Welcome to the STC Podcast this Thursday. Our Bible reading today is Acts Chapter 4 verses 1-12. Rather than focusing on a particular verse, we’re going to look at the groups of people Luke draws our attention to, in the continuing story of Peter, John and the beggar who was healed.
Peter and John were at Solomon’s Colonnade, a covered area located in the outer courts of the temple in Jerusalem. The temple mount covered a vast area. To give you an idea of the scale, the walls were probably the length of 4 ½ football pitches. This colonnade was always thronging with people. Worshippers obviously; but money changers, stall holders and traders were there as well. It’s likely there would have been a good number of sightseers too, as anybody was allowed in this particular space, not just Jews.
So, Peter is delivering his speech to a very large audience, in a great public arena, and the spotlight is well and truely on him.
Now we have set the scene, let’s focus on the people…..
Verse 1 says “priests, and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John.”
The captain of the temple guard essentially represents the police force. The guard were those responsible for public order within the temple. By their presence in this story we can assume Peter and John are considered to be breaching the peace or committing a public order offence.
Peter and John are preaching at an important national monument, a great tourist attraction, and all the security guards are being sent in because it looks like a riot is about to break out.
Then there are the Sadducees. This was a political body or grouping. They were wealthy, aristocratic families, and hugely influential. They were on friendly terms with the Romans, because they wanted to keep their own power and position, and maintain the status quo. These apostles, their radical teaching, and the rapid growth of the early church were definitely a threat to this.
Here we can compare Peter and John to suffragettes or civil rights protestors who suddenly find politicians resistant to any changes, bursting into one of their meetings in order to shut it down.
And then there are the priests – representing the religious authorities. Think of Peter and John preaching a sermon in front of some very experienced bishops, and telling them they have got it all wrong.
The apostles are arrested, put in jail for the night, and the following day brought before “the rulers, elders and teachers of the law.”
The elders here refer to lay leaders in the community, who were highly respected men. We might think of them as local councillors, but with a much higher social standing and greater authority.
Plus Peter and John are faced with the rulers and teachers of the law. This is quite a gentle way of describing them – they are fanatical experts in the law, and absolute sticklers for detail when it comes to obeying it.
Together this group was called the Sanhedrin. Commentators have described them as “the Senate and the Supreme Court of the Jewish nation,” “the wealthiest, the most intellectual, and the most powerful in the land.”
However, my favourite description is this one: “Here was the Israeli Supreme Court – 71 learned, bearded, cold eyed, scowling rabbis calling in two hillbilly fishermen.”
Hopefully you get the picture!
But what is God saying to us today through this?
For me, as I read this passage, the answer to that question was quite simple – would I be prepared to do the same as Peter and John?
From April to August this year, I have been getting ready to attend a special educational needs tribunal at Darlington Crown Court. It has involved hours of work and several hundred pages of evidence. I’ve had to think about how we are presenting our case and our arguments, and prepare to stand in front of a judge and say all of this. And I did it because I love my daughter very much, and I will always speak up for her and be her greatest advocate for my whole life.
As I read this story of Peter and John, I asked myself: really, truthfully, would I do the same for Jesus? Will I always speak up for him and be his greatest advocate for my whole life?
I am university educated, have taught for 20 years, and had 4 months to prepare myself to stand in court and speak up for my daughter. I had statements from expert witnesses in the education sector and the health service to support me. And at no point was there any personal risk to my life.
Peter and John were uneducated fishermen, with no experience, and their preparation time was a night in jail. Their witness was a beggar, and they were stood in front of the same court that had sentenced Jesus to death, just a matter of months earlier. They were risking everything.
How much are we prepared to risk when it comes to sharing our faith? Or do we stay silent because it is safer and easier?
Peter and John loved Jesus, and were so full of the Holy Spirit, that nothing would stop them from declaring the truth, speaking his name, and calling others to have faith in Him.
Is the same true of us?
Peter and John speak up for Jesus in front of law enforcement officials, politicians, and religious leaders. They proclaim that only Jesus has the power to save, to those who are pillars of the community, lawyers, judges, and the most important, wealthy and powerful men in the city.
Are we doing the same in our city?
Peter and John lived in challenging times, and were prepared to go up against every group, layer or aspect of society, in their mission to share the Good News of Jesus Christ.
We live in challenging times. Are we prepared to do the same?
Heavenly Father, thank you that through reading the Bible we are challenged and stretched. Fill us with your Holy Spirit, so that we might be bold in speaking the name of Jesus to all people, at all times, and in all circumstances. Amen
READING: Acts 4:1-12
The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people. They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people, proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. They seized Peter and John and, because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day. But many who heard the message believed; so the number of men who believed grew to about five thousand.
The next day the rulers, the elders and the teachers of the law met in Jerusalem. Annas the high priest was there, and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander and others of the high priest’s family. They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: ‘By what power or what name did you do this?’
Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: ‘Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: it is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. Jesus is
‘“the stone you builders rejected,
which has become the cornerstone.”
Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.’