What Can God Do Through You?
Summary: God does extraordinary things through unlikely people, but you must choose to submit or resist.
One of the themes we talk about regularly here at City Gates is being available to God. Can He use you, guide you, direct your life? And not just once or during a particular season of life, but are you increasingly available as life goes on? You’re growing older every day, but are you becoming more spiritually mature as time goes on?
This morning we’re going to see the difference between people who told God no and people who told God yes; people who were available and people who were not and how the two groups responded to each other.
We jump back into the Scripture where we left off before Christmas – Peter and John, two of Jesus’ disciples, had gone to the Temple in Jerusalem to pray. On their way in, a beggar stopped them, asking for some change. And God used that moment to miraculously heal the man.
It was surprising, it was unusual, and it was actually not the point – the miracle drew a crowd because people wanted to know – what happened here? This beggar, we all recognize, he’s here all the time, he’s never walked – how was he healed? Why is he standing up, walking around? What’s going on?
And Peter told them – it didn’t have anything to do with the man. It’s not that he had finally prayed enough. It’s not that he had finally done enough good deeds. And it wasn’t about Peter and John either, there was nothing about them, as men, that made this happen. Peter told them clearly – God did this, through us, in Jesus’ name.
And then, he began telling them more about who Jesus was, what He had done, and how they needed to begin a life of following Jesus instead of following their own ideas about life.
But remember, all of this happened publically, in the Temple – so large crowds gathered to see what was happening.
Well, pretty soon it all came to the attention of the authorities, who also wanted to know what’s the uproar about? What’s drawing a crowd and causing a scene in the Temple? And that’s where we pick things up this morning. We read:
Acts 4:1 Now as they [Peter and John] spoke to the people, the priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees came upon them,
I’ll explain who all those people are in a minute – but for now, I’ll say they were important religious officials and they weren’t happy about what was going on. They were:
2 … greatly disturbed that [Peter and John] taught the people and preached in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. 3 And they laid hands on them, and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. 4 However, many of those who heard the word believed [IOW, many of the people who heard Peter preaching about Jesus believed and became Christians]; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand.
5 And it came to pass, on the next day, that their rulers, elders, and scribes, 6 as well as Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and as many as were of the family of the high priest, were gathered together at Jerusalem. 7 And when they had set [Peter and John] in the midst, they asked, “By what power or by what name have you done this?”
So, Peter and John are brought in for questioning, but we just ran through a lot words and names you might not understand, so let me explain who these people are.
I’ll start with the Priests: Annas, Caiphas, John, and Alexander and the others.
In ancient Israel, all the priests came from the same tribe, the tribe of Levi. So, they were all related and it was their job to oversee the system of sacrifices and worship in the Temple. And the Priests were led by the High Priest.
Now, originally the High Priest’s job was to offer gifts and sacrifices to God on behalf of the people. His position was supposed to pass down from generation to generation in the same family beginning with the first High Priest, Aaron, who was Moses’ brother. Now, that’s all in the Bible, that was God’s plan and you can find instruction on all of that in the Old Testament.
But over time, the Jews formed something called the Sanhedrin – that’s not in the Bible – it’s described of course, you see it, but I mean that there’s no section in Scripture where God says, “This is my command – you need to form a Sanhedrin.” It was their idea; we never see that God ordered it. But they formed this group to lead the nation; it was like a combined Supreme Court and Congress or Parliament for Israel. It was located in Jerusalem and had 71 members including:
- the highest ranking priests, along with
- the elders and leaders of the various tribes of Israel, and
- scribes who were essentially like modern lawyers.
The High Priest served as the head of the Sanhedrin. And it’s this group that have brought Peter and John in for questioning. The members of the Sanhedrin, including the High Priest want to know – how did you do this? Who gave you permission? Whose authority are you under?
So Peter tells them:
Acts 4:8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders of Israel: 9 If we this day are judged for a good deed done to a helpless man, by what means he has been made well, 10 let it be known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole. 11 This is the ‘stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone.’ 12 Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
Peter tells the Sanhedrin exactly what he had been telling the crowds – we didn’t do this – God did this through us, in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth – whom you crucified, but whom God raised from the dead. You rejected Him, but He hasn’t gone away.
