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Almighty God, we have come to the waters of life. In times that are gone we hewed out unto ourselves cisterns, broken cisterns, that could hold no water; but now we have come to the life-stream. May we drink thereof, and be glad with exceeding joy. Thou has made for us wells in the wilderness, and springing fountains in the desert. The river of God is full of water: may we now drink of that living stream that we may never thirst again. Give unto us this water with thine own hand; it will be to us the more precious for thy touch. Send us not away with a great fire of thirst in the heart; but quench our desire, and satisfy our yearning, and give us to know how good a thing it is to wait upon the living God. We bless thee that we need thee every day. Were we less we could do without thee the better; but being what we are we long for thee. Our rest is in thy peace; our security is in thine Almightiness; and our hope is in thy grace. Surely, if thou hast taught us to pray, thou wilt reply Dost thou make the eye without giving the light? and dost thou form the ear without supplying the wondrous air which plays upon it, and brings through it to the soul all tender messages and glorious gospels? So, thou hast not made the soul to pray without having first provided the answer. Thy reply is older than our supplication. The Lamb was slain before the sin was done. Was not Christ thy Son, our Sacrifice and Priest, the Lamb, slain from before the foundation of the world! Is not the Gospel from eternity? We go back to the eternal counsel. We stand in the eternal decree. Thy grace is older than our sin. Thy Almightiness is older than our infirmity. We come to thee, in the house appointed, today, to seek great things in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of Man, the Son of God. We have come to seek of thee pardon, many pardons, waves of forgiveness, great billows of pardoning love; that underneath their infinite fulness our sin may be lost, like a stone in the unfathomable deep. Jesus Christ is risen today. This morning, heaven's gate is wide open. We come today, though it be to the outside only, and look in and say in the name of Christ, "God be merciful unto us, sinners." Thou lovest sinners. Thou, Jesus, didst go in to sinners, and eat with them. "This man receiveth sinners." Herein is love, that Christ died for us whilst we were yet sinners. God be merciful unto us, sinners. Feed us with the bread sent down from heaven. Lord, evermore give us this bread. Satisfy our hunger as well as our thirst. May we obey thine injunction, inspired by thy love, to eat and drink abundantly as the beloved of God. Lead us into all truth; deliver us from all narrowness of thought and all bigotry of feeling, and set us in the infinite spaces; and give us to know the range and compass of the glorious liberty of the sons of God. Fill us with Christian love. Destroy all self-trust and self-idolatry; and give us to feel that every man is thy child, and that the more he is lost the greater is the anxiety of thy love concerning him. Deliver us from any feeling of contempt for any living creature. May we take Christ's view of every soul; and if we have lost but one out of ten, but one out of a hundred, may we sweep the house diligently until we find the tenth piece, and leave all that is secure at home to find the hundredth sheep wandering among the barren rocks. Send out the light of thy truth this day like a new flame of glory. May the nations behold it, and wonder and adore. May the human mind be arrested by a new revelation of the beauty that is in Christ. May thy preachers pronounce his name with a new accent, though with the old feeling of reverence, and awe, and love. May thy servants this day utter the name and title of Jesus as they were never uttered before since the days of the Pentecost. We love Jesus. He is more to us every day. Every day we take to him gold, and frankincense, and myrrh; now, may we take to him our life and our life's life, and have nothing in us on which his claiming hand doth not rest. Grant Sabbatic peace to every soul. Still the tumult and the uproar of the world's busy week. Cleanse the ear from all the vulgar noise of life's common thoroughfare, and fill the hearing ear with the music of another world. Touch the wound no hand of ours may approach. Whisper to the weak, and suffering, and dying. Make the place of sorrow thy chosen sanctuary. Where the darkness is very great do thou set thy largest star. Bless the child at school, and may knowledge be turned into wisdom. Travel with the traveller, and give him favoring winds, and open roads, and bring him to his desired place. Speak to the soldier and the sailor of a higher boldness and a diviner heroism than can be known in human relations. Speak to the prisoner in his solitude, and may his very heart cry unto God for the pardon of his sin. Put thine arms around us all, the everlasting arms, and give us to feel their inviolable security. Amen.
