Acts Lesson Seventeen

Acts Lesson Seventeen: Acts 8:1-25 The Gospel Spreads

Saul agreed with putting him to death. 

On that day a severe persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the land of Judea and Samaria. Devout men buried Stephen and mourned deeply over him. Saul, however, was ravaging the church. He would enter house after house, drag off men and women, and put them in prison. 

So those who were scattered went on their way preaching the message of good news. Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah to them. The crowds paid attention with one mind to what Philip said, as they heard and saw the signs he was performing. For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who were possessed, and many who were paralyzed and lame were healed. So there was great joy in that city. 

A man named Simon had previously practiced sorcery in that city and astounded the Samaritan people, while claiming to be somebody great. 10 They all paid attention to him, from the least of them to the greatest, and they said, “This man is called the Great Power of God!” 11 They were attentive to him because he had astounded them with his sorceries for a long time. 12 But when they believed Philip, as he preached the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized. 13 Then even Simon himself believed. And after he was baptized, he went around constantly with Philip and was astounded as he observed the signs and great miracles  that were being performed. 

14 When the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had welcomed God’s message, they sent Peter and John to them. 15 After they went down there, they prayed for them, so the Samaritans might receive the Holy Spirit. 16 For He had not yet come down on  any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. 

18 When Simon saw that the Holy Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give me this power too, so that anyone I lay hands on may receive the Holy Spirit.” 

20 But Peter told him, “May your silver be destroyed with you, because you thought the gift of God could be obtained with money! 21 You have no part or share in this matter, because your heart is not right before God. 22 Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity.” 

24 “Please pray to the Lord for me,” Simon replied, “so that nothing you have said may happen to me.”

25 Then, after they had testified and spoken the message of the Lord, they traveled back to Jerusalem, evangelizing many villages of the Samaritans. (HCSB)

Today’s lesson can be divided into three parts.

  • The introduction of Saul as the main persecutor of the church.
  • Philip’s evangelism in Samaria.
  • The story of Simon the Sorcerer.

Verses 1-3

Luke introduced Saul at the end of the previous chapter. Now, he introduces Saul as the main antagonist of the early church. Before moving on, let’s get a detailed picture of Saul from various sections of Scripture.

  • Born in Tarsus of Cilicia – Acts 22:3.
  • A Hebrew of Hebrews – Philippians 3:5.
  • The son of a Pharisee – Acts 23:6.
  • A Roman citizen – Acts 16:37.
  • Educated in Jerusalem by Gamaliel – Acts 22:3.
  • A devoted Pharisee – Acts 26:4-5.
  • A blameless life when measured against the Law – Philippians 3:6.
  • On the path to becoming a great leader in the Jewish faith – Galatians 1:14.
  • Zealous for the Law leading him to persecute the church – Galatians 1:13-14.
  • Served God with a clear conscience – 2 Timothy 1:3.
  • Persecuted both men and women to death – Acts 22:4.
  • Entered synagogues to arrest, imprison, and beat believers – Acts 22:19.
  • A blasphemer against Jesus – 1 Timothy 1:13.

When considering the background and characteristics of Saul, it is only by the grace of God that such a man could be used to be the greatest evangelist and church planter, as well as writing 28% of the New Testament.

A couple of points to consider over these first few verses.

  • The scattering mentioned likely pertains to the Hellenistic believers as the apostles were not scattered. The Hellenistic view that God was not bound to a place or nation would have rubbed the religious leaders of Judaism the wrong way. In contrast, the Aramaic-speaking Christians had remained faithful to some Jewish institutions. However, this led to the following actions.
    • The persecution and scattering led to the Gospel being spread quicker and further.
    • The second phase of the Great Commission began; the witness to all Judea and Samaria.
  • Saul began to “ravage” the church. 
    • The Greek word used here would denote wild beasts such as lions, bears, or leopards tearing at the flesh.
    • He went from house to house, attacking both men and women. 

Verses 4-8

Instead of being distraught by the turn of events from Saul’s persecution, the believers took the message of the Gospel to new fields.

A quick historical reminder about Samaritans; they were a mixture of Jewish and Gentile heritage. The region was formed when the Assyrians invaded and captured the ten northern tribes of Israel in 732 B.C., deporting some and resettling Gentiles into the region to intermarry with the Jews. The Samaritans had their own temple, priesthood, and both Jew and Samaritans opposed interaction with the other. 

Now, let’s identify the essential points from these verses.

  • The Christians scattered from Jerusalem were faithful in proclaiming the Gospel in the areas where they went.
  • Philip was chosen as a deacon, Acts 6:5, but like Stephen, he grew into an influential evangelist, Acts 21:8.
    • In verse four, the word “preaching” means to evangelize.
    • In verse five, the word “proclaim” means to announce as a herald.
    • Philip was God’s chosen herald to spread the Gospel in Samaria.
    • To reject the messenger would mean to reject the message and the one who commissioned the herald to deliver it, God.
  • Philip not only shared the Gospel, but he also performed miracles among them.
    • Many who were demon-possessed were healed.
    • Many who had physical ailments were healed.
    • However, the emphasis is on the Gospel. 
    • They believed in the Gospel because they saw the miracles. 
      • In believing the Gospel, they were saved. 
      • The miracles didn’t save them.
    • There was great joy among the inhabitants because of the work of Philip.
  • The Gospel had now begun its outward arc from Jerusalem.
    • Samaritans were part Jew and part Gentile.
    • God built a bridge between the two enemies and united them in Christ.
    • Soon the bridge would extend to the Gentiles in an ever-widening arc.
    • In the Gospel, there are no unacceptable people, no physical rejects, and no place for prejudice.

