“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. But seeing the man who was healed standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition. But when they had commanded them to leave the council, they conferred with one another, 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. 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.” So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 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, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” 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. For the man on whom this sign of healing was performed was more than forty years old.” (Acts 4:13-22 ESV)
I work for an institution of higher education and believe that education is essential to personal success and the future success of our world. But, I’m also realistic and recognize that education doesn’t automatically resolve all of our issues. In fact, it can and often does contribute to them. Now, I realize that sounds a bit ironic or even schizophrenic, so let me explain. While education is intended to impart knowledge it can’t impart wisdom. Wisdom comes only from God and through experience. But knowledge without wisdom is generally egotistical and self-serving. As Francis Bacon said, “Knowledge is power.” We see this in our culture and it is quite evident in many cultures and generations.
In our passage today, the Jewish leaders make an assumption about the Apostles and their perceived lack of education. As I suggested above, education is generally recognized as giving power and authority of the educated over the uneducated. These leaders are shocked by Peter and John’s demeanor and boldness in the face of their threats and authority. “These are uneducated and common men, how dare they question our authority. How can they stand here and be so bold and defiant to us?” They were simply astonished. Then they make another observation, they’ve been with Jesus. It was as if someone said, “You know, this all seems familiar. Where have I seen this same boldness, this same attitude before? Oh yeah, weren’t these men with Jesus? They’re acting just like he did when we threatened him.”
But notice that what these leaders saw in Peter and John wasn’t rudeness or brashness, but was a verbal boldness or a strong, confident manner of speaking. In other words, they spoke about things they knew to be factual and true and that gave them the ability to speak confidently, sure of themselves and what they said. This left the Jewish leaders simply astonished. There’s a huge difference between speaking about things you’ve been taught but never personally experienced and things you’ve actually learned through personal experience. There are things you’ve learned and things you KNOW. When you know them, deep down inside your soul, then you speak with quiet but confident certainty, with resolve. That’s what is happening in our story. Peter and John are speaking about things they know because they’ve SEEN the truth. They speak with certainty, confident boldness.
I fear we also stand astonished at Peter and John’s boldness. How can these uneducated, common fishermen make such an impact on the world? How could they go from sleeping through the Gethsemane struggle, scattering when Jesus is arrested, denying even knowing Him at His trial and, ultimately, hiding fearfully behind locked doors to being bold, confident and outspoken witnesses? How can you change like that in a matter of just a few days? How? I’ll tell you how… They were absolutely convinced of the truth and power of the resurrection.
How can we become bold, confident and outspoken witnesses? When we become convinced that death has been stripped of its power and authority over our lives then we will be truly transformed. When we become absolutely convinced of the truth of Jesus’ resurrection then we can be transformed in how we think about the priorities of life and how we respond to the challenges of life (see Rom. 12 – 15). When the power of the resurrection floods our lives then we will become bold, confident witnesses for Jesus, too. When man, beast, demon and Satan are stripped of their power over life then we lose all fear of them. It’s only when we fear something that it can control us. Take away the fear and you’ve taken away their power.
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” (1 John 4:18 ESV)
Wait, what’s love got to do with it? I thought confidence in the resurrection was the key? God’s love for you is most clearly and powerfully evidenced in the resurrection.
“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly… but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.” (Romans 5:6, 8-10 ESV)
Did you catch that last statement? We were reconciled to God by the death of His Son but even more than being reconciled, we are saved (from death) by His life (His resurrection). We aren’t just forgiven and reconciled in relationship to God, we are promised eternal life through His resurrection.
Ok, now that we’ve established how the Apostles were able to speak with such boldness and authority, notice the response from the religious leaders. They acknowledged the incredible truth and overwhelming evidence of the miraculous healing, but they immediately sought to squelch its impact and limit its reach. “We can’t deny it happened and that it is a ‘sign’ of notable importance but we can try and keep it from getting any bigger. We can’t do anything about what’s already happened, but we can certainly try and make it irrelevant.” They are confronted by the power of God and while they can’t undo the damage, they can certainly use their power and influence to try and minimize the impact.
Sounds a lot like Moses in Pharaoh’s court. “Well Moses, that was certainly a very impressive trick with that staff becoming a snake. But, watch this… guys, you court magicians, show him that snake trick of yours. Wait, Moses what’s your snake doing? No! It’s killing and eating the other snakes. That’s not fair. By the way, what was it you wanted me to do? Let your people go? Worship their God? Seriously? Come back tomorrow and we’ll talk about it… Blood! Come back tomorrow, we’ll talk about it… Frogs! Come back tomorrow, we’ll talk about it… first born? Really? Come back tomorrow…
Many today will respond in a similar way. They can be confronted by the reality of God all around them and still deny His presence. They can see the miracles and still deny their source. Our task is not to convince or convert but to confess. We can only respond the way Peter did, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” Notice that Peter didn’t get angry over their response, he simply put the decision back on them. He presented the truth and they were responsible for how they responded. We must do the same. Present the truth, the evidence regarding Christ, and then let them decide. Tell them, “You decide, given the evidence, should you listen to the world or God?”
Maybe you’ve responded in a similar way in the past. It is easy, in a culture that denies the supernatural or anything that suggests we are accountable to a holy God, to take the same approach. Just deny what you don’t understand or that is contradictory to your personal desires. It’s easier to say God doesn’t exist than it is to make yourself submissive to Him. It’s easier to hide behind a cultural lie than it is to be transformed by His death and resurrection. You decide, given the evidence, should you listen to the world or God?
In closing, let me challenge those of you who are already believers with similar words. We live in a culture that is growing more and more hostile towards Biblical beliefs. Not everyone in our culture denies the existence of the supernatural, but many have rejected historical Christian beliefs. They might believe in a god, but not necessarily the God of scripture. In many ways, that’s precisely what happened in this story. These religious leaders didn’t reject belief in God, but they did reject belief in Jesus as God. So, in essence they believed in a god, but not God as He had revealed himself in Christ. That’s precisely what we are seeing in our culture, today. People around us often believe in god (little “g” intentional), but they reject Jesus and His exclusive claims of being God.
To reject His claims of being God’s Son is to reject him and his teachings. There’s no other option. As C.S. Lewis said in Mere Christianity, “I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
You must decide, too. Either he is just a lunatic or He’s the Son of God. He’s left us no other options. If you think Him a lunatic, you’ve already dismissed my words and I’m surprised you’re still reading. If so, please consider the evidence. Here’s a link to a brief article I wrote regarding the evidence for the resurrection. If you do believe he’s the Son of God, then you cannot, must not be silent. You must respond like Peter, “for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” Be renewed in your thinking and transformed in your actions when you consider what He has done for you through His mercy…
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:1-2 ESV)