Peter and John recalled and threatened:
So they called them in and ordered them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered them, “You must decide whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than God, for we cannot stop talking about what we have seen and heard.” So they threatened them even more and then let them go. They couldn’t find any way to punish them, because all the people continued to praise God for what had happened. For the man on whom this sign of healing had been performed was more than forty years old. (Acts 4:18-22) [ISV]
I have spent the last two Gems before this one, highlighting the nature of the threats against Peter and John. I am not going to repeat it all again but suffice to say, we have seen the nature of the prohibition was binding for as long as the disciples would live. The council threatened them a number of times to drive their point home. Yet Peter and John answer them in unison with the statement:”You must decide whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than God, for we cannot stop talking about what we have seen and heard.” What an amazing response in the light of the threats that had been made to these two. The construction in Greek is a clone of a Hebrew form which highlights the contrast between the threat and the response. You have to admit, after the build up of the threats and warnings, it is a remarkable response. Given the nature of the warnings, how could the disciples stand firm and make the statement which both of them made together? How did that happen?
There are two statements involved in their response.
- The first: You must decide whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than God.
- The second: For we cannot stop talking about what we have seen and heard.
There is an interesting word [dikaios] used here which in this context is neuter. It is not male or female grammatically but neuter. If you like, neutral, but inferring neither male or female. It is without gender. In other words it relates to the obligations or requirements connected with the Law. If it were in male or female form, grammatically it would indicate a man or a woman who was righteous. In this case as it is neuter, the sense is more the right or the correct thing to do. You judge what is right from your point of view you leaders but as far as we are concerned, we have already made our decision or judgment. Your judgment won’t influence our decision. Do you think God wants us to obey you rather than Him? The disciples statement leaves the council with nowhere to go. They, of all people, could not deny that God’s command was paramount. How do the council then respond to the disciples reply without showing themselves up for what and who they are?
Notice how skilfully Luke contrasts the people with the leaders. “They couldn’t find any way to punish them, because all the people continued to praise God for what had happened.” The leaders can’t find any way to punish them because like their leader before them (Jesus) they are innocent. While the leaders want to punish them, the people [laos] – laity, continue to praise God for what had happened. What a masterful statement which contrasts the unrighteous leaders with the people who praise God for what had happened. The leaders, of all people, who know the prophecies related to the Messiah ought to praise God for what happened. Instead it is the laity (the commoners – like the two disciples) who are praising God and standing firm for righteousness.
How is it that Peter and John can be so bold in the statement they make? One aspect of this interaction that I need to comment on before I get to what I think is the heart of it all, concerns the disciples evaluation of the council. Ithink Peter and John have summed up the council well as they have interacted with them. The council have given a number of indications that they are actuallyon shaky ground in holding this hearing. They didn’t bring any specific charges against the two disciples. They have called a rushed hearing after holding them overnight without charge. They seem cagey as to how they deal with them and have given indications thatthey are more worried about popular opinion as it relates to what has happened. They haven’t called the healed man as a part of the proceedings because clearly “the case” is not the healing. It is more about the personal theological viewpoints of those on the council. And they do not challenge these two disciples on the basis of their use of the Old Testament Scriptures. Iwonder therefore, if the disciples are made bolder given all these indications of the weak position of the council themselves. Furthermore, the council are men filled by self interest and keen to keep the good will of the people.
It is also clear that the Holy Spirit has been empowering Peter and John to stand up and give such a clear, bold account of themselves, before a council who could ask for the death penalty, as they had done in Jesus case. But Peter and John totally ignore such a possibility and at times are scathing in their criticism of the council, although are also a little forgiving or conciliatory in conceding that they were ignorant of what they were doing. Which in itself was an insult to the religious leaders who thought they knew everything.
All of the above is true but I think there is one other factor involved here which governs the two disciples’ unified response. The second statement they made was “we cannot stop talking about what we have seen and heard.” In other words, “How can we stop when our role is to be witnesses?” That is what witnesses do – they tell what they have seen and heard. Their response was effectively, “We are not able to not go on talking. We can’t stay silent.” How true! They have been commissioned by Jesus to be witnesses for Him, His ministry, His kingdom and the extension of it all. That is what the book of Acts is all about. How could they forsake the assignment and the role that has been given to them by the Messiah Himself? The answer is: they can’t. So they are prepared to lay down their lives if necessary for the sake of bearing witness to the facts related to events that have been happening in Jerusalem and the interpretation of what those facts mean. And they are prepared to do it before any authoritative body in the land. Seemingly saying they are prepared to do this in Jerusalem (where they are at the time of these events) and in Judea, Samaria and to the outermost parts of the earth. Exactly what Jesus had told them they would do. Now with all their heart, mind and soul they are being the best witnesses they can be. Nothing will sway these two from the task at hand. Certainly not an inept, clandestine Council filled with self-interest and ideas of self preservation, who consider themselves intellectually superior to all others but who have been exposed in their inadequacies by two simple fisherman filled with the Holy Spirit of God. It is such a telling statement.
There is now one more thing left to do and that is to draw your attention back to what Itold you in Gems 1432. Did you pick up on the most important of the application questions that I gave you, which every one of us needs to apply when we read this passage? I hope so. Did you work out what it was? What was in my mind was question #3 of the Traditional Method – Is there an example for me to follow? How do you measure up when it comes to you being willing to be a witness for Christ? Do you step forward boldly and give an account of the hope that is within you at any and every opportunity or do you shrink into the background at the first sign of a threat, even if it’s just a servant girl who is questioning you? Note the dramatic change in Peter in all of this. This same transformation can be yours too because you live on the right side of the Resurrection and Pentecost. You have the Holy Spirit of God living in you. Perhaps now it is time to work through all those application questions with this in mind and ask the Resurrected Lord Himself for the boldness to be a strong witness for Him, no matter who your hearers may be. Selah.
On the cross He did not hide Himself from sight; rather, He made all creation witness to the presence of its Maker.Athanasius of Alexandria
It is through the Cross that the Christian is challenged to follow his Master: no path of redemption can make a detour around it.Hans Urs von Balthasar
You are who God says you are. Spiritually alive. Heavenly positioned. A billboard of mercy. An honoured child. A witness to Him who is within you.Anon
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is God’s power for the salvation of everyone who believes, of the Jew first and of the Greek as well. PaulRomans 1:16
Now go and be a witness for Him who gave Himself for you this day. Be a Living Bible for someone today.Ian Vail