Updated: Feb 4, 2021
The rulers, elders, and scribes assembled in Jerusalem, with Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. When they had made the prisoners stand in their midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. This Jesus is
“the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.’
There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”
This is the Acts selection from the Episcopal Lectionary for the Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year B 2018. It will next be read aloud in a church by a reader on Sunday, April 22, 2018. This is important as it identifies a hierarchy of devotees to religious practices and dogma, which can equally be applied to all organizations, branches and sects in the Judeo-Christian category, with only Jesus Christ being the bearer of salvation.
In this reading, Peter and John had been arrested for having healed the lame beggar at the gate of the Temple, bringing him walking into the morning prayer service with them. Following that service, Peter gave a sermon to the pilgrims still in Jerusalem, along the breezeway known as Solomon’s Portico (or Porch). The crowd must have discussed that miracle healing for hours, talking with them and the healed man, as the arrest occurred late in the afternoon, in the evening of day. Because of the lateness of the arrest, Peter and John were placed in the temple jail overnight, with them appearing before the Sanhedrin the next morning. That is the setting leading to this reading scene.
Standing before the high-priestly family.
Whenever Christians today read or hear read aloud the stories of the Holy Bible, it should not be done as if looking back from a perspective that seems superior. By knowing the story and its ending, such separation in time makes one feel that he or she identifies solely with the “heroes” of the story, and never the “goats”. This is what I mean when I refer to the Big Brain Syndrome, as Christians tend to identify totally with Peter and John (the Apostles) in this reading, and never as “the rulers, elders, and scribes assembled in Jerusalem, with Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family.” The purpose of all Biblical readings is to see oneself in that darkness, before one can ever begin to shine with the light of a Saint.
In this reading, the basic characters are: the falsely accused; the accuser judges; and the onlookers (including court employees). The onlookers are invisible, as they have nothing to add to the scene; but we know justice requires a general audience. That invisibility is a sign of the public’s weakness, as commoners are not wealthy or influential enough to be in the class defined as “rulers, elders, and scribes,” much less be born into the “high-priestly family.”
The onlookers have no control over who is accused and who accuses. The judges then were those who are allowable extensions of the Roman Empire, set in place to control the population without military force. The Jews were policed by the laws of Moses, with the rule of Rome a distant second. This means the equality that connects all of the characters of this scene is religion, which makes all devoted to the One God. Thus the court is one of religious law.
Christians are likewise divided today, where (relatively speaking) only an elite few rule the hierarchies of the multitude of churches naming Jesus Christ as their Lord. Popes, Cardinals, Bishops, preachers, pastors, ministers and priests are all parts of the “high-priestly family” that is Christianity. Some Christians proclaim to be Prophets, which sets them apart from the ordinary and the elite, just as Peter and John were set apart. The laws of our nation have superseded Church laws, so people claiming to be Apostles are rarely arrested and tried by congregations. Today, as in ancient times, most people who want to believe in the One God are still the bewildered onlookers who obediently follow those who would be their leaders, with politicians often given honorary “high-priestly” status.
How many resurrections of Jesus Christ are in this picture?
The rarity these days are the Apostles who heal lame beggars, while rulers and onlookers alike all know they themselves are that lame beggar … just too afraid to let that side of themselves be shown. More often than not, the ones proclaiming to work miracles are later found to be disgraced, like the Jim Joneses, the David Koreshes, and the Jimmy Swaggerts of the world. These “Prophets” proclaim to be divine leaders, making them be like the “rulers, elders, and scribes,” rather than be like Peter, who proclaimed, “this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.” The missing element these days is we have no Apostles who heal and give full credit to Jesus Christ, pointing out how the man (like the one named Peter) had nothing to do with the miracle.
This means that when these verses from the Book of Acts are read, the same can be said of today’s churches claiming to be “in the name of Jesus Christ.” Jesus Christ cannot be resurrected in a building, any more than he cannot be resurrected in a tree, or an automobile, or even in a wafer taken from a box of purposefully manufactured religious wafers, placed nicely on a silver platter. Jesus Christ can only be resurrected in Apostles, like Peter and John of Zebedee … human devotees.
Unfortunately, since no modern churches have the ability to proclaim ALL ITS MEMBERS are the resurrection of Jesus Christ … as TRUE CHRISTIANS … then what we call Christianity is little more than cults of personality. The personalities are popes, cardinals, bishops, preachers, pastors, ministers, and priests. In other words, modern churches are also led by “rulers, elders, and scribes assembled” who judge against anyone who should dare to do as Peter did in Jerusalem, outside the temple.
What is the difference in having the man named Jesus, of Nazareth in Galilee, sentenced to death, as Peter said the rulers of the Temple of Jerusalem had done, and having the Spirit of Jesus Christ sentenced to death by not teaching how the whole point of Christianity is to die of self ego and be resurrected by the Holy Spirit as the Christ returned?
There is no difference. One denies the Messiah has indeed come. The other denies the Christ that has come can come again … many times over.
I accuse you of being ironclad in denial.
Just as Peter recalled Psalm 118:22 (“The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone”), the cornerstone of Christianity can be none other than Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Jesus was rejected by the “rulers, elders, and scribes,” along with “Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family.” There was no denying that Jesus had lived. Everyone in Jerusalem knew that, as his execution was still fresh on their minds. Everyone in Jerusalem knew Jesus of Nazareth had done some miraculous things, prior to his death, much like Peter did, by healing a lame beggar at the Beautiful Gate. Peter stood there in front of his accusers and said Jesus Christ had healed the lame beggar, because Jesus Christ was back IN PETER.
