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Bible Commentaries

Sermon Bible Commentary
Acts 4

 

 

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Verse 1-2

Acts 4:1-2

In this verse we find, in simple words, the true philosophy of all persecution.

I. The authorities were offended because the Apostles taught. (1) They considered that the Apostles were not personally qualified to discharge the important duties of public teachers. Human nature is ever the same. The priests are still grieved that men who are no scholars should undertake to decide what is truth and what is error. (2) The authorities were further of opinion that the Apostles were not only disqualified educationally, but that they had no official right to teach. The priests claimed an exclusive right to teach. This, however, had not always been the case in Jewry. The rights and ceremonies of religion only had been deposited in the safe keeping of the priests; the teaching of the people was entrusted principally to the prophets. When prophecy died out, the priests assumed the functions of the prophets, and, at length, came to look upon themselves as the only rightful teachers of the nation.

II. The authorities were offended because the Apostles taught the people. (1) Some felt grieved on personal considerations; for the Apostles, labouring to enlighten and convert the people were undermining the power of the priests. (2) Others felt annoyed on ecclesiastical grounds. (3) Others felt annoyed on civil grounds.

III. The authorities were enraged with the character of the Apostles' teaching. (1) It reflected deep discredit on the tribunals of the nation. (2) Their teaching, moreover, was new, and the Pharisees were very much in love with the old. (3) Their teaching flatly contradicted that of an influential section of the hierarchy. The Sadducees felt aggrieved that they should preach "by the example of Jesus the resurrection from the dead." But the imprisonment of the Apostles did not check the mighty progress of the Gospel. Rather did it help it forward. Times of persecution are generally times of much spiritual prosperity.

J. Cynddylan Jones, Studies in the Acts, p. 70.



Verses 1-22

Acts 4:1-22

Look at this passage: (1) from the side of the Jewish leaders; (2) from the side of the Apostles.

I. On the side of the Jewish leaders there was (1) illiberality; (2) shortsightedness; (3) impotence.

II. On the side of the Apostles there was (1) complete intelligence within the sphere of their ministry; (2) unconquerable courage in narrating and applying facts; (3) Christian magnanimity in preaching the Gospel; (4) incorruptible loyalty to God and to His truth.

Parker, City Temple, vol. ii., p. 121.


References: Acts 4:1-22.—Homilist, 3rd series, vol. iv., p. 10. Acts 4:1-31.—J. Oswald Dykes, Preacher's Lantern, vol. iv., p. 449.


Verse 2

Acts 4:2

Apostolic Teaching

I. The Apostles taught. (1) Christianity is an educator of men; it teaches them to think. That is the meaning of the word "educate"—to lead out the mind, to develop its dormant faculties. And this the Gospel is eminently calculated to do. It stimulates the human mind wherever it goes. (2) Christianity teaches men to know. That is the meaning of the word "instruct"—to pile up in the mind the proper materials of knowledge. Christianity is aptly described as a revelation; that is, it brought Divine verities within the sweep of our intellectual vision, verities which before lay inaccessible to us. (3) Thinking answers not its paramount purpose, except as it leads to knowing; and Christianity, as a system of instruction, conjoins thinking and knowing, thereby fulfilling our idea of teaching.

II. They taught the people. Keen students of history, sacred and profane, are able to discern two stages in religion. (1) The first is that in which is awakened within us reverence for the High—worship of that which is above us. This was the goal of Jewish culture—profound reverence for the High. (2) Christianity teaches us to reverence not only that which is above us, but also that which is under us. The Gospel has been preached to the poor. (3) Christianity cultivates reverence for the High and reverence for the Low. "They taught the people."

III. They preached through Jesus the resurrection from the dead. (1) They preached the fact of the resurrection. (2) They preached the doctrine of the resurrection. (3) Thus their doctrine was much in advance of the highest Gentile and Jewish teaching. The truth, which is only sparingly revealed in the Jewish Scriptures, and feebly apprehended by half a dozen eminent saints, shines upon us from every chapter of the New Testament, and is the common property of every believer.

