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Bible Commentaries

Wells of Living Water Commentary
Acts 4

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-12

Fighting Against God

Acts 4:1-12

INTRODUCTORY WORDS

The fourth chapter of Acts continues the account of the third chapter, bringing to a climax the healing of the lame man. The rulers and elders and scribes were not pleased at the course of events since the ascension of Christ. The more the power of the Risen Christ was made manifest, and the more that His Name was preached, the more was the villainy of their crucifixion of Christ made manifest.

The rulers and scribes and elders were walking on thin ground. They felt that God was vindicating His holy Name, in that He had raised up Jesus, and had seated Him at His own right hand in the heavens. There was no place for these religious leaders to combat the fact that Christ was risen indeed. The populace was convinced that the Apostles gave a true witness. The leaders themselves knew that these things were so. The resurrection was established by proofs so infallible that thousands were flocking to the standards of the new faith.

How the rulers and scribes and elders must have trembled, as they saw the sweep and sway of Christ's power. They felt that every miracle wrought and that every testimony given, added proof to their own perfidy. They had taken and with wicked hands had crucified and slain the hope of Israel. His blood was upon their heads. They cringed, conscience-stricken, before each new manifestation of God's mighty power. They knew that their doom was hastening on. Therefore they set about, if by any means they could stem the tide. To be sure they were fighting against God, and they knew it; yet, Pharaoh-like, they hardened their heart and pressed on in their maddened way.

One would have thought that they would have acknowledged their sin and confessed the Lord. Not they. Satan had them entwined in a system of religious demagoguery that would not let them go. Their hearts were hardened in pride; their minds were blinded by prejudice. They knew that their honor, their livelihood, their worldly all was at stake. These are the things that men will not readily surrender.

I. THE RULERS WERE GRIEVED AT THE APOSTLES (Acts 4:1-2 )

What a strange combination of forces The priests, the captain of the Temple and the Sadducees all of these joined hands against a common foe. They who were enemies became friends to fight the Truth. There is but one conclusion, whether Sadducee or Pharisee, or Herodian, each was wrong; each was against Christ.

Saddest of all, the ones who sat in Moses' seat and were teachers of the Law, denied the essence of what Moses taught, and set at nought the One who came to fulfil the Law. They were blind guides yet they were set to guide the blind; they were darkness, yet they were set to be a light for those who wandered in darkness; they were foolish, yet they were set to teach wisdom to the foolish.

How sad it is, when those to whom God gives the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven, shut up the way to Heaven; when those who make long prayers are hinderers of prayer; when those who pose as zealots leading men to Heaven, make the ones they lead, twofold more the children of hell.

It has always been so the greatest foes to Truth are those who profess to defend the Truth. Our own day is not foreign to this very condition. Men who deny the very Lord who bought them have crept in unawares. They are feasting with us, feasting without fear. They have gone in the way of Cain, yet they eat with Abel; they have run greedily after the error of Balaam, yet they sit in the councils of Israel; they have entered into the gainsaying of Core, yet they press fellowship with Moses. Such men are spots in our feasts.

No wonder that the hypocrites were grieved at the word and work of the Apostles. They did not want the resurrection of Christ preached because His resurrection meant their own utter undoing; His resurrection was proof of their own sin; His resurrection certified that their own judgment was hastening on.

To the Sadducees the resurrection of Christ was especially grievous, because the Sadducees taught that there was no resurrection, neither angel, nor spirit. With Christ risen the resurrection of saints was established. The Sadducees were ready to fight anything that spoiled their creed. When Truth drew his sword, they were ready to fight. The Sadducees held their creed as supreme. Before their creed even the Risen Christ of God was condemned to fall.

We tremble lest this same spirit of religious and creedal intolerance should sway many today; particularly those who hold to a form of godliness, denying the power thereof. Men stand by their creed and deny the Christ. Men place churchanity ahead of Christianity. Men enthrone the authority of "our church," or, "our denomination," and repudiate the authority of the Head of the Church.

If there is a conflict between their creed and the Bible; the creed must survive.

Mark you, with the resurrection of Christ established before their very eyes, the Sadducees were grieved they still held tenaciously that there was no resurrection of the dead.

II. THE RULERS PLACED THE APOSTLES IN PRISON (Acts 4:3 )

Satan is ready to pursue any method to withstand the spread of the Truth. Any means that he can invent he will use to hinder the march of the verities of God. Whether foul or fair, it matters nothing Truth must succumb.

Had the priests and the captain of the Temple and the Sadducees been grieved that the Apostles taught error it would have been different. However, they were grieved that they preached through Jesus, the resurrection of the dead. Peter had done a good deed, not a bad one, yet he was under arrest; Peter had preached a good doctrine, and a true doctrine, yet he was placed under bonds.

We are filled with amazement! Men love darkness rather than light; men love error rather than Truth. We recently met a brother who had been a bootlegger, selling and drinking liquor, and all of the time he was kept in full fellowship and in regular standing by his church. Then, grace found him and he was saved. He followed the Lord fully. He was filled with love and preached Christ. Then his church proceeded to take his case in hand and excommunicated him because he proclaimed that Christ was Coming Again, and because he believed in the security of the believer, A travesty on righteousness yes, but a fact.

