Fourth Sunday of Easter (Year B)

Peter and John have been instruments of divine resurrection power (Acts 3).

"I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly." - John 10:10 (Public domain image; licensed under CC0)

April 22, 2018

First Reading
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Commentary on Acts 4:5-12

Peter and John have been instruments of divine resurrection power (Acts 3).

This divine might had previously lifted Jesus from death. That same power is at work as these apostles raise up a man who is sitting, disabled, and begging, by the temple gates.

Peter interprets the healing as a sign: it points to God who raised Jesus (Acts 3:15). This is what God had promised: a resurrection of a prophet like Moses (Acts 3:22). It seems, though, that resurrection is an annoyance (Acts 4:1-2).

I don’t hear much fear from folks in my circles that resurrection might be an annoyance. Most of the concerns the people around me voice say that resurrection could allow us to too quickly skip past the annoyance of the cross. Whom could this possibly annoy?

This question needs a careful answer. When it comes to who opposed Jesus and the early church, and who was behind his death, the details are important.

The people who orchestrate Jesus’ death are not “the Jews,” generally speaking. More specifically, those easy foils of Christian teaching, the Pharisees, Jesus’ recurring debate partners in Galilee, are almost nowhere to be seen during the last week of Jesus’ life in Jerusalem. The reason is, simply, that they had no official political power.

Moreover, the people who find talk of resurrection such an annoyance are not deemed “Sadducees,” as though the great point of dispute were some point of theological arcana, either (see Luke 20:27).

No, the people who are frankly disturbed by this teaching are the ones who tried to control Jesus’ life by snuffing it out. Those who arrested and tried and handed Jesus over were the high priest, chief priests, temple guard, and elders (Luke 22:50-52). The elders of the people, chief priests and scribes as Luke tells the story, collectively sat in council and condemned him (Luke 22:66-71).

So when we read in Acts 4:5 of the elders, chief priests, and scribes assembling to hear the case of Peter and John, we are seeing a confrontation between the powers that put him to death and the power that raised him to new life. Resurrection is an annoyance to those who would use the power of death in their attempts to snuff out the living presence of the power of God.

The witness of God

Acts suggests that the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is an extended confrontation: God acts in Jesus through signs and wonders and miracles, the people reject God’s testimony, but God once more acts, and decisively, in raising Jesus from the dead and enthroning him at God’s right hand (see Acts 2:22-24). The people, confronted with this story, are pressed to take a side.

Through the healing in Acts 3, we see that this confrontation continues. The story of Acts itself is not so much the Acts of the Apostles as the continuing acts of God through the resurrected Jesus. “In what name or power” was the good deed done? “Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead” (Acts 4:10). God is still working through him.

Peter’s answer to his judges (not to Israel as a whole) is that their hopes of quelling the prophet from Nazareth has been undone by the very hand of God. Jesus continues to heal. Jesus continues to save.

Thus Peter cites Psalm 118:22, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone,” but glosses it with the identities of Jesus and those who condemned him: “This Jesus is ‘the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone” (Acts 4:11). The risen Jesus had told his followers that the scriptures spoke of a messiah who was rejected and raised before being proclaimed to all nations (Luke 24:26, 45-46). Peter’s speech illustrates just such scriptural interpretation.

Now is the time of salvation

This story invites us to ground our understanding of salvation in deliverance experienced not only in the future but also here and now. It might seem to the English reader that Jesus’ name being given to us as the one “by which we must be saved” has the coming future primarily in view. But in the Greek this ties back to the healing of the disabled beggar.

Where verse 9 in English has Peter reflect back on the “good dead,” and “how this man has been healed,” the Greek literally says, “how this man has been saved (sesotai).” The “name of Jesus” is not a passcode to get into heaven. It is the power for the ongoing healing of every sort of human brokenness here and now. God, through Peter and John, through the power of the name of Jesus of Nazareth, saved the man: saved him from a lifetime of sitting and begging from people, saved him for a life of jumping about and praising God for life-changing deliverance (Acts 3:8).

Believing in the resurrection of Jesus is not, at its heart, believing that God did something to a corpse two thousand years ago (full stop). To affirm resurrection is to proclaim the greatest annoyance that any life-taking power on earth might hear. It says that ultimate power over the earth is still not power to control the end of a person’s story. God is greater than entropy and death. God is greater than crushed lives or limbs.

This greater power of God is still at work in the world over which Jesus has been enthroned as Lord.