Truth has a way of getting out whether we like it or not. Years ago, there was a book written called “An Inconvenient Truth” which sold well and inspired a movie. Something resonated from a marketing perspective that some of the more worthwhile truths are not convenient. The marketing was that the inconvenience was epitomized in speaking truth to power and power being unreceptive.
In the early years that Christianity began to flourish, there was a 24-hour period that was crucial. The high priest in Jerusalem had the apostles arrested and put in their temple jail. But an angel set them free and they went back to teaching in the name of Jesus. The next morning the elite were deliberating what to do next when they got news of Christians acting very “inconvenient”.
Then someone arrived and announced, ‘Look, the men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people!’ Then the captain went with the temple police and brought them, but without violence, for they were afraid of being stoned by the people. When they had brought them, they had them stand before the council. The high priest questioned them, saying, ‘We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are determined to bring this man’s blood on us.’ But Peter and the apostles answered, ‘We must obey God rather than any human authority. The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Saviour, so that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him’ (Acts 5:25-32).
Look, the men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people!– – -Christianity is not supposed to be promulgated on personalities of the message bearers. The fulness of development of the Christian message was coming together but for then it had to be by those apostles. Ultimately the preaching of the gospel and demonstration it is meant to be by all who believe.
‘We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, – – – Orders are not bad depending on the context. Later Christians would deal with the Roman Empire who said that “Caesar is Lord” but in a way the religious leaders acted as if religion is an end it in itself. Therefore they miss where their prudential judgment ends and what is intrinsic to God begins. I would have to say that this can be seen replayed even within established Christianity when those in authority make the same mistake.
yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching- – – The compliment to the Body of Christ from its enemies is that it is too influential. What fills the culture is the proclaiming of Christ.
you are determined to bring this man’s blood on us- – – This borrows from what Jesus said in how “the world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify against it that its works are evil” (John 7:7). The correct expression of the gospel is not to shame the person. To have shame is to be in a state of spiritual shock that immobilizes the person from having faith. But when we are convicted of our sin with the love of Christ on the cross and the truth of resurrection the guilt turns to repentance. When we resist that tug of conviction then what is equally immobilizing is our pride resisting the truth that our sin crucified the promised Anointed One (Christ).
We must obey God rather than any human authority- – When confronted Peter declares a boundary but not in any way meant to be obnoxious. Peter lays down how their priority is to live in obedience to God as the prime reality. Caesars or fads come and go but God stays the same.
God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior- – Ultimately there is the dual between the City of God and the City of Man. Peter speaks not as a political revolutionary but a spiritual one and making a case full of faith and reason. The calling for all Christians to declare Christ is to declare “Jesus is Lord” in place of “Caesar is Lord”. When speaking to the powerful or the meek, we have the mind of Christ and propose Christ as the reason (logos) of the Father.
so that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins- – GK Chesterton was a Christian who wrote detective stories where evidence was collected and the guilty one was punished. But as an apologist for Christianity he stated that the Church collects evidence and points out what sin is with the fullest elaboration to instead declare God’s forgiveness. Obviously in scenes like this one and many others, the party receiving this word do not see it that way. Peter gives emphasis to God’s mercy to that effect.
we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit- – – Peter speaks as a symbol of the Church and knows the intertwining reality of the Holy Spirit with the life of the Christian community. “What the soul is to the human body, the Holy Spirit is to the Body of Christ, which is the Church (St. Augustine, Sermon 267,4:PL 38,1231D). Peter standing as a symbol personally is even emphasized when he deals with two liars in the Church saying, “ ‘Ananias,’ Peter asked, ‘why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit’ ‘(Acts 5:3)? In short, while Christ is the head of the Church, the Holy Spirit is the soul of the Church.
When the Church shares and lives the gospel there may be success, persecution or maybe a bit of both. Exact paths of either is ultimately up to the sovereign will of God and the faithful are to trust Him along the way. But hope remains the same if it is persecution with no immediate results. And thus right teaching and doctrine of what the Church is becomes practice.
and when they had called in the apostles, they had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. As they left the council, they rejoiced that they were considered worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name. And every day in the temple and at home they did not cease to teach and proclaim Jesus as the Messiah (Acts 5:40-42).
Such faith and joy would be the soil for the martyrs. And those martyrs would in turn be the seed of a harvest of souls.