Easter Sunday is a great day in the Christian calendar. From that day a tremendous explosion of radical Christianity burst out upon a decadent and weary world in the First Century.
The first opposition to the Apostolic Church.
Acts 4 records the first persecution of the Church. Peter seized the occasion and began to preach to them in the name of Jesus, saying that it was by the power of Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, that this man was made whole. He gave a great message, which had tremendous effect. But in the midst of it, an interruption occurred. He had remembered that Jesus said persecution would follow the disciples after he died Mark 13:9-11.
“And as they spake unto the people, the priests, and the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees, came upon them” (4:1).
Peter mentions eleven individuals or groups of opposition in the first six verses. The priest, captain of the temple and the Sadducees are first mentioned then the police were present, and the representatives of the establishment. The captain of the temple guard was there, and the Sadducees. In verse five we have the ruling classes of Jerusalem, those that held various positions of authority, the elders were the distinguished older men who lived in Jerusalem and the teachers of the law these would have included the scribes. Luke mentions more in verse six. There was Annas who was the true high priest. The Romans had deposed him and installed Caiphas, his son in law in his place. But in Israel the high priest was a high priest for life. These two men had conspired against Jesus, who had appeared before each of them. Luke then mentions a man called John from a priestly family and Alexander, and other men of the high priests family. There was this crowd of opposer’s but there was a tremendous popular response to the message of Peter on that day. We are told that earlier five thousand men believed. But there were women and children there too, undoubtedly, and at least five thousand men who believed the message on that day. In the midst of all this these religious rulers and those in authority suddenly come against the disciples with the temple guard. They pushed through the crowd and, surrounding Peter and John, arrested them, dragged them off, and put them in jail until the next day.
The next day they were brought before the council of rulers, elders and scribes. The Sanhedrim was composed of these groups, about one third of each class. The Sadducees dominated the Sanhedrim at this time: “Then the high priest rose up, and all they that were with him, (which is the sect of the Sadducees,) and were filled with indignation (Acts 5:17). The Sadducees were the rationalists of their day. They did not believe in spirits, nor did they believe in the resurrection. The Sadducees professed to accept certain parts of the Old Testament. Their philosophy, however, was materialistic. Rationalism is the natural product of a materialistic philosophy. They were the chief opponents of Jesus. They were also the leading opponents of the early church. In both cases opposition arose, not from the common people, but from the ruling classes. However, the common people heard Jesus gladly, the early Christians had favour with them. The Spirit broke through their prejudice. It was the religious bigots that hated them. That is the way it has been all through church history, the Lords people have been harassed and persecuted. Rationalist attack the church today. They still do not believe in miracles , in angels in the resurrection. The atheist, the skeptics still hate Christianity. This crowd was made up mostly of Jews, and they already knew from the Old Testament Scriptures that there was a hope beyond death. Pagan Romans and others were not aware of this, but the Jews knew.
The Dynamic Message of the Resurrection
“Being grieved that they taught the people, and preached through Jesus the resurrection from the dead” (4:2). These powerful rulers were disturbed because the disciples were “teaching the people” and “proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead”. It grieved the religious leaders. They had killed Jesus and now they had to contend with this new group of people. They were only unlearned fishermen and not academics who do they think they are to tell us to repent. They, like Jesus had not been to the rabbinic schools either. They thought because they were the ruling class they did not need to repent. Who do these disciples of Jesus think they are accusing them of being guilty of crucifying the Son of God. The Sadducees were determined that they would silence these upstarts by trying to entangle them about Jesus with a question about the resurrection. The resurrection was the central truth of the gospel and was a threat to the future . Either the Sadducees had to see their sect diminish as the church grew rapidly, or they must silence the leaders of the church. The excitement among the people was wonderful.
Opposition can turn out for good and result in revival. The devil often has the tables turned on him. Rationalism could not stop the powerful message of the Spirit. It has attacked the Bible and supernatural conversions for centuries to no avail. Materialists continue to attack the Gospel but Jesus still builds his church and Satan or the world cannot stop it.
