MAY 29 – A GREAT MORAL BLUNDER

By the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified…This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders.

Acts 4:10–11

Of all the people on the earth, the nation of Israel surely was the best prepared to receive the Christ of God. The children of Abraham, they were called to be a chosen people in an everlasting covenant with God, the Father.

Yet they failed to recognize Jesus as Messiah and Lord. There is no doubt that theirs was the greatest moral blunder in the history of mankind. He came to His own people, and they rejected Him!

Jesus taught frankly that He was asking His followers to throw themselves out on the resources of God. For the multitude, He was asking too much. He had come from God but they received Him not!

It seems to be a comfort to some Christians to sit back and blame and belabor the Jews, refusing to acknowledge that they have information and benefits and spiritual light that the Jews never had.

It is surely wrong for us to try to comfort our own carnal hearts by any emphasis that Israel rejected Him. If we do that, we only rebuild the sepulchres of our fathers as Jesus said!

Lord, would I have mocked You? Denied You? Ignored who You really were? I only know that I wholeheartedly worship You today as the King of kings and Lord of lords![1]


4:8–12 First he reminded them that they were unhappy because the apostles had performed a good deed … to a helpless man. Though Peter didn’t say it, the healed man had begged at the gate of the temple, and the rulers had never been able to heal him. Then the apostle delivered a thunderbolt by announcing that it was in the name of Jesus … whom they had crucified that the man was cured. God had raised Jesus from the dead, and it was by His power that the miracle had been performed. The Jews did not have any place for Jesus in their building scheme, so they rejected and crucified Him. But God raised Him from the dead and exalted Him in heaven. The rejected stone thus became the chief cornerstone, the indispensable stone that completes the structure. And He is indispensable. There is no salvation without Him. He is the exclusive Savior. No other name under heaven has been given among men for salvation, and it is by this name alone that we must be saved.

As we read verses 8–12, let us remember that these words were spoken by the same man who had denied the Lord three times with oaths and curses.[2]


Defense

4:8–12

8. Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! 9. If we are questioned today for a good deed done to a sick man and how he was healed, 10. let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, this man stands before you healthy.”

  • “Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said.” On the day of Pentecost Peter and the others received the Holy Spirit, who continued to live in them. Nevertheless, the Spirit on special occasions enabled the apostles to speak boldly, for Jesus had told his disciples, “But when they arrest you, do not worry about what you will say or how you will say it. For what you are to say will be given to you at that time, because you are not the ones who are speaking, but the Spirit of your Father is speaking through you” (Matt. 10:19–20). Peter experienced the fulfillment of Jesus’ words when he stood before the Sanhedrin.
  • “Rulers and elders of the people.” Even though Luke mentions that the gathering consisted of rulers, elders, and teachers of the law, Peter addresses only the rulers and elders. Apparently only these two groups of people give leadership and ask questions (compare v. 23; 23:14; 25:15).
  • “If we are [being] questioned today for a good deed done to a sick man and how he was healed.” Peter skillfully changes the trial from a possible criminal investigation to an inquiry about an act of mercy. The verb questioned signifies that Peter regards the trial as an inquiry and so puts it in positive form. “If we are being questioned” means that this inquiry is a fact and is actually happening at the moment. Moreover, it also indicates that Peter is in full control of the situation. He says that he and John have performed a good deed, and he implies that no one can fault them for doing good to a man who was a cripple from birth.
  • “And [asked] how he was healed.” In Greek, the verb to heal can also mean “to save” (see v. 12). In the case of the cripple, the physical healing is obvious; we know that because of his faith in Jesus he also obtained salvation.

Peter realizes that the leaders are interested in the manner of the healing miracle. In response to their question, he gives them a direct answer concerning the source of the healing power and the name in which he and John rendered the miracle. Unafraid of the same judges who condemned Jesus and handed him over to Pontius Pilate, Peter boldly speaks and reveals to them that the man was healed in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. The word name points to the full revelation concerning Jesus. This word appears repeatedly in Peter’s addresses, for he proclaims it to all people.