There are denominations today who will permit what the Bible calls "damnable heresies" to be taught and broadcasted under their very eyes; yet they will isolate or cast out one who dares to proclaim the Truth of the Lord's Return.

In some localities holiness is more dreaded than ungodliness. Church members may dance, and play cards, and be movie mad without receiving a "jar" from the "rulers" in church life; but let a member quietly pass outside the camp and bear the reproach of Christ, let him profess godliness, and walk in scriptural sanctification, then he is at once marked as a speckled bird, and placed under the ban of the church.

It seems that men who hold down the Truth in unrighteousness, men who bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord God who bought them, are welcomed to the highest seats in the synagogue, and placed in the seats of authority; while the men who hold forth the Truth in all purity of purpose and in all power of the Spirit, are segregated, isolated and when possible expurgated.

To preach through Jesus the resurrection of the dead grieves the Sadducees.

III. AMONG THE POPULACE MANY BELIEVED (Acts 4:4 )

Acts 4:4 is most refreshing. It reads, "Many of them which heard the Word believed; and the number of the men was about five thousand."

The Gospel of God is still the power of God unto everyone that believes. While the rulers were pressing every means to put a quietus on the Word, the Word grew and was multiplied. Five thousand men marked no small increase to the forces for Truth. Pentecost had seen its three thousand. Now five thousand men were added.

Satan and Satan-energized men may use every method at their command, but the Truth goes marching on. No other age has ever witnessed a more strenuous attack from the powers of darkness than our age. The true Church, which is the pillar and the ground of the Truth, is the center of this attack. The evil one has sought from every angle to antagonize the message of God. He has, on the one hand, raised up men to defame the Truth"; on the other hand he has sought to engulf the professing church with a flood of worldliness which vitiates the power of the Truth. In spite of his every effort many are being purified and made white, and the Truth is marching on.

In Peter's day those who believed in Christ were compelled to withdraw from the contemporary religious rulers. It is fast becoming so with us. One thing is certain If going all the way with Christ runs counter to any or to every established ecclesiasticism, then Christ must and should hold unquestioned authority with the truly saved. In all things He must be first. Christianity, with its faith in Christ, has always been a divisive power.

Let us remember, however, that the gospel message attacked, and the gospel ministry opposed, does not mean that the Gospel has lost its power. Although the "rulers" placed Peter and John in prison, yet the five thousand men believed. In the ministry of Paul, the more he was persecuted and the more his message was decried, the more exceedingly did the power of his Gospel prevail. Whole cities were moved, and even the enemy conceded that Paul had turned the world upside down.

All of this makes the words of the Spirit more startling: "Being grieved that they taught the people, and preached through Jesus the resurrection from the dead" (Acts 4:2 ).

Why should religious leaders be grieved because Jesus was preached? Why should they be grieved that the resurrection through Him was proclaimed? Why should they be grieved that five thousand men professed faith in Christ? Why? It was because it all cut the rulers to the very heart. Why did it cut them to the heart? It was because Jesus was the One whom they had delivered to Pontius Pilate to be" crucified. His resurrection had established His Deity and made certain His claims, certifying that they had crucified the Lord of Glory. However, that did not matter to them. They knew that they were wrong, yet they insisted that they were right. While all of this was going on about five thousand believed.

IV. A TRAVESTY OF JUDGMENT (Acts 4:5-6 )

Here is some interesting reading a reminiscence of Apostolic times. It was before this group of dignitaries that the two disciples were brought.

We have no doubt that the disciples had strange sensations as they faced the very group that had so recently delivered their Lord to be crucified. What could they expect before such a tribunal? The hands of Annas and of Caiaphas and of their colleagues still dripped with the blood of a delivered and crucified Christ. If they had hated Him, the Lord and Master, they would surely not befriend His followers.

Annas and Caiaphas and the rulers also had strange sensations as they faced the disciples. They were tortured by the events of recent weeks. They had heard of the resurrection of Christ with dark forebodings. They had walked daily in fear for their very lives. Pentecost had not lessened their terror. The holy boldness of Peter and John now harassed them the more. The conversion of the three thousand, and now of the five thousand brought only added consternation.

Worst of all, these religious enemies were helpless. They began to realize that they were utterly whipped and un-done. They had slain the Lord, and He had returned alive after His passion. They would not have hesitated to slay His followers, but they feared the populace and they feared, lest, from their graves, a thousand new recruits would spring forth.

What a dilemma! Defeat faced them at every turn. They looked into dark despair. The handwriting on the wall had come. Their sins had found them out. Death and hell hounded their tracks.

Let the scene confront you clearly On the one hand was the tribunal Annas, and Caiaphas and the rulers, trembling for their sins and fear-filled before the sentence of a just God, These were the judges. On the other hand, before them stood the prisoners Peter and John, invigorated by a new and living hope; fired by faith in the infinite God; stirred by the verities of the truth that they preached.

Thus did the trial proceed.

