By What Power?

In Acts 4 the chief priests and Sadducees were angry at Peter and John for teaching about the resurrection of Jesus from the dead in the temple. They arrested them and threw them into prison overnight. Peter had preached to a large crowd who had gathered because of an astonishing miracle Peter had performed — he gave health and healing to a man who had been born a cripple.

When the apostles stood before the rulers the next day, the rulers inquired of them, “By what power or in what name have ye done this?” (Acts 4:7b). The question was ambiguous and perhaps was deliberately so. Perhaps they hoped these ignorant Galilean fishermen would feel so intimidated they would mention something they had done which might allow the council to lay some punishable charge against them. If such was their hope, they were disappointed. The answer the apostles gave proved to be a very embarrassing one! Peter’s response is recorded in vv. 8-10. Filled with the Spirit Peter said, “Ye rulers of the people and elders, if we this day are examined concerning a god deed done to an impotent man, by what means he is made whole; be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even in him doth this man stand here before you whole.”

This was a truly embarrassing moment for these rulers. If they had hoped to put the apostles on the defensive, they were mistaken. On the contrary, it is the rulers of the people and the Sadducees who have come out of this exchange with “mud on their faces”. It would have been difficult for onlookers to suppress the smile they must have had at the answer Peter gave: in essence, “Are you asking by what authority we have done a good deed to an impotent man? Are you going to punish us for that?” And to make the circumstances even more humiliating, the lame man whom the Lord had made whole was right there, standing with the apostles — a living testimony to a genuine miracle.

Peter never missed an opportunity to preach the gospel and standing before this council was no exception. Peter disclosed that it was by the power of Jesus that the lame man was made whole. Jesus was the man whose death the rulers had clamored for (and obtained), but which man they could not keep dead. God had raised Him from the dead. Furthermore, Peter added, “He (Jesus, jm) is the stone which was set at nought of you the builders, which was made the head of the corner” (Acts 4:11). This latter passage which Peter quoted was taken from Psalm 118:22, a citation which agrees with the circumstance immediately before them. The rulers had put Jesus to death. They even asked Pilate for a guard to keep disciples “from stealing” the body of Jesus. Pilate agreed to their request and said, “Make it as sure as you can” (Matthew 27:62-65). A guard might have prevented men from stealing Jesus’ body, but no mortal man had power to prevent an all-powerful God from raising His Son from the dead, to give Him life again! He did! The nation had, through their rulers, rejected the stone from being a part of their “building”. But although rejected by the nation, that Stone was made the head of the corner! Isaiah had prophesied, “Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation, a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, of sure foundation.  He that believeth in him shall not be in haste” (Isaiah 28:16).

Peter was not finished. Having told the rulers that the stone (Christ) they had rejected had been made the head of the corner by God, Peter said, “And in none other is there salvation for neither is there any other name under heaven that is given among men wherein we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). How necessary it is that we believe in that Stone for as Paul wrote, “He who believeth on him shall not be put to shame” (Romans 9:33).

Having dismissed Peter and John from their midst for a moment the rulers now have a question — for themselves! “What shall we do unto these men? For that indeed a notable miracle hath been wrought through them is manifest to all that dwell in Jerusalem and we cannot deny it” (Acts 4:16). Would it have been impossible for the rulers to deny the miracle? Certainly not, but to have done so would have made them appear even more foolish than they already looked. What they could have and should have done was to acknowledge the miracle and believe on Him who worked it.

Sadly, that was not what they did. Instead, they called the apostles in and forbad them to speak any more in the name of Jesus (Acts 4:18). Once more they showed their rejection of the stone God intended to be the head of the corner.That rejection was to their hurt or loss.

Let no one today act as foolishly as these rulers did. Let all recognize that Christ is indeed the chief cornerstone and that no one who believes in Him will be ashamed!

Jim McDonald