Verses 9-25

A basic biblical principle is that whenever there is a movement of God’s work, Satan will try and hijack that movement with false teachers or false doctrine. It happened in the Old Testament, and it continues now in the church age. The enemy doesn’t want the church to advance and win souls, so he will try anything to derail the work of the church. 

Let’s further break this section down into two parts. Verses 9-13 and 14-25.

Verses 9-13

We see here a contrast between true holy work done through the power of the Holy Spirit and work that is done through other forces, often demonic or dark in nature. There are times that seemingly good works are, in fact, not done through holy power. Jesus warns of this in Matthew 7:21-23, even going so far as to say that some who do works in His name are deceivers. Let’s look at some details of this section of the passage.

  • Because the people were astounded and amazed at Simon’s tricks, they believed the things he said. 
    • Scripture doesn’t say precisely what he said, but it does say that the people called him “the Great Power of God,” which he didn’t deny.
    • This was not only misleading the people as to where his “power” came from but was blasphemy since it wasn’t the work of God.
    • Simon was an example of those who practice “lawlessness” as described in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12.
  • He was popular and recognized by the people.
    • They all paid attention to him.
    • He had been working among them for a long time.
    • He enjoyed the attention and adulation.
  • The work of the Holy Spirit through Philip now began to shift people from Simon to Philip.
    • The people saw the work of Philip.
      • People were healed.
      • Demons were cast out.
    • The people heard the Gospel message.
      • They became followers of Jesus.
      • They were baptized.
    • Simon was likely afraid he would lose all or most of his following.
      • He “believed.” 
        • It was a false belief.
        • Jesus spoke about how the demons even believed in Him. Believing doesn’t mean following.
        • Simon’s belief was based on wanting to acquire the power he saw manifested in Philip.
      • Simon fooled Philip with his false belief.
        • Although Philip was doing work through the power of the Holy Spirit, Simon was able to fool him. 
        • Both Jesus and Paul warn about false believers and/or teachers infiltrating the church and causing harm. 
        • We must always be on guard against those who would harm the church from the inside. 
          • Enemies from the outside are often easy to spot.
          • Enemies on the inside are much harder to see but often do more significant damage.
      • We don’t know for sure, but it’s possible the reason Simon followed Philip everywhere was to try and learn the “secret” behind Philip’s miracles.

Verses 14-25

Before we jump into the issue of Simon in this section of the passage, two other points need to be discussed.

  • The apostles sent Peter and John to Samaria. Why did this occur?
    • From a historical standpoint, we know that there was a deep and long divide between the Jews and the Samaritans. The two groups had their own view of Judaism and even a somewhat different Pentateuch. Unity is a critical factor in the church.
    • The Holy Spirit had fallen on them yet. This brings up point number two.
  • Why didn’t the Holy Spirit fall on them at conversion?
    • Just as the Jewish church had their Pentecost moment, now the Samaritan church will have theirs. 
    • By having Peter and John go to them, lay hands on them, and for them to receive the Holy Spirit would demonstrate that they were no longer two separate people groups in Jesus’ church. They were now one. 
    • Peter was given the keys to the kingdom of heaven by Jesus in Matthew 16:19.
      • Peter opened the door to the Jews at Pentecost.
      • He now opened the doors to the Samaritans.
      • He would later open the doors to the Gentiles in Acts 10.
  • The first ten chapters in Acts show a transition from Jew to Samaritan to Gentile. 

Now let’s move on to the conclusion of the narrative addressing Simon’s prideful heart.

Just as in Simon’s following Philip around to see if he could discover the secret behind the power of Philip’s ministry, he now sees Peter and John lay hands on the people and wants the same ability. However, he views it as a commodity and thinks he can purchase it from the apostles. We can draw a few conclusions from the final section of this passage.

  • Simon was never truly converted.
    • May your silver be destroyed with you.
    • You have no share in this matter.
    • Your heart is not right before God.
    • Repent of your wickedness. This phrase is usually reserved for unbelievers.
    • He was poisoned by bitterness.
    • He was bound by iniquity.
    • All of these factors lead to an overwhelming conclusion that Simon was never saved.
  • Simon’s response is also telling.
    • He seems more concerned about avoiding the consequences that Peter pronounced.
    • Instead of offering a prayer of repentance, he asks Peter to pray for him.
      • We shouldn’t confuse this with asking others to pray for our needs.
      • However, only the individual can repent and pray for forgiveness.
      • Those who won’t pray a prayer of repentance for themselves won’t enter God’s kingdom.
  • This narrative shows how close a person can get to salvation and still not cross the threshold.
    • Simon heard the Gospel.
    • Simon saw the miracles. 
    • He made a verbal profession of faith.
    • He was baptized.
    • He was never born again.
    • He was a clever counterfeit. 
    • If he was not discovered, he could have caused untold damage from inside the church.
  • Peter and John then make their way back to Jerusalem.
    • As they passed through Samaria on the return journey, they shared the Gospel.
    • They didn’t waste an opportunity to reach the lost.
    • Through the efforts of Philip, Peter, and John, the Gospel was now spreading throughout Samaria.

Applications

  • Ministry must be done in the power of the Holy Spirit. Successful ministry is never done in our strength. It may appear to work for a time, but eventually, it will crumble, and nothing will be left.
  • We must always be on the lookout for counterfeit Christians who would undermine the church from within. These same people would also cause the church to look foolish to those on the outside who need to hear the Gospel and come to salvation. 
  • Don’t let pride and jealousy stand between you and salvation. Simon had an unhealthy desire for the power that he saw demonstrated, and instead of submitting to Christ and being used for kingdom work, he tried a shortcut. No matter where God places you, no matter your spiritual gifting, be joyful as you contribute to the kingdom. 
  • Always look for opportunities to share the Gospel, even when you aren’t planning on sharing. Peter and John didn’t waste the opportunities on the trip back to Jerusalem. We run into people every day who are on the path to hell. Don’t miss those chances to share.

