Sometimes human leaders tell us to do things God has told us not to do, or they tell us to stop doing things God has told us we must do. And then they force us to choose whether we will obey them or God. By nature, Christians prefer to be peaceful and obey civil and religious authorities, and the Bible tells us that under normal circumstances thats the way we should live (Ro 13:1-7). But there may be times when the spiritual health of a leader declines or the mood of a culture or society darkens to the point that open hostility arises toward the God of the Bible. His moral standards and His claim to be our rightful ruler and judge always has, and will until this age ends, offend unbelievers. What seems so right to us can really make people angry, and sometimes that anger erupts into persecution. When that happens, believers become openly criticized and watched. Unreasonable demands are placed on them, and theyre forced to choose who they will obey.
This is exactly the situation confronting our forefathers and mothers in this passage in the Book of Acts. They were being forced to choose who they would obey, and threatened with severe punishment if they chose to obey God. So their response provides a very important model for us, because not only did the threats directed at them fail to stop them from proclaiming Christ, but God Himself responded in a dramatic way, that showed how pleased He was with them. Clearly, there are times when believers must engage in godly disobedience to human authority.
Facing the council (vs. 15-22)
A) The councils goal: stop the spread of faith in Jesus
B) The councils method:
1) Try to induce fear. Notice:
They had no proof they could bring out to show that Jesus had not risen from the dead.
They had no scriptural response to counter the prophetic passages that the Messiah will suffer (those had to be developed over the centuries that followed).
They show no trace of conviction that they may have been wrong in their opposition to Jesus.
They had no explanation for the miracle that had taken place (Lk 16:31)
2) Avoid public scrutiny so their real attitudes wouldnt be exposed
C) The apostles answer (vs 19, 20)
Peter and John show us that there are boundaries to obeying human authority. There are times we must say no! Every person has to decide this question for themselves: when human authority clashes with Gods authority who will I obey? Peter and John tell the council that they had no choice but to obey their Master who told them to be His witnesses (Ac 1:8).
Facing their Master (vs 23-31)
When the church gathered and heard Peter and Johns report, their response was to immediately turn to God in prayer. Notice they didnt hold a planning session or take a vote. They prayed, and what they said to God shows us their faith and their courage. In the future the persecution would grow so intense that many would be forced to flee for their lives (Ac 8:1), but that moment had not yet arrived. For now they were being told to stand firm. Lets listen to their prayer:
1) Their God: their prayer revealed what they believed about God. He is their:
Master: rightful owner
Creator: powerful beyond comprehension
Foreknower: He knew this would happen and would use it to fulfill His plan
Controller: He would take charge and direct these events
Big God, little devil/Big devil, little God
2) Their request: Their prayer revealed what they believed God wanted them to do.
See their threats: Ask for protection
Empower us to speak: Ask for holy boldness
Extend your hand: Ask for more miracles to glorify the name of Jesus
3) Gods response: The place was shaken, they were filled with the Holy Spirit, they spoke boldly (probably prophecy and tongues).
Facing our changing society
No one can miss the fact that our society is changing around us. Were following western Europe in becoming a post-Christian culture. Things that were once wrong have become right and things that were once right have become wrong. So we need some coaching on how to live in this new environment. As we watch and listen to the early church they show us the way forward.
1) Choose Masters: each of us must settle in his or her own mind where the boundaries are, and be prepared to practice godly disobedience.
2) Be wise as serpents and harmless as doves (Mt 10:16)
Dont stir up unnecessary trouble. If theres going to be a fight, make sure its about Gods clear command.
Dont give the devil the opportunity to discredit you by being impure (1Pe 2:11, 12)
3) Focus on people, not politics
Our call is to change a society the old fashioned way, one soul at a time
4) Keep our eye on the ball: make disciples
Refuse to let anyone pull your hope and your energy off of bringing people to Jesus
5) Take the log out of our own eye (Mt 7:5)
Lets tone down some of the harsh criticism of our unbelieving society and address our own glaring failures. When we do, our godly lives will preach for us (living prophetically).
At this point, the western church has a huge log in its eye:
- our lack of personal holiness
- our lack of spiritual power
- the forgotten gospel (where is the new heart?)
- our lack of good works: service, mission, care of the poor, care of our own family members...
- ignorance of the Bible
- our lack of intercessory prayer
- our lack of love for one another
6) Thank God for His assignment
This is my generation
This is my city, my state, my nation
This is my church-family, among whom I hear the Word, worship, serve, fellowship and pray
Praying with them
If you and I had been in that room, would we have had the faith and courage to pray that prayer with them? Or would fear have gripped us and left us looking for ways to compromise in order to avoid being persecuted? Would we have asked for boldness to keep on speaking or would we have begged for protection? Whom would we have chosen to obey? As you and I listen to their prayer it presses each of us to give an answer. If weve already decided who well serve, and are ready to ask for boldness, not safety, as we face our future, lets join them in prayer:
And now, Lord. Take note of their threats, and grant that your bond-servants may speak your word with all confidence, while You extend Your hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Your holy servant Jesus. (Ac 4:29, 30)
1) Have you ever had to take an unpopular stand for Jesus? Did God come to help you? What did you see Him do?
2) Have you been able to thank God for where Hes put you, or do you wish you lived in the past or the future or someplace else in the world?
3) Is there an issue where you are struggling to know where Gods boundary is? If you would like to discuss it with your Life Group feel free to mention it.