet — not until they’d learned the fullness of the gospel and the sayings of Jesus — enough so that they could act as missionaries back to their homes.
And, of course, the church was surely attractive to the poor, many of whom needed support before their conversion.
Therefore, there was an unusual and very real need. And the church took the steps needed to fill those needs.
You know, sometimes it’s easiest for us to support our brothers in times of crisis, even though the need doesn’t go away just because the crisis is over. We don’t want to create an entitlement that allows for laziness, but neither should we revert to selfishness as soon as the crisis is over.
Luke’s teaching is normative in that the church should always be “of one heart and soul,” and therefore we should always be glad to support our brothers in need.
1. Does the Spirit empower Christians today in the same way that he empowered the apostles before the Jewish authorities?
2. Should we pray for such boldness? Do we? If not, why not?
3. Have you ever experienced a shaking from God — perhaps not in such a literal way but in a way where you clearly perceived his special presence or response to a request? Would you share your experience?
4. Why does Luke repeat the end of Acts 2? What is it about these events that make “all things in common” important to this part of the narrative?