1. And as they spake unto the people, the priests, and the captain of the temple [the chief agents in our Lord's condemnation], and the Sadducees [the higher members of the priesthood], came upon them,
2. Being grieved [expressive of intensity of trouble and vexation] that they taught the people, and preached through [literally, preached in Jesus ] Jesus the resurrection from the dead.
3. And they laid hands on them, and put them in hold [in custody] unto the next day: for it was now eventide [6 p.m.].
4. Howbeit many of them which heard the word believed; and the number of the men was about five thousand.
5. And it came to pass on the morrow, that their rulers, and elders, and scribes,
6. And Annas the high priest, and Caiaphas, and John, and Alexander [the probable conveners of the meeting], and as many as were of the kindred of the high priest, were gathered together at Jerusalem.
7. And when they had set them in the midst [the Sanhedrim sat in a semicircle, the president being in the middle of the arc and the accused standing in the centre], they asked [apparently in a tone of contempt], By what power, or by what name, have ye done this?
8. Then Peter, filled with the Holy Ghost [the tense implies a sudden inspiration], said unto them, Ye rulers of the people, and elders of Israel.
9. If we this day be examined of the good deed done to the impotent man, by what means he [the pronoun implies the presence of the man] is made whole;
10. 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.
11. This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner.
12. Neither is there salvation [the Greek has the article the salvation] in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.
13. Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned [unlettered] and ignorant [common] men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge [they began to recognize] of them, that they had been with Jesus.
14. And beholding the man which was healed standing with them, they could say nothing against it.
15. But when they had commanded them to go aside out of the council, they conferred among themselves,
16. Saying, What shall we do to these men? for that indeed a notable miracle [sign] hath been done by them is manifest to all them that dwell in Jerusalem; and we cannot deny it.
17. But that it spread no further among the people, let us straitly threaten them [Gr.: let us threaten them with threats], that they speak henceforth to no man in this name.
18. And they called them, and commanded them not to speak at all [Gr.: absolutely not to utter] nor teach in the name of Jesus.
19. But Peter and John answered and said unto them, Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye.
20. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.
21. 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.
22. For the man was above forty years old [precision characteristic of Luke], on whom this miracle of healing was shewed.
23. And being let go, they went to their own company [their own people] and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said unto them.
24. And when they heard that, they lifted up their voice to God with one accord, and said, Lord [not Kyrios, but Despotes], thou art God, which hast made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all that in them is:
25. Who by the mouth of thy servant David hast said, Why did the heathen rage, and the people imagine vain things?
26. The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord, and against his Christ.
27. For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod [Luke alone recorded Herod's share in the proceedings connected with the crucifixion], and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together,
28. For to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done.
29. And now, Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word.
30. By stretching forth thine hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done by the name of thy holy child Jesus.
Teaching and Persecution
NOT only did Peter and John cure the lame man, which would have been an incident hardly worth recording, they proceeded to " teach the people," and to "preach, through Jesus, the resurrection of the dead." Herein was their greatest fault in the eyes of the rulers of the Jews. Christianity is a teaching religion. Christianity seeks out the people, all the people, and speaks the common popular tongue. The speech of Christianity is the universal speech. It is just here that preachers may learn their most useful lesson. Our danger is that we speak to classes of men the educated, the polite, the discerning. The Apostles never spoke to any particular class of men exclusively. They taught the people. We can never get back to that universal speech unless those of you who are educated and highly refined will support us in that missionary attempt. You must be content to be partially neglected in so far as intellectual luxuries are concerned, and must assist us in providing good wholesome bread for the common people. That is your duty today. "Except a man deny himself he cannot be Christ's disciple." Except a man can sit in his pew and say, "I would rather hear the common speech, the great, broad, universal speech, than any merely class address," he cannot be Christ's disciple.
