The Animosity of the Religious Leaders Part 7 of 7
by John Lowe
(Laurens SC, USA)
It is popular today to promote various causes by defying the government, disobeying the Law, and defending these actions on the basis of conscience. Since even some Christians are involved in this approach to social action, it is important to understand the kind of “social disobedience” practiced by people in the Bible. Peter and John are not the only people who disobeyed the authorities in order to serve God. A list of “dedicated conscientious objectors” would include, among others: the Jewish midwives (Ex. 1), Moses’ parents (Heb. 11.23), Daniel (Dan. 1; 6), and the three Hebrew children (Dan. 3). When you examine the records you discover the biblical principles by which they operated, principles that are not always followed today. To begin with, each of these “objectors” had a message from God that could not be questioned. The midwives and Moses’ parents knew it was wrong to murder the babies. Daniel and his friends and the three Hebrew men, knew that it was wrong to eat food offered to idols or to bow down to idols in worship. Peter and John knew they were under orders from their Master to preach the gospel to the ends of the earth, and that it would be wrong to obey the Sanhedrin. All of these people were obeying a clear word from God and not just following some selfish personal whim of their own. Second, their convictions touched every area of their lives. In other words, they did everything “with conscience toward God” (1 Pet. 2.19) because they belonged to God. The university student today whose conscience permits him to cheat on exams or drive while drunk, does not convince me that he is really cultivating a healthy conscience. When a person’s total life is under the direction of a godly conscience, then I find it easier to have confidence in his unpopular decisions.
Note also that our examples from the Bible acted with respect and courtesy, even when they defied the law. It is possible for Christians to respect authority and at the same time disobey the authorities—“Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men” (Titus 3.1, 2). Daniel tried to avoid getting his guard into trouble, and the apostles used their arrests as opportunities for witness. This is quite a contrast to some of the modern “Christian objectors” who seem to major in denunciation and accusation rather than loving witness. Of course, the greatest example of unjust suffering is that of Jesus Christ and we must imitate Him (see 1 Pet. 2.13-25). Jesus teaches that righteous protest against injustice always involves sacrifice and suffering, and must be motivated by love. God’s people must be careful not to clothe their prejudice in the garments of “righteous indignation” and pass themselves off as courageous soldiers of conscience. We must examine our own hearts honesty to make certain we are not conducting a “holy war” just to satisfy inner frustrations
21 So when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding nothing how they might punish them, because of the people: for all men glorified God for that which was done.
What the rulers wanted was simply to stop the spread of the doctrine of Christ among the people; however, they cannot say it is false, or dangerous, or that it has any evil tendencies; and they are ashamed to admit the true reason that it testifies against their hypocrisy, wickedness, and tyranny. Those who know how to put a true value on Christ’s promises, know how to put just contempt on the world’s threatening’s. The apostles look with concern and compassion on perishing souls, and know they cannot escape eternal ruin unless they take Jesus as their Savior, therefore they are faithful in warning and showing them the right way. None will enjoy peace of mind, nor act uprightly, till they have learned to guide their conduct by the teachings of Christ and influences of the Holy Spirit, and not by the shifting opinions and fancies of men. Peter and John had learned this and lived accordingly.
The only action the council could take was to threaten the apostles again and “let them go.” After all, when you have a living miracle before you, as well as an approving public around you, you must be careful what you do! I think they were sorry they could not punish them severely, but they were afraid to do so because the people were celebrating the great miracle that had taken place—the healing of the lame man, their neighbor, who had been a cripple all his life—and they didn’t want to risk arousing the masses of common people. The Sadducees were the power within the Sanhedrin, but they did not have the support of the people as the Pharisees did, and therefore they had to be concerned for public opinion. The incident recorded here has been repeated many times since that day.
The council must not have known that persecution has a tendency to extend and establish the faith it was meant to destroy. The apostles were few in number, they had little influence, and even less wealth. The council must have thought that surely if they were threatened, arrested or beaten they would be brought into subjection to their authority and that the new “Jesus–way” would be crushed. But instead of putting a stop to the apostles’ teaching in the name of Jesus, the persecution only extended and improved the results of that teaching. It has been that way ever since and it will always be that way throughout time. Some godly soul in centuries past declared, “The blood of martyrs is the seed of the church”—and so it is!
22 For the man was above forty years old, on whom this miracle of healing was shewed.
No wonder the members of the Sanhedrin were disturbed. If this had been a young child they might have been able to explain it away, but this was a man who is over forty years of age—and in chapter 3, verse 2, we learned that he had been lame “from his mother’s womb.” He had never walked a step. Therefore there was no way to discredit the miracle that had taken place for all to see. The Sanhedrin knew that if these apostles were not stopped, the new doctrine would sweep the nation and the position of the Jewish rulers would be in jeopardy. But they were cowards and they feared the common people; therefore they did the only thing they could think of that might solve the problem without stirring up the multitudes: they threatened Peter and John and sent them away.
Satan wants to silence the truth. Jesus said to these men, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8.32). In John 17.17 He declared, “God’s word is truth.” It is truth—the truth of God’s Word—that causes men to become sons of God through faith in the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ, and there is no doubt that the devil is doing his utmost today to undermine and destroy the Word, thereby silencing truth.