Witnessing to Sadducees
April 24th, 1977 @ 8:15 AM
WITNESSING TO SADDUCEES
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-24-77 8:15 a.m.
And thank you for joining with us on the radio of the city of Dallas and on KCBI, the radio of our Bible Institute, listening to the service of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled Witnessing to Modern Materialists; Witnessing to Modern Sadducees. In our preaching through the Book of Acts, we have come to chapter 4; and the text reads like this:
And as the apostles spake unto the people, the priests, and the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees, came upon them,
Being grieved that they taught the people, and preached through Jesus the resurrection from the dead.
And they laid hands on them, and put them in hold—
That is a good Old English word, it survives today in “stronghold,” put them in jail, put them in prison, “unto the next day: for it was now eventide” [Acts 4:1-3]. Remember, the story began in chapter 3 at three o’clock in the afternoon, and now it is “even,” it’s about six o’clock. And because of the evening they put them in prison, waiting for the next day to come.
Howbeit many of them which heard the word believed; and the number of the andrōn, the men—in distinction from women and children—was about five thousand.
And it came to pass on the morrow, that their rulers, and elders, and scribes,
And Annas the high priest, and Caiaphas, and John, and Alexander, and as many as were of the kindred of the high priest—
all of them Sadducees—
were gathered together in Jerusalem.
And when they had set them in the midst, they asked, By what power, or by what name, have ye done this?
Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said unto them…
And then follows his sermon [Acts 4:8-12].
You notice, “As they spake . . . the priests, the captain of the temple, the Sadducees, came upon them” [Acts 4:1]. Who are they? The Sadducees: they are a party that developed in the Jewish state in the interbiblical period. Their salient characteristic was this: they were the ruling aristocratic nobility. The high priest was a Sadducee, always. And his family and those that were gathered round him became the rulers of the sacerdotal Jewish state. They bargained with each of the rulers who had conquered the nation. First the Persians, then the Greeks, and now the Romans; but always with one goal in mind and that was to keep their own place and power. There wasn’t anything they would not compromise to further their own worldly and personal interests.
For example, in the eleventh chapter of the Gospel of John, the Sadducees gathered together. The high priest, who was their leader and the ruler of the Jewish state under the Romans, he says to them, “If we let this Jesus alone, all men will believe on Him, and leading a great messianic rebellion the Romans will come and take away both: number one, our place and number two, the nation; incidentally the nation, but mostly our place” [John 11:47-48]. The Sadducees were politicians of the first order, and they always maneuvered their party into power as they did counsel with and compromise with the ruling men who had conquered the country, whether Persian, or Greek, or Roman.
Now their salient beliefs were this: they were rationalists; they were materialists, all of their interests were in this world; they were earthly minded. For example, they didn’t believe in spirits, they didn’t believe in angels, they didn’t believe in the immortality of the soul; they believed that the soul died when the man died. They didn’t believe in retribution, they didn’t believe in heaven, they didn’t believe in hell, they didn’t believe in rewards, they didn’t believe in an afterlife—much less did they believe in a resurrection from the dead. Nor did they believe in the sovereignty of God, nor did they think God had anything to do with us in this life; that everything in this life was entirely in our mortal hands, and God had nothing to do with it. I would call them practical infidels and practical atheists, these Sadducees, modern materialists.
Now their contact with Jesus is very interesting. They were diametrical opposites, the Lord and the Sadducees. And there was an unresolvable difference between them; a mortal, deathly confrontation. You never read of a Sadducee who ever became a Christian, never. There never is an instance in history or in the Bible of a Sadducee embracing Christianity. Now the Pharisees were an altogether different stripe of man. Gamaliel, in this next chapter, chapter 5, Gamaliel [Acts 5:34]—who is the great rabban of that day, and the teacher, a Pharisee—Gamaliel says, “Do not bother these men. If they are not of God, their movement will perish of itself. It will atrophy of itself. But if they are of God, then you do not want to oppose it, lest you be fighting against God” [Acts 5:34, 38-39]. That’s Gamaliel, a Pharisee.
Saul of Tarsus was a Pharisee, and boasted of it. He was a student of Gamaliel [Acts 22:3]. And in the twenty-third chapter of the Book of Acts, when Paul is before this same Sanhedrin, guided by, presided over by the Sadducees, Paul noticed that there were Pharisees in the Sanhedrin just as there were Sadducees. So he said, “For the hope of the resurrection of the dead, am I called in question and am I tried before the Sanhedrin today” [Acts 23:6]. And when he said that there was a great division: the Sadducees were against him, but the Pharisees were for him and pleaded his cause [Acts 23:7-9]. They are two different groups. The Sadducean party died in 70 AD; ceased to exist forever. But the Pharisaical party continues to this day. Talmudic Judaism is what you see in all of these synagogues that are in Dallas and in the world. And that is Pharisaical Judaism, not Sadducean.
