As we pursue our study in the book of Acts we now find the early church coming up against decided opposition by leaders of the old religious system. This was a system that had originally been established by God but had become so greatly corrupted by human additions that it was scarcely recognizable as the Judaism of the days of Moses and the prophets. Our Lord Jesus, you remember, said the Pharisees had corrupted the Word of God by their traditions, “teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:9).
The Apostolic Message (Acts 4:1-22)
At this time the Sadducee party was in power in Jerusalem. The Pharisees and the Sadducees constituted the two leading sects among the Jewish people. There were several lesser ones. The Sadducees, we are told later on in the book of Acts, denied that man has a personal spirit, or that angels are personalities, or that there is any resurrection after death, whereas the Pharisees assented to all these things.
It was the Sadducees then who were incensed with the teaching of the apostles in the beginning, for their entire message had to do with the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Some people speak of the spiritual resurrection of Christ. The spirit of Christ never died. He committed His spirit to the Father as His body was about to die. The body of the Lord Jesus lay for three days and nights in Joseph’s new tomb, and it was the body of Jesus that was missing when the tomb was empty. In His body the Lord Jesus appeared to His disciples during the forty days before He ascended to Heaven. Then He was taken up in that very body, and in that body He sits as the exalted man on the throne of God “There is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5).
The apostolic gospel was the gospel of the risen Christ. There are some who think that they can discern a disagreement between the preaching of the gospel by the twelve and the message proclaimed by the apostle Paul. These bewildered people insist that there are two different gospels, and that Peter preached one gospel, and when Paul was converted he preached another gospel altogether.
It seems to me that anyone who knows the gospel message ought to see at once that there was absolutely no difference between the gospel preached by Peter and the rest of the twelve and that preached by the apostle Paul. Paul explained the gospel he preached:
Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scripture; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).
This—and nothing else—is the gospel! Nothing can be added to that. The apostles preached a great many other things that were not included in that, but they were not the gospel. The gospel is that Christ died for our sins, that He was buried and that He rose again the third day. That was exactly the gospel which was preached by Peter on the day of Pentecost, and after the healing of the lame man as recorded in Acts 3. Nothing else is the gospel. There is no other gospel.
The apostle Paul wrote in Galatians, “Though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed” (1:8). Did Peter preach another gospel? Was Paul pronouncing a curse on Peter? Surely not, because Peter’s gospel was exactly the same as Paul’s gospel. Then Paul goes further, “As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:9). So you see it would have put Peter in a very bad light indeed if he had been preaching any other gospel than that preached by the apostle Paul, but he preached Christ crucified, buried, and risen. Paul preached Christ crucified, buried, and risen. Their messages as to this were identical.
The confusion arises when other things that accompany the gospel are spoken of as the gospel itself. Peter told Jewish believers on the day of Pentecost certain things that Paul never told Gentile believers, but these things were not the gospel. And other things Paul told the Gentile believers, in addition to the gospel, constituted a further revelation that God had given him. If we can get this clear, there will be no further trouble.
When a person believes the message that Christ was crucified and died then rose from the dead, that person is born of God. But after he is born of God there may be a great many other things he needs to know.
Let us continue with the story of the presentation of the gospel to the people of Jerusalem. After the healing of the lame man, Peter found an opportunity to preach the gospel. The leaders of the people were drawn together and indignantly protested against this, “being grieved that [the apostles] taught the people and preached through Jesus the resurrection from the dead” (Acts 4:2).
Notice, not the resurrection of the dead simply, but the resurrection
from the dead. Scripture teaches both. Scripture teaches the resurrection of the dead. It tells us some day all men will be resurrected. The doctrine of the resurrection of the dead runs all through the Bible. In Christianity we have something new—the resurrection from among the dead. First in the case of our Lord Jesus Christ, and then all believers who will have died up to the time our Lord returns in the air. They will be raised from among the dead. The unsaved dead will be left in their sins.
It was this doctrine—resurrection from among the dead—that stirred these Sadducees and stung them to bitter opposition. They seized Peter and John as they spoke in the temple and put them in jail overnight, “for it was now eventide.” While they were locked up the Word was still bringing forth fruit, “and the number of the men [who believed] was about five thousand.” This does not mean five thousand more were converted; but that added to the three thousand converted on the day of Pentecost, there were now some two thousand more. Notice how clear that is. They believed, and because they believed were added to the company. Men are saved when they believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.