J. Cynddylan Jones, Studies in the Acts, p. 90.


References: Acts 4:5-7.—Homiletic Quarterly, vol. iv., p. 155. Acts 4:7-10.—Homiletic Magazine, vol. vii., p. 147. Acts 4:7-20.—A. B. Bruce, Expositor, 2nd series, vol. ii., p. 458. Acts 4:8-12.—Homiletic Quarterly, vol. iv., p. 156.


Verse 12

Acts 4:12

I. St. Peter here makes a positive assertion. He says that Jesus Christ—His name—that is, Himself, brings salvation. It is natural for us to ask, What kind of salvation? Salvation was already a consecrated word in the language of Israel. It meant very generally the deliverance of Israel from outward and inward enemies; it meant very frequently the deliverance of Israel as a whole; it meant especially national salvation. The political salvation implied, as in the last result it always does, a moral and spiritual salvation. The outward deliverance necessitated an inward one, and the only Saviour who could deal with the thoughts and wills of men, who could begin really from within, was He who had just now, though invisibly, healed the cripple. Israel must be saved by Him, or it would perish. And thus we are led on to perceive an unspeakably deeper sense of the Apostle's words. Salvation really means here—it can mean no less—the saving from moral ruin and death of the separate souls of men.

II. Salvation in this sense was, it is plain, no monopoly of Israel. What in the world was Israel that it should claim the whole power of the saving name? The final, the absolute religion, could not but be—it lay in the nature of things—universal. The question of the Gentiles had not yet been raised as it was raised a few years later, but there was behind the Apostles the broad commission of Christ to go into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature. And in this sense the word "salvation" has all the meaning for you and for me that it had for St. Peter and the first Christians.

III. But the Apostle adds, "Neither is there salvation in any other." When we affirm that Christianity alone can save, we do not deny that other agencies beside Christianity may improve mankind. But such influences are bounded by the horizon of time; they have no effects in the great hereafter. At least, they do not save us. They are not opponents of the Church of Christ; they are not even her rivals. They move in a totally different sphere of action. They only embellish our outward life; they leave our real soul, our real self, untouched. The question which will alone interest every one of us a short century hence, when other human beings have taken our places, and we have passed away, will not be whether, during this short span of life, we have been improved, but whether we have been saved. There can be no doubt that this conviction was in the first days of Christianity, and has been since, a great motive power in urging devoted men to spread the religion of their Master; a motive only second in its power to the impulsive force of the love of Christ.

H. P. Liddon, Penny Pulpit, No. 658.

There are four things in the text commanding attention

I. Salvation. To be saved from ignorance, folly, vain imaginations, an evil heart, a rebellious will, an evil conscience, a damaged character, the dominion and presence of sin, the position of the guilty, and from the punishment of evil-doers; to be sustained in this life's sorrows, and to have them sanctified; to be able to triumph over death and the grave; to be forgiven—restored, regenerated, and sanctified; to escape perdition, and to inherit heaven—is, so far as words can reveal it, the whole of salvation. This God promised at the beginning, this God has provided, and this we offer you in the preaching of the Gospel.

II. Salvation in a Person. To be saved by a Saviour. (1) This shows our weakness, and in our weakness we see our wretchedness. The evil which afflicts us is such that we require a personal Redeemer. (2) This arrangement removes all cause of boasting from the saved. (3) This arrangement places the redeemed under special obligations. (4) It renders the actual work of Salvation a service of sympathy and love.

III. Look at Salvation in a Person made known. God has given this name of Jesus—given it in writing to be read, given it by preaching to be heard, given it Himself that it may never be forgotten and that it may be above every name, given it among men that men may read, hear it, learn and repeat it, and incorporate it with their prayers and their songs, and that it may become as familiar in their mouths as any household word.