Now they had a reason to hate Jesus, and they did so with such bitterness that they finally encompassed His death. First of all, as I said, they were at opposite ends from the Lord Jesus spiritually; for the Lord was much a teacher of another world, and another life, of heaven and of hell, and of judgment, and of the resurrection from the dead, and of the immortality of the soul, just the whole Christian faith. But the Sadducees were against everything that He taught. But mostly the reason they hated Him was this: you see, the Sadducees, having made compromise and rapport with the nation that had conquered Judea—Persian, Greek, and now Roman—they had charge of the religion of the nation, and as such they had charge of the temple. And in that temple they made an immeasurably vast amount of money. For you see, you could not bring into the house of the Lord a gift that was a Roman coin, or a Greek coin, or any other kind of a coin; you had to change it into Judaic money, temple money. So those money changers sat there in the temple, and everybody that changed money, the Sadducees made a little money off of it. Every financial transaction, the Sadducees were that much better off. Then in the temple there were, in the Court of the Gentiles there was a vast array of sheep, and goats, and lambs, and oxen, even down to little turtledoves. Now these were sold for sacrifices. And every little turtledove, as well as every ox, and every lamb, or every kid, or whatever sacrifice was bought, the Sadducees made money on it. It was a lucrative thing for them, and they became enormously wealthy.
Well, the Lord, the first thing He did in His public ministry was to cleanse the temple. Do you remember He turned over the money changers’ tables, and He drove out those that sold oxen, and calves, and goats? And He said, “It is written, My house shall be made a house of prayer” [John 2:1-22]. And do you remember, when He came to the last week of His ministry, He did the same thing again? [Matthew 21:12-13]. It was an opprobrious thing in the sight of the Lord to turn God’s house into a house of merchandise, making money off of it. And the Sadducees hated Him with a bitterness that was as deep as their whole life and living itself.
Now all through His ministry they tried to entrap Him. Do you remember in the sixteenth chapter of the Book of Matthew, just as He was beginning, the Sadducees came to Him, with their cohorts, and they said, “You are a prophet, You say? Then show us a sign from heaven. For every true prophet of God must present his credentials; he must have the imprimatur of glory; he must have a sign from God” [Matthew 16:1]. Well, you remember the word of the Lord, “The only sign that will be given you is the sign of the prophet Jonah, who was in the belly of the whale three days and three nights” [Matthew 16:4; Jonah 1:17]. They had no idea what He was talking about. You see, they are not spiritually minded; these are worldly people. Then do you remember in the [twenty-second] chapter of the Book of Matthew? The Sadducees come to the Lord and tell Him that old story by which they had silenced the Pharisees for generations? “Ha, ha, ha, so you believe in the resurrection of the dead? Ha, ha, ha, ha.” Man, you can just see that bunch as they gather around the Lord: “Well, there was a man who had a wife. And the man died without leaving an issue, he did not have any son. And by the levirate law, by the law of Moses, his brother is to take the man’s wife and raise up children unto his brother, lest the brother’s name perish in the earth. So, ha, ha! There was a man—ha, ha!—who had a wife—ha, ha!—and he died and did not leave an issue, so the second brother took her; and he died without an issue, ha ha! And then the third brother took her, ha ha! And then the fourth, and the fifth, and the sixth, and the seventh, brother took her, ha ha! And he died. Now in the resurrection— ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!—whose wife shall she be?” [Matthew 22:23-28].
That is the Sadducee. That’s the Sadducee, “Now how You going to answer that? Ha, ha, ha, ha!” They had slaughtered, absolutely decimated, the Pharisees for all the generations with that same old story; that’s the Sadducees. Now you remember how the Lord said, “I AM”? [Exodus 3:6; Matthew 22:32]. Isn’t that a wonderful thing? He bases the doctrine of the resurrection upon the tense of a verb in the Bible. Remember that book I wrote, Why I Preach That The Bible Is Literally True? He bases the doctrine of the resurrection on the tense of the verb that is used. God never wrote it in the Book, “I was the God of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob.” “I am. I am the God of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob.” He is not the God of the dead; He is God of the living, “I am the God of Abraham,” He is living, “God of Isaac,” He is living, “God of Jacob,” He is living. He is a living God and has a living kingdom [Matthew 22:32; Exodus 3:6]. Tell you, “after that no man durst ask Him any question,” ha, ha! [Matthew 22:46].