  • “Let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel.” The phrase let it be known is similar to the injunction pay attention to my words (see 2:14; 13:38; 28:28). Peter expands his audience to include the Sanhedrin and the entire Jewish nation. Once again, Peter adroitly changes the focus of the inquiry from the healed beggar to Jesus Christ, who healed him. The name of Jesus Christ must be made known to every person in Israel.
  • “By the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.” Notice that Peter utters the same words he used when he healed the lame man at the gate called Beautiful (3:6). He realizes that although Jesus’ name is an offense to the rulers and elders who condemned him, they posed the question about the manner in which the apostles healed the cripple. Now Peter gives them an honest and straightforward answer. They are unable to understand that Jesus, who died on the cross, has divine power to perform an undeniable healing miracle. But this is exactly the point Peter tries to make. He deliberately uses the double name to point to Jesus’ earthly life and the divine mission of the Christ (the Messiah). To make the identification complete, Peter adds Jesus’ place of residence by which he was known to the people: “of Nazareth.”
  • “Whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead.” In his sermons and speeches, Peter unabashedly tells his Jewish audiences the same thing: “you crucified Jesus, but God raised him from the dead” (2:23–24; 3:15; 5:30). Peter puts the blame for Jesus’ death on the Sanhedrists. Yet he dwells not on the ignominy of condemning an innocent man to death but on Jesus’ resurrection to life. The resurrection message is basic to apostolic preaching and here Peter proclaims it in the presence of Israel’s supreme court.
  • “[Through Jesus’ power] this man stands before you healthy.” One imagines Peter pointing directly at the healed beggar, who is the living testimony to Jesus’ power. Since the miracles Jesus wrought during his ministry are well known throughout Israel, the members of the Sanhedrin are unable to deny the continuing work of the resurrected Jesus. When Jesus rose from the grave, the chief priest bribed the soldiers guarding his tomb and had them say, “His disciples came at night and stole the body while we were asleep” (Matt. 28:13). But their deception is unable to match the glorious power of Jesus that is demonstrated in the healing of the cripple. The healed man is living testimony to the resurrected Christ. Jesus receives the credit for this healing miracle.

11. “He is ‘the stone, which was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the capstone.’ ”

As in all his addresses, Peter bases his message on passages taken from the Old Testament Scriptures. Here he quotes a text from a familiar psalm sung by pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem for a religious festival (Ps. 118:22). With this quotation, Peter reminds the chief priests and Pharisees of the words Jesus spoke to them in the last week of his ministry. Jesus quoted Psalm 118:22–23 and applied the words of this psalm to his audience by saying, “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation that will produce fruit. He who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, but it will crush the one on whom it falls” (Matt. 21:43–44). At that time the chief priests and Pharisees realized that Jesus was addressing them. Now Peter tells them the same thing. The members of the Sanhedrin are the spiritual builders of God’s house, for which they have to choose the building stones. They reject one of the stones, which they deem unfit; yet God who is the master builder takes this stone and makes it the capstone of the building. This psalm quotation is a graphic illustration of Jesus Christ, who, as Peter writes in his epistle, is “the living Stone, rejected by men but with God chosen and precious” (1 Peter 2:4; see also vv. 6–8).

The members of the Sanhedrin ought to realize that they are the spiritual builders of God’s house in which God has made Jesus Christ the capstone. They are unable to avoid the name of Jesus; this name is inextricably connected with spiritual Israel. Jesus has fulfilled the psalm citation that portrays him as the capstone (Ps. 118:22). Accordingly, the Sanhedrists cannot circumvent the power and the name of Jesus Christ. Salvation is found only in him.

  1. “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

We make these observations:

  • Salvation proclaimed. “Salvation is found in no one else.” This text is among the well-known and cherished passages in Acts. Peter challenges his immediate audience but at the same time speaks to all people who seek salvation. He addresses learned and influential men in the Sanhedrin whose work consisted of showing the people of Israel the way of salvation. They did so by telling the Jews to perform works that would earn them salvation. But Peter preaches that salvation can be obtained in no way other than through the name of Jesus Christ. The salvation he preaches comprises both physical and spiritual healing.19 They see the evidence of physical healing in the man who used to be a cripple. But they must understand that spiritual well-being includes forgiveness of sin and a restored relationship with God. No one in Peter’s audience is able to point to any person who grants salvation, because everyone needs salvation himself. Hence, they should realize that they can have peace with God only through Jesus Christ.
  • Name given. “There is no other name under heaven given among men.” The name Jesus reveals the task of the Savior, because the name means “he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). That is, he heals people physically from the effect of sin, but more than that, he removes sin itself so that people can stand before the judgment seat of God as if they had never sinned at all. Jesus makes them spiritually whole by restoring them in true relation to God the Father. Jesus says, “No one comes to the Father but through me” (John 14:6). No person but Jesus has the ability to provide remission of sin. “Through his name everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins” (10:43).