V. THE EXAMINATION OF THE FAITHFUL BY THE FALSE (Acts 4:6 )

What could Peter and John expect? If Annas and Caiaphas and the rest of the court accepted the statement that Peter and John made, they would only incriminate themselves, because they had crucified the One whom the Apostles confessed. The disciples knew this. Would it not have been wisdom on their part to have side-stepped the truth? Why say the thing that was sure to create trouble?

We thank God that these men knew no compromise; they had no flags of truce to flaunt; no camouflage to offer. They were ready to pray with their windows open toward Jerusalem, even if they knew their already signed death warrant would thus become immediately enforced.

"Ours is not to reason why;

Ours is but to do, or die."

We thank God for men who have convictions, and who also have the courage to proclaim them. Some may look, for their own gain from their own quarter, but not Peter and John. Some may seek for prestige among the men who hold the reigns of power, but not Peter and John. Some may take the path of least resistance, and walk in the way of self-aggrandizement, but not Peter and John.

Who were Annas and Caiaphas, the two outstanding characters who headed this trial of Peter and of John? They were the rulers of the Jews' religion; they were the supposed supporters of the sacred Scriptures. They were, nevertheless, the men who formulated traditions which were wholly counter to the commandments of God. They were the men who ran the works of Judaistic propaganda. They bound burdens upon men, grievous to be borne. They loved the uppermost rooms at the feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues. They loved to be called of men, "Rabbi, Rabbi." They devoured widow's houses and made for a pretense, a long prayer. They builded the tombs of the Prophets and garnished the sepulchers of the righteous, but, they were, withal, blind pharisees, hypocrites, serpents, and a generation of vipers.

Who are the men before whom some of God's choicest and best preachers are today called to stand? They are the men who deny the only Lord God and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. They are the men who have set themselves against the inerrancy of the inspired Scriptures, against the Virgin Birth, against the Deity of Christ, against our Lord's substitutionary Sacrifice. They are the men who seek leadership in our great denominational bodies; they formulate the burdens that the saints are to bear, and they direct the service that they are asked to render.

VI. PETER AND JOHN MADE PLAIN THEIR CONFESSION OF FAITH (Acts 4:7-12 )

They said, "Be it known unto you all" (that is to the rulers), "and to all the people of Israel" (that is to those beyond the bounds of religious headship).

Mark you carefully Peter and John did not start an organization to oust the high priest and his associates. Their testimony was constructive. They sought to undo error by proclaiming truth.

As we have become older and have sought to go more deeply into these things, we have, personally, become the more convinced that error cannot be uprooted, neither is it God's method for us to try to uproot it. Our part is to express modernism, and to strongly and fearlessly contend for the faith. We should preach the faith on the housetops, and proclaim it in the secret cloisters. We should sow the world with the Seed, the Word of God.

Peter and John published their creed. They stated their faith. They stated it in a way that made it potent and uncontrovertible. They did not fail to charge their judges with the crucifixion of Christ. They uncovered their sin. They said, "Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified."

VII. PETER AND JOHN INCLUDED IN THEIR CONFESSION OF FAITH, THE VERY THINGS WHICH WERE MOST ANTAGONIZED BY THEIR CAPTORS

The disciples, stressed that the rulers had crucified the Lord Jesus Christ. This was the message of all messages that human sagacity would have advised the captives to leave unsaid. It was the message that above all messages condemned the rulers before whom they stood.

The disciples insisted that the Stone which had been set at naught by the rulers, had become the chief of the corner. That is, the very one whom they had crucified God had raised up and seated at His own right hand. This statement only made the sin of the rulers more terrible.

The disciples did more than this. They taught that the Christ whom the rulers had crucified, and whom God had exalted, still worked and wrought notable miracles. They said, "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." These words only added more fuel to the fire. They only showed up the horror of the rulers' rejection of Christ the more vividly.

The disciples went still farther. They said that there was no other name under heaven, given among men, where-by men must be saved. The Christ the rulers crucified was Israel's only hope, and the sinner's only salvation. Thus, everything spoken by Peter and John was in direct opposition to those who judged them. What did that matter? Are saints to preach only those things which do not oppose? Are they to seek a common ground with the enemies of Christ? No we must preach combated truth.

Should one sidestep the message of the Lord's Return, because some men, who are reputable leaders, acclaim it a divisive doctrine? For very shame! Paul said, "Looking for that Blessed Hope"! then He added, "These things speak, and exhort * * Let no man despise thee" (Titus 2:13 , Titus 2:15 ).

Shall we get the tenure of our message from soulish men, who have not the Spirit? Shall we cease to preach commanded truth because some one cries, "Wolf"?

Not so did Peter and John. They never apologized for their faith. They preached it where it would be the most unwelcomed, of any quarter on earth. They preached it where it carried fangs; where it cut to the heart. They never swerved from their convictions.

May God give us men who have the courage of Peter and of John. Men who are not for sale. Men who are ready to die for their message. May God give us men with iron in their blood; men filled with love and with the Holy Ghost, but men who will not hold back the Truth.


