Written by Victor Stanley Jr.
The Ethic of Martyrdom, or the principles of being a witness for Christ, helps us understand that suffering for Christ’s sake serves as:
- An Engine: that primes and propels the Gospel toward uncharted territories of Jerusalem (Acts 3:18), Samaria (Acts 8:4-24), and Rome (Acts 20:17-28:31). Sufferings normally follow ministry and often create opportunities for more ministry.
- A Compass: that guides the Church’s missionary enterprise through difficulties into all nations. In Acts, it becomes obvious that wherever they went there was a definite pattern of growing opposition driving them out, yet directing their paths.
- A Thermostat: a thermometer within that measures the condition of a place (the heart) against a set standard. It is designed to regulate or correct it to the desired standard. Persecutions reveal and, if allowed, can restore the Christian’s and Church’s commitment to compassionate ministry and the fulfillment of Jesus’ Great Commission. God’s greater purposes will ultimately be accomplished despite problems. (my emphasis)
In Acts chapter 4 we see these things take shape. The healing of a lame man in chapter 3 leads to opposition in chapter 4. Specifically, I believe that in chapter 4 we see Jesus’ words in Matthew 10 play out in a powerful way. Thus, Acts 4 should encourage us to press on in our mission to carry the Gospel to the nations. Let’s look at Matthew chapter 10, and then work through the parallels in Acts 4. Matthew 10:16-23 says the following:
Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves. But beware of men, for they will hand you over to the courts and scourge you in their synagogues; and you will even be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. But when they hand you over, do not worry about how or what you are to say; for it will be given you in that hour what you are to say. For it is not you who speak, but it is the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved. But whenever they persecute you in one city, flee to the next; for truly I say to you, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel until the Son of Man comes.
These are Jesus words to the 12 disciples before He sends them out to minister the Jewish people throughout Judea.
Jesus paints a grim picture of what the disciples can expect to take place as they carry out the mission set before them, but, as I stated a moment ago, Acts 4 gives us a palpable picture of what Jesus is saying in Matthew. Matt. 10:16-18 parallels the events that take place in Acts 4:1-4.
*Read Acts 4:1-4
As stated in Matt. 10:17-18 Peter and John are dragged before the religious leaders due to their healing of the lame man and their preaching of Christ. Several things jump out of this section: First, the Apostles teaching the people is problematic; Second, the specific preaching of Christ’s resurrection annoys or irritates the religious leaders; Third, five thousand people are converted.
Peter and John are at the temple, specifically Solomon’s Portico (simply, Solomon’s Porch), which “was frequently a place for rabbis to meet with their Disciples and to engage in public teaching.” Neither Peter nor John were rabbis, and they really had no authority to teach within the temple. This is why the priests, captain of the temple, and the Sadducees come to arrest them. The presence of the Sadducees is significant because they did not believe in the resurrection of the dead, they actually challenged Jesus on this in Matt. 22:23-33. Thus, the Apostles preaching not only of the resurrection of the dead, but specifically of Christ’s resurrection—whom the Sadducees had conspired to kill—really infuriates them. So what we see is that we have two men without authority preaching a message that is offensive to the religious leaders. To top it all off, five thousand people come to faith in Christ through Peter and John’s teaching and preaching.
This is not simply a religious trend taking place, rather it is a movement that is gaining ground and poses a threat, or at least a perceived threat, to the religious establishment, their power and influence is under attack and the perpetrators of this attack must be stopped. In this encounter Jesus’ words in Matt. 10 become strikingly real as Peter and John must now testify before the religious authorities. Yet, we must remember what we said about suffering, that it serves as a thermostat that measures the condition or heart of a place against a set standard, and then regulates or corrects it to that desired standard. Peter’s message in Acts 3 does just that as he redirects the people’s attention from the miracle to the God of the miracle, namely Christ; in this he adjusts the hearts of the people to a Christ-centered position that calls them to repentance and holy living through faith in Jesus. We see that despite the arrest of Peter and John God’s purposes are still accomplished as many come to faith in Him even as persecution comes against those who proclaim Christ’s message of hope and redemption.
I have said that suffering functions as an engine that propels the Gospel. That sufferings usually follow ministry and often create opportunities for more ministry. Peter and John heal a man and then proclaim the Gospel to the people, for this they are arrested, yet their arrest and subsequent testimony before the religious leaders fulfills the next portion of Jesus’ words in Matt. 10.
*Read Matt. 10:18b-20 & Acts 4:5-12
Most notable in this section is that when Peter stands up to testify, to bear witness (our word martyr), it says he is “filled with the Holy Spirit.” Notice two significant things happen in this moment: First, the council asks Peter and John “by what power or what name did you do this [miracle]?” There is a recognition by these religious leaders that what has taken place could only be accomplished by something supernatural, by some type of divine authority. Thus, they are not confused or unsure about what has taken place, but rather, as we will see shortly, they are threatened and even afraid of what has taken place.