Peter resorts not to an overstatement but rather to a descriptive idiom when he says that there is no other name under heaven than the name Jesus. Nowhere in the entire world is man able to find another name (i.e., person) that offers the salvation Jesus provides. Religions other than Christianity fail because they stress salvation by works and not by grace. The name Jesus has been given to men by God himself to show that salvation has its origin in God.

  • Believers saved. “[No other name] by which we must be saved.” The Greek text is specific. It does not say that we can be saved, for this would indicate that man has inherent ability to achieve salvation. Nor does it say that we may be saved, for then the clause would convey uncertainty. The text is definite. It says: “by which we must be saved.” The word must reveals a divine necessity which God has established, according to his plan and decree, to save us through the person and work of Jesus Christ. Furthermore, this word signifies that man is under moral obligation to respond to the call to believe in Jesus Christ and thus gain salvation. He has no recourse to salvation other than through the Son of God.

Doctrinal Considerations in 4:11

The translators of the New International Version have chosen the word capstone for the quotation from Psalm 118:22. In the Greek, the literal rendering is “the head of the corner,” which many versions have. This phrase refers to the headstone of the corner. Other translations have the reading cornerstone. In ancient times, the cornerstone was part of the foundation upon which the entire structure of a building or house rested. We use this expression when we dedicate a building and put the cornerstone in place. Figuratively, the word refers to the basic element of a policy (thus, its foundation). Still other translators prefer the word keystone. This term is the name for either the topmost stone that fit into the arch of a doorway or the stone that held the uppermost tier of stones together.

The choice of either cornerstone or keystone (capstone) is not important when we apply the terms to Christ. The Messiah is the first and the last stone of God’s house. Jewish rabbis understood the Old Testament passages that speak of the cornerstone (Ps. 118:22; Isa. 8:14 [stone]; 28:16) to refer to the Messiah. And New Testament writers, following Jesus’ example (Matt. 21:42), applied them to Christ (Rom. 9:33; Eph. 2:20; 1 Peter 2:6).[3]


Be Aggressive in Seizing Opportunities

Peter … said to them, “Rulers and elders of the people, if we are on trial today for a benefit done to a sick man, as to how this man has been made well, let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by this name this man stands here before you in good health. He is the stone which was rejected by you, the builders, but which became the very corner stone. And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved.” Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John, and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were marveling, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus. (4:8–13)

Instead of being frightened into silence or compromise, Peter displayed great courage and went on the offensive. Submission is not cowardice. He began by indicting them for the incongruity of putting him and John on trial … for a benefit done to a sick man. Hethus turned the tables on the Sanhedrin and subtly accused them of injustice—certainly it couldn’t be wrong to heal a lame man.

Since they had demanded to know as to how this man has been made well, by what name (Or authority) the apostles performed the miracle, Peter told them. He desired them and all the people of Israel to know that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—whom they crucified, but God raised from the dead—the beggar stood before them in good health. In the very citadel of the Sanhedrin’s power Peter put his judges on trial by proclaiming the truth about the living Christ to those responsible for His execution. By pointing out that they executed Jesus but God raised Him up, Peter showed them to be the enemies of God. That approach was frequently employed in Acts (cf. 2:23–24; 3:14–15; 10:39–40; 13:27–30). Peter refused to compromise the gospel by deleting what would offend the Sanhedrin. He spoke courageously because he was devoted to the truth and entrusted the outcome to his Lord. That is an example for all persecuted believers to follow.

One of the most formidable barriers to the Sanhedrin’s acceptance of Jesus as Messiah was that He could not prevent Himself from being killed. That did not fit their conception of the Messiah as a political and military deliverer. As he had done on the day of Pentecost, Peter turned to the Old Testament Scriptures to build his case. He quoted Psalm 118:22, applying it to their rejection of Jesus Christ (cf. Mark 12:10–11; 1 Peter 2:4, 6–8). Peter was not leading the Jews away from God but preaching the very truth of the Old Testament as fulfilled in Jesus. He was the stone which was rejected by them, the builders or spiritual leaders of the nation. Although they rejected Jesus, God made Him the very corner stone through His resurrection and exaltation. Again, Peter puts them in opposition to God—they rejected Jesus, but God gave Him the place of preeminence. He is the cornerstone of God’s spiritual temple, the church (Eph. 2:19–22). They were the ones leading the people away from God.

