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Expositions of Holy Scripture: the Acts online

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The miracle was a transient revelation of a perpetual truth, and has
shed light on many a dark dungeon where God's servants have lain
rotting. It breathed heroic constancy into the Twelve. How striking and
noble was their prompt obedience to the command to resume the perilous
work of preaching! As soon as the dawn began to glimmer over Olivet,
and the priests were preparing for the morning sacrifice, there were
these irrepressible disturbers, whom the officials thought they had
shut up safely last night, lifting up their voices again as if nothing
had happened. What a picture of dauntless persistence, and what a
lesson for us! The moment the pressure is off, we should spring back to
our work of witnessing for Christ.

The bewilderment of the Council comes in strong contrast with the
unhesitating action of the Apostles. There is a half ludicrous side to
it, which Luke does not try to hide. There was the pompous assembling
of all the great men at early morning, and their dignified waiting till
their underlings brought in the culprits. No doubt, Annas put on his
severest air of majesty, and all were prepared to look their sternest
for the confusion of the prisoners. The prison, the Temple, and the
judgment hall, were all near each other. So there was not long to wait.
But, behold! the officers come back alone, and their report shakes the
assembly out of its dignity. One sees the astonished underlings coming
up to the prison, and finding all in order, the sentries patrolling,
the doors fast (so the angel had shut them as well as opened them), and
then entering ready to drag out the prisoners, and - finding all silent.
Such elaborate guard kept over an empty cage!

It was not the officers' business to offer explanations, and it does
not seem that any were asked. One would have thought that the sentries
would have been questioned. Herod went the natural way to work, when he
had Peter's guards examined and put to death. But Annas and his fellows
do not seem to have cared to inquire how the escape had been made.
Possibly they suspected a miracle, or perhaps feared that inquiry might
reveal sympathisers with the prisoners among their own officials. At
any rate, they were bewildered, and lost their heads, wondering what
was to come next, and how this thing was to end.

The further news that these obstinate fanatics were at their old work
in the Temple again, must have greatly added to the rulers' perplexity,
and they must have waited the return of the officers sent off for the
second time to fetch the prisoners, with somewhat less dignity than
before. The officers felt the pulse of the crowd, and did not venture
on force, from wholesome fear for their own skins. An excited mob in
the Temple court was not to be trifled with, so persuasion was adopted.
The brave Twelve went willingly, for the Sanhedrin had no terrors for
them, and by going they secured another opportunity of ringing out
their Lord's salvation. Wherever a Christian can witness for Christ, he
should be ready to go.

The high-priest discreetly said nothing about the escape. Possibly he
had no suspicion of a miracle, but, even if he had, chapter iv. 16
shows that that would not have led to any modification of his
hostility. Persecutors, clothed with a little brief authority, are
strangely blind to the plainest indications of the truth spoken by
their victims. Annas did not know what a question about the escape
might bring out, so he took the safer course of charging the Twelve
with disobedience to the Sanhedrin's prohibition. How characteristic of
all his kind that is! Never mind whether what the martyr says is true
or not. He has broken our law, and defied our authority; that is
enough. Are we to be chopping logic, and arguing with every ignorant
upstart who chooses to vent his heresies? Gag him, - that is easier and
more dignified.

A world of self-consequence peeps out in that '_we_ straitly charged
you,' and a world of contempt peeps out in the avoidance of naming
Jesus. 'This name' and 'this man' is the nearest that the proud priest
will come to soiling his lips by mentioning Him. He bears unconscious
testimony to the Apostles' diligence, and to the popular inclination to
them, by charging them with having filled the city with what he
contemptuously calls '_your_ teaching,' as if it had no other source
than their own ignorant notions.

Then the deepest reason for the Sanhedrin's bitterness leaks out in the
charge of inciting the mob to take vengeance on them for the death of
Jesus. It was true that the Apostles had charged that guilt home on
them, but not on them only, but on the whole nation, so that no
incitement to revenge lay in the charge. It was true that they had
brought 'this man's blood' on the rulers, but only to draw them to
repentance, not to hound at them their sharers in the guilt. Had Annas
forgot 'His blood be on us, and on our children'? But, when an evil
deed is complete, the doers try to shuffle off the responsibility which
they were ready to take in the excitement of hurrying to do it. Annas
did not trouble himself about divine vengeance; it was the populace
whom he feared.