Well anyway, here we are now: those same atheists, those same infidels, those same rationalists are confronting the apostles. Now you look at this text; it’s an interesting thing, and let’s just follow right on down for the remainder of this service, what time we have:
And as they were speaking, these Sadducees came upon them,
Being grieved that they taught the people,
and preached through Jesus the resurrection from the dead;
—that hated, and despised, and crucified Lord Jesus!
Now the healing of that lame man, which we’ve been preaching about in the third chapter of the Book of Acts [Acts 3:1-8], now that was just fine, you know, good deed, excellent, like giving something to the poor. But when they started preaching about Jesus—and that was the way the apostles did, just give them any kind of an opportunity and away they go, exalting the Lord Jesus, saying something great about Jesus, praising God for the Lord Jesus, and speaking of the hope we have in His resurrection—they were grieved that they were teaching and preaching the people the resurrection of the Lord Jesus [Acts 4:1-2]. So they come to bring quietus, excommunication, absolute interdiction and prohibition.
That’s not unusual; that’s the story of the Christian faith—has been from the beginning, is today—when the legate of the political authority or sacerdotal authority comes to stop the witness of the man of God. That was true in Stephen [Acts 7:1-60]; that was true with Ignatius, it was true with Justin Martyr, it was true with John Chrysostom, it was true with Savonarola, it was true with Balthazar Hübmaier, it was true with John Bunyan, it was true with Roger Williams, it is true today in a thousand places in this earth. When the communists try to stop the witness of the man of God, that’s an usual thing in the Christian faith. So they come upon them and seek to interdict their speaking, and witnessing, and preaching, and worshiping, and loving the Lord Jesus [Acts 4:1-3]. Then the Lord puts a little comma here, you see that fourth verse? The Lord says, “Now wait a minute. Now wait a minute. Now just pause for just a second.” And the Lord says, “I have got My finger right there. Howbeit, howbeit, even though these two preachers are in jail, howbeit, there were thousands of the people who were believing?” [Acts 4:4]. And that’s exactly the way it is all over the world today. We’ve got our preachers in jail in Russia, we have our preachers in jail, or executed, or in the grave in China; but underneath there are thousands and thousands of Christian believers. And whenever they have opportunity to appear, you will be amazed at the Baptists in Russia, and at the Baptists in China, and all over this world. God just puts His finger there, “Now you just wait and pause, just wait a minute” [Acts 4:4], and then He goes on.
And it came to pass on the morrow, the next day, that they took those two preachers in jail, from jail, and brought them before Annas the high priest, and Caiaphas, his son-in-law, who was high priest with him, and John, and Alexander—
and all of the Sadducees—
and they set them in the midst.
Man! What a graphic word that is, “and set them in the midst” [Acts 4:7]. There were seventy members of the Sanhedrin, and they always sat in a semicircle; and in the middle of the semicircle sat the high priest. There were seventy-one members in the Sanhedrin: seventy who sat in a semicircle always, and he, the high priest, the Sadducee, the ruling Sadducee, in the midst. Then, when they had assembled all of the Sanhedrin—translated in the Bible, “the council” [Acts 4:15], always it’s translated in the Bible “council,” Sanhedrin—when they assembled the Sanhedrin, and the high priest presiding on it, then they brought in those two preachers, Peter and John [Acts 4:7].
Why, I can just see that, can’t you? They’re going to outface those ignorant and unlearned men. Remember how it started off? Simon Peter says to that poor lame man who was placed at the Beautiful Gate at the temple, “Look upon us” [Acts 3:4]. Well, that might be all right, and they might get by with a poor lame beggar looking in their faces. But, brother! When they face Annas, and Caiaphas, and Alexander, and John, and the council, and the high priests, they’ll stutter and stammer, that’s why they brought them there.
Why, take that man, Simon Peter, before that same council, the Sanhedrin. A little maid, while he was just outside the door, came up and began to notice his Galilean accent, and Simon Peter just wilted [Matthew 26:69-75]. That’s what they thought would happen here. “Man, we get those two preachers before this august assembly, the Sanhedrin, presided over by the ruling sacerdotal high priest, they’ll be like straw, blown away by the mocking wind. They’ll turn to a rag! We’ll outface them; they can’t stand up here and face Caiaphas, and Annas, and John, and Alexander” [Acts 4:6]. They had it all mapped out.