Verses 13-31

The Results of a Faithful Testimony

Acts 4:13-31

INTRODUCTORY WORDS

A real problem presented itself to the rulers of the Jews. They were greatly perturbed by the preaching of the disciples, and by the miracle of Peter and John, but what could they do?

Their heartless and causeless crucifixion of Christ had proved most disastrous to their religious prestige; for Christ had risen and all men conceded the fact.

They might once more have turned executioners, and have put Peter and John out of the way, but they feared the people. The fourth chapter of Acts makes this plain. Mark verse 14: "They could say nothing against it." That is, they would have spoken against the healing of the lame man, if they had dared so to do. Again, Acts 4:16 reveals their inner attitude, when it gives the words of the rulers, "What shall we do to these men? For that indeed a notable miracle hath been done by them is manifest to all them that dwell in Jerusalem; and we cannot deny it."

Their final action was determined by their wisdom, not by their desires. All they dared to do was to threaten Peter and John, and to command them not to speak further in Christ's Name.

With this course decided, they called Peter and John before them again and delivered their verdict. First, let us consider:

I. MARK WELL THE EFFECT OF THE WORDS WHICH THE DISCIPLES HAD SPOKEN

1. They acknowledged the boldness of Peter and John. How could they help so doing? The man, Peter, who had denied the Lord before a maid, had now lost all sense of fear. When Christ had been dragged by the rulers before Pilate, although Peter's life was in no immediate danger, yet Peter quailed with fear before the taunt of a girl. Now with Peter's own life in question, and not before a maid, but before Annas and Caiaphas, the men who had so heartlessly delivered Christ to His death, Peter knew no fear. No marvel that the rulers marveled at his boldness.

2. They conceded that Peter and John were ignorant men, unlearned in rabbinical wisdom. For this cause they marveled the more. To be sure Peter and John had both sat at the feet of Jesus and heard His word, but they had never sat at the feet of the learned Gamaliel. As men counted learning, they had none. Yet, the unlearned spoke before the learned, and spoke with unquestioned authority, the ignorant spoke before the wise, and spoke with unchallenged wisdom.

We stop a moment for a word of warning. Ecclesiastical powers are today making more and more stringent requirements along educational lines for would-be preachers. There is great danger here. Education may be all right, but some of it is all wrong. We, ourselves, value words that are "fitly spoken." We enjoy messages, correct in grammar, and striking in their wide sweep of human knowledge. However, these are not the chief things with a minister of God.

Men who are unlearned, so far as "higher education" is concerned, are often the most learned in the things of God. Besides, the Holy Spirit is the power the pulpit needs, and He is the greatest of all teachers. We some way believe that the study of the Word of God, gives a preacher not only a marvelous command of diction, but it also gives him a great aid in correct language.

Let us never forget that Peter and John, fishermen of Galilee, untutored, unlearned, and ignorant in human lore. were chosen of the Lord. Afterward these very men, with mighty power, stood before Annas and Caiaphas and John, and Alexander, the intellectual chiefs of Israel, and confounded them.

We grant that Paul was educated at the feet of Gamaliel, and we recognize the advantages of a trained mind. However, we insist that much that Paul learned at the feet of Gamaliel was only so much garbage to him, and to his ministry, and it, therefore, had to be cast overboard. We assert that education with all of its helpfulness, carries serpents' fangs when men are taught the present-day denials of the faith.

3. They asserted that Peter and John had been with Jesus. What an admission for these haters of Christ to make! These words of Annas and Caiaphas carry with them a forced, though frank acknowledgment of Christ's greatness. Whatever the rulers thought of Jesus, they saw plainly that these untutored men of the nets, had been transformed into gifted men of the ministry, by their three years of contact with the Son of God.

What an unintended compliment to the Son of God! Annas and Caiaphas were right it was the beautiful life and words of Jesus Christ that had made Peter and John what they were. The rulers who had tried Christ and cast Him out as worthy of death, now, unwittingly, condemn their own former treatment of Christ by acknowledging that all the power and forcefulness of Peter and of John had come from their former contact with the wonderful Jesus.

II. MARK WELL THE EFFECT OF THE HEALING OF THE LAME MAN UPON THE RULERS (Acts 4:14 )

Acts 4:14 says of Annas and Caiaphas and the rest, "And beholding the man which was healed standing with them, they could say nothing against it."

Bless God here was an unchallenged proof that Christ still lived, and wrought.

An infidel who was loud in his denunciation of Christ, being asked if he had a Christian mother, replied, in effect, "Gentlemen, that is the only thing that I cannot answer. My mother is the sweetest Christian I ever saw, and her life shows the genuineness of her faith."

How wonderful it was before the very eyes of the men who had delivered up the Son of God to Pontius Pilate stood one who presented an unanswerable proof that Christ still lived and wrought. Against this marvelous miracle they could say nothing at all. They knew that the untutored Peter and John had no power to make the lame to walk yet the lame did walk. Peter was right It was Christ's Name, by faith in His Name, that made the man who had been lame, to stand there before them in perfect soundness.

Annas and Caiaphas and their comrade said, "That indeed a notable miracle hath been done by them is manifest to all them that dwell in Jerusalem; and we cannot deny it" (Acts 4:16 ).