Second, in response to the council’s inquiry Peter stands up, and the same power, the same person by whom they were able to perform the miracle fills Peter and speaks through him. Jesus says in verse 19 of Matthew 10 to not be anxious or afraid to testify before those who challenge us, and in verse 20 He assures us that we can have confidence because it will be the “Spirit of our Father” who speaks through us. This is exactly what happens here in Acts 4. Matthew 10:18 says that we will be handed over to courts and such for Christ’s sake to bear witness, to be martyrs. It is for Jesus’ sake that we will find ourselves in this position, and it is where Peter and John find themselves, and so they bear witness, but what about? In John 15:26-27 Jesus says:
But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning. (ESV)
The Holy Spirt through Peter declares that the name by which the man was healed is the name of Jesus of Nazareth whom they had killed and who God had raised from the dead. Peter declares that Christ is the cornerstone (a reference to Psalm 118), that salvation is through Christ alone, and that no one can be saved outside of His name. The Holy Spirit in unison with Peter bears witness to Christ, His lordship, His death and resurrection, and the salvation that comes through Him alone fulfilling both Matthew 10:19-20 and John 15:26-27.
*Read Acts 4:13-22
Verses 13-22 of Acts 4 then show that the council recognizes that Peter and John were with Jesus, that they had done nothing wrong, that they needed to silence them, and that they were losing their own power over the people. In Matthew 10:22, 24-25a Jesus says that:
You [the disciples] will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved. Verse 24-25: “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master. It is enough for the disciple that he become like his teacher, and the slave like his master…
Peter and John resemble their teacher and master, and the religious leaders instantly recognize to whom they belong, and this fuels their animosity towards the Apostles. Yet, as Peter himself states in 1 Peter 3:15-16, when we defend and contend for the faith with gentleness and respect in good conscience, those who slander and revile us will be put to shame. The council has nothing to say in opposition to Peter and John (verse 14 of Acts 4), they cannot figure out what to do with them because it is evident to all the people that the healing of the lame man is of God (verse 16), and even after threatening the Apostles they still were not able to punish them because the people would have risen up against the leaders. The Apostles boldly proclaim in the face of threats and punishment that they will not stop proclaiming Christ, and that the religious leaders must contend with God over whether this is right or wrong. They do not fight the battle themselves, instead, they place everything at the feet of God and allow Him to fight for them. In this they set aside fear and trust in God. Matthew 10:26-28 says:
Therefore do not fear them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the darkness, speak in the light; and what you hear whispered in your ear, proclaim upon the housetops. Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. (NASB)
And again, we see that the religious leaders are put to shame and find themselves at the mercy of the people. Jesus upsets the status quo and disrupts the natural scheme of things. We, as His servants, carry out the work of the King and His kingdom, and in this the “conquering king” that the Disciples and the Jews were looking for becomes a reality as the message of the cross shakes up the established religious order.
What do the Apostles do after such a bold display of Christ and His power? They go to their friends, tell them what happened, and then they pray; They pray for what? Boldness, for more healing, more signs, more wonders. They pray that the power of God manifest in Jesus Christ might continue to be on display through the workings of the Spirit, and when they do this the earth shakes where they are gathered and the Holy Spirit envelops them all.
*Read Acts 4:23-31
Let us not skip over the initial words of their prayer. They quote Psalm 2, and as mentioned, the message of the Cross flips everything on its head. Christ came as the humble suffering servant of Isaiah 53 despised, rejected, and crucified; Yet, He rises up from death as the conquering King establishing His Kingdom as laid out in Psalm 2. The book of Acts begins and ends with the Apostles and the Church proclaiming the Kingdom of God, and Psalm 2 is a powerful passage conveying this:
Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying,
“Let us burst their bonds apart
and cast away their cords from us.”
He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the Lord holds them in derision.
Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
and terrify them in his fury, saying,
“As for me, I have set my King
on Zion, my holy hill.”
I will tell of the decree:
The Lord said to me, “You are my Son;
today I have begotten you.
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
and the ends of the earth your possession.
You shall break them with a rod of iron
and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”
Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
be warned, O rulers of the earth.
Serve the Lord with fear,
and rejoice with trembling.
Kiss the Son,
lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,
for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him. (Psalm 2 ESV)
The Apostles took refuge in Christ and did not fear what men might do to them. They allowed suffering and persecution to fuel their ministry, not stifle it. They allowed their lives to be living testimonies unto God, and they boldly bore witness about Jesus Christ their Lord and Savior. They lived as martyrs. The words of Jesus in Matthew 10 foretold of all they would face, and they faced it with confidence in the King who said that He would be with them always and through the power of the Holy Spirit He empowered them to press onward. By the grace of God and through the life we live in Christ may we do the same. Amen.
 Chris Gnanakan, “Acts of the Apostles: God, Jesus’ Church, The Holy Spirit!” (Outreach to Asia Nationals, 2016) 4.
 Ibid, 4.
 Ibid, 4.
 Allen C. Myers, The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987), 960.