The Hostility and Intimidation Against the Disciple
Vs 3 “And they laid hands on them, and put them in hold unto the next day: for it was now eventide”. They were so incensed that they grabbed them by force and threw them into prison. Their anger was unleashed. They saw their courage and though thy would dampen their spirits. They could have waited to the next day to do this but perhaps thought they would cool down and change their message overnight. The revolution they were preaching was not a political one to overthrow of the Roman government. The Christians were not fighting some moral crusade or social evil. There were not fighting for racial rights or fare wages. They were not demanding the emancipation of all slaves. They were not protesting about unfair taxes. They were not asking for special treatment or toleration. They were proclaiming Jesus and the resurrection from the dead. For this, Peter and John were thrown into jail before they could even finish the message. And yet, because of this message, five thousand men in that great crowd in Jerusalem became believers in Jesus Christ. It was evening and so decided to try them the next day. I wonder what was going through the mind of Peter? Was he frightened? Was he tempted to deny Jesus as he had done only a few weeks before?
If they had have preached a message exalting the government they would have been rewarded. But their message was a spiritual one striking at the heart of people and nations calling for repentance. That’s not a popular message. The world hates it, the religious crowd hates it when you proclaim salvation is only found in Christ. Men do not like to hear they are sinners, or this radical message of Jesus and the resurrection.
Jesus Christ had risen from the dead and that they were witnesses to this fact. They could not deny it. Many others also saw the risen Lord and testified of it. This was so real to them that they were willing to die for it. Five thousand are convinced of the truth of it, as three thousand had been just a few days before, on the day of Pentecost. Jesus Christ, the Nazarene from Galilee, solved the problem of death. This crowd was made up mostly of Jews, and they already knew from the Old Testament Scriptures that there was a hope beyond death. Pagan Romans and others were not aware of this, but the Jews knew.
Rather than being afraid of the world they challenged it. This historical event had never occurred before; it has never occurred since. The fact that someone had risen from the dead caused a revolution of thinking. They had heard of some who had been brought back from the dead before by the power of God. But they were only returned to the same life they had before, and they died again. But Jesus came back to life in a resurrected body, never to die again. His resurrection is different, it is unique. It is a new life not the old one given after someone has been resuscitated. It is for a new humanity. This dramatic breakthrough, they declared, had occurred in their own city just a few weeks earlier.
This resurrection is made possible by Jesus to others He said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He that believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,” (John 11:25). He said, “Because I live, you shall live also,” (John 14:19). He arose a victor over the grave. He put death to death. This message of hope has been the message of the Christian through the centuries. They can now face the fact and the experience of death knowing about life beyond the grave.
The Easter message has changed the world we will see him again. There was a resurrection from the dead. Christians everywhere rejoice on this day. Our Lord broke through death. Jesus Christ has solved the problem of death.
Peter and John caused a great stir that day. Life from the dead was a radical message that changed the life of thousands that very day. The Spirit of God opened minds and hearts and there were spiritual births. They understood that the physical body may die one day but there is a resurrection from the dead. There was new hope within the spirit of man who believes. The fear of death was no longer a threat. God had raised a man from the dead. This wonderful life changing truth created a furore among the religious leaders. Jesus Christ, in dying and rising from the dead, showed himself in a resurrected body by many infallible proofs. This gave those who believe courage, hope and determination to proclaim it.
Sinners were converted, empty hearts were filled. Five thousand of them leaped for joy as they believe the message that Christ was risen from the dead. Five thousand on that day began a new life in Jesus Christ! The religious leaders were not happy and unleashed their displeasure on the disciples. They were mad and threaten them and throw them into prison.
Peter Full of the Holy Spirit Speaks
The family of the high priest intermarried with one another and constituted a political and religious ruling class in Jerusalem. They controlled the economy of the city. They became like the local Mafia. They got a cut of the profits from the temples sacrifice and money, they controlling the vast wealth of the temple and certain profitable monopolies connected with the sacrifices. The city council thought they had power to stop the gospel. They are disturbed at this new group of people they could not control. They sense a threat to their power.