Peter and John were asked to step without, while these critics of the Christ sat to discuss their fate. None of us for a moment doubt what the rulers wanted to do they wanted to put the two disciples where they had so recently put their Lord on two crosses, out on old Golgotha's hill, but, they dared not The best they dared to do was to threaten the disciples, and command them to speak no more in the Name of Christ. Thus they hoped that Christ's Name and doctrine would spread no further. In the next division we will see how vain was their hope.

With what strange misgivings must the high priest and his associates have passed from that council! They no doubt remained in troubled consultation for some time, then they passed to their own homes to spend a restless night. Their consciences were stirred. Their sins were falling back, like a boomerang, upon their own heads.

As these men sought repose, we need not doubt that they saw their hands smirched with the Blood of Christ.

III. THE DISCIPLES' RESPONSE TO THEIR JUDGES

When Peter and John received the order not to further speak in Christ's Name, they replied:

"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" (Acts 4:19-20 ).

Here is a statement that will help us to settle many things. Shall we place the authority of men above that of the Lord?

Shall we obey the state when its demands carry us counter to the Word of God? In this country the government is not under the hands of men such as Pilate; but, if the government should refuse us the right to obey God, judge ye, whom we shall obey.

Shall we obey the ecclesiastical powers that be, when they run counter to the commands of God? The national government does not seek to invade the rights of its citizens along spiritual lines. We cannot always say this about ecclesiastical authorities. There has grown up about us, in many quarters, a religious hierarchy, that seeks to curtail the liberty of the pulpit. It dares to dictate to preachers what they shall, and what they shall not, preach. Certain themes are particularly put under the ban pre-eminently the Blessed Hope of the Return of the Lord. The preacher who dares to disregard the outspoken or veiled demand that he speak not on these things will find himself withstood in many localities.

What course should the faithful take? Should they obey God or men? Should they preach the smooth things, the humanly approved things, the things that draw ecclesiastical praise, or, shall they preach the God-commanded things, even though they be the disapproved things and the unpopular things?

Is denominational prestige more to be desired than Divine approval? Are the plaudits of men to be desired more than the praise of God? What did the Spirit say in Paul? "For if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ."

Peter and John felt a great impelling must back of their testimony. They said, "We must obey God." There was something in them that impelled them. It was Paul who said, "Woe is unto me, if I preach not the Gospel." Jeremiah once thought that he would cease preaching. There was so much of opposition, so much of persecution laid upon him. However, when he would have ceased to speak, the Word of God burned in his very soul, therefore he became weary with his withholding, and he could not stay.

IV. THE DISCIPLES CONTINUED TESTIMONY

Since the rulers could find no excuse to punish Peter and John, they turned them loose. Did fear possess the two Apostles? Not for one moment. Did the Christians in Jerusalem cringe before the onslaught of the chief priests? Not for a moment. Let us note Acts 4:23 , Acts 4:24 .

"And being let go, they went to their own company, and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said unto them.

"And when they heard that, 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" (Acts 4:23-24 ).

1. How expressive the words, "their own company!" There was a different atmosphere that surrounded the two disciples as they left the austere, critical mien of the Sanhedrin, and entered into the presence of those who believed in, and loved the Lord Jesus.

No fellowship is as gracious as that of saints.

"Blest be the tie that binds,

Our hearts in Christian love;

The fellowship of kindred minds

Is like to that above."

Once more the Apostles stood in the midst of the household of God. The winter of an hostile court composed of biased and critical minds, had suddenly been changed to the summer of a friendly church, composed of lovers of truth, The wild blasts of chilling winds, had given way to balmy breezes, freighted with the aroma of heavenly peace.

2. How delightful is the expression, "They * * reported all that the chief priests and the elders, had said unto them." How earnestly the Christians must have prayed while Peter and John were on trial; how eagerly now they listened to the report of all that had happened.

Nothing was left unsaid. The disciples recounted Peter's bold testimony against the rulers; the quiet and perhaps voiceless testimony of the lame man who had been healed, as he stood in the group, hard by the ones who, in the Name of Jesus, had brought him healing; the dilemma of the leaders of Judaism when they squirmed under the thrusts of Peter and of John as they were charged with the death of the Lord; and, as they proclaimed the resurrection and power of the Lord Jesus. The two disciples then related the finale of the court the command that they should speak no more in Christ's Name, the threatenings, the promised penalties that would follow, if they did so speak.

3. How stirring is the paragraph: "They lifted up their voice to God with one accord." These words, and the words that follow, carry with them certain contemplations that must not be overlooked:

(1) There was the recognition of God's great supremacy. The people said, "Lord, Thou art God, which hast made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all that in them is."

Somehow they all stood awed by the manifest presence and power of the living and mighty working God. The God whom they worshiped was the God who had created all things.

We would do well, if we, in our conceptions would keep in our mind that first great verse of the Bible, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth."

"God lives, shall I despair,

As if He were not there?

Is not my life His care,

Is not His hand Divine?

God lives, there rest my soul,

God is, and doth control."