So, in its attempt to browbeat the accused, in its empty airs of
authority, in its utter indifference to the truth involved, in its
contempt for the preachers and their message, in its brazen denial of
responsibility, its dread of the mob, and its disregard of the far-off
divine judgment, his bullying speech is a type of how persecutors, from
Roman governors down, have hectored their victims.

And Peter's brave answer is, thank God! the type of what thousands of
trembling women and meek men have answered. His tone is severer now
than on his former appearance. Now he has no courteous recognition of
the court's authority. Now he brushes aside all Annas's attempts to
impose on him the sanctity of its decrees, and flatly denies that the
Council has any more right to command than any other 'men.' They
claimed to be depositaries of God's judgments. This revolutionary
fisherman sees nothing in them but 'men,' whose commands point one way,
while God's point the other. The angel bade them 'speak'; the Council
had bid them be dumb. To state the opposition was to determine their
duty. Formerly Peter had said 'judge ye' which command it is right to
obey. Now, he wraps his refusal in no folds of courtesy, but thrusts
the naked 'We must obey God' in the Council's face. That was a great
moment in the history of the world and the Church. How much lay in it,
as in a seed, - Luther's 'Here I stand, I can do none other. God help
me! Amen'; Plymouth Rock, and many a glorious and blood-stained page in
the records of martyrdom.

Peter goes on to vindicate his assumption that in disobeying Annas they
are obeying God, by reiterating the facts which since Pentecost he had
pressed on the national conscience. Israel had slain, and God had
exalted, Jesus to His right hand. That was God's verdict on Israel's
action. But it was also the ground of hope for Israel; for the
exaltatior of Jesus was that He might be 'Prince [or Leader] and
Saviour,' and from His exalted hand were shed the gifts of 'repentance
and remission of sins,' even of the great sin of slaying Him. These
things being so, how could the Apostles be silent? Had not God bid them
speak, by their very knowledge of these? They were Christ's witnesses,
constituted as such by their personal acquaintance with Him and their
having seen Him raised and ascending, and appointed to be such by His
own lips, and inspired for their witnessing by the Holy Spirit shed on
them at Pentecost. Peter all but reproduces the never-to-be-forgotten
words heard by them all in the upper room, 'He shall bear witness of
Me: and ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with Me from
the beginning.' Silence would be treason. So it is still. What were
Annas and his bluster to men whom Christ had bidden to speak, and to
whom He had given the Spirit of the Father to speak in them?



OUR CAPTAIN

'Him hath God exalted with His right hand to be a Prince.' - ACTS v. 31.

The word rendered 'Prince' is a rather infrequent designation of our
Lord in Scripture. It is only employed in all four times - twice in
Peter's earlier sermons recorded in this Book of the Acts; and twice in
the Epistle to the Hebrews. In a former discourse of the Apostle's he
had spoken of the crime of the Jews in killing 'the Prince of life.'
Here he uses the word without any appended epithet. In the Epistle to
the Hebrews we read once of the 'Captain of Salvation,' and once of the
'Author of Faith.'

Now these three renderings 'Prince,' 'Captain,' 'Author,' seem
singularly unlike. But the explanation of their being all substantially
equivalent to the original word is not difficult to find. It seems to
mean properly a Beginner, or Originator, who takes the lead in
anything, and hence the notions of chieftainship and priority are
easily deduced from it. Then, very naturally, it comes to mean
something very much like _cause_; with only this difference, that it
implies that the person who is the Originator is Himself the Possessor
of that of which He is the Cause to others. So the two ideas of a
Leader, and of a Possessor who imparts, are both included in the word.

My intention in this sermon is to deal with the various forms of this
expression, in order to try to bring out the fulness of the notion
which Scripture attaches to this leadership of Jesus Christ. He is
first of all, generally, as our text sets Him forth, the Leader,
absolutely. Then there are the specific aspects, expressed by the other
three passages, in which He is set forth as the Leader through death to
life; the Leader through suffering to salvation; and the Leader in the
path of faith. Let us look, then, at these points in succession.