IV. Look at the fact that the dispensation of salvation is limited to that Person. It would be interesting to inquire into the causes of other names and things being put forward. Perhaps the chief cause is pride. We shrink from the practical acknowledgment of entire and absolute dependence upon the grace of God for our redemption; we despise the simplicity of faith, or we are not prepared to follow after holiness. But, however that may be, "neither is there salvation in any other."

S. Martin, Rain upon the Mown Grass, p. 225.


References: Acts 4:12.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. iv., No. 209; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. iii., p. 159; G. E. L. Cotton, Sermons in Marlborough College, p. 352; Three Hundred Outlines on the New Testament, p. 108; S. Martin, Rain upon the Mown Grass, p. 194; G. E. L. Cotton, Sermons and Addresses in Marlborough College, p. 352.


Verse 13

Acts 4:13

I. We must be with Jesus, if we would bear a good testimony for Him in the presence of the world. To have heard of Him, to have read of Him, is not enough: we must be with Him; walk with Him in a consenting will, love Him as having first loved us, be joined to him in one spirit. Thus alone can consistent testimony be borne to Him by His people. They who have been with Jesus fear not the pomp, nor the scoffs, nor the threats of men.

II. But we stand not merely in the presence of foes without, we have other and more powerful foes within. Many a man could bear testimony for Christ, before a world in arms, who yet is hushed into ignominious silence in the council chamber of his own heart. Would you find a remedy for this? Would you uplift the spiritual part of a man, so that it may give bold testimony for Christ within him, assert Christian motives, press Christian rules of action, put forward Christ as His pattern? Then must that man be with Jesus; Christ must dwell in that heart by faith. Till that is so, while Christ is absent, heard of, read of, talked of, but not present, there will be no testimony at the heart's fountain, no Christ in the thoughts, words, actions.

III. Yet again, we all have to grapple with sorrows. Ere we have gone on long in life, they stand thick around us: hopes betrayed, fears realised, joys dashed with bitterness—these are every man's companions by the way. Would you arm the man for a successful conflict with adversity? Would you enable him to bear a consistent testimony in the presence of sorrow? Once more, he must be with Jesus. Here, above all, he requires his Saviour's presence.

IV. There will come a day when each one will be called on to wrestle with the last foe; to bear in the presence of his past life, and in the presence of those who are to outlive him, his witness to Christ. Would we meet death fearless, and in humble assurance that we have a part in One who has robbed him of his terrors? There is but one way, and that way is to have been with Jesus during our lives here.

H. Alford, Quebec Chapel Sermons, vol. ii., p. 77.


References: Acts 4:13.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. i., No. 21; Ibid., Morning by Morning, p. 42; J. M. Neale, Sermons in a Religious House, 2nd series, vol. i., p. 280; Homiletic Quarterly, vol. iii., pp. 81, 82; vol. iv., p. 276; vol. vii., p. 65; Homilist, 2nd series, vol. iv., p. 98. Acts 4:13-18.—Homiletic Quarterly, vol. iv., p. 157. Acts 4:14.—Spurgeon, My Sermon Notes: Gospels and Acts, p. 180. Acts 4:19.—Homiletic Magazine, vol. vii., p. 200. Acts 4:19, Acts 4:20.—Homiletic Quarterly, vol. iv., p. 159; C. J. Vaughan, Church of the First Days, vol. i., p. 149.


Verse 20

Acts 4:20

There are two spiritual facts here presented to us: (1) that the true Christian has heard from heaven what is worth repeating, and (2) that the Spirit of Faith prompts the Christian to repeat what he has heard.

I. Notice the order in which religious belief and religious speech are here placed. We have heard; and we cannot but speak. This order has been reversed, and much mischief has been the result. Men have been trained to speak before they have believed. Faith comes by hearing—faith grows by listening—doubts are dispersed by waiting, and enquiry. False speech, hasty speech, make such Christians, if you please to call them Christians, as Ananias and Sapphira, and even Simon Magus; but quiet hearing and listening make such Christians as Peter, and John, and Paul. Let us speak that we believe; but let us first believe and then speak.