In verse 12 Peter gives what amounts to a direct invitation to the Sanhedrin to repent and embrace Jesus Christ to be saved. He had already declared that the healing of the lame beggar had been done in Jesus’ name. Now he goes further and proclaims that there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved. Saved is a form of the same verb (sozō) used in verse 9 to describe the healing of the lame man. Not only was Jesus the source of physical healing, but He is also the only source of spiritual healing. Deliverance from the devastating effects of sin comes only through Jesus Christ. Peter did not invent that truth; he is merely echoing his Master. In John 14:6 Jesus declared, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me.” This same exclusivity is claimed by our Lord in John 10:7–8 when He said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers.”

The exclusivism of Christianity goes against the grain of our religiously pluralistic society. A chapel built at the North Pole in February 1959 by the men of Operation Deep Freeze 4 typifies the prevalent attitude today toward religious belief. The structure contained an altar, over which was hung a picture of Jesus, a crucifix, a star of David, and a lotus leaf (Representing the Buddha). On the wall of the chapel was an inscription that read “Now it can be said that the earth turns on the point of faith.”

Christians preach an exclusive Christ in an inclusive age. Because of that, we are often accused of being narrow-minded, even intolerant. Many paths, it is said, lead to the top of the mountain of religious enlightenment. How dare we insist that ours is the only one? In reality, however, there are only two religious paths: the broad way of works salvation leading to destruction, and the narrow way of faith in the only Savior leading to eternal life (Matt. 7:13–14). Religious people are on either one or the other. Sadly, the Sanhedrin and all who followed them were on the broad road to hell.

Peter’s impassioned plea failed to soften the hardened hearts of the Sanhedrin. Yet it was not without some effect. They could not help being impressed with the confidence of Peter and John. They were amazed that uneducated (In the rabbinical schools) and untrained men (Not professional theologians; laymen) could argue so effectively from the Scriptures. That two Galilean fishermen powerfully and successfully argued their case before the elite Jewish supreme court was shocking, so that they were marveling. The explanation slowly dawned on the Sanhedrin, as they began to recognize them as having been with Jesus. No doubt it came back to their memories that the two apostles had been with Jesus in the temple and at His trial (John 18:15–18).

What triggered the Sanhedrin’s recognition was the realization that the apostles were doing what Jesus did. Like the apostles, Jesus had boldly and fearlessly confronted the Jewish leaders with His authority and truth (cf. Matt. 7:28–29). He, too, had no formal rabbinic training (cf. John 7:15–16). Yet in His sure handling of the Old Testament Scriptures He had no equal (cf. John 7:46). Jesus had performed many miracles during His earthly ministry. Peter and John were on trial largely because of a miracle they had performed.

The attempt by the Sanhedrin to suppress the apostles’ teaching had given them a priceless opportunity. They boldly seized it and proclaimed the gospel to the highest officials of the nation. That is how to handle persecution—face it with the boldest proclamation of the truth.[4]


Peter’s Defense and Witness (4:8–12)

Commentary

8 In a context of a prophetic description of national calamities and cosmic turmoil, Luke has quoted Jesus as declaring:

But before all this, they [your adversaries] will lay hands on you and persecute you. They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name.… But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict.

Luke 21:12, 14–15

Luke was undoubtedly thinking of many incidents of opposition to the gospel message when he wrote these words. Indeed, he records a number of such happenings in Acts. But certainly when he wrote about Peter’s first defense before the Jewish Sanhedrin—as well as when he wrote about the apostles’ second appearance before the Sanhedrin in 5:17–40—these words were ringing in his ears. For almost every item of Jesus’ oracle is exemplified in Luke’s account of Peter’s situation, attitude, and message here in Acts. The use of the aorist passive (plētheis, “filled,” GK 4437) in the expression “filled with the Holy Spirit” denotes a special moment of inspiration that complements and brings to a functional focus the presence in every believer’s life of the person and ministry of God’s Spirit.

9–10 Peter’s defense focuses on the healing of the crippled man as being (1) “an act of kindness” that was (2) effected “by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead.” Luke uses the verb anakrinomai (“judge,” “call to account,” GK 373), which in classical Greek meant “a preliminary inquiry,” and so may be seen to reflect in its use here something about the nature of first-century Jewish jurisprudence. However, though Luke found this word anakrinomai with its attendant meaning in his sources, his use of the same word in 12:19; 24:8; and 28:18 indicates that he had no great desire to highlight the fact that this first appearance of the apostles before the Sanhedrin was only a preliminary inquiry. Peter’s message is specifically addressed to the “rulers and elders of the people” (v. 8), though it also has “all the people of Israel” in mind (v. 10).