I. First, we have the general notion of Christ the Leader.

Now I suppose we are all acquainted with the fact that the names
'Joshua' and 'Jesus' are, in the original, one. It is further to be
noticed that, in the Greek translation of the Old Testament, which was
familiar to Peter's hearers, the word of our text is that employed to
describe the office of the military leaders of Israel. It is still
further to be observed that, in all the instances in the New Testament,
it is employed in immediate connection with the name of Jesus. Now,
putting all these things together, remembering to whom Peter was
speaking, remembering the familiarity which many of his audience must
have had with the Old Testament in its Greek translation, remembering
the identity of the two names Joshua and Jesus, it is difficult to
avoid the supposition that the expression of our text is coloured by a
reference to the bold soldier who successfully led his brethren into
the Promised Land. Joshua was the 'Captain of the Lord's host' to lead
them to Canaan; the second Joshua is the Captain of the Host of the
Lord to lead them to a better rest. Of all the Old Testament heroes
perhaps there is none, at first sight, less like the second Joshua than
the first was. He is only a rough, plain, prompt, and bold soldier. No
prophet was he, no word of wisdom ever fell from his lips, no trace of
tenderness was in anything that he did; meekness was alien from his
character, he was no sage, he was no saint, but decisive, swift,
merciless when necessary, full of resource, sharp and hard as his own
sword. And yet a parallel may be drawn.

The second Joshua is the Captain of the Lord's host, as was typified to
the first one, in that strange scene outside the walls of Jericho,
where the earthly commander, sunk in thought, was brooding upon the
hard nut which he had to crack, when suddenly he lifted up his eyes,
and beheld a man with a drawn sword. With the instinctive alertness of
his profession and character, his immediate question was, 'Art thou for
us or for our enemies?' And he got the answer 'No! I am not on thy
side, nor on the other side, but thou art on Mine. As Captain of the
Lord's host am I come up.'

So Jesus Christ, the 'Strong Son of God,' is set forth by this military
emblem as being Himself the first Soldier in the army of God, and the
Leader of all the host. We forget far too much the militant character
of Jesus Christ. We think of His meekness, His gentleness, His
patience, His tenderness, His humility, and we cannot think of these
too much, too lovingly, too wonderingly, too adoringly, but we too
often forget the strength which underlay the gentleness, and that His
life, all gracious as it was, when looked at from the outside, had
beneath it a continual conflict, and was in effect the warfare of God
against all the evils and the sorrows of humanity. We forget the
courage that went to make the gentleness of Jesus, the daring that
underlay His lowliness; and it does us good to remember that all the
so-called heroic virtues were set forth in supreme form, not in some
vulgar type of excellence, such as a conqueror, whom the world
recognises, but in that meek King whose weapon was love, yet was
wielded with a soldier's hand.

This general thought of Jesus Christ as the first Soldier and Captain
of the Lord's army not only opens for us a side of His character which
we too often pass by, but it also says something to us as to what our
duties ought to be. He stands to us in the relation of General and
Commander-in-Chief; then we stand to Him in the relation of private
soldiers, whose first duty is unhesitating obedience, and who in doing
their Master's will must put forth a bravery far higher than the vulgar
courage that is crowned with wreathed laurels on the bloody
battlefield, even the bravery that is caught from Him who 'set His face
as a flint' to do His work.

Joshua's career has in it a great stumbling-block to many people, in
that merciless destruction of the Canaanite sinners, which can only be
vindicated by remembering, first, that it was a divine appointment, and
that God has the right to punish; and, second, that those old days were
under a different law, or at least a less manifestly developed law of
loving-kindness and mercy than, thank God! we live in. But whilst we
look with wonder on these awful scenes of destruction, may there not
lie in them the lesson for us that antagonism and righteous wrath
against evil in all its forms is the duty of the soldiers of Christ?
There are many causes to-day which to further and fight for is the
bounden duty of every Christian, and to further and fight for which
will tax all the courage that any of us can muster. Remember that the
leadership of Christ is no mere pretty metaphor, but a solemn fact,
which brings with it the soldier's responsibilities. When our Centurion
says to us, 'Come!' we must come. When He says to us, 'Go!' we must go.
When He says to us 'Do this!' we must do it, though heart and flesh
should shrink and fail. Unhesitating obedience to His authoritative
command will deliver us from many of the miseries of self-will; and
brave effort at Christ's side is as much the privilege as the duty of
His servants and soldiers.

