The language of Psalm 39, “O LORD make me know my end, and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am!” Has struck me (“I am mute; I do not open my mouth”). I know the meaning and can see the psychological and emotional relationship between fleeting days and anger — but this time through I have realized there is something much more profound there which I must sound. So while I work through that, here is another matter.
Bible teachers in my world seem to find Paul easiest to teach: his letters have structures which track in the way we are taught in school: here is a point, some rationale, implication. The elements are laid out as an argument. Diagram the sentence, make the main verb the principle point and you have a sermon outline.
But narrative suffers. I have actually heard men with significant seminary training make silly statements about hierarchies of genre, with narrative existing solely for illustration of the “clearer” letters. I posit, that such thinking is primarily a reflection of an inadequate education, not a defect of the text.
The Bible is primarily poem and narrative. These texts are just as clear and necessary as Paul’s letters (if you don’t believe me, read Paul’s letters: he seems to find the letters and poems quite useful resources!). However, due to the inadequate education in literature, most pastors (and other teachers) simply don’t know how to handle such things.
My education is first in literature and the law (which is nothing but stories, reading stories, writing stories, telling stories: judges and juries do not believe facts, they believe stories; if I were to ask about you, you would tell me a story).
Here are some tips which I hope may help others in handling a story. I am going to take Acts 4, because I will be teaching through the text. So here are some steps.
The first step in understanding and working with a narrative section is merely to work through the plot points
THERE ARE TWO MAIN SECTIONS: PETER & JOHN BEFORE THE COUNCIL AND THEIR RETURN TO THE CHURCH
I. Peter and John Before the Council
A. The Arrest
And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, 2 greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.
- The Arrest
3 And they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening.
- What happened from preaching
4 But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand.
B. Before the Council
- The setting
5 On the next day their rulers and elders and scribes gathered together in Jerusalem, 6 with Annas the high priest and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family.
- The question/charge
7 And when they had set them in the midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?”
- Peter’s Response
a. The Spirit’s Help
8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them,
Initial X-ref: You will receive power. Acts 1:8 and be my witnesses (thus, how this section fits into the master narrative of Acts); and this
Luke 21:12–15 (ESV)
12 But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. 13 This will be your opportunity to bear witness. 14 Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer, 15 for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. )
b. The Power of Jesus
i. Jesus Healed
“Rulers of the people and elders, 9 if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, 10 let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth,
c. You rejected Jesus, but God has glorified him (as God promised he would)
whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well. 11 This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you,
the builders, which has become the cornerstone. 12 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
Come back to this latter: Think about what an astounding thing Peter has just said: this man who you saw die a few days ago is not only alive but he actually has power over disease and if I ask him, he will heal people. As Christians, we easily move from Jesus to God (which is a legitimate move, but too easily passes over the fact to all of these people Jesus is a man. To the rulers, he is only a man. This story makes no sense if you miss that point.)
i. You rejected Jesus, but God has glorified him.
Peter quotes Psalm 118.22. This is a Psalm about persecution and deliverance by God. Peter himself will use this same verse in his first letter:
1 Peter 2:4–10 (ESV)
4 As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, 5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For it stands in Scripture:
“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone,
a cornerstone chosen and precious,
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”
7 So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe,
“The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone,”
“A stone of stumbling,
and a rock of offense.”
They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.
9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
Jesus is the living corner stone of the church which is being built.
d. The Council’s Deliberation
i. How do they know these things?/They cannot answer them (as Jesus promised)
13 Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. 14 But seeing the man who was healed standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition.
Just like Jesus, the rulers cannot understand where this wisdom and power from. However, they are right to understand that it was because they had been with Jesus
Spurgeon in Morning and Evening quotes this verse as a model for Christians (this would make a good application):
Morning, February 11 Go To Evening Reading
“And they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.”
A Christian should be a striking likeness of Jesus Christ. You have read lives of Christ, beautifully and eloquently written, but the best life of Christ is his living biography, written out in the words and actions of his people. If we were what we profess to be, and what we should be, we should be pictures of Christ; yea, such striking likenesses of him, that the world would not have to hold us up by the hour together, and say, “Well, it seems somewhat of a likeness;” but they would, when they once beheld us, exclaim, “He has been with Jesus; he has been taught of him; he is like him; he has caught the very idea of the holy Man of Nazareth, and he works it out in his life and every-day actions.” A Christian should be like Christ in his boldness. Never blush to own your religion; your profession will never disgrace you: take care you never disgrace that.
H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening: Daily Readings (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1896).
ii. Peter and John are sent out: What should we do?
15 But when they had commanded them to leave the council, they conferred with one another, 16 saying, “What shall we do with these men? For that a notable sign has been performed through them is evident to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. 17 But in order that it may spread no further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.”
iii. Peter’s response: we must obey God rather than men
18 So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, 20 for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”
This is a key verse in considering what must be done when there is a conflict between living as a faithful Christian and some authority which forbids it. See Daniel 1. We must obey God even if it results in punishment
iv. Released with a threat
21 And when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way to punish them, because of the people, for all were praising God for what had happened. 22 For the man on whom this sign of healing was performed was more than forty years old.