I wonder what you would say to someone who asked you how they could become a healthy Christian. I took at look at the internet and the first article I came across looked promising – it was called “25 Ways to Improve Your Spiritual Health”. I dare say that following that advice would not do you any harm but it certainly missed out the essential. Maybe the author thought it too obvious to mention or simply took it for granted but the trouble is when we take things for granted we often fail to take them at all!
Peter and John, in the passage we’re thinking about this morning, were certainly acting as healthy Christians and the way they conducted themselves had a significant impact upon those who observed them most closely. Here were a couple of ordinary men who had not received a formal education and had no special character traits that might explain their conduct. But their conduct was indeed exceptional. How could it be explained? Ah, yes, they had been with Jesus.
This was the only thing that set Peter and John apart but what a wonderful thing this was! For Jesus had transformed their lives and he had done so in such a way that others were astonished!
The Tribunal Hearing
You’ll remember the setting: Peter and John had been involved in the healing of a well-known lame man and as the crowds had come running Peter had preached to them about the Lord Jesus. Then the authorities had arrived and quickly put a stop to it all and that was how Peter and John came to spend the night in custody. The next day, Peter and John were brought before the tribunal and asked to explain themselves.
The transformed Peter didn’t need asking twice and was soon preaching his same message to his would-be judges. How bold this man Peter had become in only a few short weeks!
I imagine that most if not all of you who confess Jesus Christ to be your Lord and Saviour want to know success in your Christian lives. When we don’t see the kind of success we are looking for in our Christian discipleship we can often be assailed by the enemy of our souls who delights to whisper to us such things as:
- You are at best a second class Christian
- Or you can’t be a Christian at all
In either case he’ll mean you to believe that there is no great hope for you and you should settle down for a life of ineffective unfruitfulness. Just let someone else get on with the task.
Now if we do that we’ll probably look at other Christians and attribute the successes we observe in their lives to some quality in their lives that we simply don’t have – it might be education or it might be something else.
But it can be so easy to get our understanding of what success in the Christian life all mixed up.
Think for a moment about Peter and John. The boldness that they now experienced as they faithfully spoke about Jesus was not however a guarantee that all would go smoothly for them. I don’t think many of us would consider being dragged before an official hearing to be a success especially when the testimony born there had little or no effect upon those testified to. And yet when evaluated wisely Peter and John were a success even when some of the results seemed to suggest otherwise.
I want us to stay with this for a little while because we can beat ourselves up unnecessarily when we focus on things that are actually not our responsibility and forget to focus on what is.
The example of Peter and John should help us here to think clearly. We are told of two incidents:
- Peter and John had faithfully testified to the lame beggar and Jesus had healed him
- Peter and John had faithfully testified to the authorities and had had little or no effect upon them.
The same behaviour was followed by two very dissimilar outcomes – on the one hand the healing looks like a success and the effect on the leaders as a failure.
The reality is success in both incidents – Peter and John are healthy Christians! They have succeeded in bearing faithful testimony. The healing the lame man and the altering the thinking of the leaders was beyond their control. Their task was to be faithful in what they were called to do and to leave to Jesus the outcome. If anything the courageous testimony given to the authorities was more of a success than that born before the lame man because the circumstances were more trying!
Do you see what I’m getting at? We can only properly assess ourselves by considering how we do what it is our responsibility to do. It is pointless and destructive to condemn ourselves for things that are not within the scope of our responsibility.
A Christian preacher longs for his preaching to be crowned with gospel success. That is, he wants to see lives transformed and renewed as sinners turn to Christ and grow spiritually towards maturity in him. To that end he will preach sermons full of gospel truth, he will point the way to Christ and he will invite sinners to turn to him. But at the same time he understands that the most clear and accurate sermon, the most heart-wrenching message will only ever prove to be effective when the Holy Spirit takes it up and blesses it to the hearers. For the faithful preacher to harshly judge his ministry because 3,000 are not converted every time he preaches is simply wrong.
Peter and John wanted those listening to them in the tribunal hearing to put their faith and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, the only “name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” but their hearers refused. Peter and John faithfully bore witness but the results were out of their hands. Through it all they simply kept their focus on Jesus, on pleasing him, and we must learn to do the very same thing too.
The Hostility of the Authorities
They couldn’t deny what had happened. Oh how they wish they could have! If only that healing hadn’t taken place! If only they could airbrush those events out of the history books but they couldn’t – Luke again reminds us that Christianity is built upon the foundations of what really happened, upon the facts of history. You can pretend but you can’t change the past especially when everyone knows what has taken place.
Unbelief lay behind the reaction of these authorities and unbelief is revealed as being wilful – these people didn’t want to face up to the truth even though it was staring them in the face.
Are you in that category of person? Are you desperately trying to dismiss the truth, trying to kick it into the long grass so you don’t have to face up to it? How foolish that is! The only sane thing to do is to allow yourself to be affected by the truth rather than to go on living a lie, a life of irrational and ineffective denial. How foolish to ignore the warning signs that are posted along the way simply because you don’t want there to be any danger just around the corner!
But the authorities didn’t want to face the facts – they didn’t like Jesus and didn’t want to hear any more about him. Perhaps if they could stifle all talk about him he might go away. So they now reacted by trying to stop Peter and John communicating any further about this annoying man from Nazareth.
Plenty of folk have adopted that approach down through the years. Sometimes it has been in the name of religion that gospel preaching about Jesus has been forbidden, sometimes in the name of rampant atheism, sometimes as an irrational act of political power. Opposition can and has been brutal at time as the full weight of the state’s apparatus has been brought crashing down on the faithful followers of Jesus.
