In most of life’s ventures, when whatever we are seeking to do does not go swimmingly well, it is our first tendency to speculate that perhaps what we are doing is wrong … or we are using the wrong methods. A lack of success surely equals a lack of blessing. The presence of opponents, skeptics, naysayers, and even aggressively angry adversaries indicates that there is something wrong with the message or messenger, right? That seems to make sense.
But when it comes to the proclamation of the Gospel message of Christ, opposition is par for the course. Jesus said it would be like this – the people of the systems of this world persecuted him and they will persecute his followers as well.
Continuing on today with the story of the healing of the lame man (a fellow over age 40), Peter and John run into some serious opposition. Actually, the opposition ran into them, as the word used here describes a very sudden and unexpected action. The guys rushing upon them were the varied religious leaders of the day along with the virtual temple police force. The size and clamoring of the crowd had obviously attracted their attention. You can almost read between the lines and hear them saying, “Oh no, it’s this crazy Jesus/resurrection stuff going on again.
So Peter and John are thrown into prison in order to be dealt with the next day. But Luke makes it clear that this imprisonment did not squash the effects of the preaching, as the number of followers (counting the men only) had grown now to about 5,000.
The next day they appear before the semi-circle-seated Sanhedrin – a group of the top 71 religious leaders in Jerusalem, along with other experts gathered all around them. They demand to know the power behind this miracle – not that they wanted to rejoice in it, but rather that they may negate it in every way possible so as to hang onto their positions of authority. Ultimately, they cannot with political success really do much about it, since everyone has seen the obvious miracle that transpired. All they could effectively hope to do is threaten these men to no longer speak in this name of Jesus the Resurrection. This threat (and others not delineated) served as warnings and the legal basis for any subsequent actions.
Do you expect opposition to your Christian life, values, and witness? Or are you rather astounded that God allows it to happen to you? Frankly, we should expect it; we should not be surprised by opposition when serving God. On this matter of serving, a friend of mine gave me a book that he wrote about being faithful in the face of opposition. A passage that has oft run through my mind is where he said: “This matter of calling is important to all believers. I, like Jeremiah, was a ‘reluctant prophet.’ God fingered me to serve him when I was planning to do other things. In return, I had no alternative but to consent to do his bidding. How peculiar this God who calls hesitant preachers and then complicates their work beyond belief! One would expect the vineyard owner to give his workers the easiest of paths since they are only trying to obey him.”
No, God puts us in difficult places that are beyond us and above us, in order that in our weakness his strength may be all the more clear. And it is through that opposition that God does his work of kingdom addition. We should expect it, and we should move ahead faithfully.
Peter and John before the Sanhedrin (Acts 4:1-22)
4 The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people. 2 They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people, proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. 3 They seized Peter and John and, because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day. 4 But many who heard the message believed; so the number of men who believed grew to about five thousand.
5 The next day the rulers, the elders and the teachers of the law met in Jerusalem. 6 Annas the high priest was there, and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander and others of the high priest’s family. 7 They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: “By what power or what name did you do this?”
8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! 9 If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, 10 then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. 11 Jesus is “‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.’
12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”
13 When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. 14 But since they could see the man who had been healed standing there with them, there was nothing they could say.15 So they ordered them to withdraw from the Sanhedrin and then conferred together. 16 “What are we going to do with these men?” they asked. “Everyone living in Jerusalem knows they have performed a notable sign, and we cannot deny it. 17 But to stop this thing from spreading any further among the people, we must warn them to speak no longer to anyone in this name.”
18 Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John replied, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! 20 As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”
21 After further threats they let them go. They could not decide how to punish them, because all the people were praising God for what had happened. 22 For the man who was miraculously healed was over forty years old.