As the Day of Pentecost ended, all was going very well for the group of new followers of Jesus. 3,000 had been immersed in water to have their sins forgiven (Acts 2:41). The new disciples spent time together and were taking care of each other. And those around them saw this. As a result they had the “favor of all the people” (Acts 2:47 ESV). Their number increased on a daily basis.
For a while this was the situation. It is difficult to get a sense of time in the first few chapters of Acts, as Luke recorded snapshots of what was happening. It would appear that at least four years are condensed into the first eight chapters of Acts (see Gareth Reese, New Testament History: Acts, 1976: i-xxii). What Luke does record is that the new community of Christ-followers began to be seen as a threat.
It began with the Jewish leaders and initially it was the Sadducees. After healing a man at the gate of the temple who was known to have never been able to walk (he had been lame for over 40 years – from birth – Acts 3:2; 4:22), the Sadducees had Peter, John, and the healed man arrested. They were “greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead” (Acts 4:2). Keep in mind that the Sadducees did not believe in resurrection.
When brought before the Sanhedrin, the Jewish court, Peter explained that it was Jesus who had healed the man – the same Jesus they had rejected (Acts 4:8-12). The Jews were surprised at such boldness from uneducated, common men, but they recognized they had been with Jesus (Acts 4:13).
One problem they faced was that they could not say this hadn’t happened – they had also arrested the former lame man and he was standing there with the two apostles. They had the three taken out so they could talk freely.
“What shall we do with these men? For that a notable sign has been performed through them is evident to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. But in order that it may spread no further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name” (Acts 4:16-17).
Their solution: to threaten Peter and John not to teach in the name of Jesus. Somehow, they seemed to think that this would take care of it! I suspect they weren’t prepared for the answer they received from them: “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20).
After they were released they returned to the rest, presumably both the other apostles as well as some of the Christians. In the face of this new threat they prayed to God.
What would we have prayed for in their situation? My guess is that we would have prayed for the opposition to cease, the threat to be lifted, or something along those lines. Notice what these men prayed for: “And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness” (Acts 2:29). They did not ask God to remove the threat but to give them strength to continue to speak boldly.
People oppose us today as we proclaim the good news of Jesus. May we have this same boldness to continue to speak God’s word in the threat of any opposition that we may face.
Readings for next week:
5 September – Acts 8
6 September – Acts 9
7 September – Acts 10:1-23
8 September – Acts 10:24-48
9 September – Acts 11