Hello and welcome to Lechem Panim. If you have been following our study of the book of Acts, you will know that for the past several weeks we have been taking a look at chapter 4, in which Peter and John find and heal a crippled beggar outside of the temple gate. And seeing the crowds that gathered around them as a result of that miracle, they use it as a launching point to tell them about Jesus, in whose name the miracle was performed. And they’re proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. Now the priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees don’t appreciate that; because remember the Sadducees rejected the concept of a resurrection and an afterlife); and so they seize Peter and John, hold them in custody until the following day, and then make them stand before the Jewish religious court known as the Sanhedrin, the members of whom were supposed to be the keepers of truth in the land. And yet here we find them ignoring the truth; being unwilling to follow where the evidence pointed because of what it would mean for their own personal worldview. And we see in the text that they are not even willing to deal with the evidence. They choose to ignore it. And they resolve amongst themselves to try to silence Peter and John. So they threaten them and order them to no longer preach or teach in the name of Jesus.
Satan’s Strategy-- And you know, that is what Satan always does; he seeks to stifle the Gospel by getting Christians to remain silent. And sadly, this often works. Christians have often allowed themselves to become the “silent witnesses” of the Church, even in a day and age of unparalleled freedom (at least here in the United States). And I just wonder “Why is that?” Why are we so reluctant and timid when it comes to sharing the Gospel?
Penn Jillette’s Encounter With A Christian-- Recently I re-watched a video of famous magician Penn Jillette as he shared about his encounter with a man who sought to give him a Gideon Bible and to share with Him the good news of the Gospel of Christ. And Penn of course is a stout atheist. But in this video he shared about his encounter with this Christian and what an impact this man had on him in the few moments he had contact with him. And he said this. “…I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe that there’s a heaven and hell and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life or whatever and you think that “well it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward.” And atheists who think that people shouldn’t proselytize; just leave me alone; just keep your religion to yourself. How much do you have to hate someone to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that. I mean if I believed beyond a shadow of a doubt that a truck was coming at you and you didn’t believe it; that truck was bearing down on you; there’s a certain point where I tackle you; and this is more important than that….This guy was a really good guy. He was polite, and honest, and sane; and he cared enough about me to proselytize and give me a bible…”.
Albert Camus-- I love what [the existential philosopher Albert Camus said, “What the world expects of Christians is that Christians should speak out, loud and clear … in such a way that never a doubt, never the slightest doubt, could arise in the heart of the simplest man.”
They Cared Enough-- Part of the reason Peter and John were unwilling to comply was because they cared enough about the people they were ministering to to take a stand. Why? Souls were at stake. And so they chose to openly defy the Sanhedrin. It says in…
Acts 4:19-20 (ESV)-- 19 But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, 20 for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”
Commanded to Proclaim-- Now one of the key prerequisites to Peter and John openly choosing to disobey these authorities was that they had a clear inarguable command from Jesus Himself to proclaim the Gospel. It says in…
Matthew 28:18-20 (ESV)-- 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Standing on The Word-- And similarly, if we are going to take a stand, we need to do so being sure that we are following the clear directive of the Word of God. This is especially important when we are challenging the authority of our government. We need to be sure that we are standing not on the basis of our own perspective or our own righteous indignation, but on the clear teaching of the Word of God. And I say this because there are many groups today that seek to oppose and defy government. But they do so on the basis of what they think is right or wrong (or merely on what is popular at the time) rather than on the basis of what the Word of God says.
How to Stand-- Now while at times it is important and necessary for Christians to practice "civil disobedience", we need also to understand how to do so while still living out the teaching and principles of scripture. Peter and John were obviously not the first ones to take a stand for what they knew was right. Think of the Jewish midwives in Exodus 1 who refused to follow the command of Pharaoh to (when delivering the Hebrew babies and if they see that the baby is a boy, to) kill it because of the (what was perceived to be) the overpopulation of the Jews. Or think about Moses’ parents who hid their child against the edict of the king (Hebrews 11:23). Or you might think of Daniel, who resolved not to eat the king’s food in Daniel 1, or later in chapter 6 when he refuses to cease praying to his God and pray only to the king. Daniel’s three friends, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah (also known as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego) also took a stand and refused to pray to the statue that Nebuchadnezzar had made of himself and commanded that all should worship (Daniel 3). Now on the surface their protesting might look similar to other modern protests. But when we look closely, we see that each of these biblical characters were operating on a specific set of principles. The midwives who refused to murder the Hebrew babies did so out of a recognition that to do so would go against God Himself. That is what it means when it says in Exodus 1:17 (and please note carefully how it opens; it says)...
