The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people. They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people, proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. They seized Peter and John and, because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day. But many who heard the message believed; so the number of men who believed grew to about five thousand. – Acts 4:1-4
Jesus spent the majority of his three years of preaching and teaching using parables: stories told to illustrate a point. In doing so, he was often able to get the message across with a bit more subtlety than by explaining things more directly. Sometimes I wonder why Jesus was so mysterious at times. Sometimes his own disciples wondered why He was so mysterious at times. The further we get into the gospel, and the more explicit Jesus gets in His teaching and preaching, the more the world seems to fight back against Him. Whether through the chief priests and elders, the gentile authorities, or the people in the crowd shouting “Crucify Him!”, the world does not always appreciate hearing the Truth.
Jesus promised His disciples that they would receive the same treatment that He did. Would a servant be treated better than their master? No, and sure enough, not long after Peter and John started preaching they were met with confrontation. First the world was confused by them. Then they were mocked as being drunk men. However, when they began to back up their words with their actions, and a lame beggar received the ability to walk again, something more had to be done. The power manifested by the Holy Spirit not only proved their claims about Jesus being the Messiah to be true… it also convicted the world of murdering the Son of God. This talk had to stop. The shame had to be hidden, quickly, and quietly. So they threw Peter and John in jail and went home to think about what to do about them.
Politics – the art of covering one’s tail.
In the midst of the very political situation in Jerusalem, the Jewish leaders played politics with the Romans and with their own people to try to maintain a very tense peace. The Romans had destroyed other cities and had threatened to take away the few freedoms the Jews enjoyed, and these leaders refused to let Jesus or His followers upset their apple cart. Jesus had been their scapegoat, and now it appeared His disciples had not learned their lesson in His example, but would have to learn the hard way. It was their hope that a night in prison might cool their heads and help them see reason.
It didn’t work. It had not worked with Jesus because He was not interested in saving His own skin. It didn’t work with His disciples because they shared the same Spirit that Jesus had Himself. The worst the world could offer them was death, for themselves and those they love – yet they had seen death turned upside down and inside out by the power of their Lord and Savior. They themselves were witnesses to the Truth of God in Jesus Christ, and although they did not fully understand all that had happened, the Truth had a way of revealing itself as more powerful, more real, than any of their former attempts at surviving life under the thumb of Rome. In fact, the Truth had revealed to them that the real slave drivers were not Roman soldiers, but the sin and shame in their lives. There was no longer any need to try to hide that sin or shame, for they had at last found the cure in Christ.
I wonder if anyone tried to buy the beggar off – to offer him money to pretend he was still paralyzed. They threatened Peter and John, would it be long before the beggar would have been threatened as well. We don’t care what really happened, what is important is that you don’t make a fuss and upset the tenuous balance we all live in… Would you sell your newfound freedom for the promise of security?
Living in freedom is not easy. The ancient Israelites, following God through the wilderness, complained many times that things were easier when they were the slaves of the Egyptians. They were fed, clothed, and sheltered from the storms of life. They did not have to think for themselves. They did not have to stand up for anyone or anything. They simply had to do as they were told. Joshua told them, as they entered the Promised Land, to be bold and very courageous. Jesus told His disciples, as you have trusted in God trust also in me. We don’t have all the answers to the mysteries of God, but we are witnesses to the Truth. We know more than we can understand or explain. We are simply called to be faithful with the Truth we have as God continues to draw us near, filling us with His Spirit, and sending us to spread that Truth to the rest of the world.
The world’s plan of trying to keep things quiet backfired, as it often does, and the arrest of Peter and John probably did more to draw attention to them than in shutting them up. Indeed, some people there may have thought that it was specifically because they were thrown in jail that their message might be worth hearing. In a world filled with politics, it was probably refreshing to hear Truth, even if no one completely understood it, for there is something in each of us that desperately yearns for Truth. The world can try to drown it out with noisy chattering and accusations. It can try to threaten the messengers that bring it. It can even attack it, cover it up, and bury it… but the Truth always makes its way out and will win out over lies like the sun casting away the darkness of night. The Truth does not stay down or play dead, but rises in victory over every threat that comes its way. What is more, with every attack it endures, it turns the hearts and minds of those deceived who witness its suffering, so that, just as the soldier who pierced Jesus’ side on the cross declared “Truly, this was the Son of God.”, so the 2000 witnesses to the healing of the beggar and the arrest of Peter and John, gave their lives to Christ and became witnesses of that same Truth.
Therefore, let us patiently endure our trials, and rejoice in our weaknesses, for it is in these that God’s strength is truly shown to be perfect.