II. But while it is of the nature of faith to incline to speech, that testimony which is the object of Christian speech, exerts the same influence. For what is it that the Christian has heard. He has heard faithful sayings worthy of acceptation, words of salvation, words of life, words of God; the word of God to our fallen and perishing world. Its utility, its wonderfulness, the goodwill to man that it induces, the believer's own conscious obligation to the Gospel, all move him to speak. If the Christian history appeared to Him a fable, seriousness might bid him hold his peace; if the Christian doctrine were doubtful, integrity will command silence, but we say that the tendency of the believer's faith in the Gospel is to move him to speak.

III. And beside the inward impulse, there is an external demand for honest, enlightened and seasonable Christian speech. The disciple of Christ believes that which multitudes around him have not heard: and as he detects, by many symptoms, their ignorance, the spirit of faith saith, "Inform them—speak." To what shall we liken the Christian in the midst of an ignorant community? He is like a fountain in the desert, he is like a beacon on a dangerous coast; he is like his Master when surrounded by a multitude of the sick and needy in Palestine. For sin in all its forms the Christian knows a remedy and has a remedy. Then keep not silence about it; but of it intelligently, lovingly, earnestly, but seasonably, speak.

S. Martin, Westminster Chapel Sermons, 1st series, p. 69.


References: Acts 4:21, Acts 4:22.—Homiletic Quarterly, vol. iv., p. 161. Acts 4:23.—Parker, Contemporary Pulpit, vol. i., p. 303.


Verses 23-37

Acts 4:23-37

I. The whole Church is interested in the proceedings of its individual members.

II. The right method of treating opposition to the Kingdom of Christ.

III. The spiritual and social results which follow the right acceptance of service and suffering.

Parker, City Temple, vol. ii., p. 122.


References: Acts 4:23-37.—Homilist, 3rd series, vol. iv., p. 73. Acts 4:24.—T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. iii., p. 202. Acts 4:27.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. x., p. 374. Acts 4:28.—J. Irons, Thursday Penny Pulpit, vol. xv., p. 201.


Verse 30

Acts 4:30

The Child Christ

I. The day which beheld our Lord in the Temple among the doctors was no doubt the close of a wondering and inquiring time. I conceive of that moment that it gave point and purpose to a long series of internal questions and wondering visions. Here, I conceive, He was attempting to unseal the meaning of His own mission; and can we not conceive how, as the Eternal Wisdom spoke through Him, He would perplex the lawyers; and, perhaps, even compel some with wonder to exclaim—"A greater than Moses is here." One conceives the embarrassment of the learned doctors, the masters of tradition, before the Divine simplicity of the Holy Child Jesus.

II. But it was very significant that it was after this eventful period in the Temple that we read more expressly of the humiliation of the Child Christ. "He went down into Nazareth with His parents, and was subject unto them." It is easy to see that, as gradually He was putting off His childhood, He was putting off His happiness. To become conscious is to become unhappy. Christ, I conceive, bade farewell to the enjoyment of life after that visit to the Temple; henceforth He was haunted and oppressed by the work given Him to do.

III. We have no knowledge who were the companions of the Child Christ. It is not, perhaps, unreasonable to suppose that some of those who became His apostles were His fellow-villagers in those days. Certainly they were all growing into maturity—to be, to do, and to suffer with Him. He is a Child round whom, as the central figure, however humble and lowly, all the disciples, from so many quarters of the land—nay, the world, are to group; all developing for eternity, saved or lost by their acceptance or rejection of that Child.

IV. The infant nature of Christ is the power by which God has moved the world. The Holy Child Jesus. Before that birth the world had only known what evil could be enclosed in man; how vile and worthless, how low and dark. But this Child—all the same faculties, all the same powers—shows to us human nature, with God as the Divine Artificer. Christ has consecrated childhood.