Acts Lesson Seven

Acts 4:13-31 – The Sanhedrin’s Dilemma

13 When they observed the boldness of Peter and John and realized that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed and recognized that they had been with Jesus. 14 And since they saw the man who had been healed standing with them, they had nothing to say in response. 15 After they had ordered them to leave the Sanhedrin, they conferred among themselves, 16 saying, “What should we do with these men? For an obvious sign, evident to all who live in Jerusalem, has been done through them, and we cannot deny it! 17 However, so this does not spread any further among the people, let’s threaten them against speaking to anyone in this name again.” 18 So they called for them and ordered them not to preach or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 

19 But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it’s right in the sight of God for us to listen to you rather than to God, you decide; 20 for we are unable to stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.” 

21 After threatening them further, they released them. They found no way to punish them, because the people were all giving glory to God over what had been done; 22 for this sign of healing had been performed on a man over 40 years old. 

23 After they were released, they went to their own people and reported everything the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24 When they heard this, they all raised their voices to God and said, “Master, You are the One who made the heaven, the earth, and the sea, and everything in them. 25 You said through the Holy Spirit, by the mouth of our father David Your servant: 

Why did the Gentiles rage 

and the peoples plot futile things? 

26 The kings of the earth took their stand 

and the rulers assembled together 

against the Lord and against His Messiah.

27 “For, in fact, in this city both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, assembled together against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, 28 to do whatever Your hand and Your plan had predestined to take place. 29 And now, Lord, consider their threats, and grant that Your slaves may speak Your message with complete boldness, 30 while You stretch out Your hand for healing, signs, and wonders to be performed through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus.” 31 When they had prayed, the place where they were assembled was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak God’s message with boldness. (HCSB)

In the previous lesson, we covered Peter’s defense to the charges and how the Sanhedrin’s case contained no foundation. Now, the ball is firmly back in the Sanhedrin’s court. What were they going to do in response to the healing of the lame man and Peter’s defense of the situation?

Verses 13-14

The Sanhedrin faced a serious dilemma. Since they had publicly arrested Peter and John and placed them in jail the previous day, they now had to figure out how to proceed. However, the “trial” had not gone according to their plans. They probably expected these “uneducated” men to crumble after being brought before the council. Instead, Peter and John challenged the religious leaders. Here are some facts that the council needed to consider as they continued with this charade.

  • They couldn’t deny that a miracle had occurred. The man who had been lame since birth, a man who was easily recognized by many, possibly even some on the religious council, was standing before them with no physical disability.
  • How could uneducated and untrained men perform this miracle? They were ordinary fishermen, not scribes or authorized priests in the Jewish religious circle.
  • Peter and John were disciples of Jesus, but Jesus was dead.
  • The council was likely surprised by the courage and confidence that Peter and John displayed before them.
  • Miracles, by themself, are not proof of Jesus’ resurrection or the truth of Peter’s message.
  • Satan can perform miracles – 2 Thessalonians 2:9-10 The coming of the lawless one is based on Satan’s working, with all kinds of false miracles, signs, and wonders, 10 and with every unrighteous deception among those who are perishing. They perish because they did not accept the love of the truth in order to be saved.
  • False prophets can do wonders – Deuteronomy 13:1-5 If a prophet or someone who has dreams  arises among you and proclaims a sign or wonder to you, and that sign or wonder he has promised you comes about, but he says, ‘Let us follow other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us worship them,’ do not listen to that prophet’s words or to that dreamer. For the Lord your God is testing you to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul. You must follow the Lord your God and fear Him. You must keep His commands and listen to His voice; you must worship Him and remain faithful to Him. That prophet or dreamer must be put to death, because he has urged rebellion against the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the place of slavery, to turn you from the way the Lord your God has commanded you to walk. You must purge the evil from you.
  • The miracle, the message, and the events that had occurred since Pentecost were all supporting evidence that Jesus was alive and the church was powered by the Holy Spirit.
  • Peter used the Old Testament in both sermons to support his claims. This is evidence of a true prophet, as shown above in Deuteronomy 13:1-5.
  • The Sanhedrin was left speechless after Peter’s defense and the healed man standing before them.

Verses 15-18

Asking Peter and John to leave the council was a standard procedure once all the evidence and arguments were finished. This allowed the council to have an open discussion among itself, with no outside distractions or interruptions. From the short narrative in these verses, we see the following facts.

  • With the statement “what should we do with these men,” it was clear that they were indecisive about how to proceed.
  • They acknowledged that a miracle had occurred.
  • The miracle was widely known. There was no way the council could cover it up or deny that it happened.
  • Jesus’ disciples were popular with the people, as witnessed by the explosive growth of the church and that people came to hear their message.
  • There was no charge the council could pin on Peter and John.
  • The only thing the council could do was use their position and power to threaten this new religious movement. They would forbid any teaching that referred to Jesus.

There is one other significant point to consider in this section. It’s contained in verse 17, and depending on your translation, it appears as “this” (HCSB), “it” (ESV), or “thing” (NIV). What is “this” referring to? Does the Sanhedrin want to stop the further spread of the knowledge of the miracle that occurred? That is not possible; that “cat was out of the bag.” What the council was concerned about was the Gospel, the preaching of Jesus, and His resurrection. The focus of their attention was stopping this fledgling movement in its infancy. 

