Studies in Acts
“How to be a Christian without being Religious”
A few years ago, a teen age boy who had accepted Christ but was a member of a liberal church, got into a serious argument with his youth pastor. For every point the boy made, he quoted scripture. Finally, the Youth Pastor said “Clyde quit quoting the Bible. I want to know what YOU think, that’s what’s important! Now that little story illustrates something that we are going to see on a larger scale in Acts chapter 4, and that is the difference between “Christianity” and “Religion.” Now at first hearing that might sound a little confusing. Someone might say, “aren’t they the same thing?” But the answer to that question is an emphatic “NO.” Religion is defined by Webster’s dictionary as “a particular system in which the quest for the ideal life is embodied.” The key word in that definition is the word “system.” All of the various religions of the world are merely “systems” or “programs” by which men try to reach up to God. But Christianity is a “relationship.” And that makes all the difference in the world! And what we find here in Acts chapter 4 is a head-on collision between those two ways of thought.
Remember the background of this chapter: Peter and John had been used by God to heal a lame man at the gate of the temple, then had preached a sermon identifying Jesus Christ as the source of their power and 5,000 Jews believed in Him. But now as we come to chapter 4, the news of this had gotten to the religious authorities – and that is where our lesson begins: The chapter falls into 3 parts: first we have The confinement of the Apostles in verses 1 through 4. Then in verses 5 through 22 we have The confrontation by the Sanhedrin And finally in verses 23 through 37 we have The companionship of the Saints.
So let’s think about the confinement of the Apostles, which we find in verses 1 through 4.
Now as they spoke to the people, the priests, the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, (2) being greatly disturbed that they taught the people and preached in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. (3) And they laid hands on them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. (4) However, many of those who heard the word believed, and the number came to be about five thousand.
The verses pretty well speak for themselves – the Apostles got thrown in jail. But notice that it began while Peter was still preaching in verse 1 – as they spoke to the people . . . .” (Incidentally, have you ever noticed how rude Satan and his pawns are? Satan is many things, but he is not a gentleman. The perpetrators of the situation are specifically named in the last part of verse 1: the priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees.”
These three taken together represent “the religious establishment” in Jerusalem. The priests are obvious, but what about the others mentioned here? The term “captain of the temple” indicates that this group included the Sanhedrin – the political/religious authority that Rome allowed to continue after Israel’s captivity. They were limited by the Roman government to hearing cases concerning violations “temple laws” (basically Old Testament laws). But interestingly enough, they did have the power of death in such matters. (basically, the way that Jesus got the death penalty – even though the Roman government did have supervisory power – that’s where Pilate came in to the trial of Jesus, and why he was so nervous. If he messed up something like a death penalty case, he could be held liable for whatever repercussions occurred. Then there was this third group: “the Sadducees.” This was a group that we hear a lot about (along with the Pharisees) Surprisingly enough the two groups were very different. The Pharisees were the religious fundmentalists, who demanded strict adherence to the Old Testament. The Sadducees, on the other hand were more relaxed Actually this is another example of one of Satan’s many strategies: to unite two fundamentally different groups and get them to quarrelling with each other. Now you would think that any “religious” person would be gratified that this poor man had been helped out of his sad situation (after all, isn’t that what its all about, helping the underprivileged?) its not, but that’s what “religion” constantly tells us.) But instead verse 2 says that they were “greatly disturbed.”
Now, to be fair to them, it goes on to say that they were disturbed, not so much about the healing, but about the preaching that accompanied it. But after all, what does it matter, if someone has been helped? (as “religion would ordinarily say, don’t “all roads lead to Rome?” More particularly, the last part of verse 2 says that they were upset that “they preached in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.” It is easy to overlook the significance of that statement. Its not just that they were preaching about Jesus’ resurrection, but that “in Jesus there is resurrection from the dead.” “for all who believe.
But verse 4 brings out an interesting point by way of contrast: all of the power of Rome and the most powerful Jews together couldn’t stop the power of the gospel.
However, many of those who heard believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand.
In verses 5 through 22 we find that the next morning, there was a confrontation by the Sanhedrin. And the first thing to notice is what an August group it was, as brought out in verses 5 and 6
And it came to pass, on the next day, that their rulers, elders and scribes (6) as well as Annas the High Priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and as many as were of the family of the high priest, were gathered together at Jerusalem
Here are the most important men in the religious affairs of Judaism. And this indicates that the activity of the Apostles was not just a simple flurry that they could overlook – it was something that would change the course of Jewish history if they didn’t do something about it. But not only was it an August group, it was an accusing group as well. Look at verse 7:
And when they had set them in the midst they asked, “By what power or what name have you done this?
It is obvious that they were not there to try to determine guilt or innocence, they were there to assess punishment. A literal translation of the question would be something like: “why are you guilty of this thing that we know you have done?
Deuteronomy 13:5 said that if a false prophet did some significant thing and then tried to get Israelites to worship some God other than Jehovah, he was to be put to death. So no doubt the Sanhedrin was trying to put Peter and John in a situation where they could call for the death penalty.
