Acts 4:1-22 - Standing Firm in Christ Alone (Rev. Erik Veerman
Last Sunday was IDOP… the international day of prayer for the persecuted church. According to Open Doors, an organization focused on the persecuted church, an estimated 260 million Christians live in areas of high persecution, today. That’s about 1 in every 8 Christians in the world. In fact, persecution has been on the rise around the world in the last few years. It’s up 6% from last year alone. 9500 church buildings or other Christian buildings were attacked or destroyed this year. 3700 Christians were arrested, sentenced, and imprisoned. 3000 Christians killed for their faith.
That’s not to mention the pressures and persecution from family members and friends when someone converts to Christianity. Our dear brother in Christ, here, from the Middle East. I won’t mention his name because this is being recorded. You may not know this, but he was completely disowned by his family… because he professed faith in Christ. It’s been almost 7 years ago now. The sadness of that loss weighs on his heart every day.
We don’t often experience persecution here, but it’s something we shouldn’t be surprised at if we boldly proclaim Jesus.
Jesus promised that persecution would come. In Luke 21, which we read earlier, Jesus tells his disciples, “they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons,” And then Jesus said, “this will be your opportunity to bear witness.” In other words, “when this happens to you… don’t wimp out, but instead boldly testify to your faith in me.”
Jesus words in Luke 21… are being fulfilled right here in Acts chapter 4. This is the very first instance of persecution in the church. The first of many. They knew to expect it. They knew how Jesus called them to respond. And they, for sure, knew the potential consequences. Punishment and death. They had witnessed Jesus’s torture and execution just 2 months earlier.
As a quick reminder from last week. Peter and John, in Jesus power and name, had healed the disabled man by the temple gate. Many people rushed to see and hear about what had happened. Then Peter boldly proclaimed Christ… in his fulness. But as he spoke about Jesus… he called his hearers out. You killed him, the author of life. Repent and turn to him, and he will blot out your sin. Well, we learn here that while Peter and John were still speaking… they were arrested, taken into custody for the night… and given an opportunity to defend themselves the next day.
This morning, I want to first focus on the message. That is, Peter’s defense. Then consider the 2 responses. The response of the Jewish leaders and the response of the apostle Peter and John.
On the back of the hymn sheet, you’ll see a brief outline.
1.) How to believe in Christ Alone – that’s the central claim in Peter’s defense.
2.) How to reject Christ Alone – that’s what these religious leaders are really doing.
3.) How to stand firm in Christ Alone – the model we’re given of the disciples
How to believe in Christ alone (Acts 4:12)
The reason I want to begin with Peter’s message is because it’s what gives them passion and boldness. verse 12, “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Christ alone is the only way to God, Is the only way to be saved.
And, as you know, that is offensive to people today. It’s out of style and misaligned with our pluralistic, our relativistic and individualistic society. Lots of people today believe there are many paths to God. That truth is in the eye of the beholder… it’s relative.
So to say that Christ is the only way to be saved. Not Islam nor Buddhism, not Hinduism nor Judaism. Nor even universalism… is to be labeled today as intolerant.
Earlier this year, lifeway research did a study of what people believe about God and religion. They found that about 60% of Americans agree this statement: “religious belief is a matter of personal opinion and not about objective truth.” That’s across everyone they surveyed. But for evangelical Christians, 32% agree with the same statement, that religious belief is a matter of personal opinion. That’s about 1 in every 3 Christians.
Well, I want to respond in a couple brief but hopefully helpful ways. You may be struggling with the question, “is Jesus the only savior?” or you may be confronted by someone who doesn’t believe He is.
As a first response, I would say that the Bible clearly teaches Christ alone. Acts 4:12 here is a clear statement that the apostle Peter believed in Christ alone. Jesus himself taught that he was the only way to God. He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the father, except through me.” The apostle Paul taught that there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ.
Consider this: that if God had intended there to be multiple paths to him, why would he send His son to die. Before his death on the cross, Jesus prayed to God the father, “if there be any other way, yet not my will but yours be done.” In that prayer, Jesus acknowledged that salvation could only be accomplished through the cross.
Consider that the disciples and followers of Jesus believed so strongly that Jesus was the only way to salvation… that they would do anything to proclaim this hope, even suffering persecution and death.
Or consider the future that Jesus taught… that he would come again on the clouds of glory. And when he came, he would call those who believed to eternal life and those who didn’t believe by faith in him to eternal punishment.
Our last couple of Sunday school classes have focused on the protestant reformation. Just over a week ago was the anniversary to the reformation. Back in the 16th century, the reformers desired to return to the Scriptures… And one of the basic Biblical truths they taught is that salvation is by faith in Christ alone.
