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On Trial

November 5, 2023

On Trial

Passage: Acts 4:1-22
Service Type:


On Trial


Rodney Gehman – November 4, 2023 – Acts 4:1-22



Good morning, my name is Rodney and I’m one of the pastors around here – so thankful that we have this time together today to look into God’s word, to lean into what is true and see what the Lord would want to say to us through this today. 

So I want to start us off with a question today to help prime the pump for where we’re headed with the message, and that is: 

[ 002 ]  What would you have to see, or feel, or otherwise experience to know for sure that the Holy Spirit is present in your life?

This is not a trick question, where the answer is “nothing, you should not ever need to feel him to know he’s with you.” On one hand, you’re right, that Jesus said he’d never leave us or forsake us, and sometimes it just doesn’t feel like he’s there. But that doesn’t change his promise. So on one hand you’re right.  

But on the other hand, every time people are filled with the Holy Spirit in Acts so far, and what we’ll keep seeing as we go on, is that there is something tangible that goes along with the Holy Spirit when he fills a person. There is something experiential and obvious. And nearly every single time, it involves speaking in order to bear witness. Either speaking in tongues, or speaking boldly in sharing the gospel. 

I think when it comes to seeing the hand of God at work in our lives, we all love to see the miraculous, right? We like the idea of signs and wonders, speaking in tongues, man, people being healed on the spot when we pray in faith – and we would say THAT’S when you know the Spirit of God is moving. Or when we’re in our gatherings like today, and the worship team is just nailing it, the songs are good, people around you are into it, volume is perfect, and we say things like, wow you could really feel the Spirit moving this morning, or man, the worship was fire this morning – it was so good! 

I enjoy those moments too, and those kinds of things can really build faith and encourage us when we’re all together. In Acts chapters 2 and 3, Peter and John were part of the miraculous – speaking in languages they never learned, healing a disabled man…I mean you have to imagine that they can’t stop smiling.  And better yet, both of those experiences provided an opportunity to tell others about Jesus, and people are coming to faith in Jesus by the thousands. This new church is sharing their possessions and their money with each other, eating together, they are joyful, they are gracious and people of the city really enjoy being around them. If you’re only reading the first 3 chapters of Acts, you might answer this question that you would have to see all those miraculous kinds of things to know that the Holy Spirit is present. 

Today, however, we find that not everyone was excited about this new church. Some were annoyed by it. And today we find the disciples in a spot where it didn’t feel miraculous at all. 

So let’s check this out. 

[  003  ] [1] While they were speaking to the people, the priests, the captain of the temple police, and the Sadducees confronted them, [2] because they were annoyed that they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. 

First of all, if you are new to the Bible, the priests, the captain of the temple police, and the Sadducees are all people who run the temple. These are the church people. The temple security team. The religious leaders of the day. I think from now on we should call our security team, the River City police department. But they are bothered because Peter and John are using their building, the temple, to teach things that they hadn’t approved of, and specifically things like resurrection and Messiah that basically opposed the theology the Sadducees preached. It’d be like when we have our own building someday, if two Amish preachers moved into our building on Sunday afternoons and started teaching about specific dress codes, and teaching salvation by works instead of grace through faith. Teaching things that we would say “HOLD ON!!”


The elders and I, along with Dave, our River City chief of police, would have to pay them a visit.

The Sadducees were one of the key branches of the Jews. They claimed that their roots went all the way back to the very first high priest in Israel’s history, so most of the high priests came from this group. They were not as particular about the nit-pickiness of the law like the Pharisees were, however, one thing they were very particular about was that they denied the supernatural. No miracles. No angels. No resurrection. So they are also annoyed, along with the priests and security team, that Peter and John are speaking about the resurrection. 

I think another reason they are annoyed is because in Jesus’ crucifixion, they figured they would cut off the head of the snake, thinking that if their leader was dead, all of Jesus’ followers would go back to fishing and collecting taxes and get off of this whole Jesus business. 

But now the message that the disciples are preaching and the message everyone is buying into is that Jesus was resurrected, which means he’s alive,  and it was in his authority that Peter and John healed that lame man! So not only is the head of the snake back in action, these disciples are bolder than they were before! (Bock, 188) 

[  004  ] [3] So they seized them and took them into custody until the next day since it was already evening. [4] But many of those who heard the message believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand. 

John Stott in his commentary on Acts put it very brilliantly – “You can arrest people, but you can’t arrest the gospel” (Scott, 96). People watched Peter and John  get arrested and hauled off to jail overnight, but still believed their message and now the collective church has grown from 120 to 3000 to 5000, and some bible scholars say, well that says 5000 men – that doesn’t even count women, teenagers, even children who all believed. So the number could be 20,000 or more if that’s the case. The number itself isn’t as important as the fact that multitudes of people are responding to the message of Jesus as the good news of who Jesus really is was faithfully proclaimed.

[  005  ] [5] The next day, their rulers, elders, and scribes assembled in Jerusalem [6] with Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, Alexander, and all the members of the high-priestly family.

This official gathering of religious leaders is called the Sanhedrin. There are 71 members of this group, and they are the same ones who were literally responsible for killing Jesus just a couple of months ago. This same group of religious leaders met like this many times to plot and scheme about how to shut Jesus down, and now they must meet to figure out how to shut down Peter and John. 

Peter and John no doubt recall that this group insisted that Jesus be put to death, even when the Roman governor wanted nothing to do with it (like we saw in the last chapter). The Sanhedrin organized false witnesses, and even stirred up a mob to argue for Jesus’ death, and gladly traded him for a murderer. So Peter and John are not standing here smirking like two school boys who got caught stealing erasers or putting a frog in someone’s lunchbox. 

They don’t expect a fair trial from this court. They don’t expect to be taken seriously. They remember what this group did to Jesus, and no doubt they are mentally preparing to face the same kind of death he did (Stott, 96). 

[  006  ] [7] After they had Peter and John stand before them, they began to question them: "By what power or in what name have you done this?" What right do you have to move into our building, and start teaching something we have not authorized? Who gave you the authority to do that? Do you have a permit for this? Who approved your messaging? In terms of the temple and Jewish religion, there was no higher earthly authority than the high priest, who was present (Gempf, 1074), and he obviously hadn’t approved this, so who did? This is almost exactly the same kind of question this group had for Jesus multiple times. 

[  007  ] In fact, back in Luke 21:12, Jesus told them they can expect this: “They will lay their hands on you and persecute you. They will hand you over to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name.

That’s exactly what the religious leaders want to know about. In whose name have you done this, knowing full well whose name they did this in. Jesus went on in Luke 21:

[  008  ] . [13] This will give you an opportunity to bear witness. [14] Therefore make up your minds not to prepare your defense ahead of time, [15] for I will give you such words and a wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict.

I’m looking at this all week going, God, help me to believe that! We’re often hesitant to bring up a conversation about Jesus, we’re so worried about not saying the right thing because we believe in ourselves. We believe that people coming to faith depends on us and our brilliant gospel presentation, and since we don’t feel brilliant, or we think we have too much of our own junk going on in our lives – who are we to try to invite other people into this? It’s just easier to not say anything, when all along Jesus has promised, just open your mouth and I’ll supply the content! Jesus himself is going to be active in your evangelism when we believe this to be true. 


So that’s the promise of Jesus in the back of Peter’s mind, he knew this day would come at some point where he would be arrested specifically because of Jesus’ name, he has not prepared a speech because Jesus told him don’t worry about it – the greatest speech writer of all lives inside of you – and guess what? True to his word… 

[  009  ] [8] Then Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit 

So, get this: Peter was personally given the Holy Spirit back in John 21 by Jesus, then at Pentecost he was filled again as the Spirit came and they all started speaking other languages. And now in verse 8, this is the third time he is filled as the Spirit empowers him to boldly proclaim the truth while he’s on trial, and before the chapter is over he’ll be filled again! It’s not a one and done kind of filling!

This is what I pray for when I sit down to study during the week. It’s what I ask for when I’m meeting with someone for counseling, it’s what I pray over on the sidelines while scripture is being read before a sermon – Lord, fill me again. Baptize me again. Equip me for this by filling me with your Spirit! 

And then, like Peter, stand up and go to work as if he will be faithful to his promise, trusting that he will. 

[  010  ] Peter is filled with Holy Spirit, and said to them, "Rulers of the people and elders: [9] If we are being examined today about a good deed done to a disabled man, by what means 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 and whom God raised from the dead- by him this man is standing here before you healthy. 

Jesus Christ of Nazareth, the one you 71 people made every effort to see killed, the one God raised from the dead whether you believe in resurrection or not, is the answer to your question. You and every person in this city who has heard about this miracle needs to know that it was by his name and his power that this man is healthy today. Jesus Christ, who overcame death and overcame your schemes to keep him dead… this Jesus is alive and well, and  still has both the authority and the ability to heal. 

[  011  ] [11] This Jesus is the stone rejected by you builders, which has become the cornerstone. Everything revolves around him. [12] There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to people by which we must be saved." 

Peter’s argument here is that the same name and power that brought perfect physical health and wholeness to this disabled man is the same name and power that brings salvation, spiritual health and wholeness, to anyone who repents of rejecting him, and changes their mind about him. 

We’ve said this before – everyone is responsible to see Jesus as the cornerstone. Not just religious leaders. Not just pastors and worship leaders. Not just counselors and missionaries. Everyone is responsible to see Jesus as the way to the Father. 

Anyone who rejects Jesus will not be saved. There is no other name, no other authority, no other power, no other savior. There is no earthly king or president, military or strategy, there is no technological advancement, no church or pastor, no religious person or structure who can save – no other name, not even the high priest of the Temple. Only Jesus Christ of Nazareth (Gempf, 1074). He’s the only one, and because he is alive right now, salvation is still being offered to anyone who will receive it by faith! 

And when Peter said all of this, willing to confront them and call out their sin, it caught the religious leaders off guard. They were used to a certain authority and intimidation, and now they’ve run into a few men who aren’t intimidated. But here’s the most exciting part to me…    

[  012-1  ] [13] When they observed the boldness of Peter and John and realized that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed and recognized that they had been with Jesus

IS THERE A BETTER COMPLIMENT IN THE WORLD that you could be given, besides, ugh, you remind us Jesus!? These guys are bold, even though they aren’t trained; they are confident, even though they haven’t been to the right seminary or rabbi training schools. For the religious leaders, this feels like deja vu, because Jesus confronted them with this kind of boldness and authority too. Now these guys – Untrained, uneducated men, those Galilean hillbillies – are quite bold in what they are saying, which tells us these guys have obviously been with Jesus. 

This should be an incredible encouragement to those of you who feel weak, like God could never use you. This should encourage those of you who feel like you never have the right words to say when you try to share your faith, or confront someone’s sin, or encourage someone’s faithfulness. This should encourage you that when God promised to put words in your mouth, he wasn’t speaking to highly polished pastors who communicate for a living. 

He was speaking to backwater, probably 18-30 year old guys who have a past they’re not proud of, but a resurrected and living Savior they can’t shut up about!

They know what it is to feel untrained and uneducated, to feel less than average, and yet have the power of God invade your heart and your mind and your mouth in such a way that your life looks more and more like Jesus all the time. 

So Peter and John give this fiery speech about Jesus Christ of Nazareth, and the religious leaders are probably trying to write them off as being Galilean hillbillies – no formal training, no religious accomplishments, no letters after their names… but there’s just one problem… 

EVIDENCE, right? If you have indisputable evidence, it’s hard to make a case the opposite way. [  012-2  ] [14] And since they saw the man who had been healed standing with them, and just like Jesus promised them would happen, they had nothing to say in opposition. 

The greatest evidence to the testimony of Jesus is a life that is no longer the same. The greatest evidence there is to prove that Jesus is alive and still at work is that a man born with a condition he could do nothing about has been set free from that condition by the grace and power of Jesus, and there he is! They can’t say “aw, you bunch of hillbillies have been sipping on grandpa's old cough syrup” – the guy’s RIGHT THERE! Aw, it’s just a rumor about someone being healed – the guy everyone in this city knows because of how long he’s been sitting at that same gate is now here in this room, healed. 

Peter and John have done what they were assigned to do. They have been faithful witnesses for Jesus, they have opened their mouths and trusted him to supply the content, and he has. Now the response falls on the Sanhedrin. 

The religious leaders need a minute to think things over, so they call a [  013  ]recess  [16] saying, "What should we do with these men? For an obvious sign has been done through them, clear to everyone living in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it.

That really reveals their hearts doesn’t it? They are admitting that the evidence points to Jesus. So the real problem isn’t what will you do with these men – the real question is, “what will you do with Jesus?” An obvious sign has been done, clear to everyone living in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. 