The next day all the dignitaries, including the high priest and his family, were gathered together at Jerusalem. They brought Peter and John before them and inquired by what authority or in what name they had acted, demanding in effect, “Who gave you two men authority to usurp the functions of the ministry? We did not give you authority and we are the chief priests in Israel. In what name and by what power was this lame man healed?” They thought perhaps to overawe these two plain, unlearned fishermen. Little did they know about the Holy Spirit who had baptized them into Christ and anointed them for service. “Peter, filled with the Holy Ghost.” You will notice that as long as the apostles acted in obedience to what the Lord had told them to do they were filled with the Holy Ghost.
Some people have an idea that being filled with the Holy Ghost is a unique experience that comes from praying a long time until suddenly an overwhelming sensation overcomes them. That is just an emotional experience. When people walk in obedience to the Word of God, when they do the thing the Lord tells them, to do, He fills them with His Spirit and gives them power to carry on in accordance with His commandment.
So Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit said,
Ye rulers of the people, and elders of Israel, If we this day be examined of the good deed done to the impotent man, by what means he is made whole; Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole (Acts 4:8-10).
There you have the gospel! Is there any difference between that and Paul’s gospel? No, it is the same glorious message. Christ was put to death, He was crucified, but God raised Him from the dead.
All our salvation depends on that fact. “If Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17). The minister of the gospel today proclaims the living Christ, declaring that the same One who trod the hills and valleys of Palestine so long ago now sits exalted on the throne of God. He is a Prince and a Savior, now offering redemption and remission of sins to all who put their trust in Him. God’s raising of His Son from the dead was the token of His perfect satisfaction in the work Jesus accomplished on the cross. No one but the risen Savior could have saved sinners like you and me. We need a power outside of ourselves; He lives to exercise that power on our behalf. Peter said, through Christ “doth this man stand here before you whole.”
Then he directed their attention to a passage in Psalm 118, the Psalm to which our Lord Jesus Christ had referred them before He was crucified. Peter said, speaking of the risen Christ, “This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner.”
The Jews had their own explanation of this verse. It is only a legend, but it is very illuminative. The story goes that when the temple of Solomon was in the course of construction all the stones sent up from the quarry below were practically of the same size and shape. One day a stone was found different from all the rest, and the builders said, “There is no place for this stone. There must be a mistake.” So they rolled it to the edge of the cliff and tumbled it down into the valley of Kedron below the temple area. As the years went on (Solomon’s temple was seven years in building) they were finally ready for the chief cornerstone; so they sent down the order for it. They were told “You must have it there; we sent it to you long ago.” Their search proved fruitless, until an old workman said, “I remember now. There was a stone different from the rest and we thought there was no place for it and tumbled it down to the valley below.”
So, the builders went down to the valley of Kedron and there they found the stone, now covered by lichens and debris—the very stone they had rejected. So they had to hoist it to the top of the cliff, then back to the platform and put it into place. It fit perfectly. The stone the builders rejected had become the headstone of the corner.
Every Jew knew that story and knew what Peter meant when he said, “This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner.” In other words Peter was saying, “Jesus was God’s Anointed and you rejected Him, crucified Him, but God has raised Him from the dead and in resurrection has made Him the chief cornerstone of the new temple He is building.” That new temple is the church spoken of in Matthew’s Gospel, “Upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of [Hades] shall not prevail against it.”
Then Peter drove home to them that it was Christ or nothing, Christ or judgment, Christ or Hell; no other way to be saved except through Christ. “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” Oh, I wish I could shout that loudly enough to be heard from one end of the earth to the other! None but Christ; God’s only Savior! His precious atoning blood is the only remedy for sin. Have you trusted Him?
A troubled young man went one night to a gospel meeting. His conscience convicting him, he felt he ought to come to Christ, but he thought,
Some other time—not tonight. Just as the meeting was closing he observed a placard reading, “Remember, it must be Christ or Hell, and to neglect the one is to choose the other.” The young man, startled, thereupon decided, “I can’t neglect Him. I must choose Him.” Have you made the choice and taken Him as your Savior?
We read that the Jewish leaders perceived that Peter and John were unlearned and ignorant men. That is, they did not have any college degrees or diplomas. “They marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.” They could see the evidence of their association with Christ in the firmness of their faces, in their boldness and bravery in standing against the people who crucified the Savior. The more you and I associate with Christ, and the more we spend time with Him in prayer and in reading His Word, the more people will take notice that we have been with Jesus.