Martin Luther said that Christ is the “center and circumference of the Bible.” Luther was the one whom God used to start the reformation. He believed, in other words, that who Jesus was and what he did on the cross is the focus of Scripture. In fact, Luther’s very first catechism question asks “what is the Christian Faith?” Listen to his answer: “The Christian faith is the confession that Jesus Christ is the world's only Savior and Redeemer.” One of his Scripture references for that question is Acts 4:12 from our text.
You see, the Holy Scriptures, the Bible, does in fact teach that Jesus is the only way to God, the only way to be reconciled to Him.
A second response, though, is more of a philosophical response.
The belief that “all religions lead to God” …although it may be popular, it has self-defeating inconsistencies. First, several religions claim to be the exclusive way to God. Besides Christianity, you would need to include Islam in that list. How can an all-inclusive claim, include exclusive claims? That’s contradictory.
Furthermore, the major world religions have competing irreconcilable differences. Hinduism rejects exclusivity, Budhism rejects sin and a personal God. Each has a different view of end times, incompatible ways of salvation… and Vastly different views of who God. Each of these reject each other’s views.
But even at a more fundamental level, to claim that truth is relative is a self-defeating truth claim. You can’t logically say that there’s no truth. That would invalidate your own statement. It’s trying to make an absolute statement that there are no absolutes.
I know there are several high school junior or seniors here. Some of you may decide to go to college. Depending on the school, it’s possible you may have a professor that challenges your belief in Christ alone. In fact, maybe you have a teacher in Highschool that already does that. What do you say back to a teacher that says to you Christianity is intolerant? Well, you could turn the question around. How is your belief that Christianity is intolerant, not also intolerant? Or ask other questions. Whether he or she thinks that other religions are tolerant? And why? Or ask whether they think Jesus taught that other religions were a way to God? And then quote Jesus himself.
You see, it’s a very legitimate claim that Jesus is the only way to God. People may not like it, just like the religious leaders in our passage… but the Scriptures teach the uniqueness of Christ. And the belief in Christ alone comes with a consistent worldview dealing with meaning and morality, life and death, God and the universe, and a relationship with the personal and eternal God.
We can confidently say with the Apostle Peter that there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.
We’ve spent a significant amount of time on the heart of Peter’s message and proposition in Christ alone… but let’s turn our attention to the rest of the text.
How to reject Christ alone (Acts 4:11)
Stepping back, we see in these verses a great contrast of responses. On the one side, faithfulness and confidence, but on the other side, anger and I would say egotism, self-centeredness.
First, look at this list of religious leaders. They were the who’s who of Israel. The high priest, the Sadducees, the elders and rulers. You may recognize the name Caiaphas. He and these others were directly involved in Jesus persecution and handing him over to the Romans to be crucified.
These religious leaders only cared about preserving their control and maintaining their prestige. They demonstrate that in their obstinate refusal to even consider anything about Jesus or his followers.
Recently, one of the corrupt politicians in our country, who’s now in prison, described his approach to politics: “admit nothing, deny everything, launch a counter attack.” That pretty much depicts these men in chapter 4. For them, it’s not about searching for truth, it’s not about listening. No, it’s all about them, their arrogance, their position.
The first thing they demonstrated was how to be arrogantly annoyed. These so-called religious leaders were greatly annoyed. Verse 2. Why? Because this large crowd had gathered. And the crowd wasn’t focused on them. No, the crowd was focused on this good deed. This miracle. Focused on the man that was healed.
Because of that, these religious leaders were threatened. They had absolutely no concern for the healed man. God had done this amazing miracle through the disciples. This man leaping for joy, praising God. But they didn’t care. They held the power… and their reputation was more important than seeing what God had done. Peter even called them out on it... verse 9 “we are being examined today about a good deed.”
They were employing the “admit nothing” approach. Their most obvious disregard was their disregard of the obvious. Here was the healed man, in their midst. Standing and whole. They had nothing to say, verse 14. They even acknowledge among themselves that the evidence was irrefutable. But they couldn’t admit it. Because if they publicly admitted it, they would be acknowledging some truth to what happened… and truth to what Peter was preaching.
Part of what they didn’t want to believe or admit was the resurrection. Jesus resurrection. It was the main focus of Peter preaching. The Sadducees, who were there… they didn’t even believe in any resurrections. Not Jesus… no future resurrection at the end times for anyone. And for the rest of them, acknowledging the resurrection would be acknowledging Jesus. So the claim that Jesus was resurrected… and that this man was healed was an outrage to them.
They launched a counter-attack. That was another tactic. They arrested and put their opponents in jail… and that even included the healed man! He’s there with Peter and John… in verse 14. Their hard hearts were impenetrable. In their pride, their anger, and their unbelief, they rejected Jesus. rejected his people, Rejected His resurrection, and rejected His work.
We sometimes think that if we are just winsome enough, clear enough, that surely someone will listen and believe. No, it takes a miracle in someone’s life for them to trust in Christ. It took a Gospel miracle in your life and my life.
