Read Acts 4:1-22 in your Bible. I used the NLT to prepare these remarks.
In May of last year, Susan Barsy wrote about the strange odyssey of Abraham Lincoln’s corpse. Here is a summary of the difficulties overcome to bury this great man.
“After Abraham Lincoln was assassinated on 14 April 1865, his body was carried by train to Springfield, Illinois, where Mary Todd Lincoln, his widow, had determined the late president would be buried. The progress of his remains by rail was sedate and lengthy, as his casket was paraded through many cities and the funeral train traveled at a top speed of 20 miles per hour. Lincoln’s journey to the grave was a national spectacle, as tens of thousands of citizens turned out to view his cortege.
“Mary Todd Lincoln recalled Abe once saying that he would like to be buried at Oak Ridge, a secluded rural cemetery.” This put her at odds with a group of local businessmen who’d raised $50,000 to erect a monument in a more prominent place. Eventually, though, Lincoln’s widow prevailed. On the day of Lincoln’s funeral, his remains were laid in Oak Ridge’s receiving vault. “More funds were raised and a fit memorial to Lincoln rose. Lincoln’s body was moved from the receiving vault to this tomb in 1874.
“Two years later, a Chicago counterfeiter Big Jim Kennally tried to steal Lincoln’s body as ransom for $200,000 in cash and the release of his partner-in-crime, Benjamin Boyd.” The plot was foiled by an informant.
“The incident prompted the tomb’s custodian to form a secret band of local men to help him guard Lincoln’s remains. They moved Lincoln’s heavy cedar-and-lead coffin from its proper spot to an undisclosed hiding place in a basement, under a woodpile.
“In 1899, Robert Todd Lincoln visited the memorial and directed that the entire structure be razed and rebuilt. Abraham Lincoln’s coffin and those of his family members were removed from the memorial and buried nearby in a temporary grave. In April 1901, several photographers were on hand to record the proceedings as Lincoln’s heavy coffin (said to weigh between 400 and 500 pounds) was lifted out of the grave and re-interred in the new and improved memorial.
“Yet, even after the day’s events, Robert Todd Lincoln was not entirely satisfied. He remained worried that his father’s remains could be stolen or desecrated. So, he decided to have a steel cage constructed around his parents’ coffins, deep underground. Once the coffins were placed inside the cage, several feet of concrete would be laid above it.
“By September 1901, a crew was ready to execute this plan. At this point, a spontaneous impulse arose among the group to open Lincoln’s coffin and verify the presence of his corpse. Two local workmen were called out to cut open the section of the coffin lid over Lincoln’s head. The crowd of 23 witnesses recoiled from the wave of a shockingly strong smell. Then, as one, they instinctively leaned in to see what was inside. Lincoln’s visage was completely recognizable.”
I’ll spare you the description of the remains. Witnesses said the corpse as surprisingly well-preserved, probably owing to the fact that he had to be re-embalmed several times on the long train trip west. It’s ironic that Lincoln’s tomb and to be opened because it was feared his body wasn’t there. Jesus’ tomb was opened to prove He was not there.
To understand Jesus is to acknowledge you need Jesus.
1. The religious leaders didn’t understand who Jesus was.
They were VERY DISTURBED by Peter and John’s teaching and had them arrested. (1-3) The Greek word for VERY DISTURBED literally means “worn out.” The Jewish leaders were exasperated. They thought they’d solved the “Jesus problem” when they’d had Him crucified, but the situation was getting worse instead of better!
What disturbed them was the very thing we celebrate this morning – the news that Jesus was raised from the dead! At least half of them didn’t believe in life after death, so this preaching caused them extra concern.
What concerned them was the very public miraculous healing of a very well known beggar (3:1-11). This was a sign that validated Peter’s sermon that followed. (3:12-26)
So, as they had done to Jesus, the Sanhedrin put Peter and John on trial. (5-7) Luke listed the names of some of the VIPs to show two things: one, that the Sanhedrin was run by Sadducees who did not believe in life after death. They would have even deeper objection to Peter and John’s teaching. And two, that the most powerful men in Judea were there. This implies that the 71 men of the Sanhedrin took this matter very seriously.
Their question about the POWER and NAME by which Peter and John said these things had to do with authority. The Sanhedrin saw these men as challenging their authority, so they demanded to know who gave Peter and John the right to say these things.
The Sanhedrin was flummoxed by their answer and debated what to do with them. (13-18) They had enough insight to realize these ORDINARY MEN had been WITH JESUS and likely anticipated they would cite Jesus as their authority for preaching and healing. (13)
The Greek word for ORDINARY MEN is idiotai, from which we get what English word? This may sound more insulting in the Greek than the English, but it refers more to their lack of education than it is about Peter and John being unintelligent. These guys were not trained rabbis nor priests; they had NO SPECIAL TRAINING IN THE SCRIPTURES. Here were mere laymen lecturing these clergymen!