E. Paxton Hood, Sermons, p. 19.


References: Acts 4:30.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. ix., No. 545. Acts 4:31.—Three Hundred Outlines on the New Testament, p. 109; C. J. Vaughan, Church of the First Days, vol. i., p. 166. Acts 4:32.—Contemporary Pulpit, vol. ix., p. 36.

Acts 4:32-5:11

Ananias and Sapphira

I. We have much need to lay to heart the lessons of this incident. Christ's Church has long since come to include so many false or unspiritual members, and to be so blent with the world, that we fail to realise its ideal sanctity as the body of Christ, animated in a peculiar manner by the Divine presence. We fail to feel that to offend against the saints is to offend Christ; that to fetch our worldly sins of conceit, ambition, envy, or covetousness, into sacred sources, is to affront God to His face; nay, more than this, we are apt to lose out of our hearts that faith in the Third Person of the adorable and undivided Trinity which realises Him as One who can be wronged, grieved, insulted, or lied to; One who, though He keeps Himself out of view, is yet sensitive to the treatment which in the persons of righteous men He daily receives from the profane. The peculiarity which makes the Church the kingdom of God, if it is the kingdom of God at all, must aggravate offences done against it; and the special presence of the Holy Ghost, if He is specially in it, must stamp all contempt or outrage with a darker dye.

II. It is to mark the sanctity of that enclosure, which is now for the first time called the Church, that this narrative of judgment is set thus in the forefront of its history. On the earliest appearance of open sin within the Church follows the earliest infliction of Church discipline. Because it is the earliest, it is taken out of the hands of servants, to be administered with appalling severity by the hand of the Master. As an instance of earthly discipline it was entirely exceptional, a warning not to be repeated. The time and fashion of all our deaths is with God. The life, which we are daily forfeiting by transgression, is daily spared through mercy. If one day His mercy turned to judgment, and He took from the earth two forfeited lives, for the warning and bettering of many, who shall say, either that the lesson was dearly bought, or that the penalty was undeserved. It is well that men should be taught once for all, by sudden death treading swiftly on the heels of detected sin, that the Gospel, which discovers God's boundless mercy, has not wiped out the sterner attributes of the judge.

J. Oswald Dykes, From Jerusalem to Antioch, p. 165 (see also Preacher's Lantern, vol. iv., p. 513).



Verse 33

Acts 4:33

The Resurrection of Christ Historic

The fact of the resurrection is a fact quite capable of proof. There is no difficulty in imagining it to have occurred. There are no invincible laws against it. All that can be averred is that it is not in the line of our usual experiences, but it is not a thing, in its nature, which any one would be unable to believe, if it were only substantiated by proper and sufficient evidence. The fact must be substantiated in the same way and according to the same principles of evidence which command belief in other spheres of human experience. Let us see, briefly, how the matter stands in these respects.

I. How many witnesses are there to this fact of the resurrection? One? Two? That might have been testimony much too feeble on which to hang so stupendous and unparalleled a fact. But the truth is that we have multitudinous and overwhelming testimony. We have the testimony of the four evangelists, and of James, Peter and Paul—to what? not only to what they themselves saw and heard, on which they speak distinctly, but to the fact that a great many others saw and heard with them, and there is no denial from any of these.

II. What character do the witnesses bear? Are they honest men? The answer to these questions needs to be but brief. Let any one read the Gospels and see what kind of men the writers are. True and simple and honest-hearted are they, if ever such men were in the world. Scepticism does not now fling against them the old rude charges of knavery and dishonesty.

III. Next, as to their soundness of mind. Where is there any sign of weakness or of hallucination in these Gospels, or in the Epistles, from first to last? It is impossible to conceive evidence more perfectly given.

IV. As to their opportunities for ascertaining the truth. They saw their risen Lord many times and in many places. They heard Him speak; they talked with Him; they touched Him.

