Jun 6 2010 - Resurrection Power (Acts 4)
Peter’s second recorded sermon in Acts had no sooner drawn to a conclusion than the Temple officials turned up in force – priests, a group of Temple guards with their captain, and some Sadducees. They were greatly annoyed not only because Peter and John had assumed an unauthorised role of teaching the people – in the Temple! – but particularly because they were asserting that in Jesus, God had raised the dead. The upper echelons of the priests who had control of the Temple were mainly of the Sadducees who denied that there was any resurrection of the dead. Their authority was being undermined in their own domain by common fishermen – from Galilee!
We see here a key theme which is going to run on through the Book of Acts. Paul makes use of this disagreement between Sadducees and Pharisees regarding the resurrection of the dead to his own advantage – but that’s still to come.
I can’t resist looking back at Peter’s remarkable sermon that provoked such anger – even at risk of this blog turning into a sermon. Peter’s message centres upon the fact that Jesus of Nazareth, crucified in this place just two months earlier, was raised from the dead by God. What irony that many of this very crowd of hearers had called for the release of a murderer and the death of one who is the source of life.
Peter goes on to show that in their ignorance, they merely fulfilled the word and purpose of God. He refers to Jesus as God’s servant who is also the Christ the prophets spoke of who must suffer and die for the sake of his people. It is precisely through his resurrection from the dead that God has demonstrated that Jesus is the Christ and the source of resurrection life. The walking and leaping of the middle-aged man born lame, through the name and power of Jesus, is proof that God gives life to the dead through him.
So Peter calls on the crowd to repent so that their sins may be forgiven: embrace the one they formerly rejected so that they may have life in his name – life from the dead. Peter says that as they turn to faith, God will send seasons of refreshing as foretastes of the time when Jesus himself will return from heaven and transform all things – the whole of creation shall then know his resurrection power.
Jesus is the prophet Moses spoke about, one like him whom God would one day raise up for his people. This is the one through whom God would speak afresh to his people; one to whom they must listen. These Jews are therefore the first to receive this message concerning the Messiah, the risen Jesus Christ. But the message is not for them alone, they are children of Abraham and heirs of God’s promise that all the families of the earth shall be blessed through him/them.
Here is an indicator to the unfolding story of the Book of Acts, and particularly the pattern of Paul’s ministry that will dominate the later sections. Here also is an intriguing parallel with Paul’s argument in Romans 9-11, not to mention the oft neglected central section of Romans 8.
But, back to Peter and John’s arrest. The Sadducees are troubled that in Jesus these men are preaching the resurrection of the dead. And that it is so difficult to controvert them because the power of the resurrection is evident both in the lame man leaping and the Galilean fishermen preaching – it is evident that they have been with Jesus, or rather, that Jesus is still with them, and in power! So they can do nothing except to command them to stop such preaching.
The reaction of the apostles? They tell their accusers to their face that they will obey God rather than men. Then they go and call a prayer meeting in which they ask to be granted the continuing power to be bold in preaching. They know that Jesus is God’s Messiah, the one spoken of in Psalm 2. Jews and Gentiles may have plotted together to have him done away with, but God laughs at their plans; he has raised Jesus from the dead and made him Lord over the whole world. So they plead that more of his resurrection power may be seen in bold preaching and in evident miracles of life from the dead. This prayer is answered immediately as the building in which they are meeting is shaken. Oh for such prayer meetings that shake the world and anticipate the day of its final shaking when all things will be made new.
Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is not merely a doctrine for academic debate. It is a living reality at the centre point of history. It must shape our lives, our hopes and expectations, our behaviour and our message to others. It is to be made evident and incontrovertible in lives transformed – visible life from the dead. Where and when these things are real, these are indeed seasons of refreshing and anticipations of the world to come.