What’s unstated but present in the background is the usual prejudice Jerusalem natives showed against Galileans. The city folk thought the country folk were “hicks” with an accent.
Because most of the men on the Sanhedrin rejected Jesus as their Messiah, they were still wondering about the POWER that gave these ordinary guys such BOLDNESS in preaching and caused the success of the Church, where thousands were added to their number. (4)
Another problem the Sanhedrin faced was they could not deny the testimony of the miracle they’d done. (14-15) As verse fourteen plainly states, the man healed in the previous chapter was also in the chamber, presumably so they could interrogate him too. In John 9, Jesus healed a man who was born blind. That man was interrogated by the Pharisees in a vain attempt to discredit Jesus. A similar thing happened here.
They were in a bind. To allow these guys to continue to teach would bring more into their fold. (16-17) They could not do anything about the miracle, so they ignored that and agreed the important thing was to get them to stop talking about Jesus. That was their solution: Order them to stop talking about Jesus. (18)
When giving orders didn’t work this august body of educated religious leaders resorted to a tactic common to bullies – they made threats. That didn’t work either. (21-22) Like a typical bully, they were motivated by fear; fear of the people.
2. Peter, John and the believers understood and accepted Jesus as their Savior.
Verse four testifies that the church grew despite their opposition. At least two thousand more believers were added to the movement.
Peter’s sermon was evidence that he and John understood who Jesus was. (8-11) The Filling of the Spirit is a sign of Jesus in the life of a believer. Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit preached to the preachers, teaching the teachers a lesson. Note the particulars:
- Peter addressed the rulers respectfully (8). “Rulers and elders of our people...”
- He limited the discussion to the matter at hand (9): “...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?”
- He directed their focus to Jesus (10-11): “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, 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 reference to a CORNERSTONE is Peter’s way of showing he understood Jesus to be the most important person who ever lived. His sacrifice on the cross was essential to God’s plan of salvation. In this way, no one else can be said to be the source of salvation. Nothing short of this would give Peter and John adequate reason to defy the Sanhedrin.
Verse twelve is our key verse. It highlights a truth that has become unpopular in our modern society; that Jesus is the exclusive means of salvation. Peter’s statement is so universal that it cannot be logically understood any other way.
- NO OTHER NAME UNDER HEAVEN = no earthly means will gain us eternal life.
- BY WHICH WE MUST BE SAVED = no earthly means can solve the problem of sin and overcome death.
Jesus taught His disciples to respect their leaders but not to follow their example. The Sanhedrin’s command put Peter and John in an ethical dilemma, which the Holy Spirit promptly resolved in favor of obeying Jesus. (19-20) The Sanhedrin believed they were the messengers of God and they were to be obeyed by people who had faith in God.
In this case, however, Peter saw a difference between the Sanhedrin’s command and God’s. Moreover, the Sanhedrin’s command was contrary to the will of God. Given those facts, how could these men of God encourage them to disobey God? Their choice was obvious. When the great and powerful men of Judea saw these simple Galilean fishermen were not going to be intimidated by them, they simply let them go.
To understand Jesus is to acknowledge you need Jesus.
How did it turn out? After they were released, Peter and John returned to the church and they held a worship service to thank God and pray for GREAT BOLDNESS in preaching God’s word (4:29). God answered that prayer with an earthquake, a second instance of the filling of the Spirit, and more BOLDNESS in telling others about Jesus! (4:31) The plans of the Sanhedrin were certainly foiled – their actions lead to greater BOLDNESS in talking about Jesus’ Resurrection!
This year, during Lent we examined nearly a dozen biblical accounts of witnesses to Jesus’ Resurrection who did not immediately understand what they were seeing. Jesus appeared to more than five hundred of His followers at various times and places over a forty-day period. Even then, some of those witnesses doubted and even disbelieved the evidence of their five senses.
That’s precisely the kind of reaction you’d expect to an event as paradigm-shattering as Jesus being raised from the dead. Among those who believed, their lives were forever changed. They endured persecution and horrifying forms of death because they had witnessed the impossible and it had validated everything Jesus had taught them.
This is still true today. A changed life is the most persuasive argument for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Yes, there are historical proofs and rational bases for this belief, but such things convince few people. What matters most is a personal experience of Jesus as ALIVE in your heart. That will serve best as proof and reason to celebrate this day.
Lincoln burial story retrieved from https://americaninquiry.com/2022/05/01/lincolns-body-1901/#comments and https://ministry127.com/resources/illustration/why-the-stone-was-rolled-away on 6 April 2023.
Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, Vol. 12, The Gospel of Luke, 2006, Allison A. Trites
Zondervan Bible Commentary (One-Volume Illustrated Edition), Acts, 2008, Ernest H. Trenchard.