The Saga Continues – July 14, 2019
July 14, 2019
I love these stories from Acts! And I think it’s great to try to picture what this was like in the first days of the Christian Church. As I always say, the hard part is trying to imagine what was happening and what the people were thinking without knowing what we know! I say that a lot, but it’s hard! Yes, they had some “first-hand” experiences with God that we wish we had. Yes, they saw Jesus when he was here on earth! But they didn’t know what it all meant, not the way we do. And of course, they didn’t know what was going to happen next!
So let me take you back. As we pick up this story, Peter and John had healed the lame man at the Temple, they had been arrested, and now they were on trial. We have to remember that. The religious council, the Sanhedrin, was also the civil authority. The were the government – at least as much government as the Romans allowed.
So the boys were on trial. Maybe we could call this a “preliminary hearing,” one where information was gathered, and evidence was presented. But this was a legal proceeding. And the “heavy hitters” were there. Caiaphas, Annas, and John and Alexander. They were the High Priests, and two of them we know from the trial of Jesus.
They asked Peter, “By what power or by what name did you heal this man?” Now, it wasn’t enough for Peter to give just a one word answer. It wasn’t enough for him just to say, “Jesus.” “We do this in the name and the power of Jesus.” Oh no! He makes it very clear, very official sounding – almost lawyer-like! “Be it known to you all,” he said, “and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by him this man is standing before you well.”
There’s no doubt there! His answer was given clearly and concisely. And those who heard it, didn’t like it! And don’t miss the little accusation there. “Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified…” I’m sure they had heard, or at least gotten wind of, Peter’s previous speech when he had healed the man. That one was very accusatory! Of them! And also note, he didn’t say, “Jesus of Nazareth.” He said, “Jesus Christ.” And remember, “Christ” is not Jesus’ last name. It is his title. He was saying “Jesus, who is the Christ – the Messiah.” To say that was angering enough to the Council, all by itself!
And I wonder. Was he trying to convince them? Did he think he had a chance to do that? Was he trying to get himself in more trouble? Or was he simply firmly establishing exactly what was at stake. I think that’s certainly part of it! He was “making no bones about it.” He was not “beating around the bush.” (Is that enough cliché’s?)
Whatever he was trying to do, he was very convincing. Because they had no answer! And they quickly found that they were in the same dilemma they were in with Jesus! That saga was continuing! The people were responding to this message about Jesus. They hadn’t silenced it! They didn’t like it, but they didn’t know what to do about it!
Luke tells us, “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they wondered. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.” They were getting the whole picture now! They hadn’t stopped Jesus’ ministry. It was continuing! And then this. “But seeing the man that had been healed standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition.”
So the man they healed was standing with them! Did he join them as they were set before the council? Or was he also arrested? I never thought of that before, but there he was. And the council didn’t know what to do with him, either! They saw the man standing there, and of course he was the evidence of what had happened! And their conclusion? They could not deny that it happened. In a way, Peter didn’t have to be all that persuasive. The evidence spoke for itself! He simply stated – unequivocally – that the man was healed in the name and power of Jesus.
So, what was their decision in the matter? And don’t forget, this is a legal proceeding. They sent the boys out and conferred among themselves. And they said, “We cannot deny this! But in order that it may spread no further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to any one in this name.” So they called them back in, and charged them not to speak or teach again in the name of Jesus.” And notice, they“charged them,” they gave them a legal injunction. They could do that. Because they were the law. So this was a “Cease and Desist” order.
I hope you get the sense of all that. I hope you get the picture of what’s happening here. Because that’s the scene as Peter gives them his response. And this is masterful! This is reminiscent of Jesus! This is like him answering those who were trying to trap him about paying taxes, and saying “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s!” This is that great! Peter asks the Council, “You tell us. Who should we obey?” “Should we obey you?” “Or should we obey God?”
That’s a great answer! And the Council didn’t know what to do with that, either! They had no answer. And apparently they were not going to convince the boys to stop. So Luke tells us this at the end. “And when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way to punish them, because of the people! For all men praised God for what had happened.” There’s that quandary they were in. It was the same quandary they were in with Jesus, himself. They wanted to stop him, but they feared the popularity he had with the people. For them “the saga continues.”
Now, the disciples could have ended this whole controversy, right there! They could have just gone along with what they were told. They could have said, “Ok. Let’s not ‘rock the boat.’” “Let’s just ‘Keep the status quo.’” They had the Council to fear, just like the Council had the popularity of the people to fear. The Council could do nothing about their quandary. And Peter and John could have done nothing about their quandary, too. But of course, they didn’t! And the rest truly is history!
That’s the faith we follow two thousand years later. That’s our legacy! It is recognizing and believing that God himself has come to earth in the man Jesus – Jesus the Christ – the Messiah. It is following him and praising God for him, like the people the Council feared. It is standing up for our belief in him, despite what opposition we may encounter.
That’s what Peter did that day. What about us? I ask you today, are we determined, do we choose every day, to follow in his footsteps? Granted, much of the time, that’s easy. We’re not persecuted for our faith like they were. But sometimes we’re called to make decisions about standing up for our faith. Those can be trying times for us. And at such times, we can remember Peter and John standing before the council. We can know that we are part of their story, too. We can rely on the same spirit they relied on. We can follow where they have led us! And I hope and I pray that those are the choices all of us will always make.
Eternal God, grant us the power we need to choose to follow Jesus every day. Help us to live in his Spirit, to love as he loved, to stand up for what we believe, and to change our world as he changed the world. We thank you and we praise you in his name, Amen