Peter sees the opportunity for the gospel and speaks out boldly. He know they could beat him up and do him harm but he trusts the Lord. They ask him, “Tell us, by what power or what name have you done this thing?” Wow! God opened the door for him. He said: “By the name of the man whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead.” Since the spirit had come upon him at Pentecost he had this new power. His life had changed from a few weeks back when he denied his Lord when confronted by the little girl little maid in the high priest’s courtyard. Three times he denied it before the cock crowed. Now there is a difference. He is filled with the Holy Spirit. The life of Jesus is being imparted to him by that Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit gives us boldness. He encourages us to talk about the risen Lord. He enables us to go on following Christ in spite of the circumstance. He strengthens us when we are weak. One can only live the Christian life in His power. Peter is bold as a lion. He says, “We have done it in the name of the man whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. By him this man is standing before you well.” The lame man who was healed was right there with them, as a witness to the power of the resurrected Christ. Peter then quotes from Psalm 118: “This is the stone which was rejected by your builders, but which has become the head of the corner,” (Psa 118:22).
The day of Christ’s resurrection, was the day when God took that Stone which had been rejected by the builders, and made him the Head of the corner.
When Solomon’s temple was being built on the place where the Dome of the Rock, there was no sound of hammer or saw. The temple was erected in silence. The stones that formed the temple were quarried from a rock quarry underneath where the temple stands. You can still go down there today and see “Solomon’s stables,” where Solomon kept his horses, and see that they were hewn from solid rock. God had given the rock an d the blue prints and it was all measured out and fitted perfectly before it ever left the quarry. It was brought up and put in place without the sound of hammers or pounding of any kind.
And there is a Jewish tradition which says that the chief cornerstone which would hold everything in place was rejected as they thought it was not part of the building. It became misplaced and they could not find it. Then somebody remembered the great rock which had been pushed over the edge, down into the Kidron valley. Down they went to the valley and found it in the bushes. With great effort they raised it again and brought it to the top and fitted it into place. It fit perfectly — the cornerstone of the temple.
Peter is saying this is a picture of Christ. He was rejected, He would be the cornerstone of his government on earth, the rock upon which all human government should rest. He holds it all together and has the authority. The world does not want him they have rejected the Cornerstone. History has misplaced him but He is returning to history to fulfil Gods plan. He is the Cornerstone prepared by God.
They Are Guilty of Crucifying Christ
Peter’s says “The one whom you crucified.” You crucified him with wicked hands. The Jewish rulers had no excuse. They were guilty along with others. “But God has raised him from the dead nevertheless, and has made him the head of the corner.” This is the heart of the message. It changes everything. They killed the son but God raised him to life.
No Other Name
And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. (Acts 4:12).
This is a startling declaration! The world hates this message. It says that there are other saviours, other gods. They say your too narrow, too exclusive. That’s right it is an exclusive message there I only one who rose from the dead. When the authorities asked Peter and John by what power or what name did you do this? They replied JESUS. This man was healed only by Jesus, this message is about Jesus only. No other can fulfil the place of being the cornerstone of authority in the world. No other name! None of the religious leaders, none of the political leaders of all time could possibly do this work. There is only One adequately equipped, qualified to be the foundation of the world. Mohammed, Buddha, the Pope, Confucius, Joseph Smith, no Hindu gods can do what Jesus has done. The may have a good moral or religious message but none can raise from the dead. Christians are often accused of being bigoted, of being intolerant of other faiths. Listen my friend, we are all wrong and Jesus is right. Follow him. Jesus of Nazareth is different from them all , he is unique. There is no other Name. None can equal Him. No other has solved the problem of death. No other has broken through and defeated death, only Jesus of Nazareth. God has made him the head of the corner, and there is no other name by which we can be saved.
Christ is the Cornerstone that holds the church together. History is meaningless without him. There is no hope beyond the grave without him. Everywhere men and women are receiving new life and sharing in the risen life of Jesus Christ. He gives peace and joy and rest. You can know that kind of power, and peace, if you put your trust in Him personally today. There is no other name, there is no one else, no other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved.