Acts 4: 1-4 (NRSVA)
1 While Peter and John were speaking to the people, the priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees came to them, 2 much annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming that in Jesus there is the resurrection of the dead. 3 So they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. 4 But many of those who heard the word believed; and they numbered about five thousand.
As we saw on Sunday, following the healing of the crippled beggar, those in positions of power were standing in the wings, listening to Peter speak and awaiting their moment. The group taking the lead – the priests, the captain of the temple and the Sadducees – was almost the same as that involved in Jesus’ trial some time before. They wielded power in key areas: the offering of sacrifices in the temple, the control of its sacred precincts — the captain’s inclusion rather assuming that the peace and order of the temple was thought to be at risk as a result of these incidents. The Sadducees were not previously present. Their role was principally in teaching and they were especially concerned with denying resurrection generally and the resurrection of Jesus Christ specifically. Their interest was thus piqued by Peter’s speech, ‘…in Jesus there is the resurrection of the dead’ (verse 2). It’s this statement, reflecting a change in emphasis from that of the Pharisees, that provokes the apostles’ arrest.
At first it looks as if the Sadducees have won the power game and the apostles spend the night in custody. But Peter’s earlier question reveals a new and refreshing angle on the possession and use of power: ‘You Israelites, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had make him walk?’ (from Acts 3:12). As a result of Peter’s preaching or the beggar’s healing or most likely both, 5,000 people became believers, an astonishing number, and testimony to resurrection power.
Tertullian, the 2nd century Christian apologist from what is now Tunisia, witnessed the widespread, ruthless persecution and martyrdom of Christians leading to his own conversion and subsequent influence as a thinker. He is best known for this quotation: ‘The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.’ Power doesn’t always lie where we think it lies.
Today we call to mind and pray for all in positions of power, praying that they will use it wisely. Amen.