Exodus 1:17 (ESV)-- 17 But the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live.
Fearing God-- You see, they feared God, which meant they knew where He stood on the issue of the sanctity of human life and therefore chose to act in alignment with His will rather than Pharaoh’s. Moses’ parent’s no doubt refused for similar reasons. Daniel refused to eat the king’s food for reasons that are highly debated; we don’t know all the reasons. Some have suggested that it was because the food was not kosher; some have suggested that it was food that had been offered to idols; others say that it merely represented Nebuchadnezzar’s overall attempt to get these young men to acknowledge that he was the center of their lives; replacing their former God. Or it may have been a combination of those three. But regardless, Daniel knew where God stood on the issue and therefore he knew both where he stood and what he needed to do (or not do). And later Daniel couldn’t worship the king and Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah would not fall down and worship the statue of Nebuchadnezzar because they knew…
Exodus 20:2-3 (ESV)-- 2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. 3 “You shall have no other gods before me.
Exodus 34:14 (ESV)-- 14 (for you shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God),
Now in a similar way Peter and John knew they could not obey the command given them to not speak of Jesus and the resurrection because of how it went against what Christ had so clearly commanded them to do. And so (at least in this instance) it would have been wrong for them to obey.
An Integral Conviction-- But note something else about each of these examples of conscientious objectors given to us in the Old Testament. Not only were all of them obeying the clear directives of God given to them in scripture, but they also protested out of a conviction that touched every area of their lives rather than just manifesting itself when it came to that particular issue. Does that make sense?
Unrighteous Protest-- For example, take the man who has no qualm about cheating on his taxes, cheating on exams, driving while drunk, or beating his wife but who (for whatever reason) is suddenly moved to take a stand against police brutality. Now there may be a place for that kind of protest; and there is a right way to do that, but you see there is a lack of integrity in the whole of that person’s life that gives credibility to that particular area in which he is choosing to take his stand. And sadly we often see a lack of integrity in much of the mob violence taking place today. Somebody who loots and burns is obviously NOT demonstrating the righteousness of their cause. No, it is the righteous people who seem to command the most attention when they protest because people recognize in them an integrated conviction.
Love-Centered Conviction-- The Biblical characters we mentioned were all people of integrity whose convictions touched every area of their lives, not just what they happened to be protesting about in that moment. And if you look closely, you will note also that each of them (though they were defying the law) were also at the same time maintaining an attitude of both respect and courtesy. Daniel took special measures to make sure that the chief of the eunuchs did not get into trouble because of his refusal to eat the king’s food. Similarly here Peter and John used their arrest as an opportunity to tell the Sanhedrin the good news of the Gospel of Christ. And really all the apostles and Christians in and throughout the book of Acts used their arrests as an opportunity to bless and witness. And so we learn from this that it is important for us as Christians to (when we must disobey) to at the same time show respect and love for those persecuting us (see Rom. 13; Titus 3:1–2; 1 Peter 2:13–25). And this obviously is in keeping with the pattern of Christ, whom 1 Peter 2:13-25 calls us to imitate. Christ also protested against injustice, but He always did so with a spirit of self-sacrifice and with a central motivation that people might come to know God and experience the joy and love that comes through a right relationship with God, made possible through the shedding of His own blood.
What’s Your Motivation?-- And so we must always (when we choose to take a stand) ask ourselves what our motivation is. Are we clearly standing on the Word of God? Does our protest flow from a conviction that touches every area of our lives? And does that protest flow from a spirit of love and self-sacrifice? Answer those questions truthfully and you will know if, when, and how to take a stand. Let us (like Peter and John) be willing to take a stand for Christ and His Word. Let’s do so. Amen.
Rev. Cameron Ury graduated from Asbury University in 2007 with a B.A. in Bible and Theology. From there he continued his studies at Wesley Biblical Seminary in Jackson, MS. It was there that he met his wife Tanya, who graduated from WBS with her M.A. and M.Div. degrees. Cameron and Tanya got married in 2009. Cameron then graduated with his M.Div. degree with a pastoral concentration in 2011.
After shepherding churches in both Mississippi and Ohio, they joined the ministry team at Renton Park Chapel in January of 2018, where Cameron serves as Senior Pastor and Teacher.
Cameron is also the founder and host of Lechem Panim, a weekly radio show that airs on KGNW 820AM "The Word Seattle". The ministry of Lechem Panim is centered around leading people into the life-giving presence of God in and through Bible study, prayer, and active discipleship with the aim of ministering to a world that is in desperate need of the healing touch of Jesus Christ.