Listening to God – October 11, 2020
Old Testament, Acts 4:1-22
October 11, 2020
The story we read today comes just after the one from a couple of weeks ago. That was the story from Acts chapter 3, where Peter and John healed the lame man at the Temple gate. And of course, at that time, Peter told the people that he had healed the man through the name and power of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.
And remember “Christ” was not Jesus’ last name. It was his title. He was the Messiah. He was the Christ. Peter was being very specific about that! And the people knew what he meant! He was saying that their long-awaited Messiah had come!
So, then story continues, and there is so much going on here! Today, we have these words. “As they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.” That is, as they were telling the people standing there what had happened, and what it meant. And notice that Peter even quoted Moses here, saying “God will raise up a prophet, and if you don’t listen to him you shall be ‘destroyed from the people.’” This was pretty intense stuff!
Well, the Sadducees were “annoyed,” because, as it says, “they were teaching the people, and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.” That was a big problem for the Sadducees! That was an ongoing debate they had with the Pharisees. The Sadducees didn’t believe there would be a resurrection in the next life. Those two groups, the Pharisees and the Sadducees, were at opposite ends of the spectrum of beliefs. They were both part of the Jewish leadership, but they differed widely in their beliefs and practices. Sound familiar?
Those were their two “parties.” The Pharisees were strict observers of Judaism. The Sadducees were more “liberal” in their beliefs, and they were often the temple leaders and captains – the ones in power and authority. Now, I use that word “liberal” here with “fear and trembling,” because it’s a “hot button word” in our world. But that’s what the article I was reading said. “The Sadducees,” it said, “did not believe in the resurrection of the dead, the existence of spirits (which was interesting when Jesus began casting them out!) or any books of scripture outside of the first 5 – Genesis through Deuteronomy.”
So, that’s who they were. And when the Sadducees and the temple leaders came upon Peter and John, they were “annoyed,” and they had them arrested. Then the next day, they brought them before the religious council. And lo and behold, the council was led by Annas, the High Priest, and Caiaphas. Do you remember those guys? Well they’re back in the story again! And the next thing that happened was what I believe we would call a “preliminary hearing.” This was the “legal system” of the time. And so, they started by asking Peter and John what happened, and how they did what they did.
And what did they get in answer? They got “Christian sermon number three!” (For anyone whose counting!) And this was the first time these words about Jesus’ death were directed at those who actually did engineer Jesus’ death. And I love how again they quoted scripture here. And they were quoting scripture at the guys who were the keepers of the scripture! We can’t let that get lost on us! They were saying, “This Jesus was and is the Christ, and here’s why!”
Verse 11 is a quick quote of scripture from Psalm 118:22, which is a great Psalm of victory! Except that this time Peter made it personal to those people who had rejected Jesus! “This is the stone which was rejected by you builders.” And make no mistake! They would have known that Psalm, and they would have known what Peter was getting at! He was saying that Jesus was the subject of that verse, and so were they! He was the stone. They were the builders!
Their response is incredible. “They saw the boldness of Peter and John and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, and they ‘wondered.’” We can only imagine what was being described in that word “wondered.” And they recognized that they had been with this Jesus they were talking about. And, as it says, they saw the man they had healed, standing beside them. And it was all over! They could say “nothing in opposition.”
So, what did they do? Well, they don’t deny the miracle. They don’t suggest this lame man was a fake, and that it was all staged. They know a real miracle had taken place, and so does everyone else! But, amazingly, their reaction is, they had to stop it! They don’t want it to happen again! They wanted to “nip this in the bud.” They didn’t want this to “get around.”
So, they call Peter and John back in and they “charge them not to speak to anyone again in this name – the name of Jesus.” And I’ve always considered that to be a legal injunction. Again, this was their legal system. These guys were the Law. And their system wasn’t all that much different than ours. So, this was a legal injunction, it was like a restraining order – a gag order, if you will.
And that leaves us with Peter’s response, which was masterful! He said to them, “You tell us!” “You tell us who to listen to, you or God!” In other words, it was God who did all this stuff. If you don’t like it, you’ll have to take it up with him! And Peter was right, and they knew it. So, they were left with nothing but to give them their “injunction” and let them go.
I think this story, and Peter’s response, leaves us with a good question. Who do we listen to? We live in a world where there are many voices calling for our attention. Sometimes we don’t know who to listen to. Sometimes we pick and choose who we listen to. Sometimes we only want to listen to ourselves, or to those who say what we want to hear!
Of course, now we’re in an election year, and that means even more voices are calling for our attention! In a way I’m sort of glad about that. Because at least all these political ads are not trying to sell us something! Well, they are, I suppose. But they’re not advertising a product, and giving us three minutes of instructions and side effects. But they are calling for our attention. And it is overwhelming, isn’t it?
But election year or not, there are always many voices out there that are calling for attention. And some of those voices would try to tell us not to listen to God! And if they don’t say that outright, they certainly try – intentionally or not – to drown out the voice (and therefore influence) of God in our lives! And they try to do that either by sheer volume or by contradicting message.
I think, at the very least, we need to be intentional about deciding who we will listen to. We already do that anyway, don’t we? As I said, we pick and choose who we listen to. Sometimes it’s a matter of listening to only those we agree with. Sometimes it’s those who make us feel better. Sometimes it’s those who speak the loudest! I think we need to listen to all the voices, if not just to know what they’re saying. I think we need to listen with respect, even when we don’t agree. And sometimes I wonder if that’s even possible anymore!
So, Peter and John stood before the council. They stood before men who wanted to silence their voice, even though they clearly saw that God was part of what was happening. And I ask you, is it possible for us to be like these men at the council? Is it possible that we can find ourselves in a place where the evidence of God’s hand is clearly before our eyes, but for whatever reason we refuse to see it? Do we ever find ourselves in a position where we know – where we believe – the voice of God is calling us, but because of the other voices in our world, we refuse to listen?
I think those things happen to all of us. And more often than not, I think they happen in a very subtle way. We’re rarely in the blatant and obvious position of the men in the council, with Peter and John and the man they healed standing before them. But in many subtle ways, we are called to decide, and we need to decide, as Peter suggested that day, that, of all the voices that call to us every day, we will choose to listen to God.
Eternal God, there are many voices in our world that call us, many things that demand our attention. Help us to pause each day and to listen and to hear your voice more clearly. Give us the courage and the strength to heed your voice and to follow where you lead us. For this we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.