So they start. They look at those worms—and don’t have time this morning; we’ll just pick it up a little later. They look at those worms, and contemptuously, the way it was written, referring to them contemptuously, so they ask a very innocent question—looks innocent to us—and they sat them in the midst and they asked, “By what power, or by what name, have you done this?” [Acts 4:7]. Now doesn’t that sound innocent? See they are smart! Don’t ever think that these infidels, and these critics, and these rationalists aren’t smart; they are. Man, they are teaching in our universities! They have practically all of our whole academic world, and they’re brilliant. And these fellows are just like them. And these are just like them; they’re just like these. They are all smart; they’re all brilliant. And so they’ve got a cunning, cunning question. Just sounds so innocent, “By what power, by what name, have ye done this?” [Acts 4:7].
Why, I can just see that high priest as he stands there presiding over that council. You see, if they answer, “We have healed that man by the name of Jehovah God,” why, that’s just fine; you could say anything like that; why, that’s just wonderful, that’s just wonderful. This fellow got healed, and God healed him; that’s just marvelous. But brother, if they say in some other name, some other power, some other name, like the name of Jesus—if they say some other name, I can just see that high priest getting ready to do the same thing exactly that he did when he tried Jesus [Matthew 26:57-65]: if they say some other name in that temple, bring in some other “false” religion in that temple dedicated to Jehovah God, I can just see that high priest, he’s ready to rend his clothes again, and to cry, “What need have we for other witness? [Matthew 26:65]. He has blasphemed! What think ye?” [Matthew 26:66], and they all reply, “They are worthy of death!” That’s exactly what they did with the Lord Jesus, “He has blasphemed, worthy of death” [Matthew 26:66]. That’s what they expected here, exactly [Acts 4:7].
I want to say something to you about that infidel, and about that rationalist, and about that materialist, and about all of those professors that seek to get you into the quagmire of modus operandi, of ways and means, and how things are done and explained. Brother, you’re lost if you ever get into that quagmire. That’s what they want to do: they want to pull away your religion from the fact of it, and from the power of it, and from the meaning of it, and the saving grace of it; and they want to fill it with all kinds of metaphysical disquisitions, and speculations, and philosophical approaches, and hypotheses, and theories. That’s what they do, and that’s all that they do. You can go to their schools, you can sit in their classes for a hundred thousand years, and that’s exactly what you will find in those academic circles of these rationalists and unbelievers. They’re talking philosophically, they’re talking theoretically, they’re talking hypothetically, and they are asking for all kinds of ways, and means, and explanations. That’s exactly what they were doing here. They don’t change; the devil is just alike from the beginning unto the end, and they are just alike. They don’t ever change.
Well, you know what happened? You know what happened? “Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said…” [Acts 4:8]. Man, alive! When that fellow got started, they couldn’t stop him. It was a floodtide of words, of power, and witness, and testimony. “This man Simon Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit of God” [Acts 4:8], it’s like a preacher multiplied by deity: the panoply of heaven is around him and on him, and all of the angels of God are surrounding him. And there he is just pouring out his whole soul and life in testimony to all of that bunch of infidels.
I haven’t got time to do anything except just close the sermon. There are two things that he did in his sermon. Number one, he pointed to Jesus—pointed to Jesus [Acts 4:10-12]—and number two, he pointed to that lame man who had been healed. You see verse 14, “And beholding the man who had been healed standing with them, they could say nothing at all” [Acts 4:14]. Their mouths were shut. Which reminds me: a way to deal with the agnostic, and the atheist, and the infidel, and the rationalist, and the critic, and the unbeliever, the way to do is not to enter into philosophical, speculative, metaphysical explanations; the way to do it is to bring the saved man and let him be “Exhibit A.” Look at him, look at him! This is what God can do; this is the power of the Holy Spirit. Look at him; the changed life, and the changed heart, and the changed man, look at him. That’s exactly what they did. For you see, Christianity is not a philosophical disquisition, and it’s not a hypothetical theory, and it is not all kinds of dissertations, and discussions; Christianity is a saving fact, an indisputable fact, and that’s the way to present it to the world, “Look what God is able to do” [Acts 4:14].
It’s like this: Harry Ironside, one of the great, great, great expositional expository preachers of our generation, died just a few years ago. Pastor for so many years of the Moody Memorial Church in Chicago; great man of God—came here to church one time just to see how we were doing—he was out there in San Francisco, out in a street, with the Salvation Army. They were having a big service out in the street, and they called on Harry Ironside to preach. So he stood there on the streets in San Francisco and preached the gospel of the grace of Jesus the Son of God. And when he got through, a blatant infidel came up to him, and he said, “I heard your sermon. I listened to you preach. It’s a lie,” he said. And he said, “I challenge you to a debate. You name the time and you name the place. I challenge you to a debate.” Harry Ironside immediately replied, “Accepted, accepted. We’ll meet in the hall of the Salvation Army, which is in the center of this city. Only the debate will be like this: I shall bring one hundred men who have been saved out of the gutter, out of the grave of despair and darkness. I’ll bring a hundred men who have been saved by the power of the Son of God. And then you bring a hundred men who have been saved from a life of despair and darkness by the gospel of atheism. And we’ll have our debate.”