The happenings at court made the disciples and believers all feel that they were in the presence of a God who knows and cares. They felt that God had unsheathed His sword in behalf of His own.

(2) There was the recognition of the ravings of the court that had tried two disciples. The people with one accord said, "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" (Acts 4:25-26 ).

The words spoken by the saints covered a quotation taken from the second Psalm. It is a great thing to know the Scriptures; it is also great to be able, as daily events roll by, to say, "This is that."

The disciples were not surprised, because they had been forewarned of God. The believers did not fail to catch the real spirit that lay behind Annas and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and their kin-folk, who had arraigned Peter and John before them. As they grasped the report of that trial they felt that the rulers had raged like the heathen rage; they had imagined a vain thing. They had gathered together against the Lord and against His Christ.

Not this alone, but the Christians who heard the report of Peter and John, agreed that the two were justifiable, when they asserted that the rulers had crucified the Lord. Mark the assembly's further words:

"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.

"For to do whatsoever Thy hand and Thy counsel determined to be done" (Acts 4:27-28 ).

We are almost startled at the sweep of truth that these Christians, so recently saved, manifested.

They saw on the one hand the crucifixion carried out by the hands of wicked men. They charged Herod and Pilate and the Gentiles, together with the people of Israel with the death of Christ.

They saw, on the other hand, that the crucifixion fulfilled the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God. God had sent Christ to die, the Just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God.

4. How marvelous the prayer, "And now, Lord, behold their threatenings." They who had first gathered together against the Lord, now threatened the saints. Not only that, but the Lord beheld them as they threatened. There is nothing that is not naked and open to His eyes.

This, however was not all of their prayer. They prayed that God would grant His servants, "that, with all boldness they may speak Thy Word." There was no desire, on the part of any, to retrench. They were determined to give their testimony, and they prayed that they might give it with all boldness. Why should saints tremble and fear, and refuse to take their stand, forsooth, because some one opposes them? Let them continue their testimony.

There was yet one thing more in their prayer. They prayed that healing, and signs and wonders might still be done in the Name of the holy Child, Jesus. Thus we know that the Christians recognized that the Christ, now exalted at the Father's right hand, was the same as the Child, the holy Child, of Bethlehem. What they asserted was that this same Jesus still lived and worked. His Name was the power of their miracles.

V. THE REMARKABLE RESPONSE FROM HEAVEN

When the disciples had finished their report, and when the believers had finished their prayer, we read:

"And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness" (Acts 4:31 ).

Let us mark three things:

1. The place was shaken. This brought to the servants of God a solemn sense of the presence of God. It carried them back to Pentecost when the sound of a mighty rushing wind filled the house where they were sitting. It gave them assurance that God had heard their prayer, accepted their praise, and that He was working in their behalf. What cared they for the threatening of the High Priests and of the rulers. God was with them, and who could be against them. When the Lord lifted up His hand, man could not draw it back.

2. They were all filled with the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost came to impart unto them the spirit of wisdom, and of revelation, in the knowledge of Christ. He came to glorify Christ, to manifest His Name.

The Holy Ghost filled them that they might reveal the all-glorious fruit of love, and joy and peace.

The Holy Ghost was upon them that they might be given power, and be panoplied for testimony. Their ambitions were right, their prayer was acceptable, but God knew that even such valiant souls, could not, apart from the Spirit's infilling, perform His purposes.

The preacher of the truth, must be filled with the Spirit, if his message is to carry power.

3. They spake the Word of God with boldness. These early believers did not speak with worldly wisdom nor did they proclaim a message based on intellectual reasonings. They did not preach dreams of their heads, nor reasonings of their minds. They preached the Word. They gave a "Thus saith the Lord" for every position they took. They unsheathed the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, They found the Word sufficient in all things. They did not seek to shine upon its statements, they merely held it up and let it shine.

They spake the Word, and they spake it with all boldness. It would be most unseemly for any Christian to be bold in preaching themselves, or, bold in parading their own hobbies, or self-manufactured think-sos. It is easy to rant around, asserting some fanatical fancy of an untaught brain. The disciples and the early Church were not given to fighting the old Jewish traditions, merely because they had a dislike for the men who ruled Judaism. These men spoke boldly, but they spoke a word not of their own making. They proclaimed a message that was sent from Heaven and they spoke that message with a faithful interpretation of Scripture. They convinced all gainsayers. They reasoned out of the Scriptures. They spoke a sane message from a sound mind, and they spake contending for the great foundation truths of the faith.

We who, for the time are teachers, need to be rooted and grounded in the Word; we need to rightly divide the Word of Truth. We are not to be heralders of the doctrines of men, but of the Word of God.

When we are thus rooted and grounded in the Truth, and when, in addition, we are filled with the Holy Ghost, we can speak with all boldness, without courting favor, or fearing frowns.

Let us seek to return to this threefold position of the early saints, (1) Preaching the Word. (2) Preaching the Word under the anointing of the Spirit. (3) Preaching the Word with all boldness. When this is done, God will bless our testimony.

In the beginning was the Word,

The Word with God was dwelling;

The Word was God, God was the Word,

Let us its truth be telling.