Now, remember, these are the men who, just a few months earlier, had arrested Jesus, put him on trial – probably in the exact place where Peter and John are now being questioned, and then hauled Him off to Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor and pressured him to put Jesus to death. Peter tells the counsel this was all done in the name of:
10 Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole. 11 [Jesus] is the ‘stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone.’
It’s like you had this piece of building material, but you didn’t like it, so you scrapped it. And then God turned around and used it as the cornerstone, the foundation, of something new that He is building. Jesus came to build something and He told you about it time and time again, but you rejected Him. You wouldn’t receive Him. You had Him put to death. But you can’t stop God. If He wants to build something, He’s going to build it. So you killed Jesus, but God raised Him from the dead, and is making sure what He wanted to happen, happens anyway.
My friends, in what ways are you like these leaders? In what ways does God make Himself known while you reject Him? What is He calling you to believe, or change, or be a part of? Where and why are you resisting Him? His plans will come to pass, with or without you.
Please listen, because this is SUPER important: your ideas are not just as good as God’s. It’s not like a buffet where you can choose whatever you like and it’s all good.
After the service we have some donuts and bagels out in the foyer, and you can walk by and choose whatever you like – it’s all good. Or you could just opt out, say, “Yeah, no thanks, none for me.” You’ve got choices. You’ve got options. But not so when it comes to God’s plans for your life and this world.
You don’t have infinite options to choose from as if it’s all OK, it doesn’t really matter if you choose to go along with what God’s doing ‘cause it all works out in the end. No, God has a plan. God calls you into that plan. But if you resist and reject Him, like these leaders resisted and rejected Jesus, God’s still going to get His way, and you’re going to be left out – outside of salvation, outside of heaven – because there’s only one way in – the way God is offering you.
So Peter tells these men, including the High Priest of Israel, he tells all these religious professionals whose job it is to take care of the Temple and the religious direction of the nation, he tells them:
12 Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
He says, “Guys, God sent Jesus to you. You rejected Him, and God raised Him from the dead. And now I’m here to tell you, God just did a miracle, healed a man you all know. You can’t deny what has happened, and it was all just to get your attention so you would listen when I tell you – you need to repent of what you have done and accept salvation through Jesus.”
The mercy here stuns me. God bends over backward to get the message to these men. He knows it’s unbelievable, He knows they’re going to resist it. But He doesn’t just tell them once – Jesus told them many times, worked many miracles, explained and defended what God was doing. And they still resisted it. They conspired to put Him to death.
But God kept moving the ball forward, like a relentless offensive drive, marching truth down the field. And He’s telling them again, through Peter now – calling them to join with God and stop resisting Him. How many times is God going to bring them this message, how many chances are they going to have? It’s mind-boggling, isn’t it?
Listen – how quickly do you get frustrated when someone doesn’t pick up on what you’re trying to communicate? How many times do you try and get your message across before giving up? We’re not very patient, are we?
But God still shows the same kind of grace to you and me! How many times has He shown us some truth and we’ve resisted it? How long has God been revealing something to you and you’ve ignored it or explained it away or dropped it? And yet, He keeps bringing it up, keeps bringing people around to remind you. God is astonishingly patient and persistent with us. And we need to praise Him for it.
“OK, but wait,” you might say. If these guys are the religious leaders of Israel, why were they so opposed to Jesus and why were they so opposed to what was going on? Shouldn’t they have known better, shouldn’t they have been the most in tune with God? Well, yes they should have been. But, here’s where we need a little more history lesson.
When the Romans occupied Israel, they allowed the Sanhedrin to stay in place, as long as the Romans approved everything the Sanhedrin did. It was easier to let the Sanhedrin deal with daily business and local politics while Rome set the major policies. And one way Rome made sure their will was done is, they reserved the right to appoint the High Priest.
Now, remember, this was supposed to a hereditary thing, it was supposed to pass down from one generation to the next, and the High Priest, like the Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court, was supposed to serve for life. But when Rome took over, they actually took away the High Priest’s ceremonial garments and kept them under lock and key as a constant reminder of who was in charge.
