Acts 4. 23-31

Trying to ban the disciples from speaking about Jesus the Messiah had to be a bit like a fly trying to ban a lion from roaring. Peter and John went back and rejoined the community of believers and of course they reported back on all the court proceedings and verdict.

No one was fazed; no one was intimidated. They just did the most natural thing, the thing they had so often seen Jesus do when he walked the roads alongside them – they brought it all to God in prayer. It’s been lost in the mists of time now who took the lead in the prayer, but they all added their voices and it went something like this:

“Lord God who rules all things, you made heaven, earth, sea and every creature that inhabits them. Through David the prophet you commented on the nations of earth, how they rage and plot, but all to no avail; how the kings and rulers of the earth line up together against you and your anointed Messiah. We saw it when Herod and Pontius Pilate teamed up with Gentiles and Jewish people to conspire against your holy servant, Jesus, whom you anointed. They thought they were acting by their own will. But in fact all they were actually doing was carrying out the plan that your power and intention and prior knowledge had already determined on. And now they’re at it again! So, Lord, take note of the warnings they’ve issued and in the face of those threats embolden us, your servants, to speak what you tell us with fearlessness and confidence. Reach out through us and do even more incredible signs and supernatural deeds through the name of your holy son and servant, Jesus.”

If the rulers and scholars who made up the court officials could have heard this prayer, they would have been astonished and probably pretty unnerved, too. No doubt they hoped that, for all their bold words in the court room, Peter and John would have found being arrested a sobering experience, and would have limped home to lick their wounds. How little they understood the Holy Spirit’s enabling power.

And as if to underline that, no sooner had the words of the disciples’ prayer died away than the entire meeting place was shaken, the power of God vibrating powerfully through it. And once again, the disciples found themselves filled and overflowing with the Holy Spirit, and they went out and started boldly announcing whatever God gave them to say.

Acts 4. 5-22

There was quite a gathering when Peter and John were brought out from the cells next morning – rulers of the people, elders, teachers of the law, and the High Priest, Ananias himself, together with the senior men from his family. Some of the faces bore scarcely-concealed glee at the prospect of shutting down this new sect once and for all. Others displayed anger at what they perceived as a threat to their authority. No doubt others felt a genuine fascination or curiosity at what had occurred.

The questioning opened with, “By what power, or in whose name did you do this?”

Peter, calm and at peace with himself in a way that can only come from knowing that the Holy Spirit is giving you the words to speak, replied, “Who would have thought that an act of kindness towards a disabled man would have been a matter for being brought before a court of law! Still, since that’s the way it is, let me make this clear to you and all my fellow Israelites, it’s by the name of Jesus the Messiah from Nazareth – the one whom you crucified but God raised from the dead – that this man stands in front of you completely healed of his disability.”

There were some indignant snorts and some uncomfortable shuffling from the assembled court. “You could say,” he continued, “that the stone you builders tossed scornfully aside as useless has become the most important cornerstone.”

Impervious to the indignation on the faces that confronted him, Peter carried on, “I’m telling you, salvation and wholeness won’t be found in anyone else. There isn’t any other name anywhere under heaven that’s been given to humanity for our salvation and wholeness except this name.”

The indignation and anger now began to give way to astonishment. These learned experts in the law recognised that they were facing ordinary unschooled peasants in Peter and John, and yet their courage was quite extraordinary. They couldn’t help but see the connection between this and the fact that they had been keeping company with Jesus. And if they’d just been confronting a new idea or philosophy, they with all their learning could have torn them to shreds. But the fact was, there was a congenitally disabled man standing in front of them completely cured and they could hardly argue with that! So they sent Peter and John out of the courtroom while they held a discussion among themselves.

“What on earth do we do about this?” they pondered. “Everyone in Jerusalem knows about it by now. These men have done an outstanding miracle, and it’s pointless to try and deny it. The most we can do is suppress it so these ideas don’t spread any further. We must ban them from speaking to anyone in this name from now on.”

