Cooler Heads – October 25, 2020
October 25, 2020
“Let cooler heads prevail.” That’s the expression that came to mind for me as I read this story. And the words “cooler heads” refer, of course, to people who are “not so angry.” It’s “Cooler heads” as opposed to “hot heads!”
That expression came to mind because there were a lot of “hot heads” in this story. And so much of the behavior of these people on the religious council, that we think was so weird, is driven by the word “enraged,” which we read in verse 33.
These men were angry about what was happening. They thought they had eliminated this Jesus. And it wasn’t easy to do! But they did it! Or so they thought! Now it was coming back at them, and in some ways it was now worse. They had arrested Peter and John after healing the lame man at the Temple gate. They had charged them not to talk any more about Jesus. But they went right back at it.
Now, at the beginning of our reading for today, a “mass healing” had taken place, much like the one Jesus performed early in the Gospel of Luke. If you remember that story, Jesus had just healed Peter’s mother-in-law, and people found out about it. And they brought to him the sick and infirmed from all over the region. Now the same thing was happening with Peter and the other disciples.
And I wonder what the people were thinking. If you think about it, Peter and the others were quickly becoming as popular as Jesus. Many of these people had seen the signs and wonders he had done. Now this! And they knew something big was happening. But they also knew their leaders were not happy about it. Look at verse 13 here. “The Apostles were in Solomon’s portico, but none of the rest dared join them. But the people held them in high honor.” They held them in high honor, and they were coming to believe in ever greater numbers. But, they were afraid of the priests.
So then, filled with jealousy – and I think, filled with emotion and anger – the priests had them arrested – again! And think about it. They had them arrested for what? For healing people!! Doesn’t that seem incongruous to us? It makes no sense, does it? They arrested them for doing good things – even miraculous things!
But they did more! Because next, they assembled the whole government of Israel. That’s how Luke describes it. They were preparing for a full-blown trial! But when they sent for the disciples in the prison, they were gone! The jail was still locked up, but they were gone! An angel had come and released them! And the priests “were perplexed, wondering what this would come to.” I’ll bet they were!
In the meantime, Peter and John went right back to the temple and started telling the story again. And so, the priests and the captains arrested them yet again, and brought them back to the council. But this time, Luke is careful to tell us that they did so “without violence, for they feared being stoned by the people!”
It’s getting more bizarre, isn’t it? The people possibly stoning their own leaders? And this is where we have to be careful not to read this with our “Bible voice.” You know, that voice where we tend to leave out the tension and emotion. Because the emotion in this story is one of the biggest things! We can only imagine how angry these guys were. The high priest said to Peter. “We charged you not to speak. We gave you a legal injunction – a cease and desist order – and yet you did this anyway!”
Peter answered him. And he reminded them all that they had to obey God instead of them. You may remember that response from before, and how they weren’t very happy about it. And then he gave them the Readers Digest version of the story of Jesus, and this is where the emotions in this story really “ramped up!” This is where this word “enraged” comes into play. This is where the “hot heads” really turn hot! They wanted to kill them! Just think of the irony of that! The religious leaders of Israel, wanted to kill these disciples!
Well, now we hear from this man called Gamaliel. And this is the part I love! And here’s where I think the expression “Let cooler heads prevail” really takes place. At least this is one “cooler head.” Gamaliel was a respected leader among them, and he gives them some great advice. And this is the most rational sounding thing we’ve heard yet from the council!
In his statement, I want you to see that Gamaliel focused on God. “Look guys!” he said. “These are ‘God things’ that are happening here!” “Think about this!” And he gave them some very good “reasoning.” He reminded them of other people who tried to make something of themselves, and tried to lead people astray, and how they failed. And he told them that, if these men were making all this up, and it wasn’t true, they would fail, too. But, if what they were saying and doing was of God, they wouldn’t be able to stop them, and they might even find themselves fighting against God!
