Connections 04.22.2018: Questioned because of a Good Deed

Acts 4:1-12

Like many faithful followers of Jesus over the centuries—people who took a stand for those who were oppressed and hurting—Peter and John were arrested and tried. And for what reason? Because they helped someone in Jesus’ name. In one of his statements to the assembled authorities, Peter begins, “if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone…” (Acts 4:9). I can hear the sarcasm and irony in his voice. It’s like he’s trying to emphasize the preposterous nature of his arrest and trial. Why did helping someone get him and John in so much trouble?

I can think of numerous examples of people like Peter and John: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King Jr., Jim and Elisabeth Eliot, Mother Teresa—all of them were questioned or even harmed because of a good deed. I’m sure you can think of more examples. Even today, people are risking their reputations and even their lives to help victims of sex trafficking, racial discrimination, poverty, and war. They too are frequently questioned for doing what, on the surface, looks like a good deed.

Of course, the repercussions of such good deeds are much deeper than what we can easily see. Combating systemic injustice sounds like a great idea, but the long-term effort to enact justice could involve an enormous upheaval of our ways of life. Most of us don’t like that. It scares us. It intimidates us. It makes us feel insecure. It calls us out and points to how we are complicit in keeping minorities and other disadvantaged people trapped in vicious cycles. It’s too big, too hard, too uncertain to try to change. We prefer things the way they are—just like the authorities of Peter and John’s day.

That’s a hard truth to face. I know that when I read the New Testament, I tend to want to identify myself with Jesus’ people. I want to say I’d be standing beside Peter and John, risking arrest or worse for loving my neighbor the way Jesus has called me to do. But when I really think about what that means, I’m convicted about my behavior in the world right now. So many people are oppressed, mistreated, and ignored, and yet I see that I’m more likely to be sitting near the authorities than I am to be standing with folks who make a true difference in Jesus’ name. I’m not one of the authorities, of course. I even talk about them behind their backs and insist that they aren’t bringing justice, that they’re holding people back and maintaining their own sense of comfort.

But I won’t contradict them to their faces. I won’t do what it takes to make a difference for a real oppressed person in my society. I won’t be bold and brave like Peter and John. I’ve got too much at stake. And admitting this is hard. In my heart, I can sense the spirit of Jesus calling me to a higher level of what it means to be his follower: to undertake risk and uncertainty in the name of agape love, just the way he did. I don’t know if I’m able to follow him to that level. Are you?

Discussion

1. Read Acts 3:1-10. What “good deed” did Peter and John do?
2. Now read Acts 3:12-16. What caused Peter and John to get in trouble with the authorities—the fact that they healed this lame man or the way they claimed to have healed him (by the power of the resurrected Christ)?
3. How do you think the authorities felt when Peter and John accused them of killing Christ and urged them to repent from their “wicked ways” (see 3:26)?
4. Have you ever been accused of hurting the cause of Christ? If so, in what ways? How did it make you feel?
5. What would it take for us to have the boldness and bravery of Christ followers like Peter and John? How would this look in our daily lives? How would it affect people whom Jesus called “the least of these” (see Matthew 25)?

Reference Shelf

The Apostolic Response, vv. 8-12

Peter, again, plays the role of the apostolic spokesperson (cf. 3:11-12). He does not begin to speak until he is “filled with the Holy Spirit.” Readers encounter here yet another echo of the Gospel. Jesus had said that when standing before rulers “the Holy Spirit will teach you . . . what you are to say” (Luke 12:11-12). Some argue that Luke, unlike Paul and the Johannine materials, did not view the Spirit as a permanent endowment of believers. While the narrative can speak of special situations, such as this one, when God’s help is needed, texts such as 2:38 and 9:18 indicate that believers receive the Holy Spirit through repentance and not only in moments of special spiritual need.

Peter’s response is judicial, addressing directly the question of his interrogators concerning what the apostles had done and in whose name. He refers in v. 9 to the “good deed done to one who was ill” and makes clear that the man was “made well,” or “saved” (sesotai), by the “name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth” (v. 10a). Peter has employed the word søzø in such a way so as to bring out the full range of its meaning. The word can be used to denote both restoration to physical health and “salvation” on a deeper level. The physical healing of a man in the name of Jesus points to this same Jesus as the one in whose name one can “be saved.” For readers, this harks back to 2:21 where Peter quoted Joel 2:39: “All who call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Acts 2 defines such salvation in terms of “forgiveness of sins” (2:38), but, as in the Gospel, such salvation has more far-reaching effects. In “the name of Jesus” people can find the liberating power that delivers (saves) them from anything that binds them and makes them less than whole.

J. Bradley Chance, Acts, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2007), 70-71.

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor for Smyth & Helwys curriculum and books since 2001. She attends church and leads an adult Sunday school class in Macon, Georgia. She is also the office administrator for Jay’s HOPE, a local charity serving families of children with cancer. Kelley enjoys spending time with her daughters, Samantha (12) and Natalie (10) and her husband John. For fun, she tries to stay caught up on the latest amazing TV series (including Doctor Who, Sherlock, Gilmore Girls, and The Crown).

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