God in the Dock
Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole. This is the stone which was set at nought
Welcome to court.
Today, you and I are jurors in a trial as much as worshippers in a church. Far from being the sensational stuff of Court TV, though, this trial is a matter not only of life and death, but of eternal destiny.
On one side, we have the accusers: those who oppose the claims of Christianity and want its adherents to stop speaking of Jesus. And on the other side, we have two followers of Jesus, Peter and John, called on to defend their faith and the miracle they had just worked in Jesus’ name. In the middle, the evidence.
You’ve got to decide who’s right.
This is not your typical “jury duty”: the decision you make this hour will impact your life from henceforth into eternity. Are the opponents of Jesus correct? Should Christians be silent about their beliefs? Are they just causing an uproar for no reason?
Or does the evidence lead you to a radically different conclusion about who Jesus is and why it matters to you and to the world?
Let us first meet the accusers: they are, in short, the leading Jewish religious authorities of their day. They comprise the Sanhedrin, the chief governing body of Judaism. As you examine them, though, you might be surprised at what makes them tick.
One of the main groups “on the attack” is the Sadducees, a liberal branch of Judaism that does not believe in the resurrection of the dead. (Full disclosure: they are the religious “big-hitters” of the time and not only like their position of prestige but also the peace they have with the Roman Empire). They therefore are irritated with the apostles’ preaching, because if the Jewish people hear about Messiah, they’ll get whipped into a fervor – disrupting peace with Rome.
They answer not to the Lord God but to their own love for power and for pleasure, and their idol is most cruel. On one hand, they can’t stand the apostles’ teaching and want to silence them; yet they can’t punish the apostles for fear of the crowd. Whom to obey? Whom to placate?
They are truly pathetic. The accusers don’t know whom to obey; they can’t do what they’d like to do – punish the apostles – and they are reduced to making empty threats. They have been blinded by their idolatrous love for power and prestige: blinded to the joy of this good dead (the healing of a life-long cripple), blinded to the truth about Jesus as the centerpiece of their religion, blinded to the salvation only Jesus offers.
They are, however, persistent – just as Jesus promised his enemies would be.
We now turn our attention to the defenders in this case: Peter, John and with them, all Christians.
Unlike the prosecution, these men are not men of renown. They aren’t learned men but, rather, commoners. Their lack of formal theological training makes their eloquent defense of Christianity all the more amazing – but we’ll explore that subject in a moment.
Note also their chief concern: they are seekers of the Lord and of His truth. Their opponents, desiring material well-being, fear both the crowds and the Romans. These men, however, are committed to proclaiming God’s truth regardless of the earthly consequences. They plainly acknowledge God to be the Lord and therefore their chief Authority in life.
Amazingly, they do not flinch in their propagation of the gospel. Once, of course, they hid for fear of their lives; now they speak with boldness and with sharpness to their attackers.
In watching these two sides argue their cases, note the apostles’ forthrightness, confidence and boldness. There’s just something to them …
So we come, thirdly, to the evidence: and the proof is living right before you!
This Jesus, whom the Sanhedrin thought they had silenced, just keeps on marching. He had been crucified – but now he lives, and he’s giving life through his apostles’ preaching and acts.
Part of the evidence is the defenders themselves. These unlearned men were speaking profound and compelling theological truths, and they were unafraid to stand up for their Master. (You will note, as do the prosecutors, that these otherwise-ignorant and timid men had spent the last several years with Jesus). Who could account for this empowerment and change except Jesus?
Then there is this man standing in their midst, the one on whom the “good deed” had been performed. Everyone knows him: he’s more than 40 years old and had been lame from birth, reduced to begging at the temple. Now he stands before the court, completely healed and whole – ritually acceptable – after the apostles spoke to him in the name of Jesus of Nazareth. It’s not a fake miracle. In fact, the attackers have to admit that there is no denying the amazing healing of this lifelong cripple.
On top of all this evidence, there’s one more remarkable fact lending credence to the claim that Jesus is the only Savior of sinners: the church is growing despite its leaders’ imprisonment! Although the Jewish authorities threw Peter and John – Christianity’s leading spokesmen – into prison overnight, sinners still came to faith in Christ as Savior through the preaching of his Word.
So you, juror, have a decision to make.
Examine the parties: their evident motives, their conduct, their arguments.
And examine the evidence. When you do, you’ll have to answer a critical question: if Jesus isn’t raised from the dead, and become the only Savior of sinners, then how was this lame man healed?
How were these “country bumpkins” empowered to be mighty preachers?
Why are people turning to a faith that might well land them in prison?
The actual first trial of Peter and John wasn’t much of a trial at all. In this account, you and I see the helplessness and the determined wickedness of Christ’s enemies. Yet we also note the apostles’ power and the unceasing advancement of the gospel.
Christianity always will have enemies. But like those early foes, Christ’s detractors are sure to fold under the might of his spreading gospel. Christ triumphed over the grave, and he will conquer all his enemies and all their vain arguments against him.
You have heard both sides, and you have seen the compelling evidence for Christ.
How do you find?