A startling reality confronts us in this passage. We see two wildly different responses to the same event. On the one hand, there are hundreds, possibly over a thousand people, who repent and believe, and on the other hand, there is a much smaller group who seem to feel no inclination whatsoever to repent and believe, but instead actively work to find a way to stop others from doing so. Both groups saw the same miracle and heard the same message. Why, then, were there such different reactions? If they had only heard the preaching of a message, we might explain it by saying they doubted because they had no way of testing it. But it wasnt just a message, it was a message confirmed by an absolutely stunning miracle, that not even those in the small group could deny. You would think that anyone confronted by such an amazing display of power would be forced to listen with an open mind. But the smaller group of people doesnt seem affected by the miracle at all. Theyre alarmed, they see the situation as a crisis needing damage control, but theres no trace of self-doubt. So this passage provides a case-study on the inner workings of the human heart. It makes us look deep inside and ask why do some people say yes to God while others refuse to even see or hear His call.
What happened (Ac 4:1-22)
A pattern of refusal
This isnt the first time this group of leaders has refused to see the truth about Jesus Christ. In fact they had already been confronted with two miracles of greater magnitude than this healing of a man who had been crippled for forty years:
1) Lazarus (Jn 11:45-53; 12:9-11, 36-43)
2) The Resurrection (Jn 20:9; Mt 27:62-66; 28:11-15)
Gods view of the heart (Jn 3:16-21)
There is a moment of realization when the human heart suddenly sees Gods truth and knows what it has seen. In that instant a decision is made, not a mental decision based on the processing of data, but an emotional decision based on an evaluation of the cost of acknowledging openly what has been seen, of the personal changes that will be required. Often it takes only a fraction of a second to decide whether I will or wont pay the price, and if not, to turn away and pretend I never saw it. This is when a line is crossed, and the person begins to harden their own heart, to silence their conscience. Listen to how Jesus describes the process: (Jn 3:11-21).
He says there are two kinds of people. He doesnt say there are good people and bad people, in fact He says everybody is bad, and remains under judgment unless they receive His sacrifice by faith (v18). But He says some people come toward Gods truth when they see it, while others turn away. Some draw closer, others pull back. And then He tells us why. He says some are trying to live by what they believe to be right (lit: the one doing the truth). They arent sinless, but they are trying to do whats right, they have the spiritual awareness to want eternal life. But there are others, who have already been doing what their conscience tells them is wrong, and they like the way theyre living (lit: the one doing worthless things Jn 5:29). They dont want to be told to stop, so when something comes along that makes them feel guilty or requires them to change, they actively run away. They actually hate being confronted by Gods truth. So Jesus is telling us that Gods truth, like light, exposes whats hidden in the human heart. Our response to it reveals our deepest hopes and desires.
What does God require?
Coming to God always requires us to make painful choices. This is because every human heart is born with wrong attitudes. Every one of us, even the nicest person, is infected from birth with a spiritual disease that goes all the way back to Adam and Eve. Each of us may express these wrong attitudes differently, but one way or another, we are all selfish, rebellious and proud. So no one comes to God without deciding to die to things we love. Here are three painful choices each of us must make:
1) Confession: I have done bad things that are no one elses fault. Im not just a victim. I have not just made mistakes, I made bad choices. In fact, if Im honest, I do or think things all the time that I know are wrong, selfish or even cruel.
2) Submission: I have, at times, refused to be told no when its something I really want to do, but now I bow my knee to God. He is God and He is holy, and He has the right to command me to become like Him. In fact, I now want to be like Him. With the help of the Holy Spirit I intend to bring my life into line with the word of God. I dont just believe, I submit.
3) Admission: I admit I am helpless to please God on my own. I cant be saved by just trying harder. I know I desperately need His help. Up to now I have been independent and proud. I have assumed I didnt need anyones help, but now I know my flesh is too powerful for me. Even if I could control my outward behavior, I cant control my thoughts and passions.
These three painful decisions are often summarized in the Bible by one word: repentance. And the human heart must repent to be saved, but there is also something else God requires: faith. The kind of faith that saves us is the decision to trust that God will be merciful to me even though I dont deserve it. To believe that He has made a way to pay for my sins. Such trust has always been possible for human beings, even in ancient times when there was very little knowledge of how God would accomplish this. Here are early examples of such faith:
men began to call upon the name of the Lord (the stone altar and sacrifice).
Heb 11:7 By faith Noah
became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith.
Ge 15:6 Abraham believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.
Ge 22:13, 14 Then Abraham raised his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him a ram caught in the thicket by his horns; and Abraham went and took the ram and offered him up for a burnt offering in the place of his son. Abraham called the name of that place The Lord Will Provide, as it is said to this day, In the mount of the Lord it will be provided.
No other name (Ac 4:10-12)
There is a point where God will Provide becomes a Person named Jesus. What was once a mystery, a promise that God would someday provide a sacrifice, is now revealed. The gospel proclaims that this sacrifice was made by Gods Son, who became a man and died on the cross. No longer do I look into the future and trust that someday God will provide, I can now trust what He has already provided. Now I can call upon the name of Jesus for salvation.
These decisions of the heart were seeing being made in the Book of Acts are still being made today. There are those who gladly respond when presented with the light of the gospel. They are willing to:
Confess they dont deserve to go to heaven and need Gods mercy.
Bow their knee, surrendering control of their life to Jesus.
Admit they desperately need Gods wisdom and strength day by day, that they cant live a holy life by themselves.
Believe that Jesus is Gods answer to their need, to trust Him alone to save them.
Lets evaluate our own hearts. Have I confessed, surrendered, admitted my weakness, and called on the name of Jesus to save me? If not, am I ready to do so today?
1) Did you respond to Gods light the first time you saw it, or was it a process that took time? If you turned away at first, tell us why (if youre comfortable doing so). 2) What was the most difficult price youve had to pay to follow Jesus?