II. So note, secondly, the Leader through death to life.

Peter, in the sermon which is found in the third chapter of this Book
of the Acts, has his mind and heart filled with the astounding fact of
the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus Christ, and in the same breath
as he gives forth the paradoxical indictment of the Jewish sin, 'You
have killed the Prince of Life' - the Leader of Life - he also says, 'And
God hath raised Him from the dead.' So that the connection seems to
point to the risen and glorified life into which Christ Himself passed,
and by passing became capable of imparting it to others. The same idea
is here as in Paul's other metaphor: 'Now is Christ risen from the
dead, and become the first-fruits of them that slept' - the first sheaf
of the harvest, which was carried into the Temple and consecrated to
God, and was the pledge and prophecy of the reaping in due season of
all the miles of golden grain that waved in the autumn sunshine. 'So,'
says Peter, 'He is the Leader of Life, who Himself has passed through
the darkness, for "you killed Him"; mystery of mysteries as it is that
you should have been able to do it, deeper mystery still that you
should have been willing to do it, deepest mystery of all that you did
it not when you did it, but that "He became dead and is alive for
evermore." You killed the Prince of Life, and God raised Him from the
dead.'

He has gone before us. He is 'the first that should rise from the
dead.' For, although the partial power of His communicated life did
breathe for a moment resuscitation into two dead men and one dead
maiden, these shared in no resurrection-life, but only came back again
into mortality, and were quickened for a time, but to die at last the
common death of all. But Jesus Christ is the first that has gone into
the darkness and come back again to live for ever. Across the untrodden
wild there is one track marked, and the footprints upon it point both
ways - to the darkness and from the darkness. So the dreary waste is not
pathless any more. The broad road that all the generations have trodden
on their way into the everlasting darkness is left now, and the
'travellers pass by the byway' which Jesus Christ has made by the touch
of His risen feet.

Thus, not only does this thought teach us the priority of His
resurrection-life, but it also declares to us that Jesus Christ,
possessing the risen life, possesses it to impart it. For, as I
remarked in my introductory observations, the conception of this word
includes not only the idea of a Leader, but that of One who, Himself
possessing or experiencing something, gives it to others. All men rise
again. Yes, 'but every man in his own order.' There are two principles
at work in the resurrection of all men. They are raised on different
grounds, and they are raised to different issues. They that are
Christ's are brought again from the dead, because the life of Christ is
in them; and it is as 'impossible' that they, as that 'He, should be
holden of it.' Union with Jesus Christ by simple faith is the means,
and the only means revealed to us, whereby men shall be raised from the
dead at the last by a resurrection which is anything else than a
prolonged death. As for others, 'some shall rise unto shame and
everlasting contempt,' rising dead, and dead after they are risen - dead
as long as they live. There be two resurrections, whether simultaneous
in time or not is of no moment, and all of us must have our part in the
one or the other; and faith in Jesus Christ is the only means by which
we can take a place in the great army and procession that He leads down
into the valley and up to the sunny heights.

If He be the Leader through death unto life, then it is certain that
all who follow in His train shall attain to His side and shall share in
His glory. The General wears no order which the humblest private in the
ranks may not receive likewise, and whomsoever He leads, His leading
will not end till He has led them close to His side, if they trust Him.
So, calmly, confidently, we may each of us look forward to that dark
journey waiting for us all. All our friends will leave us at the
tunnel's mouth, but He will go with us through the gloom, and bring us
out into the sunny lands on the southern side of the icy white
mountains. The Leader of our souls will be our Guide, not only unto
death, but far beyond it, into His own life.

III. So, thirdly, note the Leader through suffering to salvation.

In the Epistle to the Hebrews it is written, 'It became Him for whom
are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto
glory, to make the Captain' - or the Leader - 'of their salvation perfect
through sufferings.' That expression might seem at first to shut Jesus
Christ out from any participation in the thing which He gives. For
salvation is His gift, but not that which He Himself possesses and
enjoys; but it is to be noticed that in the context of the words which
I have quoted, 'glory' is put as substantially synonymous with
salvation, and that the whole is suffused with the idea of a long
procession, as shown by the phrase, 'bringing many sons.' Of this
procession Jesus Christ Himself is the Leader.

