Receiving, Relaying and Rejecting Jesus | Fiona Dorman & James Stevenson

Acts 4:1-22

Peter and John Before the Sanhedrin

1 The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people. 2 They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people, proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. 3 They seized Peter and John and, because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day. 4 But many who heard the message believed; so the number of men who believed grew to about five thousand.

5 The next day the rulers, the elders and the teachers of the law met in Jerusalem.6 Annas the high priest was there, and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander and others of the high priest’s family. 7 They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: “By what power or what name did you do this?”

8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! 9 If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, 10 then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth,whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. 11 Jesus is

“‘the stone you builders rejected,
    which has become the cornerstone.’

12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

13 When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. 14 But since they could see the man who had been healed standing there with them, there was nothing they could say. 15 So they ordered them to withdraw from the Sanhedrin and then conferred together.16 “What are we going to do with these men?” they asked. “Everyone living in Jerusalem knows they have performed a notable sign, and we cannot deny it.17 But to stop this thing from spreading any further among the people, we must warn them to speak no longer to anyone in this name.”

18 Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John replied, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! 20 As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

21 After further threats they let them go. They could not decide how to punish them, because all the people were praising God for what had happened. 22 For the man who was miraculously healed was over forty years old.


The pure simplicity of faith

Peter’s statement that we are saved by no other name was a joyful announcement that at last the Messiah had come. It was an utterly positive declaration. Through Jesus’ ‘name’, i.e. all that he embodied in his risen power, not only had a lame man been healed but also the way to salvation had been revealed.

Peter didn’t ask the questions we ask, like ‘what about the ones who haven’t heard of Jesus, or who wouldn’t hear of him through the centuries?’  Or ‘what about those who can’t understand or who hear but remain unmoved?’ He expressed the pure simplicity of faith, having himself been transformed by his relationship with the risen Jesus.

The Church has not always been so positive and affirming in the way it has presented the faith. Barriers of all sorts have been erected, excluding people and shoring up those in power. For example, women were excluded from the priesthood for two thousand years. Priests themselves can say who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’, as can powerful voices in a congregation. Rejection can be devastating, and many have felt rejected in their experience of church.

But Jesus said ‘All authority has been given to me’ and he passed this on to his disciples – ie the Church. Authority necessarily implies power, so how should it be exerted in keeping with Jesus’ own example?

The key must be to welcome everyone and share the Good News we have received, without trying to impose it. However much we long to see those we love respond in faith, we cannot do it for them.

In a culture that is highly suspicious of religious people, we need to combine our desire for others to experience God’s love, with patience, and be ready to speak of Jesus when people want to listen. If, motivated by love, we share what God is doing in our lives, people will then have an opportunity to discover for themselves the God of love who we know in Jesus Christ.

We might be on our own when we speak out, but like Peter we do so as part of a community. Our ‘Little Churches’ provide the places where we can be real with each other and learn from our diversity as we wrestle with tricky questions and paradoxes. Shaped and honed in communities where the Holy Spirit is welcomed, we are able to grow in love and compassion for those who don’t yet believe. So with integrity we too can express the pure simplicity of our belief that God has done it all in Jesus and that all we need to do is trust.

James Stevenson