About the Journey 4 - from Kerry

About the Journey - Acts 4:1-22 - from Kerry Flemington

While Peter and John were speaking to the people, they were confronted by the priests, the captain of the Temple guard, and some of the Sadducees. These leaders were very disturbed that Peter and John were teaching the people that through Jesus there is a resurrection of the dead. They arrested them and, since it was already evening, put them in jail until morning. But many of the people who heard their message believed it, so the number of men who believed now totaled about 5,000.

The next day the council of all the rulers and elders and teachers of religious law met in Jerusalem. Annas the high priest was there, along with Caiaphas, John, Alexander, and other relatives of the high priest. They brought in the two disciples and demanded, “By what power, or in whose name, have you done this?”

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers and elders of our people, are we being questioned today because we’ve done a good deed for a crippled man? Do you want to know how he was healed? Let me clearly state to all of you and to all the people of Israel that he was healed by the powerful name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene,[a] the man you crucified but whom God raised from the dead. For Jesus is the one referred to in the Scriptures, where it says,

The stone that you builders rejected
has now become the cornerstone.’

There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.”

The members of the council were amazed when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, for they could see that they were ordinary men with no special training in the Scriptures. They also recognized them as men who had been with Jesus. But since they could see the man who had been healed standing right there among them, there was nothing the council could say. So they ordered Peter and John out of the council chamber and conferred among themselves.

“What should we do with these men?” they asked each other. “We can’t deny that they have performed a miraculous sign, and everybody in Jerusalem knows about it. But to keep them from spreading their propaganda any further, we must warn them not to speak to anyone in Jesus’ name again.” So they called the apostles back in and commanded them never again to speak or teach in the name of Jesus.

But Peter and John replied, “Do you think God wants us to obey you rather than him? We cannot stop telling about everything we have seen and heard.”

The council then threatened them further, but they finally let them go because they didn’t know how to punish them without starting a riot. For everyone was praising God for this miraculous sign—the healing of a man who had been lame for more than forty years.
Acts 4:1-22

In the course of my reading the Bible, I have been able to sympathize with and recognize modern day versions of various characters. Their impact on me has come when I’ve been able to see myself in their brokeness and their sinfulness. One example is David: the adulterer, the murderer, the lousy father. But he was also David the humble, the obedient, the man after God’s own heart. This is God’s magnificent grace manifested in the life of an ordinary, fickle, self-absorbed human being just like me.

The Pharisees and the Sadducees are a bit more complicated. They are the Bible studiers who know all the verses off by heart. The Sadducees believed the written Torah as having the final say over all Jewish life. The Pharisees were a bit more liberal in their interpretation. They believed that the oral tradition of the Jewish people was just as important. They were open to worship outside of the temple (synagogues) and to understanding the spirit of the law, hence the rise of the oral laws. But they were still very rigid in their implementation of Jewish law, both written and oral. In spite of their differences, they are united in their zeal for obedience and power. These are the lifers; the ones who grew up steeped in the Jewish religion and practices. And maybe for this reason, it is uncomfortable for me to recognize a modern day equivalent because it just hits too close to home. So many of us have grown up in Christian homes or within the Christian tradition. I’m okay with recognizing my sinfulness, my brokeness, and my need for grace. But Jesus was harsh with the religious elite; he gave scathing rebukes to them and consistently called out their hypocrisy. I like meek Jesus, not mad Jesus. I don’t want to be rebuked and called out for my hypocrisy. And it all seems a little backwards anyway: yell at the drug addict and the prostitute or the people with messed up lives but don’t yell at the cleaned up church goers who have sacrificed in their own way to dress the part and be good.

Acts 4 opens up with a continuation of the conflict that put Christ on the cross in the first place. Jesus, in their eyes, did not fit the bill of the Messiah. And his followers were nothing like the religious elite. Therefore, he was a heretic, a rogue who threatened to destabilize their power, control, and their religious system with which they were all very comfortable with. At no point in their interactions with Jesus did they ever give pause and ask themselves, “Could I be wrong about this? Have we perhaps misunderstood?” It takes great humility to ask those questions and great faith in God’s character and his Word to search for an answer that we aren’t comfortable with. Here now, are his followers, continuing on Christ’s work, emboldened by the illumination that’s occured in their lives as they’ve walked with Christ and listened to him break down the Scriptures to their original intent: who is God, who are we, and how he wants to interact with us.

At the center of the controversy is a lifelong crippled man, healed by the power of the risen Christ. But a risen Christ is a big problem for the religious elite. Death on the cross was supposed to put an end to Christ’s shenanigans and be a lesson to all his followers. So this healing that takes place is a big deal. At this crossroads, where once again they are given the opportunity to question their own understanding of who Jesus was, the cost is too great and their need for self-preservation wins the day.

I think it’s important for us to see the religious elite in ourselves. It holds us to the fire and is deeply uncomfortable. But self-preservation and pride will veer us off course in a more subtle, dangerous way than any addiction or overt sin ever could. It will be us to whom Jesus will say, “I do not know you” when we stand before him, absolutely certain that the cleanliness of our lives guarantees our place beside him. And we will be shocked that the faith of a mustard seed was actually enough instead.

But besides what will happen for us in eternity, it’s the missed opportunity to live life in Christ here on earth that is equally concerning. The religious elite were not being used by Christ to transform lives; they were too busy being right about everything. They were too busy arguing, admonishing, and catching people in their sin. They were so busy and so self-involved, they couldn’t recognize Christ in their midst the first time round and they certainly couldn’t see him now within Christ’s followers. A healed man who's been given a new life through Jesus Christ? Who cares about him! just stop using Jesus’ name and perpetuating a dangerous narrative about new life, resurrection through Christ, etc. The truth of the matter: their emptiness, while covered over by the business of being good, is still emptiness; it’s still void of the life-giving presence of the risen Christ. It’s really just the same as a meth addict using drugs to fill the emptiness; it’s just a cleaner version of that drug.

you can connect with Kerry directly at kerry@arnuthill.com

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