So, clearly, the notion in the context now under consideration is that
the life of Jesus Christ is the type to which all His servants are to
be conformed. He is the Representative Man, who Himself passes through
the conditions through which we are to pass, and Himself reaches the
glory which, given to us, becomes salvation.

'Christ is perfected through sufferings.' So must we be. Perfected
through sufferings? you say. Then did His humanity need perfecting?
Yes, and No. There needed nothing to be hewn away from that white
marble. There was nothing to be purged by fire out of that pure life.
But I suppose that Jesus Christ's human nature needed to be unfolded by
life; as the Epistle to the Hebrews says, 'He learned obedience, though
He were a Son, through the things which He suffered.' And fitness for
His office of leading us to glory required to be reached through the
sufferings which were the condition of our forgiveness and of our
acceptance with God. So, whether we regard the word as expressing the
agony of suffering in unfolding His humanity, or in fitting Him for His
redeeming work, it remains true that He was perfected by His sufferings.

So must we be. Our characters will never reach the refinement, the
delicacy, the unworldliness, the dependence upon God, which they
require for their completion, unless we have been passed through many a
sorrow. There are plants which require a touch of frost to perfect
them, and we all need the discipline of a Father's hand. The sorrows
that come to us all are far more easily borne when we think that Christ
bore them all before us. It is but a blunted sword which sorrow wields
against any of us; it was blunted on His armour. It is but a spent ball
that strikes us; its force was exhausted upon Him. Sorrow, if we keep
close to Him, may become solemn joy, and knit us more thoroughly to
Himself. Ah, brother! we can better spare our joys than we can spare
our sorrows. Only let us cleave to Him when they fall upon us.

Christ's sufferings led Him to His glory, so will ours if we keep by
His side - and only if we do. There is nothing in the mere fact of being
tortured and annoyed here on earth, which has in itself any direct and
necessary tendency to prepare us for the enjoyment, or to secure to us
the possession, of future blessedness. You often hear superficial
people saying, 'Oh! he has been very much troubled here, but there will
be amends for it hereafter.' Yes; God would wish to make amends for it
hereafter, but He cannot do so unless we comply with the conditions.
And it needs that we should keep close to Jesus Christ in sorrow, in
order that it should work for us 'the peaceable fruit of
righteousness.' The glory will come if the patient endurance has
preceded, and has been patience drawn from Jesus.

'I wondered at the beauteous hours,
The slow result of winter showers,
You scarce could see the grass for flowers.'

The sorrows that have wounded any man's head like a crown of thorns
will be covered with the diadem of Heaven, if they are sorrows borne
with Christ.

IV. Lastly, we have Jesus, the Leader in the path of faith.

'The Author of faith,' says the verse in the Epistle to the Hebrews.
'Author' does not cover all the ground, though it does part of it. We
must include the other ideas which I have been trying to set forth He
is 'Possessor' first and 'Giver' afterwards. For Jesus Christ Himself
is both the Pattern and the Inspirer of our faith. It would unduly
protract my remarks to dwell adequately upon this; but let me just
briefly hint some thoughts connected with it.

Jesus Christ Himself walked by continual faith. His manhood depended
upon God, just as ours has to depend upon Jesus. He lived in the
continued reception of continual strength from above by reason of His
faith, just as our faith is the condition of our reception of His
strength. We are sometimes afraid to recognise the fact that the Man
Jesus, who is our pattern in all things, is our pattern in this, the
most special and peculiarly human aspect of the religious life. But if
Christ was not the first of believers, His pattern is wofully defective
in its adaptation to our need. Rather let us rejoice in the thought
that all that great muster-roll of the heroes of the faith, which the
Epistle to the Hebrews has been dealing with, have for their
Leader - though, chronologically, He marches in the centre - Jesus



Online LibraryAlexander MaclarenExpositions of Holy Scripture: the Acts → online text (page 14 of 57)