The Apostles then, we see, in the first instance, taught the people; they did not ask for any particular class of the people, did not speak what may be termed an eclectic gospel to a chosen few. Their words were so simple that they could pour them upon the common winds, and let the breath of heaven carry those living words everywhere. See that ye be not hinderers of this Gospel by your love of luxuries. The Gospel is not a luxury, it is bread; it is water; it is a common speech to every soul that lives. The rulers of the Jews were grieved that they taught the people. That is precisely the difference between Christianity and every other religion. Other religions say, "Keep the people in the dark." Christianity says, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature." Other religions draw a screen, as Pythagoras lectured from behind a curtain to his disciples; and from behind the screen they mutter their unintelligible incantations. Christianity lifts its red banner, throws it out upon the willing wind, and on it is written, "This thing was not done in a corner." By the compass of its mission; by the universality of its speech; by its chivalry of philanthropy, I ask you to adjudge to Christianity the palm above all the religions of the world. Other religions are philosophies philosophies only; Christianity is a gospel as well.
A very marvellous thing occurs here, in a kind of parenthesis; Peter and John had been speaking to the people. The rulers of the Jews were grieved by this popular movement; and they laid their hands on the Apostles and put them in prison until the next day. "Howbeit"! God has his finger in this! He comes through very narrow spaces, and seizes very transient opportunities. A moment is to him as eternity. "Howbeit," wait there a while to get the full rush of this glorious announcement "many of them which heard the Word BELIEVED." Why should not that be the case now, so that whatever may happen to the preacher within the next hour he may know, as he goes to his account, that he has left behind him a harvest before the time? No man will put the preacher in prison today. But he may sicken, he may die, he may lose his mental balance. In some way he may be disabled from the prosecution of his work, so that the eventide shall not find him in his place. "Howbeit," the work was done in the morning. Though the two Apostles were thrust into the prison the number of Christians was increased.
Peter and John went out to go to the Temple. They did enter the Temple; but they spent the night in prison. The morning came, and justice must be done. Let us be present at the interview. There were two Apostles, but as for those who were arrayed against them, we read of them as "rulers, and elders, and scribes; and Annas, the high priest; and Caiaphas, and John, and Alexander, and as many as were of the kindred of the high priest." They will outface the two unlearned and ignorant men. It was easy for the Apostles to ask a lame sufferer to look at them; but they dare not ask this council to look them in the face. The Apostles were set "in the midst," and this question was hurled at them, "By what power, or by what name, have ye done this?" Beware of that point of thought in which you turn your religion into a piece of merely metaphysical inquiry. It is at that point that Christianity is often defeated in her most beneficent purposes. What did the learned men say? They wanted to go into ways and means, and to analyze what we now call the modus operandi . They wanted to turn this question into a metaphysical inquiry. Instead of accepting the man, the healed man, the concrete, positive, indisputable fact, they wanted to lure the Apostles, and those who followed them, into metaphysical quagmires and difficulties. Preachers of the living Word, do not allow yourselves to answer the "why" and the "how" of merely inquisitive minds. Have the man himself with you, and let him be your argument. Christianity rests on facts, not upon opinions. If the Church of Christ, in any part of the world, has not the Man with it, any amount of mere philosophical theorizing and speculation will do harm rather than good. Where is the man you have saved? Produce him. Where are the hungry you have fed, the ignorant you have instructed, the enslaved you have emancipated? Produce them. This is a fact, not a quibble. The question seems to be very easy, and very rational, "By what power, or by what name, have ye done this?" yet that question was a mischievous one. It was a bait; it was a mean decoy. The one true question was, "Where is the healed man? Let him walk before us. We have heard of him walking, and leaping, and entering into the Temple with you; let us see him do this now." That would have been a fair challenge; and having seen the once lame man walking, and leaping, and entering into the Temple, they should have said, By whatever means it is done the effect is certain, and the cause of such an effect must itself be good.