And, if the High Priest caused any problems for the Romans, or couldn’t control the Sanhedrin and the population, well, he could just be removed and they would find someone new who could – someone more likely to support Roman policies and who could get along better with their representatives.
So, over time, serving as a priest, especially in the higher ranking positions of the priesthood, took on more of a political function than a strictly religious function, and history has shown us time and time again that’s dangerous. It’s bad for the political side of things and it’s really, really bad for the religious side of things.
Because the priests now have to choose on a regular basis, should they please God and risk offending the Romans or please the Romans and figure that God will understand?
The Romans seemed to have more to offer – they could give you rank, they could give you position, they could give you a good life, or they could make you suffer, they could put you in jail, or even better just execute you and be done with it all.
So over time, the High Priestly families, and many of the other high ranking priests, became known to their fellow Jews, not for their holiness and consecration, but for their materialism and thirst for power. They became the theological liberals of their day – holding on to many of the trappings of religion and spirituality, but softening their stance on issues that could be offensive or unpopular to the Romans.
This position of compromise became popular with other Jewish leaders who also needed to appear in step with Rome. Together they became known as the Sadducees – a liberal religious denomination of Judaism, if you want to think of it that way. They rejected all things supernatural: the afterlife, resurrection from the dead, angels and demons, etc. That’s why they are so upset with the disciples here. They thought they had gotten rid of Jesus, and all the problems He was causing, by crucifying Him. But now His followers are causing problems for them too preaching Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.
So, the Sadducees were the aristocrats of the land, merchant families who held economic power and priestly families that held religious power and together, with the consent of Rome, they wielded tremendous political power and formed the majority in the Sanhedrin.
But just like we have the Republicans and the Democrats two parties with different views, the Sanhedrin had the Sadducees and the Pharisees. The Pharisees were the fundamentalists their day. They were mainly concerned with living a religiously devout life, especially while being occupied by a foreign power – if these godless pagans are going to be around us all the time, here’s how you can make sure you’re still holy: do this, and this, and this, and don’t that, or that, or that.
If the Sadducees were motivated by power, position, and influence, the Pharisees were motivated by righteousness and wholesome living, by following strict rules for what you could and could not do. They believed you could earn God’s approval through discipline and determination if you did all the right things and avoided all the wrong things. They held a minority position in the Sanhedrin represented by scribes, but they had a strong relationship with the common people who looked up to them as good, devout, religious examples – almost the way people today look on the Amish with a soft sort of envy.
So, these are the leaders of the nation – these are the people Peter and John are standing in front of: a group of men who either think it’s OK to compromise your convictions for the sake of personal gain, or those who think if you just work hard enough you can be perfect, and he says something equally offensive to them both.
He tells them God did this by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead [and] there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.
The resurrection and the exclusivity of salvation in Christ alone were offensive to the liberal Sadducees and the fact that God saves as an act of sovereign mercy and grace was offensive to the fundamentalist Pharisees who expected you to earn God’s favor.
So let me ask – which of the two are you most likely to resemble? Are you more like the Sadducees, willing to compromise in exchange for the acceptance of those who hold momentary power and authority in this world? Are you more likely to adopt the positions and opinions that seem popular for the sake of being part of the in crowd?
Or, are you more likely to think you need to stick to conservative, traditional views, and just pour yourself into them to show how different you are from all ‘those’ people and then pat yourself on your back for having it all together while the rest of the world is full of wackos and weirdos and liberal nut-jobs?
My friends, we all struggle with this issue. We’re all tempted toward compromise or self-righteousness, toward progressivism or fundamentalism. And that’s why Peter stood before the Sanhedrin that represented both of these views and said – God did this in Jesus’ name, and there’s no other name that brings salvation. Because we all need to hear that.
We all need to know that the message of Christianity is like a gate that is extremely narrow, but wide open to anyone who will enter. And if you are willing to hear and follow God calling you to pass through it, you’ll discover life-transforming, soul-reviving, relationship, purpose, meaning, and direction.