Here are their options: continue to reject Jesus as the Messiah, or change their minds about him and trust him. Admit that we missed it the first time, but receive the grace that God is showing us right now. Obviously we can’t do that second one – that would be humiliating. So, we have one option left. Continue to reject him. Only problem is, we have a guy standing here who has been healed, something no one but Jesus has been able to do before this. 

We can’t even fully deny that Jesus has something to do with this. We can’t really punish them for it, because we would be punishing them for helping a lame man walk. Hmm. What do we do?

[  014  1-4  ] [17] But so that this does not spread any further among the people, let's threaten them against speaking to anyone in this name again." [18] So they called for them and ordered them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. [19] Peter and John answered them, "Whether it's right in the sight of God for us to listen to you rather than to God, you decide; [20] for we are unable to stop speaking about what we have seen and heard."

This is Peter being bold again. Really? You want us to listen to you instead of God? Of all the people to tell us that, Wow, okay. Whatever, because he told us to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations and to be his witnesses, so that’s what we’re going to keep doing no matter what you threaten us with.

[  014 - 5  ] [21] After threatening them further, they released them. They found no way to punish them because the people were all giving glory to God over what had been done. 

Pretty sweet ending for them. They had to be a little shocked, and even relieved. They didn’t even give us a beating! That said, God never promised us that these situations where believers stand on trial would be the stuff of a Hallmark movie, where the music crescendos into a huge glorious moment where they all hug and cry together and say they’re sorry and it starts to snow. Before too long we’ll see things don’t always end like that. 

In the first two sermons Peter gave, thousands came to faith in Christ. This time, there were none. But for now, their confidence in the Holy Spirit is increasing more and more and more. 

[  015  ] So let’s go all the way back to the question we started with this morning… what would you have to see or experience in order to know that the Holy Spirit is present? Is the Holy Spirit showing up in power always about the miraculous? Is the Holy Spirit only present when the music is just right? Or when it’s quiet? Or when we have that feeling in our chest? 

Or is possible that even if we are in a situation where we’re carrying the weight taking care of our elderly parents, or in the middle of another yet another conversation with our spouse where we can’t get on the same page, or when that coworker or your boss is just busting your chops again and you’re about to lose it on them, or when, for the 13th time today that same kid pushed your buttons, or when you don’t want to be single for another day and the temptations are stronger than ever, 

or you’re a teenager and you got blamed for something that you had nothing to do with or someone said unhelpful things about your generation that stung, or if the day should come that our lives are being threatened for being a Christian – is it possible that in any situation we find ourselves in where we could deny Christ or proclaim him that we can confidently ask the Spirit to fill us once again, turn our own hearts toward Jesus once again to see him for who he is and what he’s done, and trust that he will meet us in those moments right then and there, doing what Jesus said he would do: 

Convicting us of sin, comforting us in our sorrow, leading us into all truth, and shining the spotlight on Jesus for us and for others.  It won’t always mean 1000’s come to faith in Christ in one afternoon. But it just might have one person in your life saying, I can tell when they’ve been with Jesus.




    1. If you’re here today and like these religious leaders, you would claim to be religious, you might even know your Bible, you are trying your hardest to be a good person, but you would have to be honest, you’re trusting your own efforts more than you are resting in Christ – I encourage you to confess that as sin, and then hear again the words of Peter in v 12: There is salvation in no one else (not even yourself), because there is no other name under heaven given to people by which we must be saved.
      1. [  016  ] Today is the day of salvation – but that doesn’t mean try harder. It means sit at the feet of Jesus and learn from him. Jesus said come to me, all who are weary and burdened with the things of life, and I will give you rest for your souls. 
      2. So that’s the question to pray through – what would it look like for you to sit at the feet of Jesus this week and learn from him?
  • If you are a believer, you have been with Jesus, [  017  ]  V8 – Holy Spirit fill me – what situation(s) do you have coming up this week where you know you will have an opportunity to share Christ with someone? Remember Jesus’ words – you don’t need to plan your whole speech with three points and a slideshow. But what situation would you have where you could pray, Spirit, fill me to overflowing on Wednesday when I meet with him or her so that I can boldly speak the truth about Jesus. 

[  018  ] So, I’ll give you a couple minutes to silently pray at your seats, and then the band will lead us out in a closing song. 



John R. W. Stott, The Message of Acts: The Spirit, the Church & the World, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994)

Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996)

Conrad Gempf, “Acts,” in New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, ed. D. A. Carson et al., 4th ed. (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994)

Darrel Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007)