Peter and John will surely stammer before this glittering assembly! The maid that taunted the rough-spoken Galilæan was too much for Peter; when he sees Annas, and Caiaphas, and John, and Alexander, there will be no spirit left in him! How does the narrative read? With one explanatory clause "Then Peter, filled with the Holy Ghost." That is a thousand Peters: Peter multiplied by the very Deity. Peter? a straw blown away by the mocking wind, by himself. But Peter "filled with the Holy Ghost" was a man of war, a mighty captain, a soldier not to be put down; clothed with heavenly panoply, eloquent with heaven's thunder, gracious with heaven's love.
Have we received the Holy Ghost? The question is not, "Are we well trained intellectually?" "Have we read many books?" "Are we able to conduct very subtle arguments?" The plain, soul-piercing question is, "Have we received the HOLY GHOST?" We shall know whether we have received the Spirit by the fire that is in us. The Holy Ghost is fire. The difference between one man and another is a difference of fire. The great healers in the universe are fire and water; if a man cannot be healed by these he cannot be healed at all. We have received the first baptism, we have (to use popular language) been "christened," Christ-named, christianized in the sense of having been brought to the church, and had the initial water sprinkled upon our smooth forehead; but have we received the Holy Ghost? There is no mistaking him! No man can mistake the sunlight for any meaner flame. That great noontide glory comes with a compass and with a splendor that leave no doubt as to its origin. Peter having been challenged to give an account of the circumstance made the eloquent reply which you find within Act 4:9-12 inclusive. He never was more eloquent. Whenever Peter spake suddenly, on great subjects, he spake the very heart of God. He once took Christ Himself by surprise in this matter. "Whom say ye that I am?" Peter answered, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." Challenged by the rulers of the Jews upon the occasion now before us, he made an answer equal in splendour to his earlier reply. How much he makes of Christ in the 10th verse! We seem hardly to have heard the whole style and title of Jesus before. We have them here. We have called the Saviour "Jesus;" sometimes we have called him "Jesus Christ." By some short indication of this kind we have made reference to the Redeemer. But how seldom have we given Him His full style and title! Listen to Peter as he says "Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him." There is no mistaking that address. The name, the address, the tragedy, the resurrection, and the "even by HIM," the last thrilling emphasis that crowded into itself the passion of the entire reference! What Christ do you preach? We have heard of the Christ of the painter a figure tenderly coloured, set in wondrous lights and shades. We have stood before it, and sometimes we have thrilled in its presence, and felt the waters stealing into our eyes. But that Christ never saved the soul, it is only a creation of art. We have heard of the Christ of the poet. Christ has been spoken of in flowing rhyme and stately blank verse; but that Christ never came from the intellect into the depths of the heart, to save that heart in its deadliest remorse on account of sin. We must go back to the apostolic Christ if we have to realize apostolic conceptions and to win apostolic successes in the ministry. I will read the full style and title again "Jesus" "Jesus Christ" "Jesus Christ of Nazareth" "Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified," "Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead." They could not say after that "To what Christ does he refer? Of what Jesus does he speak?" the name, the place, the crucifixion, the resurrection: all re-affirmed. There was no escape from that description. Is it not possible for us to escape from many a Christ that is now preached? The Christ we want is a Saviour: a man who knows us, loves us, dies for us, rises again and intercedes for us, who came out of eternity, who has passed into eternity, and whose one thought is to SAVE THE WORLD!