Do you think all history would have changed if Annas and Caiaphas had listened to Peter and then proclaimed as their judgment, “Okay guys, Peter is right. God has sent our Messiah. All hail Jesus as the Christ!”?
If the Sanhedrin had reached that end, it would have been written into Law – “Jesus is God’s promised Messiah.” However, if the Sanhedrin had endorsed belief of a prophesied Messiah by lip-service acceptance, agreeing to say Jesus of Nazareth was then and forevermore to be the Christ of the Jews, would the spread of Christianity have still moved across the world?
Probably not. There would be no Christians in that case, as God would have proved He was happy with just Jews and scattered Israelites (even though it is hard to tell them apart from Jews) honoring Him. All Jews would be for Jesus. Of course, Judaism might be the religion of choice today … had the Sanhedrin just got on board way back when … and if God made Jews the rulers of the world’s governments afterwards. Belief in Jesus might be commanded by Law, which would have made Judaic judges be very important in that alternate universe.
The reality is, however, that the spread of Christianity is more than professed belief. It is more than a command to believe like everyone else, without good explanation. Christianity has to involve Jews and Gentiles, but it has to be founded on a relationship of love. The religion grew exponentially from each and every true Christian having been reborn as Jesus Christ of Nazareth, possessing the Mind of Christ and having the power of God to perform miracles … in the name of Jesus Christ. Christianity was spread by Apostles, to wherever they traveled.
That growth was severely stunted by a bunch of “rulers, elders, scribes, and high-priestly families” trying to hoard God and Christ for themselves, beginning around the time the Roman Emperor figured out it would be better to be the Roman Pope. A Sanhedrin-like hierarchy that used its influence as force then left the onlookers silently following those leaders. Churches began splitting at the seams over what was happening long ago. New sects and branches began sprouting like weeds in the Garden of Eden, with no gardener around to pull them out and throw them into the fire.
Therefore, we stand today as disciples of the One God who are still waiting for Jesus Christ to come back and bring Heaven to earth. That wait is no different than the Jews, who are still looking for his first arrival.
When Peter said, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved,” he said (in effect), “You better be already in the name of Jesus Christ when mean Jesus comes down from the clouds, à la The Revelation of John, because that returning spirit will be spitting a double-edged sword of justice from his mouth.
Only by becoming Jesus Christ in a mortal body (resurrected or reborn) can one’s soul find salvation, “as no other name under heaven given among mortals” earns an exemption to eternal damnation. Titles are names, so what Peter said (as the words of Jesus Christ through an Apostle) includes such titles as: pope, cardinal, bishop, preacher, pastor, minister or priest. None of those names will be able to produce the miracle of soul salvation, by edict, sermon, proclamation, or televised prayer services. No titles can wave a wand, cast water from a sprinkler, or feed one a cracker, washed down with a sip of fruit juice, and claim their position of piety has saved one from evil. Jesus Christ is not controlled, like electricity, made to jump out on command, because one holds a “high-priestly” title. Therefore, the Rapture can only apply to Saints on earth, yet to ascend to Heaven, and not those mortals who are full of fear, having done nothing to earn salvation … having never asked God to send him or her His Son to become one with him or her.
Peter and John stayed in a jail cell overnight and were paraded before all the big brains the next day, simply because the presence of Jesus Christ within them flowed out to one in need, healing him in the name of Jesus Christ. For breaking the status quo, where there was an order of family or chain of command that had not duly been recognized, some display of hierarchy had to be made as punishment. The question asked by the judges to Peter (“By what power or by what name did you do this?”) expected the accused to produce some certificate of authorization for working miracles, just like a vendor would need a license to sell wares. If Peter lied, the truth would be known, so he would have just committed a more serious crime. If Peter had admitted he had no authority to heal lame beggars, then there would be reason to find Peter and John guilty of breaking the law, for having caused a social disturbance. However, Peter gave them a name … the name of the one the Sanhedrin had condemned to death … Jesus the Messiah had risen in Peter and John! Jesus Christ of Nazareth gave them the authority!
Jesus Christ again stood before his murderers, but now in duplicates. Not only was Jesus Christ in Peter and John, but Jesus Christ had been resurrected in the lame beggar, who then stood alongside Peter and John, before the Sanhedrin. The lame beggar knew the presence of the Holy Spirit within him was what allowed him to walk for the first time in his life. Where there were two in the name of Jesus Christ, then there were three; and the judges knew the power of that name and feared the consequences (just as they did before killing Jesus). The silent majority watched and waited to see how the judges would act.
As a lesson from the book that teaches us that Apostles Act from their faith, having become resurrections of Jesus Christ, thereby following the theme of the Easter season, this falls in line with the Gospel reading from John, about the good shepherd. Lost, like a sheep in this story, the lame beggar becomes the one who has been given a new outlook on life. Jesus, the good shepherd, reached out to a lost sheep who knew his name and the lame beggar responded to his master’s call.
As Christians who have long been led by “rulers, elders, and scribes” that tell us Jesus sits with the Father in Heaven, only to come again at the end of the world to smite all the evil ones, we have been told there will be no miracles in our lives. We are to believe what we are told to believe, or be judged as boat rockers and dissidents. Those who feel there must be more to religion than that, they sit outside the mainstream, begging for assistance, only to get little in return. We, today, act like lame beggars with our hands out, with no expectations of ever being able to stand on our own two feet and walk … with no hopes of ever being able to help others to walk too.
Easter is when our Lord rises in us to transform us from cripples into Apostles. We must then stand before all judges to proclaim Jesus Christ is a name possible for all believers. We cannot make that proclamation from hearsay. It can only be made by Jesus Christ within us, making our mouths speak his words.