The Radical Resurrection – Acts 4

06 Apr

Of Easter Sunday, it has been said that it is the only time of the year “when anyone can go to church without being accused of being religious!”

We turn to a section in the book of Acts, where we can trace the tremendous explosion of radical Christianity which burst out upon a decadent and weary world in the First Century.

We note the power and the excitement which prevailed because of this message, and discover that the same thing can occur today whenever authentic Christianity is proclaimed.

In Acts 3, Peter and John go up to the temple to pray. There they found a cripple, a man who had been lame from his birth, who asked them for some money. But Peter said, “Silver and gold have I none, but such as I have I give unto you: in the name of Jesus of Nazareth, rise and walk, {Acts 3:6}.

Immediately strength came to this man’s ankles, and he began to leap and to jump and to shout. All this drew a crowd, and Peter seized the occasion and began to preach to them in the name of Jesus, saying that it was by the power of Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, that this man was made whole.

He gave a great message, which had tremendous effect. But in the midst of it, an interruption occurred. We pick up that story now as it is given to us by Luke, the author of the book of Acts, in the 4th chapter:

Acts 4:1–4 (ESV) And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand.

There is something strangely familiar to us about that, is there not? It sounds most contemporary. Here were the apostles, speaking to the people from the steps of the temple, and out in the crowd you can almost (using today’s vision) see banners and signs proclaiming: POWER TO THE PEOPLE! DOWN WITH THE ESTABLISHMENT!

Here also was the presence of the police, and the representatives of the establishment. The captain of the temple guard was there, and the Sadducees, who were the ruling class in Jerusalem. And there was a tremendous popular response to the message of Peter on that day.

We are told that five thousand men believed. In the midst of all this there was this sudden display of annoyed authority, of authoritative, iron-fisted power, when the temple guard suddenly elbowed their way through the crowd and, surrounding Peter and John, arrested them, dragged them off, and put them in jail until the morrow.

But the most remarkable thing about this occasion was the message. The message was the proclamation that Jesus had been raised from the dead.

They did not proclaim the overthrow of the Roman government. Such a reaction of authority might be expected if that were their message. But it was not. They were not advocating the violent overthrow of the establishment.

Nor were they protesting against some of the social evils of the day.

There is not a word of protest raised against the widespread practice of slavery throughout the empire. Half of the Roman empire at this time were slaves — every other person was a slave. But nothing is said about that.

There is nothing said about the burdens of excessive taxation which the Romans had placed upon this people. There is no such protest.

The message which was so threatening that the authorities regarded it as too radical to tolerate was nothing more than the proclamation of Jesus and the resurrection from the dead. For this, Peter and John were thrown into jail before they could even finish the message.

And yet, because of this message, five thousand men in that great crowd in Jerusalem became believers in Jesus Christ.

Now, let me ask you: Do you think this could happen today? Would the authorities oppose a message like this today? Well, the clear answer of current history is: Yes, they would, and they do.

Two-thirds of believers around the world live under governments more repressive than the Roman Empire of the first century.

Believers everywhere face misunderstanding, ridicule, and even harassment by unbelieving friends, employers, teachers, and family members.

In some countries, converting to Christianity is punishable by death. No one is exempt from catastrophe, pain, illness, and death—trials that, like persecution, make us lean heavily on God.

First, of course, they proclaimed the great and exciting fact that Jesus Christ had himself risen from the dead — only seven weeks before this event took place and that they were witnesses to this fact. And not only Peter and John, but a band of a 120 disciples and then more than 500 could bear sterling witness to the fact that they had seen the risen Lord — not once, but many times.

And so powerful was that testimony, so convicting was that witness, that not one voice in all this vast crowd is raised to protest or challenge it. Instead, 5,000 are convinced of the truth of it, as 3,000 had been just a few days before, on the day of Pentecost.

They understand that this is true, that this dramatic event had occurred, that Jesus Christ, the man of Galilee, the prophet from Nazareth, had solved man’s most difficult problem — the problem of death.