In Heav'n established is the Word,

Made sure by God forever;

Though Heav'n and earth shall pass away,

His Word, it falleth never.

All blessed is the precious Word,

Christ's Name in ancient story,

His Name when first to earth He came,

And when He comes in glory,

The Word, the Word, the wondrous Word;

The Word with God in Heaven;

We will with boldness preach the Word,

The Word to mortals given.


Verses 32-37

The Marks of a Genuine Faith

Acts 4:32-37

INTRODUCTORY WORDS

We come today to a most interesting, and inside view of the lives and ministry of the early saints. May the impact of this message call each of us to a more blessed Christian walk. We who, as followers of the Lord, are living twenty centuries later than the first disciples, should have a deeper realization of our own relationship toward God, toward one another, and toward all men.

I. A UNITY OF HEART AND OF SOUL MARKED THE EARLY BELIEVERS

1. The expression "of one heart" suggests the tender affection that the early Christians had one for another. Christianity is not a cold, formal faith a mere federation and amalgamation based upon "duty."

Christianity is a warm, tender love of saints, a federation and amalgamation based upon heart-throbs.

John may have been, by nature, "a son of thunder," but when grace found him, he became the gentle and considerate father, who knew the deeper meaning of the word "beloved."

Paul may have been by nature, the austere youth filled with heartless cruelty toward the Christians of his day a self-seeker in every sense of the word. That was, however, when Paul was commonly known as Saul, of Tarsus. Paul the redeemed, and Paul the preacher of the Gospel, was of quite a different type. He could write to saints, "I have you in my heart"; and "I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ."

This is true to so great an extent, that the Spirit of God bore witness that a supreme test of real and vital Christianity is based on the prevalence of love. "We know we have passed from death unto life, because we LOVE the brethren."

The first believers manifested, therefore, the genuineness of their salvation, by the fact of their unity they were of one heart. They loved God and one another with a pure heart, fervently. They seemed to live, each for the other, and all for God.

2. The expression "of one mind" suggests the oneness of faith that pervaded the early Christians.

Schism and division had not yet separated the saints. When Luke wrote, in Spirit, that wonderful first chapter of his Gospel, concerning Jesus Christ and His Virgin Birth, he wrote of the "things which are most surely believed among us,"

Some of the Christians did not believe one story of the birth of Christ, and another group, another story. They were of one mind. They knew but "one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all."

Satan never worked better than when he began to divide Christians into various sects. One began to say, "I am of Paul"; another said, "I am of Apollos"; another, I am of Cephas, and another, I am of Christ. That spirit of contention, played havoc with the Church. It was brought about because men walked in the flesh and were carnal.

What grief is ours. Men have become followers of men. Today, fidelity is centered around denominational names with their distinctive creeds and operations, instead of around Christ. Christendom is torn by strife, while Satan stands off and laughs.

We would not for a moment decry fidelity to the faith, and we know that each one should remain true to their conceptions of truth. That is pleasing to God. However, why should we allow denominational names to divide us? We are firmly of this conviction, that, separated by different names, and walking under divisive creeds, multitudes of believers who in mind are one in the faith, are withal, sadly estranged.

We may well divide, separating ourselves from those who walk contrary to the great verities of the Birth, Death, Resurrection and Return of Christ. However, what right have we to separate ourselves from those who hold to the same vitals of faith.

When Christ prayed, "That they all may be one," He meant one in heart and soul. We join in His prayer and long for a return of all the orthodox under One Shepherd and in one flock.

II. A UNITY IN POSSESSIONS MARKED THE EARLY BELIEVERS

How strikingly strange are the concluding words of Acts 4:32 . "Neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common."

These words are so foreign to the spirit that dominates us all in this period of latter-day self-seeking, that we feel we must stop and ponder. If there had been any Divine command for such a course, we would have marveled at the willingness with which so strange a precept was obeyed; but when we remember that there was no command, no orders from above, but that this action of the saints was born of a spontaneity of mutual love we marvel yet the more.

There are two outstanding sentiments in this Scripture:

1. A renounced ownership. "Neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own." To this we all readily agree. All that we hold is held under stewardship. The cattle on a thousand hills are the Lord's. The silver and the gold are His. The very land that composes our farms, or home properties are included in the word, "All things were created by Him; and for Him." The Lord divided unto the nations their inheritances. What have we that we did not receive from Him. Surely we are not our own, and nothing that we possess is, in reality, our own. "Lord, I am Thine, and all that I have is Thine."

When we tithe our income, and when we bring to God an offering beyond our tithes, we are only giving unto God of that which is His.

Theoretically, we suppose, all Christians acknowledge God's ownership of all of their possessions; yet, practically, we usually keep our hand tightly closed upon all that He has entrusted to us. That is to say, we acknowledge Divine ownership as long as it does not interfere with our own dogmatic authority in that we possess.

2. A renounced possession. "But they had all things common." This expressed a surrender of personal properties, and it was the climax of the reality of their position that all that they had was God's.