Peter might well have ended by the statement contained in the 10th verse, but Peter often found it difficult to conclude when Christ was the theme. How can a river end except in the sea? The little pool, the purling rill, soon sinks in the sand; but the river, deep, broad, fluent moves on through channelled rocks and shady woods, on, on to the solemn sea! Peter went onward. Said he, "This is the stone which was set at nought by you builders, which is become the head of the corner." The place trembled under the vibration of that living voice! He might have ended there; but it was difficult, let us repeat, for Peter ever to end when Christ was the theme. So he continued, "Neither is there salvation in any other, for there is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved." Peter could never fall again! There are some speeches that are crises in a man's history. Surely after such eloquence he could never fall into the commonplace of ordinary speech. And he never did. Tradition, truly or untruly, I care not which, brings Peter to the cross that he may be crucified, head downwards. They did not crucify Peter; they only crucified his flesh. When we are "filled with the Holy Ghost" we know not the puncture of iron or the sting of fire.
The original question was not one of salvation, it was merely a question of healing a lame man. But you never find the Apostles confining themselves to the mere incident. Every miracle is only a text; every sign or token is only a starting-point. Let an Apostle heal a man's ankle-bones, and from those ankle-bones he swings clear off to Christ's world-saving Cross. Sometimes we find it difficult to move from our Old Testament text to our New Testament gospel; the Apostles never experienced such a difficulty. At one step they passed over to the Cross and said, "If we have given you bread for the body, we meant it to be typical of the bread which endureth unto everlasting life. If we have healed your ankle-bones, we meant it to be symbolic of the greater healing of your soul. If we have opened the eyes of the body, we meant it but as an initial act realizing its fruition in the illumination of the spirit and the whole inner man." See how grandly Peter stands above the occasion! He was not a mere healer of ankle-bones; he was, in the Almightiness of God, a healer of souls. Can I by the same Almightiness heal your souls? Hear Christ's words, "Come unto Me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."
Now, it was the turn of the Sanhedrim to be shut up and put "in hold unto the next day," and every day after that! When they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they had a provincial accent in their speech, and talked like two intelligent fishermen only, "they marvelled." May every other Sanhedrim marvel about you young preachers just in the same way! If there is not a peculiarity in your speech, if there is not a disparity between you and your speech, you can be accounted for: and any man that can be accounted for will never influence his age. He will make a splash in the pool; but the bubbles will be seen a moment, then will sink for ever. You never can make out the secret of a Whitefield. You never can make out the secret power of any man who makes a whole world hear him. If you could account for him you would be as great as he is. What then did the wise and influential Jews do? I can but smile when I hear them muttering and whispering, "But that it spread no further among the people let us straitly" (strictly and sharply) "threaten them." You feel the difference of the climate, do you not? the difference of temperature between Act 4:11 and Acts 4:12 , and Acts 4:16-17 , and Act 4:18 ? The apostles were THREATENED! They must not speak any more! There must be an end of this nuisance. Society is not to be disturbed by such propagandists. Peter, having heard the threatening, said unto them, "Whether it be RIGHT.".... That is the word that makes history! "Whether it be RIGHT." That is the word that thrills the ages! Whether it be RIGHT in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye? Ye are judges and learned men. Judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard." And the Apostles having received this threatening, "went to their own company, and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said unto them." What a talk they had; How they reminded one another of the occasion of the movement! And when the company had heard it all, "they lifted up their voice to God with one accord, and said...." They too became eloquent, sublime in speech: they quoted the second Psalm. "Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?" And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost." Pentecost after Pentecost! Poor Church! Thou hast fallen upon empty times. They are but mean challenges that are addressed to us now. If we could be once more threatened with the prison and the stake, the rod of iron and the keen double-edged weapon, some of us might be heroes. At present we may be but common clay!