So they summoned Peter and John again and delivered the verdict of the court, that they were banned from now on from doing any teaching or speaking in the name of Jesus. But, court verdict or no, Peter and John didn’t just take it lying down.  They responded, “You make up your own minds what God would really want us to do when the choice is to obey either you or Him. Because we know what we’ve seen and heard with our own eyes and ears, and we can’t help telling people about it.”

Such defiance was certainly not the response the court had expected, but nor was there a lot they could do about it. There would have been a backlash if they had punished the men for doing what everybody in the city perceived as an act of kindness. In fact, it was so indisputably a miracle, that the entire population was giving praise to God for it. After all, this man had been disabled from birth and was now over forty years old. It wasn’t as if he had just got better naturally, it had clearly been a supernatural event.

Acts 3.11 – 4.4

That was quite some way to disrupt a prayer service.  The man who had been healed stood clutching at Peter and John, not this time to steady himself, but just because he didn’t want to let go of the men who had changed his life so unimaginably in an instant.  Standing beneath the arches of Solomon’s Colonnade, Peter looked round at the crowd and saw row upon row of faces gaping wordlessly at him.

“Why are you looking at us like that?” he asked.  “It’s not as if we’ve made this man walk by some power or godliness of our own.”  And he went on to recount, as he had done in his first sermon on the Day of Pentecost, the story of how the people had rejected Jesus as Messiah and handed him over to be crucified, even demanding the release of a criminal rather than acquit Jesus.  But God had proved his Messianic credentials by raising him to life again.

There was some sceptical eyebrow-raising among some of the crowd at this point, so Peter assured them, “We’re not making this up.  We witnessed it with our own eyes.”  Then he pressed home his point, gently ushering the healed man to stand in front of him:  “It’s by faith in the name of Jesus that this man was made strong, someone who you see daily and know very well.  It’s the name of Jesus, and faith in that name, that has brought complete healing to him, as you can all see for yourselves.”

The incredulity on the faces in the crowd began to give way to nervously exchanged glances of guilt and even fear, so Peter hurried to reassure them.  “I know that everyone involved in Jesus’ death acted without really knowing what they were doing.  But if you go back to the Scriptures and read the prophets, you’ll see that God predicted all these events in advance.  So abandon the mindset you’ve had until now, and turn around towards God so that where you’ve fallen short the record can be erased.  And you’ll find that face to face with God, seasons of refreshing will come in the person of Jesus the Messiah, whose coming has been proclaimed to you.”

There was scepticism from some sections of the crowd at this – cries of, “Where is he then?”  and “We don’t see this Jesus.”

Peter responded, “Jesus will remain in heaven until the time appointed by God for him to come and restore everything.  You know that all this was promised by so many of the holy prophets.  Moses told you God would raise up a prophet like himself from among the people and that you must listen to him, on peril of being cut off from the people if you don’t.  In fact, look at all the prophets from Samuel onwards.  They’ve all predicted these very days that we’re living through now.

“And the good news is that all this is for you!  You’re the heirs who inherit the words of the prophets and the covenant God made with Abraham and the rest of the patriarchs.  Didn’t God say to Abraham, ‘Through your descendants all peoples on earth will be blessed?’  Well, this is that blessing!  That’s why God raised up His servant Jesus, to bless you by turning you from the malice that has been holding onto you.”

Before he could say any more, there was a sudden commotion.  A row of angry priests whose prayer service had been disrupted marched up to Peter and John, along with some of the temple guard come to keep order.  “What do you think you’re doing, standing here making a speech as if you had a right to preach here?  And what’s all this nonsense about Jesus and resurrection from the dead?”

They grabbed hold of Peter and John, prising the healed man’s hands from them.  And because the day had got on and the light was now fading, they took the pair of them and threw them into prison overnight.  But though they might imprison the apostles, they could do nothing to lessen the power and impact of their words.  By the time the day was over, the community of disciples in Jerusalem had grown to about five thousand, as those who had accepted the truth of Peter’s teaching came and joined them.


