Acts // Part 15 - Peter & John Before The Council
Topic: Book Exposition Passage: Acts 4:13–4:22
We’ve been in a teaching series called “You will be My witnesses” which is an expositional study of the book of Acts. Last week we examined Acts 4:5-12. We saw how Peter and John stood up to the Sanhedrin at council meeting after being arrested and jailed for healing a lame beggar and preaching the gospel in Solomon’s Portico. When the religious leaders asked Peter and John where they got their power and authority to act, Peter boldly told them that their power and authority came from Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom they rejected and killed, whom God resurrected. Peter pointed out how their rejection of Jesus had been foretold through OT prophecy and he invited them to repent and believe. In our section today, we will examine how the Sanhedrin responded to Peter’s declaration. Please take your Bibles and turn to Acts 4:13-22. I’ll read it, pray, and then we’ll examine it verse by verse together.
Read Acts 4:13-22
13 Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.
The religious leaders were pretty well blown away by Peter and John. The text says that they were, “Astonished”. Astonished means to be struck with wonder and surprise. What caused this powerful emotion to overcome the Sanhedrin? Verse 13 says it was three things combined; their boldness, their lack of education, and their commonness. Let’s look at each of these.
Boldness comes from the Greek root word called parrï¿½"sia. Parrï¿½"sia means to exercise courage. In our particular text parrï¿½"sia is applied to Peter and John, not because they courageously rescued a person from a burning building or something like that, but because they courageously declared, in a public setting, their strong beliefs about Jesus Christ as well an OT prophesy that showed the Sanhedrin’s error, and that Christ was the only one that could heal and save them.
What would have triggered the religious leaders into thinking that Peter and John weren’t educated? Their vernacular would’ve been a dead giveaway.
Galileans spoke the same language as Judean’s, Aramaic, but their version was slightly different. It was simpler and had a bit of a country twang to it if you will. Galilean Aramaic was limited in its scope in comparison to Judean. This was due to the fact that Galilee was a farming and fishing community. It didn’t have universities, schools of philosophy, schools of religion, or anything like that. Galileans were not dumb or ignorant but rather simple and hardworking. Galilean Aramaic, when spoken, was easily noticeable by non-Galileans. Earlier, during the late-night trial of Jesus, Peter was confronted by people who were gathered in the High Priest’s courtyard. They suspected that he was a follower of Jesus of Nazareth and then cornered him and said:
73 “Certainly you too are one of them, for your accent betrays you.”
The speech of a Galilean stuck out like a sore thumb to non-Galileans just as the speech of a Southerner or Minnesotan does to us. When Peter spoke in the Hall of Hewn Stone in front of the Sanhedrin they recognized his vernacular and deduced that he was from Galilee, and then stereotyped him as being uneducated.
The third thing that perpetuated the Sanhedrin’s sense of astonishment was Peter and John’s commonness.
Their commonness was derived, as their speech had been, from their location, Galilee. Galilee was filled with common folks who had common jobs who lived common lives. Galileans were not sophisticated, high tech, or up to par with the latest fashions and trends like the wealthier Jews and Romans were. They were common folks. Common in verse 13 is translated idiÅtï¿½"s in Greek. We get the word “idiot” from it. Here it is used to describe a layperson. IdiÅtï¿½"s denotes a person’s social status or pay-grade. Our equivalent would be blue-collar.
When you boil it all down, the religious leaders were taken by surprise and then filled with wonder by how two uneducated, common guys exercised such great courage and boldness. At the end of verse 13, Luke recorded that the religious leaders recognized that Peter and John “had been with Jesus”. Had been?
The truth is Jesus was in the men and speaking through them at that very moment. That is what it means to be filled with the Holy Spirit. G. Campbell Morgan wrote:
G. Campbell Morgan
“Notice the mistake the Sanhedrin made. This was the result of their own philosophy. They spoke of the men as having been with Jesus, in the past tense. What was the truth? Christ was in the men, and speaking through the men; and the similarity that they detected was not created from a lingering contact from a lost teacher, but by the presence of the living Christ.”
What triggered the Sanhedrin’s recognition was the realization that the apostles were doing what Jesus did. Like the apostles, Jesus had boldly and fearlessly confronted the Jewish leaders with His authority and truth. He, too, had no formal rabbinic training. Yet in His sure handling of the OT Scriptures, He had no equal. Jesus had also performed many miracles during His earthly ministry. Peter and John were on trial largely because of the miracle they had performed.