Why did they want to say anything against the obvious holy power of the Lord Jesus Christ? Their attitude revealed the bitter hatred of wicked man’s heart toward the Savior whom God has provided. They desired to explain the miracle away because they did not want to repent. They did not wish to face their sins or to get right with God. They said to the disciples, “Go outside a little while, we want to talk this thing over.” Can you not see these crafty religionists talking among themselves? “What are we going to do? It is manifest to all in Jerusalem that a miracle has been done and we cannot deny it. We wish we could, but we can’t.” That is what they meant. There was the living evidence in the man leaping and dancing and praising the Lord. He had a new pair of legs! “Let us threaten them not to speak at all or preach in the name of Jesus.” And that is the attitude the powers that be in many lands have taken throughout the centuries but, thank God, they have not been able to stifle the message or the messengers. Peter spoke up, “Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.” We were commissioned by God to do this. You see, Peter recognized Jesus, who commissioned them, as God revealed in flesh.
“So when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding nothing how they might punish them, because of the people: for all men glorified God for that which was done.” The common people were stirred; they realized a mighty miracle had been performed among them and knew that Peter and John were God’s servants. “The man was above forty years old, on whom this miracle of healing was showed.” He was there to speak for himself and to bear witness to the power of the name of Jesus.
We have listened to Peter preaching on the day of Pentecost. We have heard him preaching after the healing of the lame man. Now we have heard him again as he stood before the Sanhedrin. And in every instance he preached the same gospel as the apostle Paul preached later on—how Christ died, was buried, and rose again from the dead. Somebody may assert that the Epistle to the Galatians says that Peter is to preach the gospel of the circumcision and Paul of the uncircumcision. It does; but it means that to Peter it was given to preach the gospel to the Jews, and to Paul it was given to preach the gospel to the Gentiles. But both of them were to preach the gospel! That is the point; there is only one gospel and only one Savior—and that Savior is our blessed, risen, glorified Lord.
The Second Psalm (Acts 4:23-31)
In the rest of Acts 4, as well as in many other parts of the book of Acts, we find that the early saints were no longer acting simply as individuals, but as members one of another. We read that after being threatened by the religious leaders and being released, “they went to their own company.” This Christian company might have looked like another sect. They worshiped in the temple just as the Sadducees and the Pharisees and other Jewish groups did, although they held different views. Now God was using persecution in order to draw a line of demarcation between those of the new creation and those who belonged to the old dispensation.
“Being let go, they went to their own company.” They sought out those who like themselves, washed in the blood of Jesus Christ, had been baptized by the Holy Spirit. There they told all that the chief priests and elders had said to them, and the whole company joined in praise and prayer to God.
‘They lifted up their voice to God with one accord, and said. Lord, thou art God, which hast made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all that in them is.” Then the Spirit of God brought to their minds the marvelous prophecy of the second Psalm. They exclaimed, “Who by the mouth of thy servant David hast said, Why did the heathen rage, and the people imagine vain things? The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord, and against his Christ.”
One of the very first results of the reception of the Holy Spirit by these early believers was that the Old Testament Scriptures, which had been largely sealed to them before, were now opened up in a very wonderful way. They were given a spiritual understanding that was lacking even when they walked with Christ here on earth. Think back a little, when the Lord tried to make clear to them that He must go to Jerusalem to be crucified and that in three days he would rise from the dead. They reasoned among themselves, “Rise from the dead? What could that mean?” They had no understanding of the Old Testament Scriptures. You remember on the resurrection day when those two disciples walked on the road to Emmaus, regretting the loss of their Master and Leader, how Jesus came to them and said,
O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter his glory? And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself (Luke 24:25-27).
Their eyes had been closed before. They had not realized the implication of these Old Testament prophecies. But after the Holy Spirit came these believers were no longer left to their own understanding. He revealed Christ to them. He made the things of Christ clear and plain. He explained to them the second Psalm. It had been in their Bible all those years but they did not know it referred to Jesus.
You will notice Psalm 2 is made up of twelve verses divided into four sections of three verses each. If you look carefully you will perceive there is a different speaker in every one of those four sections.
In the first section you hear the voice of the world—the religious world, the political world; all classes of men united against the Lord Jesus Christ.
Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord, and against his anointed, saying, Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us.
That is just another way of saying, as they did in Pilate’s judgment hall, “We have no king but Caesar.”
The apostles added, “For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together.” Do not try to put the blame on any one particular company. Do not say the Jews were the Christ-killers. The Gentiles were just as guilty. All joined together. They all said, “Let us break their bands asunder.” They all agreed in saying, “We will not have this man to reign over us.”
In the second section you hear God the Father speaking. “He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision.” His voice is heard ringing down from Heaven. “Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion” (Psalm 2:4-6). That is to say, men may rebel and refuse to bow to the name of Jesus or acknowledge the authority of Christ, but God says, “I will have My way; you shall not spoil My plans for a moment. My King will reign from Mount Zion.” Men imagine they can outwit God, thwart His plans; but God is overruling in all things and works everything according to the counsel of His will.