So this was a situation in which all the cards were stacked against the apostles right from the start. It was “an august group,” “an accusing group,” but also, to their amazement, in verses 8 through 12 they became an accused group as well! Here we have another sermon from Peter. And it demonstrated that these “religionists” didn’t know what they were dealing with: a man under the influence of the Holy Spirit (verse 8 states specifically that this was the case.) And this is always true of “religion” when it comes up against Christianity – they understand the terms, but don’t begin to understand the concepts because they know nothing about the power of the Spirit. Look at the details:
Then Peter, filled with the Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders of Israel (9)”If we this day are judged for a good deed done to a helpless man, by what means he is made well, (10) “Let it be made known to you all, and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised up from the dead, by Him this man stands before you whole (11) “This is the stone which the builders rejected by you builders which has become the chief cornerstone (12)Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men, by which we must be saved.”
This sermon comprises just 92 words in the Greek text. But in those few words Peter each one of their questions and left them with no comeback. Basically, he stated three things: First, in verse 9 he reminds them that this was a good deed in the first place – how foolish to criticize something like this! (So much of what “religion” questions about Christianity in the first place – such as Clyde Hanks quoting scripture to make his points to that youth pastor.) Second, in direct answer to their question he tells them in what name it had been done – Jesus of Nazareth. Notice that he boldly points that He was the one whom they had crucified. Then in verse 11 he points out that this was a fulfillment of prophecy. This is a quotation of Psalm 118:22 which every one of these men would have known. And it proves that Jesus was the Messiah.
The third thing Peter did in this sermon was to zero in on the necessity of belief in Him for salvation. Look at verse 12 again:
(12) Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men, by which we must be saved.”
Peter is a lesson in soul winning. Not only did he clarify exactly who Jesus was, but he clarified the absolutely necessity for belief in Him and Him alone for salvation. And in this particular setting this took more courage than you and I will probably ever face. Back in chapter one, verse 8 Jesus had said, “you will receive power after the Holy Spirit comes.” And here in 4:8 we are told that Peter was “filled with the Spirit.” And the most significant aspect of that is that you and I have the very same promise, even today!
Now we have seen that these religious leaders were “an august group” an accusing group,” and an accused group. But now in verses 13 through 18 we see that they are an amazed group. Their confusion is described in verses 13 and 14:
(13)when Now they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus. (14) And seeing the man who had been healed standing with them they could say nothing against it.
They had come there to do away with these bumpkins once and for all. But, having heard Peter’s spirit filled message they “marveled” – couldn’t figure out how to deal with them (and religion never can figure out how to deal with a Christian)
And all of this is complicated by the unnerving fact that the one who had been healed was “standing” with them (- brilliant little piece of understatement) So because of that confusion we see their conference in verses 15 through 17.
(15) But when they had commanded them to go aside out of the council, they conferred among themselves (16) saying, “what shall we do to these men? For indeed, that a notable miracle has been done through them is evident to all who dwell in Jerusalem and we cannot deny it.(17) But so that it spreads no further among the people, let us severely threaten them, that from now on, they speak to no man in this name.”
At least they were wise enough not to deny the healing. So the best they could do was to keep it quiet (verse 17) And notice how perceptive they were. They knew that the key to keeping the news of the healing from spreading was to control the preaching in the name of Jesus. And this is still Satan’s tactic. He doesn’t mind people going to church as long as they don’t talk about Jesus. Or if they talk about Him as savior. And so out of that background comes the command in verse 18:
And they called them and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus.
Notice that the command was not just to preach about Jesus, but to speak of Him in any way – not to speak at all.” But in verses 19 and 20 we find the Apostles ‘counter proposal
But Peter and John answered and said to them, “whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot which we have seen and heard.”
These are some of the best-known verses in the Bible, and at the same time some of the least known. So we need to think about them carefully. Of course, the basic underlying principle is that it is better to obey God than man. And this is the Biblical for “civil disobedience.” And that is a concept that may become more and more necessary if our nation continues to deteriorate. But there is something that is very important underlying all of this. This is not just a statement that they had seen some exciting things that they couldn’t keep quiet about. Rather, it is a statement of obedience to scripture. Remember the “Great Commission” in Matthew 28:19,20? Basically Jesus had told them to “speak the things that they had seen and heard” (the root meaning of “witness”). And the bottom line is this: Unless you have a scripture for the law you want to disobey you don’t have a right to civil disobedience. Don’t try to cloak disobedience to a law that you don’t like in this verse.
This passage teaches many lessons, but one overreaches them all: And that is that God intends to be a way of life – not bound in by rules and regulations, but “practicing the presence of Christ.” – even if means civil disobedience.
The purpose of these studies is to draw you closer to Jesus Christ. If you do not know him, it is my prayer that they will help you understand that Romans 3:23 says that you, like all of us, have sinned and come short of the glory of God. And Romans 6:23 says that the result of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ. And Acts 16:32 says “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” If I can be of help to you in understanding any of this information I can be reached at