Once in all history it had taken place. It had never occurred before; it has never occurred since. Oh, it is true that some have been brought back from the dead before by the power of God — a handful or so in history. But they were only returned to the same life they had before, and we would believe that they died again.

But here is One who comes back to a different level of life, who is resurrected, not merely resuscitated. He never dies again, and never will. This is the meaning of the resurrection of Jesus.

Here is a whole new level of life, a whole new realm of possibility for humanity. This dramatic breakthrough, they declared, had occurred in their own city just a few weeks earlier.

Second, they also preached the fact that the promise of the resurrection had been extended by Jesus to others as well, that he himself had said, I am the resurrection and the life. He that believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,” {John 11:25}.

He said, “Because I live, you shall live also,” {John 14:19}. And out of that open tomb has arisen a blazingly radiant, flaming hope which has gripped and held the hearts of thousands and millions since, through the centuries, who have had to face the fact and the experience of death.

Yet if that were all these apostles had to say, I do not think they would have created quite the stir they did. Because Judaism had a hope beyond death, as well.

This crowd was made up mostly of Jews, and they already knew from the Old Testament Scriptures that there was a hope beyond death. Pagan Romans and others were not aware of this, but the Jews knew.

But there was a third element that Peter and John proclaimed on this day which made all the difference in the world. It is the most dramatic element of all about the truth of the resurrection of Jesus.

They undoubtedly explained to these people that the death of the body, some day, is strangely linked, in a way that we do not fully comprehend, with the death which is at work in our inner lives, right now.

That is, death is all one thing, whether it takes place and affects the physical body some day, or whether it is taking place within the spirit of man today.

It is all of a piece. And that inner death is what we experience in a thousand ways — sometimes as loneliness, sometimes as bitterness, sometimes as emptiness and despair, as depression of spirit.

Sometimes it is a boredom, sometimes it is hate, sometimes it is malice and resentment and violence. Whatever it may be, it is not what God intended for man.

It is an enemy which has seized man and lives with him, sleeps with him, and eats with him, and haunts him in everything he does. The glorious proclamation of the truth as it is in Jesus we have peace instead of restlessness, acceptance rather than guilt, love in place of lust or hate, power to replace weakness, joy for mourning, beauty for ashes, hope for despair, courage in place of cowardice, and cleansing from all dirt and filth of spirit.

Now, would you not think that the authorities would be pleased with such a development? Would you not think that the rulers of the city would be happy that men and women were finding the answer to their life-long search? Why are they so irritated? Why are they annoyed and threatened by this event?

Well, it is clear that they sense something about it is a threat to them.

Acts 4:5–12 (ESV) On the next day their rulers and elders and scribes gathered together in Jerusalem, with Annas the high priest and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. And when they had set them in the midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?”

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, 10 let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well.

11 This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. 12 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

A tremendous declaration! You can see how seriously the authorities took all this by Luke’s careful list of those who were present. There was Annas, who was the honorary high priest, the father of Caiaphas. Then there was Caiaphas, who was the official high priest. And with them were gathered two of his brothers, John and Alexander — all of one family.

This confirms what we know from secular history — that this family of the high priest intermarried with one another and constituted a ruling class in Jerusalem, controlling the vast wealth of the temple and certain profitable monopolies connected with the sacrifices.

So here was the class that sat in power and authority in the city, who had great vested interests politically and economically throughout this city. And they are disturbed. They sense a threat to their power.

They are so disturbed, in fact, that without realizing what they are doing, they give Peter an open door for testimony such as he never had before. They ask him, “Tell us, by what power or what name have you done this thing?

This is just what Peter is waiting for. He is delighted to tell them. And look how bold he is. What a contrast with that cringing disciple who was afraid of a little maid in the high priest’s courtyard a few weeks earlier!

Now there is a difference. He is filled with the Holy Spirit. The life of Jesus is being imparted to him by that Holy Spirit.

This is what the Holy Spirit does. When he comes into a human heart, his business is to take a risen Lord’s life and give it to you, to empower you, to encourage you, to strengthen you, to do whatever you need have done to make you adequate to cope with life. This is the work of the Holy Spirit.