Verses 19-22

Peter and John continue down the courageous road they started on when they presented the defense of their actions. They refused to accept the decision of the council. Their response made it clear that they would follow God and not what the council was telling them. There was no way that they would stop preaching about Jesus. We can all learn from the boldness of the Apostles in rejecting instruction from man that conflicted with what God or Scripture proclaimed. At the same time, we need to make sure that civil disobedience or our personal crusades are actions that don’t tarnish Jesus’ Kingdom. At this point, let’s take a short history lesson from Scripture on civil disobedience.

  • The Jewish midwives were disobeying the pharaoh and not killing the babies in Exodus 1.
  • Moses’ parents in Hebrews 11:23.
  • Daniel in chapters one and six.
  • Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in Daniel 3.
  • In each of these cases, there was clear direction from God.
    • The midwives and Moses’ parents knew it was wrong to kill children.
    • Daniel and his friends knew it was wrong to eat food offered to idols or bow down to idols.
    • Peter and John knew that they were under orders to preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth.
    • In each case, the people were following instructions from God and not a personal agenda.
  • In each case, they also acted with courtesy and respect even as they defied the instructions of man. It is possible to both respect and disobey authority when authority runs contrary to God’s instruction.
    • Romans 13.
    • Titus 3:1-2.
    • 1 Peter 2:13-25.

 The greatest example of unjust suffering is Jesus. In His suffering, Jesus taught us three things.

  • Righteous protest against injustice always involves suffering.
  • Righteous protest against injustice always requires sacrifice.
  • Righteous protest must be motivated by love.

As followers of Jesus, we need to be careful not to wrap our prejudice as righteous indignation and make ourselves look like courageous soldiers. We must always examine our hearts to ensure we are not starting a “holy war” to satisfy our inner frustrations.

Another way to look at this problem is to examine four possible courses of action that Christians can take. Only one of these is biblical.

  • Monastic – views the world and all governments as corrupt, and the only solution is to retreat from the world. 
  • Secular – the world is the only source of authority, and God is denied. This option is foolish as there is no counterbalance to an evil or tyrannical government.
  • Cowardly – authority rests in both the world and in God, but the world has the predominant position. Pilate chose this option when he handed Jesus over to be crucified.
  • Biblical – authority rests in the world and God, with God in the predominant position. The government has authority but is not independent from God. When the two conflict, we must follow God.

Christians with courage should be law-abiding citizens until that law contradicts the clearly written law of God, at which point the higher authority (God) takes over.

Verses 23-31

Peter and John go back to the rest of the disciples and report the details on what happened. After this, they all joined together in praise and prayer to God. They were united in prayer. There’s a lesson here on the early church that the modern church all too often forgets, the importance of prayer. The early church understood that prayer was necessary to defeat the plans of the enemy. Prayer meetings in modern churches, if they even have prayer meetings, often resemble a party or concert. The meeting contains little sense of urgency or the danger we face because most of us live a “comfortable” Christian walk. If followers of Jesus were more intentional about following the Great Commission and being bold, there would be more urgency and need for prayer.

As we examine their prayer, we notice that they didn’t ask for their circumstances to be changed or for the religious rulers who were hostile to the Gospel to be removed from their positions. Instead, they asked for power to make the best of their circumstances and accomplish what He had already predestined. They desired to glorify Jesus, not themselves.

Their prayer was based on Scripture; they used the beginning of Psalm 2 for their prayer. Through Scripture, God speaks to us and tells us what He wants us to do. In prayer, we talk to God and make ourselves available to do His will. Prayer is not telling God what to do or what we want; it is asking God to do His will through our lives. 

1 John 5:14-15 Now this is the confidence we have before Him: Whenever we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 15 And if we know that He hears whatever we ask, we know that we have what we have asked Him for.

The contextual setting of Psalm 2 describes the revolt of the nations against Yahweh and the Messiah, but it originated in the crowning of an Israelite king and the subsequent refusal of some of the vassal leaders to pay homage and submit to the king. Now, the early church is applying this psalm to their situation with Herod, Pilate, the Romans, and some of the Jews as the disobedient vassal rulers.

In response, God shook the place where they had gathered, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, enabling them to boldly preach the Gospel. We mustn’t misunderstand the concept of them being filled again with the Holy Spirit. This was not another Pentecost. This demonstrates that believers must be continually filled with the Holy Spirit to accomplish God’s work, and it is possible for our “tank to run dry” if we are not in right fellowship with God. If we are living in sin, if we are not reading Scripture, if we are not praying to God, if we are not using our gifts in service can all lead to our spiritual tank running dry. However, we see in this example the opposite. The believers were in a healthy and faithful relationship with God, and they were continually being filled with God’s power, the Holy Spirit.

Christian courage depends upon biblical praying grounded in the sovereignty of God.

A summary of this passage reveals several key points.

  • Strength to face suffering.
    • They were united in fellowship. This is a recurring theme in Acts, the united fellowship of believers. For those of us who live in individualistic countries, this theme often runs counter to our culture.
    • The sovereignty of God. Because God is in control of all things, we have nothing to fear if we walk in obedience.
    • Their united prayer was saturated with Scripture. We must spend time daily in God’s Word and let it soak into our innermost being. Psalm 119:11 I have treasured Your word in my heart so that I may not sin against you.
  • Fellowship helps in times of crisis.
    • When we gather with like-minded believers, we gain strength and encouragement, knowing we are not alone. 
    • When we share our situation with our support group, we unburden ourselves. We can receive wise counsel and not act on our emotions.
    • When we gather with our support group, we can spend time in prayer together. Being together helps us to focus on God and His sovereignty instead of being overwhelmed by our problems.
  • Acknowledging God’s sovereignty helps in times of crisis.
    • When we are experiencing a crisis, the enemy seems powerful and seem weak in comparison.
    • We may experience suffering, and some could be quite severe. But in the end, God will turn it into good.
    • Evil is a reality, but God is a deeper and more powerful reality.