V. Remember how their testimony was received, how undoubtingly it was accepted by men of their own generation. Remember the wonderful effects this belief produced; peace, and love, and joy in individual hearts, and new societies, and new nations in the world; and it has gone on, from age to age, producing the same results—think of this and of the other reasons adduced, and say if it be not legitimate to declare that the resurrection of Christ is the best authenticated fact in the history of the world.

A. Raleigh, From Dawn to the Perfect Day, p. 178.


Reference: Acts 4:33.—Homiletic Quarterly, vol. v., p. 166; vol. xix., p. 126.



Verse 36

Acts 4:36

Barnabas is described as a "good man, full of the Holy Ghost and of faith." Goodness, the Holy Ghost, faith—these are the materials out of which sons of exhortation must be made if they would have the equivalent reading, "sons of consolation" registered against their names in the margin.

I. It is notable how Barnabas, after his great success at Antioch, goes to seek for Paul, and brings him there to join in the great harvest. No jealousy, you see, of St. Paul's superior gift. The son of consolation seems to have been absolutely free from all kinds of jealousy and envy; indeed, those people at Lystra were somehow impressed with his dignity and with his majestic bearing, for, though they valued Paul as the chief speaker, they identified Barnabas with Jupiter himself. The simple-minded, humble, unselfish man who perceives the great qualities of other men, and desires to turn those qualities to account for the glory of God, and who has no feeling of envy or jealousy in his own heart—this is the highest type of man; at least, I know of nothing better, grander, or more Divine. There is in reality something gentle and lovable in the character of Barnabas, as it shows itself in the passage in his life, which seems open to criticism and blame. He quarrelled for a time, as we know, with St. Paul, and we may not positively say that he was right and Paul wrong; but certainly if Barnabas did err, it was because of his loving feeling towards one who was not unworthy of his love.

II. What Christian name could any one desire more distinctive, more honourable, more full of the spirit of the Gospel of Christ than "the son of consolation." Was it not as the son of consolation that the Son of God came down from heaven in the likeness of human flesh. And though to be a son of consolation is undoubtedly the supreme prerogative of the incarnate Son of God Himself, still in this as in other things, men redeemed by Christ and regenerated by the Holy Ghost, may follow at a distance and try to imitate their Lord. To preach glad tidings to the poor, to proclaim deliverance to the captives, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, to do those things which in the synagogue of Nazareth, Jesus Christ declared that He had been appointed to do—who cannot follow Christ in doing acts at least something like these, and men who do these things are sons of consolation.

Bishop Harvey Goodwin, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxi., p. 369.


References: Acts 4:36.—J. Baines, Sermons, p. 227. Acts 4:36, Acts 4:37.—F. A. Warmington, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xiv., p. 120; Plain Sermons by Contributors to "Tracts for the Times," vol. iii., p. 139.

Acts 4

Before the Council

From this section of Apostolic history we may draw the following practical inferences:—

I. We may learn that if we are Christ's disciples we may expect to encounter antagonism.

II. That if we are really Christ's disciples, there will be something about us that will remind the world of Him. The inner springs of character may be hidden, but the life will make evident of what sort they are.

III. That if we are really Christ's disciples, the one rule of our lives will be to hearken unto God. The Christian's conscience takes its law from God, and no matter what will come, he will act upon its dictates.

IV. That if we are really Christ's disciples, our chosen fellowship will be with those who are already His.

V. That if we are really Christ's, we shall betake ourselves in every time of trial to the throne of grace.

W. M. Taylor, Peter the Apostle, p. 201.


References: Acts 5:1.—C. J. Vaughan, Church of the First Days, vol. i., p. 184; Acts 5:1, Acts 5:2.—J. Armstrong, Parochial Sermons, p. 183; Parker, City Temple, vol. iii., p. 397; Homiletic Quarterly, vol. vii., p. 262.



 


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Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Acts 4:4". "Sermon Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/sbc/acts-4.html.

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Tuesday, August 20th, 2019
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20
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