Acts 3. 1-10

If the growing company of disciples had any doubt that Jesus was present with them and in them even though no longer in physical form, they were given proof after proof, as they found themselves doing the things that Jesus did, things that would previously have been impossible to them.  One such occasion was when Peter and John were on their way to the temple one afternoon in time for the prayer service.

It was a trip they made every day, and every day they passed a man who couldn’t walk, being carried by his family to the Beautiful Gate, where he was accustomed to sit in the dust and beg from the worshippers. It was dirty and undignified, but it was the only contribution he could make to the family who provided for him.  On this particular day, he reached out towards Peter and John and asked them for money.  They would gladly have given him whatever they could afford and even more, except that both of them had come out without any money.  But money or no, Peter knew what he did have to give.

The man, like most beggars, his dignity stripped from him, stared at the ground with his hand extended hopefully.  “Look at us,” Peter invited gently.  The man was startled.  Whoever made eye contact with a beggar? He was used to being treated as less than human.  Even those who did deign to give to him flung their coins grudgingly in his direction.  Eye to eye contact suggested equality, such an outrageous idea that not only his eyes but his mouth was wide open in astonishment as he looked first at Peter, then John, then back to Peter, searching in vain for hostility or mockery on their faces.

“I haven’t got any money with me,” Peter began.  The man’s face fell, and he turned away, hanging his head as before.  He’d had high hopes of these people, and now those hopes had been dashed.  “No, look at us,” Peter insisted.  The beggar raised his head again, less eagerly this time.  “I’ll give you what I do have,” Peter went on.

He reached out and took hold of the man’s hand.  The man hesitantly allowed his hand to be gripped, his brow furrowed and a puzzled look in his eyes.  As Peter grasped his hand, he felt a vibrating current of life pass through him, all the way to his paralysed toes which had felt nothing for most of his life.  “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.”  There was a confident authority in Peter’s voice as he issued what sounded like a command.

The man gasped as the wasted muscles in his skinny legs began to bulk out, and he felt an unaccustomed strength come into his ankles.  Peter pulled gently on his right hand and helped him to his feet.  The man stood, swaying a little unsteadily at first, his face radiating astonishment and delight.  He stamped, then hopped up and down, trying out the new-found ability in his legs.

“Come,” Peter invited, and began to walk into the temple courts for prayer.  The erstwhile beggar took one unsteady step and then another, trying to get used to the new sensations of being upright and walking alongside other men as an equal.  After a few steps he could contain his joy no longer, and began leaping around, laughing, all the way into the temple courts, behaviour that would have been disrespectful in any other circumstances, but was completely fitting on this occasion, as the man gave thanks and praise to God not only with his voice but with the whole of his body.

No one even thought of criticising his behaviour – at least not until later in the day.  They recognised him as the beggar from the temple gate and were every bit as astonished as he was.  And Peter and John, glancing delightedly at one another, understood why Jesus never talked merely of people being healed, but of being made whole.

Acts 2. 37 – 47

All over the crowd, the truth was dawning on one after another – the miracle-worker who had been crucified truly was Messiah.  The shock was palpable. Eyes widened as jaws dropped open and nervous hands covered trembling hearts pierced by unseen arrows.  The dismay at once gave rise to a question: something must be done, but what?  What would avert God’s retribution for the rejection of His Messiah?

In anguish people grabbed hold of the apostles and begged them, “Brothers, what shall we do?”  It was another of those moments when Peter just overflowed with the Holy Spirit, and didn’t even have to think about the response that came tumbling out of him:

“Go beyond where you have been until now, and find a new mindset.  Be baptised, immersed in water, every one of you, to be freed from your shortcomings.  And you too will receive this Holy Spirit.  Because this promise isn’t just for us few.  It’s for you, and for your children, and for anyone who is far away from God – it’s for everyone whom God is calling to Himself.”