Applications.

  • Don’t let a lack of formal seminary training prevent you from being a bold witness for Christ. Instead, submit and let the Holy Spirit fill and guide you each day. For those who do have formal seminary training, don’t let the education make you arrogant and forget that without the Holy Spirit, your words will ring hollow.
  • Be bold in the face of persecution. We serve the highest power in the universe, the living God, and we have nothing to fear when we walk in accordance with His will.
  • Gather together with other believers in unity. We desperately need each other for support, encouragement, and correction. Lone-ranger Christians are ineffective Christians. 
  • Pray. Pray together, pray alone, pray without ceasing. It is our most effective weapon in spiritual warfare. Nothing else stops the efforts of the enemy as much as prayer. 

Acts Lesson Six

Acts Lesson Six – 4:1-12: Persecution Begins

4 Now as they were speaking to the people, the priests, the commander of the temple police, and the Sadducees confronted them, because they were provoked that they were teaching the people and proclaiming the resurrection from the dead, using Jesus as the example. So they seized them and put them in custody until the next day, since it was already evening. But many of those who heard the message believed, and the number of the men came to about 5,000. 

The next day, their rulers, elders, and scribes assembled in Jerusalem with Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John and Alexander, and all the members of the high-priestly family.  After they had Peter and John stand before them, they asked the question: “By what power or in what name have you done this?” 

Then Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit and said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders: If we are being examined today about a good deed done to a disabled man—by what means he was healed— 10 let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—whom you crucified and whom God raised from the dead—by Him this man is standing here before you healthy. 11 This Jesus is 

the stone rejected by you builders, 

which has become the cornerstone. 

12 There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to people, and we must be saved by it.” (HCSB)

In chapter four of Acts, the official persecution of the New Testament church begins, which Jesus had predicted would occur.

  • Matthew 10:17-20 – 17 Because people will hand you over to sanhedrins and flog you in their synagogues, beware of them.18 You will even be brought before governors and kings because of Me, to bear witness to them and to the nations. 19 But when they hand you over, don’t worry about how or what you should speak. For you will be given what to say at that hour, 20 because you are not speaking, but the Spirit of your Father is speaking through you.
  • Luke 21:12-15 – 12 But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and persecute you. They will hand you over to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of My name. 13 It will lead to an opportunity for you to witness. 14 Therefore make up your minds not to prepare your defense ahead of time, 15 for I will give you such words and a wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict.

Peter’s message produced two very different results.

  • Approximately 2,000 more came to faith in Jesus.
  • The religious leaders rejected the message and tried to silence the Apostles.

Now let’s look at each group that is referenced in the first verse. It would be easy to skim over this, but it speaks to the level of attention and persecution that is beginning.

  • Priests.
    • The priestly caste in general.
    • They were opposed to Jesus before His crucifixion.
    • They were now opposed to the witness of Jesus’ followers.
    • Their teaching was being undermined by the Apostle’s teaching.
  • Commander of the Temple Police.
    • Not Roman troops.
    • These were the people who arrested Jesus.
    • Apart from the Roman governor and the Roman army, he was the second most powerful person in Jerusalem.
      • Romans first.
      • High Priest second.
      • Commander of the Temple Police third.
  • Sadducees.
    • Not the numerically biggest group in the Sanhedrin.
    • Upper class.
    • Powerful in position and with significant financial backing.
    • They understood that to survive the Roman occupation; they would have to cooperate with the occupiers. Hence, they had established close ties with the Roman authorities and would do anything to keep that influence.

So we see that power-brokers in the Jewish religious system were united in an effort to crush this new religious movement which threatened the stability and the positions of power that they now occupied. Instead of pursuing the truth, they were more concerned with preserving their prestige, status, and wealth.

We see in verse two what it was that was really bothering the religious leaders.

  • The Apostles were teaching the people.
    • Religious teaching was reserved for the priests, Sadducees, Pharisees, rulers, elders, and teachers of the Law.
    • In their minds, teaching was reserved for those who had attended a rabbinical academy and received the approval to begin teaching independently.
      • This was a point about Jesus that had really bothered them.
      • Still, Jesus had intrinsic authority in His teaching.
        • The people marveled at His teaching and followed Him to hear more.
        • His teaching was so powerful that at one point, when the temple guards were sent to arrest Jesus, they returned to the religious leaders and explained their failure (John 7:46.
      • Now they didn’t have one man to deal with; they had a group who spoke with the same level of authority.
        • The Apostles never attended rabbinical schools.
        • They came from simple backgrounds.
          • Fishermen.
          • Tax-collectors.
          • Untaught people. 
        • But they were teaching like Jesus, with authority, and the people were listening.
  • The Apostles were teaching about Jesus and God the Father raising Him from the dead.
    • Teaching only about resurrection would likely not have resulted in the persecution that now starts.
      • The Sadducees didn’t believe in the resurrection.
      • The Pharisees did believe in the resurrection.
        • This split in belief was later used by Paul to divide the Sanhedrin (Acts 23:6-9).
    • The Apostles were teaching about a resurrection on the last day.
    • They were teaching about the resurrection of Jesus.
      • If true, this would lead to several conclusions.
        • It would validate Jesus’ identity.
        • It would prove His nature and the value of what He came to do.
        • It would indict the religious leaders in the murder of their Messiah.

The religious leaders now resorted to a common, worldly method of retaining control. They used power in an attempt to intimidate and control the Apostles.

  • Power.
    • Economic power.
    • Authoritarian power – courts, legal system, and military.
    • Positional power.
      • You can preach when we allow it.
      • We can stop you anytime we feel like it.
      • We can arrest you without just cause.
  • Intimidation.
    • Putting them in jail was not necessary.
    • The Apostles were preaching in the open and not hiding.
    • They could have had brought them before the Sanhedrin the following morning.

The following day, as the Sanhedrin met, reveals additional powerful forces brought against the fledgling church.

  • Rulers – most likely those in positions of authority within the Jewish government.
  • Elders – distinguished older men who lived in Jerusalem and wielding great influence.
  • Scribes – teachers of the Law.
  • Annas – the high priest.
    • Although the Romans had removed him from the official position years earlier, he was still the power behind the position of the high priest.
    • In Israel, the high priest occupied that position for life. The Jews would consider Annas the true high priest until he died.
    • He connived to have his five sons and one son-in-law become high priest after he was removed from the position.
  • Caiaphas – the son-in-law and acting high priest.
    • He conspired along with Annas to have Jesus killed.
    • They may have begun to devise a similar plot against Jesus’ followers.
  • John and Alexander – not much is known about them. Most likely, they were members of the priestly family.

As we consider what had taken place so far, we need to review the responsibility of the Sanhedrin in Jewish life.

  • They were responsible for protecting the Jewish faith.
  • They were required to examine any new teacher or teaching within Israel (Deuteronomy 13).
  • They had the right to investigate what the fledgling church was doing, but they didn’t have the right to arrest innocent men and refuse to examine the evidence that was presented honestly.

The council now asks by what power, authority, or name they had healed the lame man. They unwittingly presented Peter with an opportunity to witness, and he took full advantage of the opportunity.

Peter now begins his defense.

  • Peter demonstrates respect for the council as he explains how the lame man was healed.
  • There is also a not-so-subtle jab at the religious leaders regarding their arrest.
    • Since the question that they ask is about the healing of the lame man, Peter is implying that the only reason they could have been arrested was for healing him.
    • Healing the man is not a crime.
  • Peter then says it was through the name of Jesus that the lame man was healed. 
    • The religious council likely thought they had heard the last of Jesus after His crucifixion.
      • But the Apostles were teaching that Jesus was alive.
      • To the Sadducees, who didn’t believe in the resurrection, this would have been tantamount to a heavy religious slap in the face.
  • Peter’s defense is guided by the Holy Spirit, just as Jesus had told them.
    • Luke 21:15 For I will give you such words and a wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. 
    • Peter quotes Psalm 118:22, a direct messianic reference that Jesus also quoted in Matthew 21:42.
    • Peter tells the council that they are the builder, but they rejected God’s stone, Jesus.
    • The image of a stone or rock is scattered throughout the Old Testament and is often symbolic of God. 
    • The stone can be a blessing or a stumbling block.
      • A blessing to those who place their faith in Jesus.
      • A stumbling block to those who reject Jesus.
  • Peter concludes his defense by stating that not only was the lame man healed in the name of Jesus but that Jesus is the only way to salvation and restoration with God.
  • In Peter’s short defense, we see a tactic that Paul would also use later. Not only did Peter speak in defense of their actions, but he also used it as an opportunity to witness to the truth of Jesus to the religious council, the very ones who should have already known who Jesus is.
  • Peter’s sermon can be summarized around four points.
    • The religious leaders were guilty of killing Jesus. 
    • Jesus rose from the dead; He was alive! The very God that the religious leaders worshiped is the God who raised Jesus and placed Him at His right hand, proving that Jesus is God the Son, the savior of the world.
    • God’s purpose was fulfilled despite the opposition of the religious leaders. 
    • Jesus is the only way to salvation.

A point to remember as we continue our journey through Acts, after chapter three, only three other chapters in total don’t mention persecution. This would imply that persecution, at some level, might be a necessary part of every believer’s life. Scripture would seem to confirm this.

  • 2 Timothy 3:12 In fact, all those who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.
  • John 15:20 Remember the word I spoke to you: “A slave is not greater than his master.” If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will also keep yours.

There is an essential point for the modern church to consider here. How often did we/do we hear about suffering as being an expected part of the Christian life? I know that was never mentioned to me before I submitted to the Lordship of Jesus. I understand it now and don’t run from it. When we look at the shallowness of the modern church, especially in the affluent West, we need to consider whether the church’s neglect in this area has led to a significant number of shallow Christians who view salvation as a “get out of hell, free” card, but who otherwise don’t live as a faithful follower of Jesus. As Jesus said, we must count the cost.

Applications

  • The church must teach that persecution will occur. As we witness to the lost, we must talk about persecution. As we walk with Jesus, we must prepare ourselves for persecution. For many of us, persecution is something we read about. However, we have many brothers and sisters around the world who face persecution on a daily basis. And according to Scripture, those of us who don’t currently face persecution may soon find out circumstances rapidly changing, especially as we view what’s happening around the world.
  • We should never fear persecution. As followers of Jesus, we are to walk in His footsteps. Matthew 10:28 Don’t fear those who kill the body but are not able to kill the soul; rather, fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.
  • Walk and live in the power of the Holy Spirit. The power behind the early church was the Holy Spirit. Ordinary, uneducated men were accomplishing remarkable things powered by God. The Holy Spirit is sometimes called the “forgotten God,” because the modern church often doesn’t rely on Him. 
  • No matter the circumstances or challenges we face, let the Holy Spirit lead you as you share the Gospel with the lost around you. Jesus is the only path to salvation.

Acts Lesson Five

Acts Lesson Five – Acts 3:1-26 Miraculous Healing, Powerful Preaching

Now Peter and John were going up together to the temple complex at the hour of prayer at three in the afternoon. And a man who was lame from birth was carried there and placed every day at the temple gate called Beautiful, so he could beg from those entering the temple complex. When he saw Peter and John about to enter the temple complex, he asked for help. Peter, along with John, looked at him intently and said, “Look at us.” So he turned to them, expecting to get something from them. But Peter said, “I don’t have silver or gold, but what I have, I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, get up and walk!” Then, taking him by the right hand he raised him up, and at once his feet and ankles became strong. So he jumped up, stood, and started to walk, and he entered the temple complex with them—walking, leaping, and praising God. All the people saw him walking and praising God, 10 and they recognized that he was the one who used to sit and beg at the Beautiful Gate of the temple complex. So they were filled with awe and astonishment at what had happened to him. 

11 While he was holding on to Peter and John, all the people, greatly amazed, ran toward them in what is called Solomon’s Colonnade. 12 When Peter saw this, he addressed the people: “Men of Israel, why are you amazed at this? Or why do you stare at us, as though we had made him walk by our own power or godliness? 13 The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified His Servant Jesus, whom you handed over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release Him. 14 But you denied the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you. 15 You killed the source of life, whom God raised from the dead; we are witnesses of this. 16 By faith in His name, His name has made this man strong, whom you see and know. So the faith that comes through Him has given him this perfect health in front of all of you. 

17 “And now, brothers, I know that you did it in ignorance, just as your leaders also did. 18 But what God predicted through the mouth of all the prophets—that His Messiah would suffer—He has fulfilled  in this way. 19 Therefore repent and turn back, so that your sins may be wiped out, that seasons of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, 20 and that He may send Jesus, who has been appointed for you as the Messiah. 21 Heaven must welcome Him until the times of the restoration of all things, which God spoke about by the mouth of His holy prophets from the beginning. 22 Moses said: 

The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from among your brothers. You must listen to Him in everything He will say to you. 23 And everyone who will not listen to that Prophet will be completely cut off from the people.

24 “In addition, all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those after him, have also announced these days. 25 You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your ancestors, saying to Abraham, And all the families of the earth will be blessed through your offspring. 26 God raised up His Servant and sent Him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your evil ways.” (HCSB)

As we look at this passage, it can be divided into two main parts:

  • Verses 1-11 centered around the power of Jesus.
  • Verses 12-26 centered around Peter’s message to the crowd.

Also, keep in mind the following ideas as we dig into this passage:

  • Verses 1-5: As we are involved in ministry, it may require us to see the opportunities and to determine the real needs of the people we minister to, and identify any resources we may have to help them.
  • Verses 6-11: As we serve, our service can’t be conducted in our own strength. It is only through divine power according to God’s will that will count in the end.
  • Verses 12-16: Our service for Jesus begins first with self-denial, centers on Him, and proclaims faith in His name.
  • Verses 17-26: By God’s grace, repentance brings forgiveness through Jesus, and that forgiveness is available to all who would call on His mighty name.

Verses 1-5

We’ll look at these verses in light of two key ideas. One idea is correctly understanding the needs around us. The second idea is a correct understanding of the rabbinical view on charity.

  • Correctly understanding the needs around us.
    • The lame man.
      • The man was born lame; all of us are born sinners.
      • The man couldn’t walk; no sinner can walk in a way that pleases God.
      • The man was outside the temple; sinners are outside God’s temple, the church.
      • The man was begging; sinners are beggars; they are searching for the fix that will satisfy their wants.
    • The need wasn’t money.
      • The man needed healing.
      • The man needed restoration to corporate worship. According to Old Testament Law, those who were crippled were not allowed inside the temple. Leviticus 21:18 No man who has any defect is to come near: no man who is blind, lame, facially disfigured, or deformed.
    • Peter and John were presented with an opportunity for ministry.
      • Peter didn’t perform the miracle to remove the man’s handicap.
      • Peter did it for two reasons.
        • To save the man’s soul.
        • To demonstrate the power of the Holy Spirit.
    • The man illustrates the state of each of us who has not submitted to the Lordship of Jesus.
  • Correctly understanding the rabbinical view on charity.
    • There were three pillars in the Jewish faith; the Torah, worship, and charity.
      • Charity was one of the main ways of kindness.
      • Charity was considered a major expression of a person’s devotion to God.
      • Worshippers entering the temple would be drawn to giving charity to a lame beggar, thus demonstrating their piety.
    • Charity was not just a characteristic of the Jewish faith; it was an expected part of their worship life.

These first five verses illustrate how we, as believers, can practice charity in a lost world.

  • We can share the greatest gift possible, the Gospel message.
  • The lame man represents those who are in disobedience to God, sinners.
  • Each of us has opportunities, maybe daily, to be a “Peter” to a lame man.

Verses 6-11

The first section set the stage; a lame man in need of healing. However, from the study of the first section, we understand that he only looked at the surface need, money, so that he could eat. He didn’t understand his deeper need. If he were healed of his disability, he would be able to work and no longer have to beg.

You can almost feel the anticipation-the man begging for alms. Peter and John were staring intently at him and telling him to look at them. No doubt in his mind he was going to receive a gift, maybe even a large one since they engaged him in that manner. However, the gift he received was not what he was expecting, yet it went far beyond his grandest imagination. He was instantly and completely healed of his disability. 

Peter, in the name of Jesus, commanded the lame man to walk! In a biblical context, a name is more than a label. It is a representation of the person and is an extension of the person’s being and personality. To call in to use the name of Jesus is a call upon the authority and power of Jesus. Jesus, through Peter, was continuing the healing ministry He conducted while walking the earth. The healing power spread from his feet to his ankles. He jumped up and began to walk. Not only that, he entered the temple with Peter and John. Previously, as a lame beggar, he sat outside the temple begging for alms. Now, not only was he healed of his physical impairment, he was given spiritual acceptance as well. For the first time in his life, he was considered worthy to enter the house of worship.

There is little wonder that the man was not only walking, but he was leaping and praising God in God’s house. The word for “leap” used here is a rare one. It is the same word used in Isaiah 35:6a, “Then the lame will leap like a deer.” The people inside the temple recognized the man; doubtless, they had seen him hundreds of times, yet here he was inside the temple, and he was not only walking, but he was also leaping for joy and praising God. At the sight, they were filled with awe and astonishment, which prepared them for the message that Peter would now speak.

Verses 12-26

Peter now uses the opportunity presented to share the Gospel and for the members of the crowd to receive forgiveness for their sins. Just as in verses 2:14, 22, Peter addresses them as “Men of Israel.” Peter had preached Jesus to them and accused them of denying their Messiah. Just a few weeks earlier, Peter had denied Jesus three times. However, Peter has confessed his sin and was restored to Jesus; he was able to forget and move on from his failure.

In Peter’s sermon at Pentecost, he needed to refute the accusation that Jesus’ followers were drunk. Here, Peter needed to refute the idea that Peter and John had healed the man by their own power. Jesus was the true source of the power that healed the lame man. Not only that, Jesus was glorified by the God of their fathers; Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. 

Before a sinner can be lead to repentance, there must be conviction. Imagine a sick patient. Before they will accept treatment, they must believe that they are sick. Only then will they take treatment from the doctor. Peter now turns the temple into a courtroom, laying out the evidence that Jesus is God. How could two ordinary fishermen perform a healing miracle unless God was working through them? Nobody could deny the fact of the miracle. They had seen the lame man countless times at the entrance to the temple. Yet, here he was leaping and praising God in the temple. To deny the miracle was not an option. This left only one choice. Accept the miracle as genuine, and since the miracle was done in the name of Jesus to admit that Jesus is the living Son of God and that His name has power.

This section also deals with the Jewish responsibility in the death of Jesus. There are four points regarding this topic contained in this section of the passage.

  • They did it in ignorance. In the Old Testament, there was a difference between unintentional and deliberate sins; Leviticus 4-5, Numbers 15:22-31.
    • Those who sin deliberately were a rebel against God and were to be cut off from their people.
    • Those who sinned unintentionally were given an opportunity to repent and seek God’s forgiveness. Ignorance doesn’t remove the guilt, but it does alter the circumstances.
  • Nowhere in Acts is there a blanket condemnation of the Jews for the death of Jesus. Only the Jews in Jerusalem are given that responsibility.
  • Gentiles shared in the blame; lawless men 2:23, Pilate 3:13.
  • The suffering of Jesus was part of God’s plan of salvation for mankind, 3:18.

Peter now draws on the Old Testament, and the greatest prophet found there, Moses. Any Jew who had even a slight understanding and knowledge of Scripture would see the link Peter was making. Belief in Moses should produce belief in Jesus. At the same time, belief in Jesus does not nullify the belief in Moses. Peter demonstrates that Moses pointed to Jesus in Deuteronomy 18:15-19.

Peter closes the sermon by reminding them that they are the natural heirs of the promises that date back to Genesis 22:18, “And all the nations of the earth will be blessed by your offspring because you have obeyed My command.” Every prophet of Yahweh looked forward to the coming of the Messiah, from Moses all the way to John the Baptist.

The “offspring” referred to in verse 25 is singular. The Abrahamic covenant points to Jesus. Jesus is the sole offspring through which the blessing would come. He was Israel’s Messiah.

As we look back on this passage, there are two points we would do well to remember.

  • Ministry is meant to be done in teams. Lone rangers often do not last long in ministry.
    • Throughout Acts, we see ministry done in teams.
    • When Jesus sent out the twelve along with the seventy, they were sent out in pairs; Mark 6:7 and Luke 10:1.
    • When Peter addressed the crows at Pentecost, he stood up with the eleven; Acts 2:14.
    • When Peter went to the home of Cornelius, he took six brothers with him; Acts 10:23 and 11:12.
    • Biblical context dictates that ministry is done with teams.
    • Each believer has one or more spiritual gifts to equip the team to function as a whole.
    • Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 gives four benefits of teams:
      • Greater fruitfulness – Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their efforts.
      • Help in times of personal failure – For if either falls, his companion can lift him up, but pity the one who falls without another to lift him up.
      • Warmth of affirmation in times of need – Also, if two lie down together, they can keep warm; but how can one person alone keep warm?
      • Strength to face attacks – And if someone overpowers one person, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not easily broken.
  • Ministry is meant to be done in power, the power of the Holy Spirit.
    • Throughout Acts and much of the New Testament, we see the power of the Holy Spirit evident in the life of the church.
    • In the example in this passage of the lame man, we see that spiritual poverty is a greater curse than economic poverty. An economically poor church that is filled with the power of the Holy Spirit is, in reality, a rich church.
    • With the increase in affluence within much of the church community in the West, the dependence on God has declined. The church is identified with its ornate building, its famous pastor, a worship team that could perform in any major theater, or any other worldly measure of richness. But it may not have any spiritual richness.

Applications

  • As we engage with individuals in the world around us, pray for wisdom and discernment for their actual needs, not their surface needs. Just as the example in this passage, there may be a distinct difference between the two.
  • As we are involved in ministry, do we try and do it in our own power, or do we submit to the leading of the Holy Spirit and work through His power?
  • Do we glorify Jesus in our work? We may never perform a miraculous healing, but whatever ministry work we are engaged in, we should always give glory where it is due, Jesus.
  • Do we try and engage in ministry by ourselves, or are we part of a team? Being a lone ranger is dangerous on a couple of points. First, it is easier to take the credit for success instead of glorifying Jesus with success. Second, it is much easier to succumb to sinful temptations when we go it alone.