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Reading: Acts 4:5-12:

5 The next day their rulers, elders, and scribes assembled in Jerusalem, 6 with Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. 7 When they had made the prisoners stand in their midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” 8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, 9 if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed, 10 let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. 11 This Jesus is ‘the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.’ 12 There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”

Reflection

Our reading today from Acts continues the story we have been reading in this Easter season. It is the story of the healing of the lame man and its aftermath, which results in the arrest of the apostles Peter and John and threat to their lives.

The story begins quite innocently with Peter and John going to prayer hour in the temple. As they approach the temple gate, Peter and John pause and heal the man who they see sitting there. One thing leads to another and they get arrested for preaching the message of Jesus Christ.

It is worth noting that they travel together, as was their habit following their training by Christ. Apostles travel together because you cannot be a Christian on your own, it being impossible to fulfill the commandment to love one another by yourself. Our new life in Christ is not only a personal transformation but should be visible in the our lives together.

The next day Peter and John face their accusers, and when they are surrounded by them, they are asked:

“By what power or by what name did you do this?”

The question is ambiguous. Do what? The healing of the man, or preaching, or converting thousands? Or perhaps all of these?

Peter does not ask for clarification, but takes the initiative and expresses his opinion of the ambiguity in his reply.

In fact, it is not so much a reply that dignifies the question, it is a more a continuation of the preaching that landed them in trouble in the first place.

Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, says that it was in the name of Jesus Christ that he was healed, and then goes on to say that it is only through Jesus that we are saved:

“There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”

John Calvin in his commentary on this passage reminds us that this is the same Peter who denied Christ and ran from the Cross. He was a timid man and would have usually run from this situation or wilted in front of such a hostile crowd. But with the power of the Holy Spirit he goes on the offensive.

Does he answer the question? He names Christ as both the healer and savior. Christ the healer and the savior are inseparable. This is demonstrated in the apostles’ actions of healing and preaching salvation. The order here should not be overlooked. They perform an act of pity and charity and heal the man, they follow this by preaching the word about Christ. This is a sound missiological approach – act first and then speak.

By what power or name have you done this? The implication of this question of the priests, is that the disciples, as mere men could not have done this miracle by themselves.

In this the rulers are right, but in seeking the name of another power other than the men, their own words condemn them, as they fail to recognize that it is their own God who had done this great thing.

I don’t know why this miracle is not talked about more often. Perhaps it is because the man remains nameless in the narrative. But I think the real reason is that Jesus did not perform this miracle directly.

Yet for us today it remains an important miracle story. This is an example of the imitation of Christ by his disciples. We are closer to Peter than we think, like Peter, we have been called into the discipleship of Jesus, and like Peter we are sinners and Christ deniers.

While the healed man is sometimes forgotten, this passage is justifiably famous for its mention of Christ as the cornerstone that the builders had rejected. This is a quote from Psalm 118, and the Jewish leaders would have known this passage well. Using the passage in this way was inflammatory. But sometimes the truth upsets, such as it did here.

Psalm 118 may also have been returned to later in Acts and in the same story. Let’s read from verse 6:

6 With the LORD on my side I do not fear.
What can mortals do to me?
7 The LORD is on my side to help me;
I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.
8 It is better to take refuge in the LORD
than to put confidence in mortals.
9 It is better to take refuge in the LORD
than to put confidence in princes.

The not quite parallel text to verse 9 here is Acts 5:29:

“We must obey God rather than any human authority.”

Psalm 118 continues (reading from verse 10)

10 All nations surrounded me;
in the name of the LORD I cut them off!
11 They surrounded me, surrounded me on every side;
in the name of the LORD I cut them off!
12 They surrounded me like bees;
they blazed like a fire of thorns;
in the name of the LORD I cut them off!
13 I was pushed hard, so that I was falling,
but the LORD helped me.

In the name of the Lord, Peter and John cut their accusers off. In doing they too are exemplars of the faith we confess.

The more I read the book of the Acts I more strongly I believe that it is an underrated book – in the Gospels we learn from Christ directly about discipleship, but in Acts we see how flawed, sinful apostles put this into practice.

Emboldened by the resurrection of their leader Jesus who conquered the power of death, the Apostles remain fearless in the face of possible death at the hands of the religious and political authorities.

Our Christian leaders who in urge obedience to the religious and political leaders and object to civil disobedience or even speaking truth to power, should study this text more closely.

Peter’s speech, which comes of the Holy Spirit, is not a speech of deference. It is one of defiance that attacks rather than defends. When the actions and words of Christ are frustrated by men and women the Holy Spirit can use us to break through the blockages.

This story also shows that the promises of Christ to his disciples were true. Remember what Jesus said in Luke 12:11-12

“When they bring you before the synagogues, the rulers, and the authorities, do not worry about how you are to defend yourselves or what you are to say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that very hour what you ought to say.”

Some will find in this promise of Christ reassurance that the Holy Spirit will be with us in such times. But we should also wonder that if aren’t being dragged before the rulers and the authorities perhaps we aren’t following Jesus where we should be.

Following the example of Peter and John, on the way to church and chapel we should be looking down to the lame and lonely, not only skyward to the heavens.

Through faith we can follow Christ to the lame at the gate, and we can stand tall as Christians in front of our opponents who are blind to the works of God before them. But wherever God’s leads us, we can be assured of the presence of the Holy Spirit empowering us for God’s work in the world.

This is the promise of God. Amen.

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