Sunday, 10 January 2021

Red Lines to Opposition - Acts 4

Peter and the Apostles are regularly proclaiming Jesus and His Kingdom in the temple courts area. It has become a core practice (see Acts 2 last week) for the new believers to hear their teaching about Jesus and the Kingdom, and being a public space anyone else who wants to can also hear.

But this teaching isn't just all theory. In chapter 3 Peter & John are stopped by the lame person begging. Peter puts the teaching into practice - the Kingdom of Jesus involves radically transforming people's impoverished lives - so Peter declares healing in the name of Jesus! The man gets up healed ...

This of course draws a crowd, and crowds draw the attention of the authorities. They are not pleased, because they don't have control of the crowd, and the teaching of Jesus is alien to them. So in chapter 4 they send the heavy boys in and haul Peter & John away, to throw them in jail overnight. This is a direct power encounter - those in charge ask 'by what power or authority have you done this?'. They ask because they see authority in the name of Jesus as a direct threat to their own authority.

Peter answers bold and clear: this act of kindness to the lame man was in the name of Jesus, Jesus who was crucified but is now raised from the dead. This Jesus is the cornerstone on whom everything sits! This is a Holy Spirit fuelled response, a wonderful moment of the promise of Jesus come real. Jesus had said to the disciples that opposition will come, they will be hauled before the authorities - and that when that tight spot occurs the Holy Spirit will give them the very words to speak (see Matthew 10:19). This is that moment!

The authorities were in a dizzy spin. On the one hand the crowd were with Peter (for the man was healed after all), but on the other they cannot simply let this ride. So they give an edict - a new regulation - to not speak or teach about Jesus going forward. This restriction goes directly against that first core thing we read in Acts 2 - the teaching of Jesus and His Kingdom. Peter responds correctly with 'No Way! We must speak of Jesus and His Kingdom - it is the right thing for us to do'. Peter understood that you cannot cut out the message of Jesus and His Kingdom. To do that makes everything else a waste of time. Peter is someone now 'in Christ', so overflowing with the news of the Kingdom is now fundamental to who he is. Check out Acts 1:8 where Jesus says 'you will be my witnesses' ... so witnesses they will be!

Let us learn three lessons from this story:

1) There will be opposition

We must expect it and not be so surprised! Yet note v4, with Peter & John in jail Luke still records that 'many believed, their number grew'. That's the 2:47 phrase repeated for the first time (there will be many as we read through Acts). Despite opposition God was at work and numbers were growing!

2) Jesus and His Kingdom are the priority

Peter is telling primarily about Jesus and His Kingdom. The business of 'church' (gathering believers) would then follow from this. Note Peter isn't saying 'check out our new church, we have this great stuff going on ...', he is simply talking the good news of Jesus and inviting people to turn to Him. Any gathering will then result from that.

So we should get this right: lead people to Jesus first & foremost. Perhaps some will respond to Jesus but end up in another church? We should be fine with that, much as we would love them to join Countess Free Church, because His Kingdom rather than our numbers is the priority. Of course we hope other churches will also have Kingdom priority, so it could be that their contacts might end up with us!

3) Telling about Jesus was a 'Red Line'

People can disagree with you, think you are mad, or even be outright horrible to you because of your faith & witness - that is opposition (see lesson 1). Yet they can't change who you are in Christ - someone who can and will tell about Jesus. As someone in Christ resolve to keep this as a 'red line', something you won't give up. See in v19 Peter had a principle of 'Godly commission over-rides human edicts', and so would keep on speaking.

Now we do want to do this sensitively. witness is a balance of 'being' (who we are, the way we live), 'doing' (our actions), and 'words' (direct telling). If we are just 'being' then we risk being just passive, leaving those around us to be swayed by any and everything swirling around. If we are just 'doing' then we risk being ambiguous - it may not be clear to observers 'why' we do what we do. If we are just 'words' we risk insensitively clobbering people, or being hollow and having no substance.

People say 'actions speak louder than words', and they quote 'preach by all means, if necessary use words'. The latter some believe to be from St Francis of Assisi (others dispute that though). Regardless of the disputes, both phrases carry truth, but the reality is balance is required and in striking that balance it does become necessary to use words.

So if we are told to 'stop speaking' I suggest doing 2 things. First resolve to keep on witnessing, but check with trusted friends to ensure we are not being wildly insensitive. Second pray - see in v23 they prayed for the Spirit to embolden them, let us pray also for the Spirit to direct us in our speaking.

Conclusion: Spirit Empowering

Peter & John were emboldened. For them following Jesus wasn't a 'lifestyle choice', like a new year fitness regime or diet. They were compelled to share, even when it lead them into tight spots and power encounters. They did this (see verse 8) 'filled with the Spirit'. All these actions derive from their encounter with Jesus and the Pentecost Spirit filling experience. Let us too pray and have our resolve to speak of Jesus and His Kingdom, backed by our seeking Jesus and the filling of His Spirit ... so that our witness may be emboldened and Spirit-fuelled.

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