“For to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done” (Acts 4:28). The world could not go one step beyond the divine mandate. God had settled it. Jesus came into the world; they would not have Him—but they could not change God’s plans.
His purpose will be carried out in spite of man’s evil heart. Isn’t that a comforting thought as you look out on the world today? Never before has it been in such a condition, and men’s hearts indeed are “failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth.” But He sits over the waterfloods and nothing can transpire in the affairs of men and of nations but in accordance with the permissive will of God. He causes the wrath of man to praise Him (Psalm 76:10) and the remainder (that which would not praise Him) He restrains. Men rejected Jesus, but God said, “My Son is going to reign. I have set Him on My holy hill of Zion.”
So in the third section of Psalm 2 beginning with verse 7 we hear another voice, the voice of the Son Himself. What does He say?
I will declare the decree: the Lord hath said unto me. Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee. Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession. Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel (Psalm 2:7-9).
Here is the Lord Jesus Christ speaking. He says, “The Father has confirmed it, the Father has declared that the day is coming when I will hold the scepter of righteousness, I will rule the nations in accordance with the mind of God.” He is not doing that yet, since He is still the rejected One. But He is sitting on the throne of God now and is receiving in grace all who come to Him. By and by He is coming again and will judge the world in righteousness and set up His glorious kingdom over all the earth.
In the interval, while waiting for Him, another voice is heard— the voice of the Holy Spirit. We have heard the voice of the world in arrogant defiance of God; the voice of the Father declaring His plans will be carried out; and then the voice of the Son assuring us that all this creation will be subject to Him. Now the Holy Spirit pleads with men to get right with God before the Son returns from Heaven.
Be wise now therefore, O ye kings: be instructed, ye judges of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son [that is, bow at His feet and kiss His pierced hands, yield obedience to Him] lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little (Psalm 2:10-12).
Then you have the precious promise, “Blessed are all they that put their trust in him.” How much this Psalm has meant to God’s people through the dispensations! But it was never understood until the Holy Spirit explained it. Then the disciples could look back and see that part of it was already fulfilled in the Lord Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection, and could afford to commit all to Him, and trust Him for the rest.
They prayed, “Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto thy servants that with all boldness they may speak thy word” (Acts 4:29). The opposition of the world is not to stop the servant of Christ. The more the world opposes us, the more we are to proclaim God’s remedy for sin, the Lord Jesus Christ, “Neither is there salvation in any other; for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.”
God gave miraculous signs to authenticate the message in the beginning. He does it sometimes now. He still answers prayer. Do not get the idea that the day of miracles is over. I have seen wonderful miracles in the fifty years I have known Christ. Many missionaries, especially in foreign lands, have told marvelous things of God’s miracle-working power. But ordinarily speaking, He is not working in this miraculous way today. He worked in His miraculous power in the beginning so men might know that a new dispensation and age had come.
“Grant unto thy servants that with all boldness they may speak thy word, By stretching forth thine hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done by the name of thy holy [servant] Jesus.” I have drawn your attention before to the fact that in these early chapters the word translated “child” or “son” here is really
servant. It was not until after the apostle Paul’s ministry began that we are given the full revelation that the Servant is the Son. This is the suffering Servant in accordance with the prophecy in Isaiah 53 and other passages.
The Holy Spirit who had come upon them at Pentecost as a mighty rushing wind now actually shook the place where they were gathered together and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit—that is, filled immediately. You see, we are only baptized once, but we may be filled on many occasions; a special filling for all new forms of ministry. “And they spake the word of God with boldness.”
The New Age (Acts 4:32-37)
Then we see how the Spirit of God worked in their hearts and how wonderfully the Lord’s prayer was answered. You will remember how Jesus prayed, “That they all may be one, as thou Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us” (John 17:21). Here is the answer to that prayer. For we read, “Neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common.” That is altogether different from what is called communism today. It was not forcing the people to give up their possessions; but it was love working in their hearts that made these Christians say, I will gladly share my possessions with those who are more needy.
“Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them and brought the prices of the things that were sold, And laid them down at the apostles’ feet” (Acts 4:34-35). They were not forced to do this. No one said, You must sell your property and use your money in this way. But they were moved by the Spirit of God to share with one another.
The chapter closes with an outstanding example of Christian love and charity. We read of “Joses, who by the apostles was surnamed Barnabas.” He was given that name because of his character. It means “the son of consolation.” I would like to have a name like that. I would like to be the means of consolation to God’s people. Barnabas “Having land, sold it, and brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.” Here you see love at work. When we are concerned about our own welfare rather than that of other people, it is because we know so little of the controlling love of Christ. Would that God would give us a new baptism of divine love that will move our hearts in gracious consideration for all God’s people and for all men everywhere.