Let’s move to verse 14:
14 But seeing the man who was healed standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition.
While in a state of astonishment they began to look at the healed man. They saw him standing there in perfect health with strong supportive legs. And it says, “They had nothing to say in opposition.” The religious leaders had to have known who this guy. They probably passed him as he sat on his mat begging at the Beautiful Gate every day as they went into the temple area to work. The proof was right in front of them and they couldn’t deny it or explain it away. Look at verses 15-16:
15 But when they had commanded them to leave the council, they conferred with one another, 16 saying, “What shall we do with these men? For that a notable sign has been performed through them is evident to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it.
The religious leaders asked the apostles to step out for a moment while they deliberated.
They all conquered that Peter and John’s works were legitimate, undeniable, and had already become well known. If you were with us last week you heard me say that the religious leaders were required by law to examine any prophet who healed and taught the Jewish people. They were to assess them to see if their sermons led the people away from God or to Him.
If they led the people away, the nation was required to kill them. If they led the people to God, they were required to welcome them and provide them with a platform to do their ministry.
Peter and John healed a man and then used the healing as a means to preach the gospel and then were brought in to be assessed. After Peter and John made their defense and provided a physical witness, the healed man, the religious leaders ended their assessment and opposition because they found no faults or errors. At this point, the Sanhedrin was now required, by their own law, to welcome Peter and John into the teaching community and allow them to use Solomon’s Portico to educate the people and to advance their ministry.
Let’s take a look at their decision. Look at verse 17.
17 But in order that it may spread no further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.”
The religious leaders disobeyed their own law, rejected the truth, rejected the proof, and developed a “fear based” strategy to try to silence the apostles so that the gospel would not spread. These men were blinded and controlled by Satan. Satan is the one that blinds people from the truth and he is the one that works feverishly to curb the gospel in order to keep men ignorant of their sinful condition and tremendous need for God’s mercy and grace.
The Apostle Paul wrote:
2 Corinthians 4:4
“The god of this world [Satan] has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”
One thing that came to mind as I was writing this portion is the spiritual warfare that going on during this whole thing. You have Peter who was filled with the Holy Spirit which is the living presence of Almighty God, preaching the gospel which is God’s message of salvation to sinners. God was present through Peter, John, and the healed man in the Hall of Hewn Stone. And so was Satan.
Satan was there to keep the religious leaders blinded and focused on preserving their religion and control. The spiritual warfare that day was no doubt intense. And such is the case whenever and wherever the gospel is proclaimed.
Have you ever experienced spiritual warfare? The last time I really sensed it was during our Easter service. While I was preaching there were many-many distracted people here. There was one guy that was actually mad-doggin me during the entire sermon. He was frowning and mean making faces. That same morning a woman laughed out loud when I was speaking of the cross. I believe these were satanic attacks and attempts to create confusion.
I remember one time as a youth pastor I had to stop my sermon in a dead quiet room to pray against the devil out loud because I sensed the presence of death and darkness. It was so strong that it felt like someone was standing behind me and I lost my train of thought. Once at Enslen Park a bunch of us were sharing food and truth with homeless people and one guy began to quietly chant profanities. It was bizarre and scary.
The Sanhedrin, led by the power of darkness and the devil, conferred with one another and then conceived a strategy to warn or threaten Peter and John not to speak the name of Jesus of again. Look at how they warned them when they brought them back in. Look at 18:
18 So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.
They called them back into the Hall of Hewn Stone and “charged them”. “Charged” is a strong authoritative warning. It was meant to generate a sense of fear of reprisal. “They charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.” The Sanhedrin wasn’t satisfied with prohibiting the apostles from merely teaching in the name of Jesus, they didn’t want them even speaking or talking about the Him at all. For them, from this point forward, there was to be no further mentioning of Jesus of Nazareth. They basically said, “We charge you by the power and authority of the Sanhedrin to not teach or talk about Jesus whatsoever.” MacArthur has great commentary on this verse.
“Ironically, the early believers had to be commanded to be quiet, while many modern ones have to be commanded to speak. This was an important crossroads in the history of the church.
Had the apostles acquiesced to the Sanhedrin’s demand, all subsequent church history would have been radically different. Everything hinged on their willingness to obey God at all costs---even their lives.”
Look at Peter and John’s response in 19:
19 But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, 20 for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”
Peter and John did not vacillate or shrink back but immediately answered that they would refuse to obey the Sanhedrin’s command. They refused by asked the Sanhedrin another trapping question which put the religious leaders in another dilemma. Peter and John asked (paraphrased), “Which would you prefer for us to do, listen to God or to listen to you, we’ll let you decide?” And then they told them that they had to obey God by speaking of what they “had seen and heard.”
