Following the outpouring of the Spirit on the day Pentecost, the Jerusalem church settled into a community life driven by the truth of Christ's resurrection. Inevitably, the emerging Christian fellowship came into conflict with the Jewish religious establishment. This occurred in the temple precincts during an evangelistic outreach. A crippled beggar was healed, Peter preached, and both Peter and John were arrested by the temple guards. On the following day they appeared before the Sanhedrin.
v5-6. The Jewish authorities obviously expected the elimination of the "sect of the Nazarene" with the execution of Jesus. The arrest of some of his disciples in the temple, after stirring up the faithful with the healing of a cripple and tales of a risen Lord, must have caused great consternation. At the hearing, the Sadducees were in the majority. Annas, the ex-high priest, and his mouthpiece son-in-law, Caiaphas, presided. Other members of the high priestly family were present. John is probably Jonathan, son of Annas, who later succeeded Caiaphas.
v7. The disciples are asked by what authority they acted as they did on the previous day. Who gave them the authority to perform healings and make speeches in the temple precincts?
v8-10. Following Jesus' instructions, Peter answers boldly, Lk.21:14f. If the question by the authorities concerns the healing of the crippled beggar (who is actually present either as a witness or a prisoner), then responsibility for the healing rests with Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah. It was done in his "name", ie. in his person and with his authority. Although the apostles are supposed to be defending themselves, Peter goes on the attack and proclaims the gospel. When Jesus preached the gospel he did so with the words "the kingdom of God is at hand." This truth is realized in the resurrection of Jesus, and so Peter makes it the focus of his response. Jesus is the person you executed, but "whom God raised from the dead." Again, we see the centrality of the resurrection in the apostolic witness to Jesus. He is alive, and therefore, powerfully at work.
v11. In presenting the gospel, particularly to Jews, the apostles announced that "the time is fulfilled" by proof-texting messianic promises fulfilled in the life and teachings of Jesus. Here, Peter uses Psalm 118:22 to remind his hearers that the messiah, although temporarily humiliated, is subsequently glorified. Although the verse originally referred to the nation Israel, it was later applied to the messiah for he was seen as a corporate figure, just as the king was a corporate figure. Jesus represents faithful Israel, humiliated, but inevitably glorified.
v12. Following the standard form of New Testament evangelism, Peter concludes with a call to "repent and believe the gospel." Of course, he presents this call in his own words. By implication, if Jesus is the messiah and this was just proclaimed in the sign of the healing of the crippled beggar at the Beautiful Gate, then the blessings promised to Abraham of a kingdom, of "salvation", can come to Israel by no other person than Jesus. As Jesus delivered the beggar, so Jesus can deliver Israel. To ignore this deliverance is to face judgement. Clearly, a response is called for.
An exclusive faith
In a pluralistic society it is not easy to be exclusive. People who take a narrow view of life, who are assured of the superiority of their own position, tend to be regarded as bigots. Christians have always been accused of narrow bigotry. In Western society, trendy left-wing socialist baby-boomers are the group most critical of Christian superiority. Interestingly, it is now their turn to be labeled as "thugs", narrow minded bigots. The superiority of their "political correctness" is no longer assumed by the wider population. Increasingly, citizens find the assault of the "left" on the opinions of others as less than gracious.
Although some believers back off when it comes to the exclusive claim of Jesus that "no one comes to the Father but by me", most believers still affirm with Peter that "only Jesus has the power to save", Acts 4:12a, CEV.
How do we maintain such an exclusive position in the face of the widely held view that "all rivers lead to the sea"? New Age religion constantly promotes a variety of beliefs, all equally valuable in accessing the spiritual, for there is no one path, just my path. Of course, this is not Jesus' opinion, for he said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life."
In dealing with our "relativist" neighbor we can make two concessions:
First. The Bible tells us that "he who seeks finds". Any person reaching out to the creator God will find Him. We know, of course, that they will find Him through Jesus. In some way, by some means, the truth of the Christian gospel will reach that person. If necessary, God will reach out to the person directly, for he does not abandon those who seek him.
Second. Integrity demands that we remain true to our beliefs, yet that doesn't stop us respecting the beliefs of others. Mutual respect, where there are conflicting views, is actually a positive situation rather than a negative one. We may even feel strong enough to admit that we could be wrong, that even Jesus could be wrong, but as an act of faith we choose to rely on him.
The exclusive nature of the gospel often prompts the question "what about the heathen?" Try to give an answer to this question.