So Peter, filled with the Spirit, is bold — bold as a lion. Evidently the formerly lame man was right there with them, as well. In fact, later on the account says so. He was “Exhibit A” of the power and authority of the name of Jesus Christ.

Then to drive the point home Peter quotes from Psalm 118: “This is the stone which was rejected by your builders, but which has become the head of the corner, {cf, Psa 118:22}. This is the prediction of the resurrection in that amazing Psalm. It is where we get the verse we often quote: This  is  the  day  which  the  Lord  has  made; let  us  rejoice  and  be  glad  in  it.  {Psa  118:24  RSV}

What day? Why, the day of Christ’s resurrection, when God took that Stone which had been rejected by the builders, and made him the Head of the corner.

God had designed that Jesus of Nazareth would be the cornerstone of his government on earth, the rock upon which all human government should rest, and from which it would take its authority.

But the builders of various nations have rejected the Cornerstone. This is why no government can stand very long, why God’s program through history has been one of overturning, overturning, overturning, as Ezekiel says, until he shall come whose right it is to reign.

And  there  is  salvation  in  no  one  else,  for  there  is  no  other  name  under  heaven  given among  men  by  which  we  must  be  saved.  {Acts  4:12  RSV}

This is a startling declaration! It says that there is no other who can fulfill the place of being the cornerstone of authority in the world. No other name! None of the religious leaders, none of the political leaders of all time could possibly do this work.

There is only One adequately equipped, qualified to be the foundation of human government, the basis of human authority. You take all the religious names of history — Buddha, Mohammed, Confucius, Mahatma Gandhi, Ramakrishna, Joseph Smith, Mary Baker Eddy — whoever and whatever.

The most that can be said of these men and women is that they are moral teachers. The best we can say of them is that they taught what is right. Many of them did. They could tell us what was right; but they could not enable us to do it.

That is the difference between Jesus of Nazareth and any other name that can be named in this world. That is why we can never consent to considering any other name to be equal with that of Jesus of Nazareth.

No other has solved the problem of death. No other has broken through this ghastly terror that hangs over the human race — only Jesus of Nazareth. God has made him the head of the corner, and there is no other name by which we can be saved.

You see, we do not need someone to tell us what to do; we know what to do. Most of us know better than we are doing!

Mark Twain said, “I don’t need anyone to tell me what to do. I’m not doing half of what I know to do, now.”

This is exactly the truth. What we need is One who will change us, give us a new motivation, make us want to do what we ought to do, and make us over, give us a new heart, a new outlook, a new ability, a new capacity, a new life. This is what Jesus of Nazareth does again and again.

And this, my friends, is political heresy. Whenever this takes place it threatens all oppression and tyranny and totalitarianism, wherever it may be established.

The life of Jesus Christ is never against government; but it is against oppressive government. It is the foundation of Christian liberties, everywhere. There has never been a force more powerful and more vital to assure the liberation of men and women from oppression than this dramatic power of the resurrection. This is why it is hated by the totalitarian forces of the day, wherever they may be.

But the glorious thing is: This is what God intends. This is what he is going to build his kingdom on. Christ is the head of the corner. God, through the course of history, behind the scenes, as it were, of all the tumultuous events of our own day, all the tyranny and heartbreak and tears and anguish and sorrow that is going on all around us in the world, behind that facade,

God is working out his purposes. He is building a new humanity. And everywhere he is inviting men and women to become a part of it, by sharing in the risen life of Jesus Christ, and experiencing now the glory of a life of peace and joy and rest and strength and adequacy and power and meaning and fullness — now. This is what the resurrection means.

Now, you will never know that kind of power, and that kind of joy and love and peace, until you come to grips with Jesus Christ personally, yourself, until there comes a time when you ask Jesus of Nazareth, risen from the dead, to be part of your faith response that leads to being immersed in water in order to have sins forgiven…and be Lord of your life.

When you do that, earnestly and sincerely, he comes in, and you begin a new life in Jesus Christ. There is no other name — there is no one else — no other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved.

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Posted by on April 6, 2023 in Resurrection


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