Well, the final thing they do is attempt to suppress the truth. These religious leaders couldn’t keep Peter and John in jail because the people would revolt. So what did they do instead? They charged the disciples not to speak or teach about Jesus. They wanted to suppress the truth. This reminds me of Romans 1. Suppressing the truth in unrighteousness, even though the truth was plain to them.
Now, before we get all prideful. I think you know, it’s easy to point the finger and say, “look how bad they are”, especially in a chapter like this. They were bad, to be sure. But as we look at them, we should also in humility recognize our own sin …even the small ways that we deny things, care about our reputation more than God’s… and how we tell little lies to get our way. But at the same time recognize God’s grace… that despite our sin, God loves us, Jesus died for our sin… He was resurrected in power to give us hope and new life.
May we not reject Christ alone but believe in Him alone for our salvation.
How to stand firm in Christ alone (Acts 4:12)
And that brings us next to this amazing testimony… standing firm on Christ alone. The disciples and the healed man. They’re a model for us… a testimony of not just believing, but standing firm through opposition and persecution.
Earlier we read Luke 21. And part of Jesus’ message was this: persecution will give you and opportunity to testify about your faith. Not to shrink down, or get discouraged, but to instead stand up for Christ, to declare his promises and truth. Jesus had even said to them, I will give you the words to say. We see that here. Peter, it says, was filled with the Holy Spirit.
And let me remind you of our study of Acts chapter 2. The ministry of the Holy Spirit is the ongoing ministry of Christ. Jesus has poured out his Spirit. He is working. And part of our being filled with the Holy Spirit is being filled with His Word. The Scriptures. Knowing them, believing them. And God will use that knowledge in times of opposition… in order to respond with confidence in His truth.
Peter displayed that confidence. He didn’t back down. He called out their hypocrisy. He basically started out by saying… You arrested us because this man was healed. And as a matter of fact. The stone that you rejected, Jesus, has become the cornerstone. Jesus is the foundation. He’s the rock upon which we stand. And you crucified him.
And with that confidence, Peter boldly proclaimed the resurrected Christ. He declared what we’ve already considered, Christ Alone… there is no other name in heaven whereby we must be saved.
It’s easy to say what we would do if persecuted. But it would be much harder in the moment. What if you were jailed because of your faith in Jesus. What if you were threatened to be tortured or killed unless you denied your faith. Would you stand up for Christ alone?
Let me go back to Martin Luther… at one point he was directly confronted by the church in Rome. The church leaders at that time had been corrupted by pride and power… just like the religious leader here in Acts 4.
Well, Luther was called to the city of Worms, Germany, to defend himself. He got there and all of his writings were laid out on a table in front of him. In Luther’s presence was the Holy Roman Emperor, countless princes and priests in their pompous regalia, and soldiers with their swords in hand. Luther was commanded to recant all his writings. He was to deny everything he believed… and to no longer speak against the church. Luther knew the consequences were grave if he stood firm. Likely death as many who had gone before him had endured. Several soldiers began to shout “into the fire with Luther”
Yet, while surrounded by this religious and magisterial tribunal… Luther stood up and declared this: “Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason - I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other - my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand! I can do no other. God help me! Amen.”
In the moments following… he was whisked away by guards… and a couple days later, he was actually kidnapped… but not by the corrupt roman church, but by some friends in order to protected him.
You see, Luther knew the Scriptures. He believed the promises of Christ alone. And he would likely have had Acts 4 in mind… because Luther was in a similar setting. Peter and John were commanded in verse 18 not to speak the name of Jesus. But their response was a model for Luther and is a model for us. They said, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge…” verse 20, “for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” They could not… not speak the truth. And in this case God spared Peter and John’s life, just as he did Luther’s.
There will be times when you are called to stand up for what you believe and know. You may be charged with exclusivism, with hate crimes, made fun of by your professors, rejected by your friends, disowned by your family. But God will be faithful to you, even unto death.
In closing, we sometimes forget the bystanders who are watching and listening. As Peter proclaimed the risen Christ, and as Peter and John were carted off to jail, many heard and witnessed their boldness. Many came to faith. It says up in verse 4 that the number who believed was up to 5000 now. That’s in a matter of days or weeks. Even though these religious leaders rejected Christ, so also many people heard the Gospel of Christ alone, they believed and were encouraged as the disciples testified to Jesus resurrection and lived out a life committed to him.
Similarly, as Martin Luther stood firm in the face of persecution, teaching the Scriptures, not giving in to the religious hypocrites… so also would many come to see and believe the Scriptures that he so faithfully taught… turning to faith in Christ alone.
May we believe that there is salvation in no one else… and even in persecution, may our boldness testify to the risen Christ. May many see and hear and believe in Christ alone.