Where would you find a hundred men in the whole world, much less in San Francisco, who had been lifted up out of the miry clay by the gospel of atheism, and rationalism, and infidelity? You couldn’t do it. You couldn’t even find a song to sing at the service. Who wants to sing a song about unbelief, and rejection, and atheism, and infidelity? The fellow tucked himself away. You see, that’s the Christian faith. It’s not philosophical, hypothetical theory; it’s fact. Gospel message is always fact. And when a man preaches the gospel, he preaches the fact of the Lord Jesus [Acts 8:35].
Let’s go on a minute more, just, you know in my reading, the most interesting things I come across. I came across this in the life of John Wesley. He was preaching at Epworth, where he grew up as a boy; Epworth, in England, John Wesley. And angry neighbors filled a wagon full of the heretics who were converted by John Wesley, and wagged them off to the magistrate, and set them all, the whole wagon load of these heretics who were old-time Methodists—not these new-time Methodists that don’t believe anything, but old-time Methodists. Man! They were shouting Methodists, they were converted Methodists, they were Christ-honoring Methodists, they were revival Methodists, they were John Wesley Methodists. I’d call them, say, Nazarenes, today. They were holiness Methodists—wagonload of them, wagged off to the magistrate. And the magistrate said, “Now, what is the accusation against them?” My soul! They forgot about the accusation and there was a deep silence. Finally one of them said, “They think they’re better than other people.” And another silence, and finally another stood up and he said, “They pray all day long from morning to evening.” And there was another silence. And finally one of them said, “They converted my wife.” And the magistrate said, “That so? How?” “Well,” the fellow said, “I don’t rightly know. She used to have a razor-sharp tongue, and now she’s just meek as a lamb.” The magistrate said, “Listen, you take this bunch of heretics and send them back to the town, and may they convert everybody in Epworth!” That’s in the life of John Wesley. Man! Produce the best argument in the world: the man, he’s standing there.
I close. A professor of theology at a seminary, been teaching about Jesus all of his academic life, his son came to him one day and he said, “Dad, I saw the real thing today. I saw the real thing today.” He said, “Dad, I’ve been down at the mission. I’ve been looking at the real thing today.” He said, “It’s funny, Dad, I never saw it before. I never saw it before.” Isn’t that something? Here is a boy growing up in the home of a theological professor; all of his life had been introduced to those theological dispositions, and forensics, and discussions, and arguments. But he never saw it until he went down to the mission. That’s the Christian faith: what God is able to do with a man; namely, me. Namely, you. That’s the faith. The most factual thing in life, more real than the sun, more real than the earth: for when the sun, the moon, the stars, and the earth have passed away, we’ll still be praising the Lord. That’s the faith.
Now we stand and sing our hymn of appeal, and while we sing the song, a family, a couple, or just one somebody you, to give himself to Jesus [Ephesians 2:8], will you come and stand by me? Out of that balcony, and there’s time and to spare; on this lower floor, into the aisle, “Here I am, pastor, I give you my hand. The Lord has spoken to me, too, and I’m coming.” To take the Lord as Savior [Romans 10:9-13], to put your life with us in this dear and wonderful church, as God shall open the door and lead the way, may the angels attend you as you come, while we stand and while we sing.
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-24-77I. The Sadducees
A. Their party arose during inter-biblical period
1. Salient characteristics
a. The ruling aristocracy
b. Bargained with conquering leaders to keep their place in office (John 11:48)
2. Destroyed in 70 A.D. when city was destroyed
B. They were rationalists, materialists
1. Rejected entire spiritual world
2. Practical atheists
C. Their contact with Christ
1. Diametrically opposite
2. Never read of a Sadducee embracing Christianity (Acts 5, 23:6-9)
3. Hated Christ for His spiritual teaching and cleansing of temple
4. Sought to entrap Christ (Matthew 16:1, 6, 11, 22:23-33)II. Confronting the apostles
A. Grieved they preached Jesus and the resurrection (Acts 4:2)
1. Not the first time official legate sought to stop the witness of God
2. Continues throughout Christian history to present
B. They set them in the midst (Acts 4:5-7a)
1. Meant to “out-face” the ignorant preachers
C. Ask, “By what name?”
D. Peter filled with Holy Spirit points to Jesus and to the saved man (Acts 4:10, 14)