11 The double sense of the verb sōthēnai (“to be saved,” GK 5392, v. 12) to mean both “restoration to health” physically and “preservation from eternal death” spiritually allows Peter to move easily from the healing of the crippled man to the salvation of all humanity—and therefore from a defensive to an aggressive witness.

In Peter’s proclamation two quite early and primitive christological motifs come to the fore. The first is that of “the rejected stone,” which has become “the capstone” of the building. There was in Judaism a frequent wordplay between the words for “stone” (ʾeben) and “son” (bēn), which was rooted generally in the OT (cf. Ex 28:9; Jos 4:6–8, 20–21; 1 Ki 18:31; Isa 54:11–13; La 4:1–2; Zec 9:16) and attained messianic expression in the combination of “the stone” and “Son of Man” images in Daniel (2:34–35; 7:13–14)—and which continued to be used through the early rabbinic period (cf. Gen. Rab. 68.11; Exod. Rab. 29; Tg. Ps-J. on Ex 39:7). It was for this reason, evidently, that Jesus concluded his parable of the vineyard and the rejected son (Mk 12:1–12 par.) with the quotation of Psalm 118:22–23: “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.” And it is this motif that Peter, building on the accepted associations of “stone” and “son,” picks up in his quotation of Psalm 118:22.

In Testament of Solomon 22:7–23:4, which is Jewish material from the first century AD, the expression “the stone at the head of the corner” (ho lithos [GK 3345] eis kephalēn gōnias [GK 1224]) unambiguously refers to the final capstone or copestone placed on the summit of the Jerusalem temple to complete the whole edifice. Peter quotes Psalm 118:22 in this connection. Yet there are also instances within contemporary Jewish writings of “stone imagery” referring to a “foundation stone” that use Isaiah 28:16 for support (cf. 1QS 8.4; b. Yoma 54a). Apparently “stone imagery” was used variously in Second Temple Judaism. This same variety is reflected in the NT, for there the three christological stone passages (in addition to Mk 12:10–11 par. and Ac 4:11; cf. Lk 20:18; Ro 9:33; 1 Co 3:11; 1 Pe 2:4–8) have varying nuances. Here, however, while elsewhere in the NT the ideas of a “foundation stone” and a “stumbling stone” (based respectively on Isaiah 28:16 and 8:14) are present, the thought of Jesus as the rejected stone that becomes the capstone or copestone and so completes the edifice is dominant (cf. Ps 118:22).

12 A second early christological motif in Peter’s proclamation is that of “God’s Salvation.” In the longer Isaiah scroll of the Dead Sea Scrolls, “God’s Salvation” and “Salvation” appear as Jewish designations for the expected Davidic Messiah (cf. 1QIsa 51:4–5, which uses the third person masculine suffix and pronoun in connection with the expression “my Salvation”). Likewise, “Salvation” is used as a messianic title in other Qumran texts (cf. CD 9:43, 54; 1QH 7.18–19; 4Q174 on 2 Sa 7:14 and in connection with Am 9:11), in various intertestamental writings (cf. Jub. 31:19; also T. Dan 5:10; T. Naph. 8:3; T. Gad 8:1; T. Jos. 19:11, though the provenance of the Greek version of the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs is debated), and in the rabbinic materials (cf. b. Ber. 56b–57a).

Luke has already stressed this early christological motif in Zechariah’s hymn of praise (Lk 1:69, “a horn of salvation”), in Simeon’s prayer (Lk 2:30, “your salvation”), and in introducing the ministry of John the Baptist (Lk 3:6, “God’s salvation”). Now in addressing the Sanhedrin, to whom such a messianic designation was doubtless well known, Peter proclaims, “Salvation is found in no one else [i.e., than in “Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead” (v. 10)], for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (v. 12). There was nothing of compromise or accommodation in Peter’s preaching. As this magnificent declaration shows, he was wholly committed to the uniqueness of Jesus as the only Savior. Peter and the other apostles never watered down the fact that apart from Jesus there is no salvation for anyone.[5]


[1] Tozer, A. W. (2015). Mornings with tozer: daily devotional readings. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[2] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1595). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[3] Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Acts of the Apostles (Vol. 17, pp. 152–156). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

[4] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1994). Acts (pp. 133–135). Chicago: Moody Press.

[5] Longenecker, R. N. (2007). Acts. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Luke–Acts (Revised Edition) (Vol. 10, pp. 773–775). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

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