Do you ever struggle to talk about Jesus? Religion can be a very difficult thing to discuss. You might want to talk about Jesus, but it can feel awkward, especially when you’re not sure what the people you’re talking to think about faith. This week we’ve been studying Acts 5 through 6:1-7, a passage of Scripture about three crises the earliest Christians faced. You can read about the first crisis here.
Now we look at Crisis #2: Acts 5, verses 17-42. If you’re following the blog series on Acts, you might have noticed that I didn’t write about Acts chapters 3 and 4 (with the exception of the last few verses of chapter 4). I was out of town for a recent weekend, which I’ll talk about more below, and we had a guest speaker preach on that passage. If you want to go back and read Acts 3 and 4, you’ll notice that it has some similarities to what we’ll be studying in this post, the rest of Acts chapter 5.
Here’s a quick summary of Crisis #2, Acts 5:17-42: Because the church is growing, the Jewish leaders arrest the apostles and lock them up in jail. God’s angel miraculously frees the apostles, tells them to keep preaching, and they do just that. The captain of the temple guard finds out and is mystified how these guys got out of a locked jail, so he rounds up the apostles, who by that time were back in the temple courts preaching, and brings them back to the religious leaders. The leaders say to the apostles, “We told you not to preach in the name of Jesus anymore!” Peter responds with what has become a famous statement: “We must obey God rather than men,” and he preaches about Jesus to the leaders, then and there, right to their faces! He is so beautifully bold!!!
Not surprisingly, the leaders are really upset about this, wanting to end this thing immediately by killing the apostles. But one of their members, Gamaliel, intervenes, saying, “Guys, there’s been other movements like this in the past, and when their leader was killed, the movement fizzled. Let’s give it time. If this is truly from God, we’re not stopping it.” Likewise, this new movement’s leader, Jesus, was, in their minds, dead and gone, so the Jewish leaders agreed, had the disciples flogged (which is a brutal whipping), and then once again they ordered the apostles not to preach anymore and let them go. The disciples are scared, freaked out and return to Galilee where they resume their careers as fishermen, and we never hear from them again.
Of course they don’t do that. Instead they say to one another, “That was rough, guys…we dodged a bullet. Let’s regroup. We need to find a way to make sure we’re never treated like that again. Let’s start meeting in secret and in hiding.”
NO! What do they really do? It’s amazing. They rejoice that they were persecuted for Jesus. And they go right back out there and preach anyway. As Peter said, “We must obey God rather than men.”
This passage clearly applies to the many people being persecuted for Christ. There are places around the world today where people are suffering just like this. I encourage you to get in touch with organizations that track religious persecution around the world today. Persecution Magazine and The Voice of the Martyrs are two examples, reporting on the awful persecution happening to our brothers and sisters in Christ across the globe.
But to us in America? Well, being jailed or flogged for our faith can seem so distant. How, then, does this passage apply to us?
Some people say, if we were more bold, like the apostles, maybe we would face more persecution? Maybe. How can we boldly share the story of Jesus, without coming across legalistic or judgmental, but being gracious, loving? Should we all be doing street preaching? No. Not if we are talking about our regular lives. What does it mean to be bold in our regular lives? What does it mean to obey God rather than men at work, in our neighborhoods, at school? It means that we are people who are witnesses, introducing people to Jesus in the places where we live and work.
We recently spent the weekend in Texas celebrating my wife, Michelle’s cousin’s launch of his book (which is excellent, by the way, and I encourage you to read it!). So he invited numerous writer friends to attend various gatherings. We happened to sit near one guy a couple times throughout the weekend, and we got to talking about our lives. At lunch one day, he started asking more about my role as pastor.
To be honest, when I’m in a setting with people I don’t know, and we share introductions, and the conversation inevitably goes to “What do you do?” Or “What career are you involved in?” my answers tend to be conversation killers: “Pastor. Bible professor. Theology student.” People respond with, “That’s great!” as their eyes glaze over, and they start looking around, and you know they’re thinking, “How can I get out of this conversation?”
But it turns out that this gentleman’s wife is very involved in her church, and even studied for ministry for a time. So he asked me how I got into ministry. I was able to share with him the story of how God worked in my life. As I talked I simply wanted introduce Jesus by telling the story of my experience with Jesus. When I finished, hHe said he was very grateful to hear my story.
What can it look like for us to share God’s goodness every place he takes us? What can it look like for us to introduce people to Jesus? You know how you would normally introduce people who are meeting each other for the first time? If you’re the mutual friend, you take the lead, saying, “This is so-and-so, and this is so-and-so,” and as they shake hands, you might say a few things about how you know each of them, and who they are. You can do the same thing with Jesus. Learn to introduce your friends to Jesus.
We have one more crisis in the church, so check back in to the next post!