You can read earlier posts in this series by clicking on the links below:
- An Introduction
- Augustine’s Two Cities
- Two Kingdoms in Luther
- The Reformed Confessions (Part I)
- The Reformed Confessions (Part II)
- The Reformed Confessions (Part III)
- Sphere Sovereignty in Kuyper
- Redemption and Creation in Kuyper
- John the Baptist
- The Prophet Amos
- The Incarnate Lord (Part I)
- The Incarnate Lord (Part II)
- The Incarnate Lord (Part III)
- Introduction to the Book of Acts
In the previous blog, we provided an introduction to the public theology within the book of Acts by examining the historical setting of Acts and by examining how the content of the apostles’ public teaching produced significant clashes with the pluralistic society of the Roman Empire. In this blog post, we will focus our attention on the public ministry of Peter and John after Pentecost. In Acts 3:1-10, Luke records the account of a lame beggar being healed by the hands of Peter. Like all of the miracles performed by the apostles, this healing was done publicly to verify and authenticate the gospel message which Peter preached in Acts 2. The miracle caused all of those who were present to be utterly astounded and this presented Peter with the opportunity to address the Jewish crowd (3:10-11). With this opportunity, Peter deflects attention away from himself and preaches the gospel (3:11-26).
Peter’s Message to the Nation
For the sake of this blog, it is important to note the content of Peter’s message. First, we note that Peter denies that his own power and piety healed the beggar (v. 12), but rather, Peter draws attention that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob glorified Jesus through this healing (v. 13, 16). Second, we note that Peter places the blame of the death of Jesus – the Author of life – at the feet of the Jewish nation (v. 13-15). Third, we note that Peter also proclaims that although they acted in ignorance, the sufferings of Christ were foretold by the mouth of all of the prophets (v. 17-18). After exposing the guilt of the Jewish nation, he calls them all to repentance so that “times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that He may send the Christ appointed for you” (v. 20). In other words, the absolute necessity of repentance was solemnly charged upon the consciences of all who desire that their sins may be blotted out so that they may share in the refreshment of God’s pardoning love. According to Peter, there is no other option for the people, for Jesus is the great prophet who was prophesied by Moses (v. 22-24). Finally, Peter indicates that Jesus has been raised from the dead and ascended into the heaven until the time of restoration as foretold by the prophets (v. 21). The Jews who heard Peter’s message would have been brought under deep conviction because they knew that they delivered up the Christ – God’s anointed – whom they have been anticipating for numerous generations. Hence, many of those who had heard the word believed.
It’s important to note that Peter’s message was confrontational and it was primarily soteriological in its intent. Any reference to the political impact of the gospel was aimed at eschatological concerns, in which the blessedness of the eternal state and the final judgment was briefly discussed. However, since the ministry of the apostles was done openly and publicly, there was outright opposition against the message. The first group who opposed the apostles was the Sanhedrin, which was the supreme council of the Jewish people. The origin of this assembly is traced back to the seventy elders whom Moses was directed to help him in the government of the Israelites (cf. Numbers 11:16-17). As mentioned in Acts 4, the Sanhedrin appears to be constituted of chief priests, elders, and scribes. This indicates that the Sanhedrin served both a judicial role as well as a religious role to the Jewish nation.
Peter’s Message to the Leaders
After imprisoning the apostles for their teachings, the Sanhedrin inquired by what authority do the apostles perform their works. It’s important to note that a similar disingenuous question was asked of Christ by the same council (cf. Matthew 21:23), which probably indicates that the tone of the question was that of contempt. Instead of being intimidated by the Council, Peter directly addressed the leaders. It’s very important to note that Peter does not change the content or the tone of his message as he addresses the leaders. He proclaims that God glorified Jesus in the healing of the beggar (4:10), calls the council into account for delivering Jesus to death (4:10), and proclaims that there is no other name in which salvation is found (4:12). Moreover, Peter declares that “this Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has becomes the cornerstone” (4:11), which is the same condemnation given to the Sanhedrin during Jesus’ earthly ministry (cf. Mark 12:1-12).
Instead of responding with faith and repentance, the Sanhedrin added to their guilt by charging Peter and John not to speak at all in the name of Jesus (4:15-18). The response of Peter and John has many applications to us today. First, we should note the tone of their response. Peter and John did not treat the council with flippancy, but addressed them properly in accordance with the authority given to the council. Second, their words assert the right of conscience, recognizing that human authorities must be resisted when it opposes divine authority. The apostles are compelled by divine authority to proclaim the gospel. Third, the apostles are willing to accept the punishment that comes from following conscience. In particular, we should note that the disciples rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer for the name of Jesus (cf. 5:41). Fourth, they acknowledge their human weakness by praying to God to give them boldness to continue to speak His Word in spite of the opposition (4:23-30). The prayers of the apostles were answered as they continued to perform signs and wonders among the Jewish nation (5:12-16). The apostles continued to preach the Word with boldness and they continuously faced opposition from the Jewish leaders. They were imprisoned numerous times and yet God delivered them so that they would continue to preach the Word (5:17-26). Their message to the Jewish authorities remained constant: we must obey God rather than men. This is the same disposition that was found from the OT prophetic witness (cf. Daniel 3).
Summary and Conclusions
What can we draw from the public ministry of Peter and John today? First, the message that the apostles were entrusted with (and thus, the message that the Church is entrusted with) is the gospel. It’s a simple, obvious point, but it is a point that many are drifting from today. When it comes to confronting the numerous cultural issues of the day, we must remember that the Church has no other message to proclaim but the gospel. If the Church does not herald this message and explain its implications, then our witness in the world is useless (cf. Matthew 5:13). In emphasizing the centrality of the gospel, it’s also important to recognize the need for law preaching both in the public sphere and in private conversations because the Law, when proclaimed rightly, is the tutor that leads others to Christ. Apart from the Law, the gospel loses its brilliance. This is evident by noting that Peter and John always calls their audience into account for delivering Jesus to death before proclaiming the forgiveness of sins promised in Christ.
Second, we must realize that the message of the gospel applies to every person in every station of life, even if it’s a public official. In other words, the confrontational nature of law and gospel preaching from the Church should not be diluted for those who are public officials. If we are willing to call our neighbors and friends to repentance and faith in Christ, then the same message should be given to our leaders. Third, if we are willing to proclaim this message, we should expect sharp opposition. In other words, the message of the gospel itself will always be opposed because it addresses the common existential problems of all peoples and societies. For some individuals, this opposition may come in the form of physical persecution, but for others, it may come in the form of imprisonment, ostracization, and mockery. Like Peter and John, we should expect this opposition and rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that God counts us worthy to suffer dishonor for Christ. Finally, we need to pray for boldness so that we will continue to proclaim the Word. Praying for boldness is a clear and humble acknowledgment that we are prone to fear and intimidation from the world around us. We should pray that we will not fall into temptation of passivity and assimilation in confronting the world around us.
In the next blog, we will focus on the particular interactions of Paul in his public ministry.