Those were not just wise words! They were incredibly wise words!!! And I want you to think about how that played into what was happening here, and what sometimes happens with us. When we get angry – like these men – we stop thinking clearly! Oh, we think we’re thinking! But it’s often our anger that’s doing the thinking, isn’t it? And our reasoning becomes flawed – though we don’t always see that, either. Because when we are angry, we become focused only on “being right!”
I hope you see that. Because I see that as one of the biggest problems in our country today. So much of the arguments and division have in this country is based on anger, and even hatred. And once those things are in play, we stop thinking. And again, we think we’re thinking! But our reasoning is often flawed, and it’s often focused only on being right!
I say that because many people have forgotten such things in this country, if they ever knew them in the first place – or gave them any credence. People today have justified their emotional thinking. “I am angry!” “And I can’t help how I feel!” “I deserve to be angry.” “I’m righteous in my anger!” Folks, not all anger is righteous!
What I see today is so sad to me – especially this election year! I would love to think we could have someone in leadership that everyone would “get behind” somehow, [or that we can all get behind whoever is in leadership.] You may say I’m a dreamer! Well, I guess I am. I feel like John Lennon must have felt writing the song “Imagine.” Do you remember that song?
I’m not crazy about the “Imagine there’s no heaven” part of that song, but this part is hanging in my mind.
“Imagine all the people living life in peace
You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.
I hope someday you will join me, and all the world will be as one.”
Those words have been going around in my head this week. And maybe I am a dreamer. And frankly I have my doubts that’s even possible any more. As a society, I believe we have lost much of the ability to respect someone we disagree with. But as God’s people, we can do better! We can choose to do better! We follow a Jesus who said, “love your enemies.” And that doesn’t mean having “warm fuzzy feelings” for them, which is all some people know about love. It means treating others with respect. And Jesus didn’t say “Love your enemies only if you feel like it.”
As God’s people, we’ve got to resist what the world is teaching us about disagreeing. Because we’re being taught that people we don’t agree with are to be defeated! They are to be destroyed! It’s kill or be killed! Winner take all! Just look at all the campaigns! Nobody can give the “other side” an inch, because it’s seen as a defeat!
Our emotionally driven world is teaching us that “We can’t help what we think.” “We can’t help what we feel.” “We can’t help what we say.” Well, I believe we can! We follow a Savior who said “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil man out of the evil treasure produces evil. For out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.” So, if you want to change your words you have to change your heart. And that’s where the words of the Apostle Paul come in to play. He said, “we take every thought captive in obedience to Christ.” In other words, if we have an evil thought, we change it, we don’t dwell on it and nurse it!
The world doesn’t teach us that. And the reason I bring this all up is because I firmly believe that we as God’s people should know better! And we need to do better! We are taught the ways of love, love with a capitol “A” – that is “A” for the word “Agape,” – “God’s love.” And we have the greatest example of that love in Jesus Christ. And we are called to love as he loved!
We love even when the world doesn’t know how to anymore. In a lot of ways, the people of this world have forsaken God, and in doing so, they have forsaken the ways of God. We need to show the world the value of the ways of God. As I said last week, God gives us guidelines of how to live because he wants us to live lives of peace and happiness. That’s we want that for our own children, and so we give them guidelines.
Now, I’m not saying any of this is easy. It’s not! But I ask you – I plead with you – to be that person who shows respect to both sides in our divided world. And be a person who shows others the value of that! Show them that we can “take every thought captive,” that we can change our thinking, and the treasure of our heart. Remember again what Paul wrote to the Philippians. And I’ll let these words be the closing today.
“Finally, my friends, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
Eternal God, we know you look upon our hearts. Help us to think on the things that turn our hearts to you. Teach us your ways of love. Help us to be encouraging to one another, to uphold your church in prayer and thanksgiving. Help us to feel your Spirit dwelling within us and working in our lives. For we pray in our Savior’s name, Amen.