We do not take the position that all saints should follow this example, for even those early saints were not acting under Divine command. We do however, believe that the spirit that prompted the actions of the early saints should dominate us.

Christians hold their belongings too tightly. Those who labor should always labor that they may have to give to him that hath need. He who has this world's goods and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion against him, is acting altogether contrary to the spirit that dominated the love of God.

We believe that there should be a far more liberal bestowal of our bounty toward those who are in need.

There is a Scripture that runs like this: "For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that ye through His poverty might be rich." There is another Scripture which we delight in placing beside this one. Here it is, "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ * * be with you."

If the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ caused Him to become poor for us, should not that specific manifestation of grace be found in us? Should we not also be willing to become poor, that others might be rich? Suppose we do give our all, did not Christ give His all?

He made many rich; for the most part, we make only ourselves rich. He gave, we hang on. Oh, yes, we give something, but we usually see to it that our gifts never impoverish ourselves. Out of our abundance we may give much, but these saints gave all.

III. A POWERFUL WITNESS FOLLOWED THE EARLY SAINTS

Acts 4:33 reads, "And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all."

A power backed the witness of the servants of God, who lived in those early days. They not only professed faith in Christ, but they manifested their faith. Their deeds went far to corroborate their testimony. They spoke that they did know; they testified what they had seen. They did not ask others to do what they would not themselves do. They practiced what they preached.

Would not the testimony of the church of our own day, be more vital, if the Church lived the life which the pulpit proclaimed. The true preacher may be ever so zealous for the faith, but unless the pew backs the pulpit with a consecrated and separated walk, the hands of the preacher are tied.

Some one may seek to remind us that the power of the witness of the early Church lay in the Holy Ghost. That is true. Yet, the Holy Ghost operates only in and through those who obey Him.

There is another great statement in this Scripture: The witness of the early Church was the witness of Christ's resurrection. This was the great undergirding theme which the early saints presented. Why was this? One should remember that the Lord Jesus had but a little while before been nailed to the tree. On that tree, He died. From that tree He was taken down and laid in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. The death of Christ had its miraculous manifestations; nevertheless, the shame and the sorrow, the mockings and the madness of the populace against the Christ as He hung on that cross, were abiding memories.

In the minds of the populace Christ had died forsaken of the Father, and disowned of men. In the tomb of Joseph where Jesus lay, was also laid all of the hopes of the disciples.

In the resurrection lay all that stood for victory. The empty tomb placed the approval of God upon the work of Christ. The empty tomb acclaimed Christ as Deity. The empty tomb approved of Christ as Saviour and Lord.

Therefore the theme of the resurrection put terror into the hearts of Christ-rejecters, and joy into the hearts of those who believed.

It was His resurrection, that made sure their own resurrection, and the resurrection of the dead who slept in Jesus.

The witness of the ever-increasing host of the saved as to the resurrection of Christ, was, during those first decades of Church ministry, an unchallenged witness. No man ever dared to deny that Christ had risen. With such power and assurance did the disciples give testimony to the resurrection, that even, the members of the Sanhedrin never dared, in any large way, to contradict their testimony.

IV. THE APOSTLES WERE MADE THE RECIPIENTS OF THE CHRISTIAN'S BOUNTY

Let us now read our final verses for this sermon.

"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: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need.

"And Joses, who by the apostles was surnamed Barnabas, (which is, being interpreted, The son of consolation,) a Levite, and of the country of Cyprus, "Having land, sold it, and brought the money, and laid it at the apostles' feet" (Acts 4:34-37 ).

Under the great grace that rested upon the Christians every man sold his land or his properties and brought the prices of the thing's that were sold and laid the money at the Apostles' feet, Judas, the only one among the twelve who was a thief, had hanged himself. The rest of the Apostles were men of unquestioned honor. They had no wealth of their own, yet, to them fell the responsibility of dispensing the wealth of others. That they dealt wisely and with consistent fairness, is seen in the expression, "Neither was there any among them that lacked." The reason is thus stated, "Distribution was made unto every man according as he had need."

One would have thought that Millennial blessedness had come, In those days every man will sit tinder his own vine and fig tree. The Lord will hear the cry of the widow and of the orphan. He will deal with equity and with righteousness. He will hear the cry of the poor.

The noble "communism" that prevailed among the early Christians, thus, antedated the Millennium by two thousand years. Their actions seemed a prophecy of good times to come.

It was not for long that this spirit dominated the children of God. However, we do read that the saints of Macedonia gave to their impoverished brethren willingly, of themselves. They gave as they were able, yea, and beyond that they were able, even intreating Paul and others to take upon them this ministering to the saints.

We would that a like grace might be upon us ail.

When the head of the great Salvation Army wanted, several years ago, to send greetings to America, he cabled the one word. Others. This should ever be the supreme aim of our lives Christ and Others.

How quickly would every problem of church finances be solved if the spirit of grace that fell upon the early Church, fell also upon us? May we examine our lives in the light of this call of God.

 


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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Neighbour, Robert E. "Wells of Living Water Commentary on Acts 4:4". "Living Water". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/lwc/acts-4.html.

Lectionary Calendar
Friday, October 18th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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