Powerless to thwart God’s purposes/Acts 4:1-22
We see the apostles Peter and John on trial in this passage. They are arrested after Peter (through the power of Jesus name) heals a crippled man. The arrest is not triggered as much from the healing as it is what Peter is saying. He is teaching a large Jewish crowd that Jesus of Nazareth, whom they crucified, is the promised Christ and has been raised from the dead (verses 1-3).
When the trial begins the next day, the Jewish leaders ask Peter and John by what power or what name did you do this (verse 7)? Then we are told that Peter is filled with the Holy Spirit and he answers directly. And in his answer we see what the chief work of the Holy Spirit is: to exalt Christ.
Peter says let it be known to you and all Israel than this has happened “by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead.” Peter goes on to quote Psalm 118; that Jesus is the cornerstone of the people of God, and that “there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
In other words if you do not have Christ, you will perish outside of the people of God, you will not have a place. There are three main defects in men since the fall. There is ignorance and blindness to God; there is rebellion in the will and affections toward God; we are in a cursed position subject to God’s wrath because of this.
We need a Savior answerable to these needs, and Christ, the Son of God, is the only sufficient Savior. There is no other way to be reconciled to God. Christ died for sinners, and he was raised from the dead that men may be justified before God.
The Holy Spirit opens our eyes to the light of Christ. He convinces us of our sin and misery, the holiness of God, and the need of Christ’s sacrifice. You can do nothing apart from God’s Spirit. We have no power over the devil and death. We cannot take our own sins or any other person’s sins away. Truly, we will not believe the truth of God apart from the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit being poured out at Pentecost is a testament to our spiritual poverty and God’s grace. He points poor sinners to a loving Savior who gave himself for them. He brings refreshment to the soul, makes Christ the name above all names in our hearts. The Holy Spirit is the gift of life. Life is more than material. Life that endures is in knowing Christ.
We see the Spirit give the apostles boldness (verse 12). Jesus had told his disciples the night before he was to be crucified that they would be persecuted by men; that the servants were not above the Master. If men hated Christ, they would hate his disciples also. But Jesus had also told them he would never leave them; that the Holy Spirit would be with them in tribulation and on trial before men.
The contrast between the apostles and the Jewish leaders stands out at the end of the trial. The rulers are worried about the opinions of the people (verses 16-17); the apostles are focused on being obedient to God. The rulers threaten the apostles. Peter and John answer: “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard (verse 19).”
They are very respectful, and are making an appeal for their Jewish brothers to pay careful attention to what has happened. This is the hand of God. Christ has been raised from the dead. It is not the time to fear losing your position, or losing face, or pursuing worldly ambitions. They are in great jeopardy from God; now is the time to repent, rather than resist.
The gospel of Christ is opportunity. And when it goes forth, there will be souls who believe. We see in verse 4, that 5000 souls believed from Peter’s sermon. Even among these obstinate rulers and priests gathered to threaten the apostles, some would come to faith (Chapter 6:7).
Men can threaten and put to death Christ’s people in this world. But they are powerless to thwart God’s purposes he has for his gospel. Christ will be proclaimed. Some will come to him. Others will perish outside of him. So the Lord appeals to us all, seek Christ (and the life in him), while he may be found. Look into these things, and call on the name of the Lord.
The Rev. Chris Shelton is the pastor of The First Presbyterian Church of Union.