In our own day there are plenty of forces at work to silence the proclamation of the good news concerning Jesus and I’m not now thinking of other countries but even of our own where a whole range of factors coalesce to oppose the sharing of the good news:
- Militants, who oppose what they demeaningly refer as “conversion therapy”, don’t want anyone to be told that Jesus brings new life because they are so attached to their old and sinful ways of life
- The spirit of the age rejects the one-size-fits all gospel of truth because truth can’t be absolute it must be relative. How dare you say that anyone can possibly be wrong? When it comes to matters of religion personal preference is the only thing that counts.
- Or the simple desire to live a quiet life which exerts its influence by calling for religion to be left out of the picture: let’s not talk about religion, we’ll only argue and disagree with other if we do that. I’m pleased you have yours but please don’t bother me with it.
For us today it is not so much the state powers that try to tell us not to speak about Jesus – though in some settings they will even do that – no, we’re most likely to find it’s our friends and family that don’t want to be challenged by talk about Jesus.
Let me remind you of Peter and John’s recent experience as they brought back in to face the tribunal and hear their findings. They had just spent a night in custody which was probably a reasonably unpleasant experience. Now they are charged not to speak about Jesus again. The charge carried a veiled threat, keep quiet on this matter or else. And it wasn’t long before all pretence was lifted and the threats became more open and obvious. These threats were real and those making them had the power to act – go ignore our instructions at your peril they said. And the subsequent chapters of Acts show that they meant what they said. How eager they were that people should not hear about Jesus!
I wonder how you and I would react under similar circumstances. I hope we would be able to follow the example of healthy Christian living that Peter and John demonstrated that day.
Peter’s Pledge of Obedience
I don’t know whether the tribunal expected any sort of reply to the directives they had just issued but Peter and John boldly gave them one. Their united response was one that invited these leaders to think the ramifications through for themselves before adding what their own attitude just had to be. This is what they said:
vv.19-20 “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.”
The Christian’s number one loyalty must be to his God and not to anyone else. And effectively Peter and John were calling these leaders into question for seeking to put themselves in the place of God.
Who were the apostles going to honour and obey? They had no doubt – they intended to honour and obey God. If to obey the authorities meant disobeying God they knew what they would do and they were ready to take the consequences.
No, the apostles answered, in forthright terms, we must continue to speak out and testify to the facts, to the things they had seen and heard. And so, once again, underlines the fact that the Christian faith is built upon historical foundations. The faith is based not upon human theories and ideas but upon events that really occurred in the real world. The teaching of the Christian faith explains and highlights the significance of those events applying them to all who will listen.
You see, my friends, Christianity is not a philosophy or a set of morals. A philosophical system can be questioned and rejected as new ideas emerge. A system of morality can be adapted to changes in life and culture. Historical fact has happened and can’t be altered after the event.
The authorities didn’t like the response of the apostles one little bit. They themselves didn’t want to reflect more deeply about this Jesus person and they didn’t want others to be taught about him. They had already made up their minds and their minds were closed to the truth. All they wanted to do was to silence these persistent witnesses. And so often when argument fails violence is threatened and resorted to.
The authorities would dearly have loved to flex their muscles and deal severely with the apostles at this stage but were prevented by the people who recognised that a great thing had been accomplished and they at least praised God for it. So for a time Peter and John were safe.
Sometimes this is just what the Lord does, he provides protection for his people and does not allow their enemies to touch them. But that isn’t always the case. Indeed later in life both Peter and John would suffer severely at the hands of the enemies of the gospel. Both would experience arrests and beatings. Peter would end his life on a cross and John would spend years in exile – all for testifying about Jesus and his resurrection.
Why were these men prepared to persevere like this? Why couldn’t they abandon Jesus as they had done before? What was the reason? Well they did so because they knew they were suffering for what was real. They had been with Jesus and come to know him, to understand him and to appreciate him.
They had watched as Jesus dealt compassionately with those who were suffering: they had seen him heal all kinds of people sometimes with a touch and sometimes with a word. They had drunk that wonderful wine he had made when the wedding hosts supply had run out. They had been with him in a boat on the lake when such a storm descended that these experienced fishermen feared for their lives. Soon however that fear had changed into reverence and awe as they heard him calm the storm as a man might call his dog to order. They had seen him battered and bruised and nailed to a cross as he prayed for his enemies. John at least watched as he breathed his last. Then three days later they were stunned to hear reports of an empty tomb and a resurrection. They found an empty tomb and later that day they were found by the former occupant who was now alive again.
Oh yes, they had failed him in the past but he hadn’t failed them and instead he renewed and transformed them so that they really were new men. They had continued to be taught by this extraordinary man and they heard his final words before he was taken up to heaven – the ascension.
They’d waited in Jerusalem as he instructed them and they received the Spirit he had promised them. Then they had witnessed his continuing power and authority as the One now seated at the right hand of God healed a 40 year lame man. They had entered the temple with this man not only walking but leaping and praising God something he’d never been able to do in his entire life.
How could they possibly keep quiet about such things, about such a Saviour? They were determined to testify to what they knew and it glorified God for others praised him when they heard the good news!
These men kept their eyes on Jesus and proclaimed him. And they were recognised as men who had been with Jesus – this is healthy Christian living, Christ-centredness and spending time with him.
Are you living a similar life? Will you seek to live for Christ, keeping your eyes on Jesus, finding time to be with him?
May the same God who raised Jesus from the dead equip us all to do what is pleasing in his sight.