Almighty God, we have heard that power belongeth unto thee, and we are afraid: we have also heard that mercy belongeth unto thee, and we are no longer under the bondage of fear. We come to thy mercy in Christ Jesus, and we have no dread, but an inspiring and indestructible joy. We are all prodigals. We come today from a far country, and we bring back nothing with us but hunger, and shame, and nakedness, and self-reproach. God be merciful unto us, sinners. Thy Church was built for sinners. We did not know thee until we sinned. Through our guilt thou dost cause to come the brightest revelations of thyself. Thou shalt yet make sin help heaven. Out of this root of poison thou wilt gather wondrous fruits of health. We know not how this thy great miracle will be wrought; but we know thou wilt make the wrath of man to praise thee; and the remainder thou wilt hold at arm's length. The Lord reigneth; the God of Salvation holds the universe in his grasp. Thou dost not delight in destruction, but in salvation: thy purpose is to abolish death and make the universe glad with spiritual life. In this confidence we always come near thee. Great waves of love rise in our hearts, and would find expression in fitting words; but they cannot. We are dumb before thee. Our very speech is but a mockery of our want. Our hymn, though it swell loudly and tremble with all pathos, cannot tell thee our praise. Thou hast made no speech, nor song, for the higher emotions of the soul; but, when we come to the better land, and learn inspired speech and larger music, we will bless thee fitly.
Take care of us whilst we are in the desert. There is no path here but of thine own making. Keep us close to one another, lest we lose the touch of sympathy and the voice of communion, and be lost amid the unmeasured sand. Lead us over the rocks when they are sharp and slippery. Take us up awhile into thine own heart, and carry us until we may be trusted to walk again. Leave us not, neither forsake us. We go to the graves of the past, the green hillocks, the eloquent churchyards, thine own acre, O God of the living, and by all the providence of history, by all the gentle care of individuals and families which thou hast exercised, we revive and strengthen and consolidate our faith in God. We bless thee for all the love which makes our life rich. Thou dost live for us. Thou didst so love the world as to give thy Son to die for it, and cleanse it with his own blood. Thou dost give him every day to die for us, and every day does he rise again, and all the while is his prayer heard in heaven. Therefore do we stand in thy church today redeemed by his blood, and secured by thy grace.
As families we bless thee. All the dear little children clasp their hands and look up, though they know not what to say; their look is better than their speech. And all the elder ones, to whom life is a vanishing dream, muse, and wonder, and hope, and now and again thrill with an expectation that cannot be uttered in words. And busy men thank God for the bread that is in both hands. The afflicted look to thee; and the sad in heart have no helper but thyself; and the lost turn round and look for the light. The Lord send it to shine upon them, and may they be brought home every one.
God save the Queen. Guard her person; defend her throne; prolong her reign. We bless thee for her escape from danger; for she has done us good and not evil all the days of her life. The Lord crown her with fine gold, and fill her diadem with jewels of his own finding.
Lord, regard all the little earth: to us so great: to thee but a handful of dust. We have marked it out into continents and nations, and have broken up its speech into many tongues; but all the earth is thine, and the fulness thereof; and thou art Lord of the sea. Still keep the little earth in its right place, and whilst it swings around the sun may its human multitudes revolve around the sun of righteousness and catch from him all life, and light, and joy. Amen.
31. And when they had prayed, the place was shaken [pointing to the God of nature] where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness.
32. And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul [ Jer 32:29 ]: neither said any of them [the Greek is emphatic, and not one of them said ] that aught of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common.
33. And with great power gave the apostles [there the Greek verb gave implies much more than the English word. It is constantly used for paying a debt, or rendering an account ] witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all.
34. 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 [we never hear that a similar fund was established except at Jerusalem],
35. And laid them down at the apostles' feet [when gifts or offerings are made to an eastern king or priest, they are not placed in his hands but at his feet]: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need.
36. And Joses [Joseph], who by the apostles was surnamed Barnabas, (which is, being interpreted, The son of consolation) a Levite [he may have held lands from his marriage], and of the country of Cyprus [in the Eastern Mediterranean],
37. Having land [lit., a field ] sold it, and brought the money, and laid it at the apostles' feet.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Acts 4". Parker's The People's Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 22 / Ordinary 27