That was only the beginning of what he said.  He carried on, making it quite plain what they needed to do.  Concern was etched all over his face and gave gravitas to his words as he made his appeal to them: “Save yourselves out of this twisted generation.”  Those who were willing to listen and accept the truth of what he said were baptised, and about three thousand joined the followers of Jesus that day.

From then on their lives revolved around the teaching that the apostles gave them, and around becoming a community bonded in love, around breaking bread and praying together.  Life in those days in the community of believers was lived in a perpetual state of amazement.  Miraculous and astonishing signs done by the apostles became the norm.  They lived close by each other in community, and shared all their belongings between them.  If anyone was in need, people sold something that belonged to them and used the proceeds to meet that need.

They gathered every day in the temple courts.  They broke bread together in each other’s houses, and as they ate, the joy and the sincere love between them was evident to all.  Their days were passed in praise to God, and their little community was highly regarded by the whole of society. And every day they grew in number, as God kept bringing more people along to join them, people who had found salvation in Him.

Acts 2. 25-36

They were starting to look at Peter as if he were drunk again – all this talk of raising Jesus from the dead.  So he turned to something familiar – their Old Testament Scriptures.  He reminded them that this was nothing new but simply what David had prophesied:

“You will not leave my soul in the place of the dead, nor will You allow your Holy One to experience decomposition.  Instead, You have made known to me the ways of life.  In Your presence what I experience is fulness of joy.”

Then he went on to point out that David, the great patriarch, couldn’t possibly have been writing about himself, since he is dead, buried and decomposed, and his tomb is nearby for anyone to visit.  So, being a prophet, and knowing that God had promised him with an oath that his descendants, especially in the person of Messiah, would occupy the throne for all time, David prophesied Messiah’s resurrection.  He knew, all those centuries before, that God would not leave Messiah’s soul in the place of the dead, nor allow his body to decompose.

Those who were with Peter at the time told me that you could see the expression of studied concentration on the faces of those who listened.  Some looked puzzled, some thoughtful and some as though the light was beginning to dawn in them.  Peter pressed on, making his explanation even more explicit:

“God has raised this Jesus back to life, and we’re all first-hand eye witnesses of the event.  And he has been promoted to God’s right hand on high, and from that position he has poured out what you have been seeing and hearing – the promised Holy Spirit.  After all, David didn’t ascend up into heaven.  And yet he himself said, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, sit at My right hand until I make your enemies into a footstool for you.’  So if he wasn’t saying this about himself, he must have been looking ahead to the person of Messiah.  So let the whole house of Israel know that God has made this Jesus, the one you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”

Acts 2. 14-24

It was Peter – Peter, who just six weeks earlier had been too scared to acknowledge that he even knew Jesus! – who stepped forward to explain.  He addressed his fellow countrymen and all the visitors by saying, “These people aren’t drunk, as some of you are suggesting.” I can imagine the playful wink that I’ve come to know as I’ve become acquainted with him, as he added, “It’s only nine o’clock in the morning!”

And then he went on to quote Joel’s ancient prophecy, how God had pledged to pour out His Spirit on all the world’s people, and the result would be prophecy, visions, dreams, wonders and signs in heaven and on earth. Then, with a boldness that staggered everyone who knew him, he went on to proclaim, “Fellow Israelites! Listen to me: God proved to you who Jesus of Nazareth really was by the miracles, wonders and signs that He carried out through him.  You know this, you all witnessed it at first hand.

“And we could argue about who was responsible for his death – was it you?  Was it the Romans who wickedly helped you to carry it out?  But the reality is, it happened because of God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge.  And if there should be any doubt about that, God removed it by raising him from the dead, liberating him from the death pangs, because there was no way in hell or earth that death could keep him in its grip.”

He paused and looked around.  You could have heard a feather drop from a sparrow.  The entire crowd was silent, transfixed, spellbound.