The Sanhedrin was in trouble again just as they had been back in verse 9. They absolutely did not want Peter and John to continue to speak or teach about Jesus, but they could hardly tell them to obey them, or men, instead of God. And that was exactly what Peter and John said that they were trying to do. “You want us to be silent, but God commanded that we speak, who should we obey, God or you?” If the Sanhedrin said obey us, the witnesses that were gathered outside would’ve been outraged because they believed that God had done something incredible through Peter and John. This could’ve led to a riot which could’ve caused the Romans to exit the Tower of Antonia like a swarm of African killer bees to wreak havoc on their religious services and money making schemes at the temple. The Sanhedrin was charged by Rome to keep the peace or pay the price. The Sanhedrin was therefore trapped. How did the Sanhedrin answer Peter and John’s trick question? They didn’t answer it. Instead, they responded with more threats. Look at 21:
21 And when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way to punish them, because of the people, for all were praising God for what had happened.
The Sanhedrin did not like Peter and John’s response. They were hoping that Peter and John would submit to their authority and forfeit their ministry. But they didn’t. Peter and John stood their ground and obeyed God. So the Sanhedrin further “threaten them”.
Last night as I was wrapping this sermon up I thought to myself, “What did the Sanhedrin actually threaten to do?” We know that they warned them not to speak or teach in the name of Jesus, but what would the punishment be if they disobeyed? Additional council meetings? Imprisonment? 40 lashings minus 1? Death? Luke doesn’t tell us. And I think that’s because they just made empty threats. Threats that lacked any specific punishment. It looks like the Sanhedrin threatened them with age old “Or else!” “Don’t speak or teach in the name of Jesus again, or else!” The great mystery question is, “Or else what?” The Sanhedrin had no legal power apart from the Romans. Court cases had to pass through the Roman governor’s office, especially capitol cases. That’s why Jesus went before Pilate.
What could the Sanhedrin possibly do? The answer is nothing. They had no legal power of their own and nothing incriminating against the apostles which they could bring before the governor. Therefore, all they could do is threaten with “Or else”. It is the same with the devil. The devil has no power or dominion over Christ’s people. Jesus defeated him at Calvary. The devil has no rule over our lives. His rule was brought to ruin by the finished work of Jesus Christ. Satan has no case against us. He can plead that he does day and night before the throne of God, but the Son of God, our Great High Priest and Mediator, is there to intercept and dispel him. Jesus has reduced the devils threats to “Or else!” That’s all he’s got, “Or else.” There may be some here that really need to let this truth sink in. You’ve given devil too much credit and too much of a foothold in your life. Listen to Colossians 2:15:
He [Jesus] disarmed the rulers and authoritiesand put them to open shame, by triumphing over them.
Jesus dispatched the devil. He conquered him. He put him and his minions to shame. He triumphed over them. I believe that Peter and John understood this and I believe that that is one of the reasons why they stood boldly and firmly against the devil and the Sanhedrin. How are you standing against the devil today? Are you standing as a victor, or are you cowering like as a victim? Christ has won friend. Be filled with the Holy Spirit and stand victoriously in Christ.
Look at 21 again. It says after “further threatening them, they let them go.” Why did they let them go? Because they had no legal power, no case, and they feared they people. The people who witnessed the healing and heard the gospel, maybe the 2000 that got saved, were apparently outside of the Hall of Hewn Stone praising God.
They, undoubtedly, wanted Peter, John and the healed man released. The Sanhedrin then turned them loose. Luke added one last really cool detail in verse 22. Look at it with me:
22 For the man on whom this sign of healing was performed was more than forty years old.
The age of the healed man made the miracle even more awe-inspiring because he had been lame since birth. This guy spent his entire life confined to a mat. He spent many-many years laying on a mat at the Beautiful Gate begging for change. Everyone knew who he was. Everyone was familiar with him. And the people marveled at him. They marveled at the fact that the old lame beggar was on his feet leaping like a deer and praising God.
In ending, I’d like ask which person or group of people do you most resonate with or are you most alike at this particular moment in your life?
Are you like Peter and John?
Filled with the Holy Spirit, bold, courageous, and on fire for Jesus Christ.
Maybe even uneducated and common.
Are you like the lame beggar?
Confined to your physical, spiritual, or emotional mat and in need of the healing touch of Christ.
Are you like the healed beggar?
Do you marvel at the work of God? Are you awestruck by His power and grace and hungry to know Him more?
Are you like the Sanhedrin, the religious leaders?
Lost. Blind. Opposed to God and His gospel. Are you afraid of letting go of your traditions and religion? Do you work hard at trying to hide what is truly inside of you? Are you afraid of being exposed?
Are you like the people who were praising God?
A passionate worshipper that has witnessed the miraculous saving and healing power of God.
More in Acts
May 10, 2015Acts // Part 108 - The Mission Of Paul In Rome
May 3, 2015Acts // Part 107 - The Mission Of Paul On Malta
April 26, 2015Acts // Part 106 - Paul's Incredible Journey To Rome