Look at what happens next:
Acts 4:13 Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus. 14 And seeing the man who had been healed standing with them, they could say nothing against it.
Picture this in your mind – on the one side you have the Sanhedrin – the ruling body. They’re priests and merchants and landholders who have money and connections or they’re religious fundamentalists dedicated to following their rules – but they all think they deserve to be there, they deserve to occupy one of the 71 seats. They know how power works.
And then on the other side, you have these two fishermen. Men who hadn’t gone to the best schools, men who hadn’t been trained by their religious systems, men who didn’t have family or business connections, and yet they had done this amazing miracle – and no one could deny it. And they realized that they had been with Jesus.
Actually, they’re still with Jesus who indwells and empowers them by the Holy Spirit. Remember the Great Commission: “Go into all the world, preach the Gospel to every creature, and lo, I am with you always.” Their relationship with Jesus was not just past tense, it was present tense too.
My friends, one of the messages we learn from this passage is that God can take ordinary people and use them to do extraordinary things. In fact, that’s generally His preferred method. Because then He gets the glory.
You and I are most likely to be on the side of the Sanhedrin, at least in our thinking. We think if God is going to do something, He’s going to use a priest. Or, He’s going to use a missionary. He’s going to use someone with some training – who went to seminary or Bible College. Or He’s going to use someone who is really holy. Someone who prays a lot and reads their Bible four hours a day. We’re most likely to say that God uses people who are educated and trained. And while none of those things are bad, listen, none of those things are bad – God is actually most likely to use someone who has spent time with Jesus.
Because, as you see with the Sadducees, you can be from a Christian family and not know God. You can even serve in ministry, and leadership in ministry, and not know God. You can be educated in all sorts of theology and doctrine, but it’s bad theology and doctrine.
Or you can also have all these rules like the scribes and Pharisees. We don’t do that. We do this, and we do it this way. And you draw distinctions between yourself and ‘those people over there.’ You keep yourself separate, and unstained. You go through all these religious motions, and yet you still don’t really know God.
What you need, more than anything, is to spend time with Jesus and to be increasingly available to Him. And you do that by spending time in His Word – read your Bible, and in prayer, talk to God, and then yielding to the direction He gives for your life.
He will speak clearly to you in the pages of Scripture, not every day, not every time, but you will see things leap off the page and you will know – this is from God for me. But you will also sense His Holy Spirit inside of you, guiding and directing you. Peter and John didn’t wake up and read a Psalm that said, ‘Heal a beggar at the Temple today.’ But they sensed God leading them to do something extraordinary and they were available – ordinary men available for God to do something extraordinary through.
God probably isn’t going to prompt you to heal someone – though He might – I am not closing that door. But you can expect a lot more promptings to pray, promptings to speak, and promptings to act. If you are available to God, if you are spending time with Jesus, He will use you, and you and others around you will notice it – that you have been with Jesus. Of course, like the Sanhedrin, they might not like it. Look with me at
Acts 4:15 But when they had commanded them to go aside out of the council, they conferred among themselves, 16 saying, “What shall we do to these men? For, indeed, that a notable miracle has been done through them is evident to all who dwell in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. 17 But so that it spreads no further among the people, let us severely threaten them, that from now on they speak to no man in this name.”
We don’t like it, but we can’t refute it, so let’s just tell them they better keep quiet.
18 So they called them and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. 20 For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.” 21 So when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way of punishing them, because of the people, since they all glorified God for what had been done. 22 For the man was over forty years old on whom this miracle of healing had been performed.
So picture this again – you have the Sanhedrin – full of Sadducees who care what they Romans think, and Pharisees who care what other people think, and standing across from them are two disciples who only care what Jesus thinks. And God is using one, to try and reach the other.
My friends, which side are you on? Are you available to God like the disciples, or resisting God like the Sanhedrin? In all likelihood, the answer is somewhere in the middle – but what direction are you trending?
As we prepare to start a new year, as we prepare to launch into 2020, I want to encourage you to be available to God. Tell Him: my life, Your way. Start off small, uneducated, untrained, but spend time with Jesus, and watch what He will do through your ordinary, unexpected life.