Today’s Reading: Acts 4
Today’s reading in Acts 4 is connected to a miracle story in Acts 3. In Acts 3, Peter and John prayed for a man they had seen every day at the temple, but this time with the fresh power from the Holy Spirit they received in Acts 2, they see this lame man walk and he’s healed. Peter and John told the people that Jesus did this miracle.
That’s where we pick up our story in Acts 4. The people who saw the miracle and heard their story became Christians—5,000 of them! But there was another group listening who did not believe:
As they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to them, being greatly disturbed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they laid hands on them and put them in jail until the next day, for it was already evening. (Acts 4:1-3)
The miracle and the message landed Peter and John in jail. And after questioning them, this is what happened:
When they had summoned them, they commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:18-20)
The authorities told Peter and John not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. Let me say this about the Christian and our government. Talking about Romans 13, pastor John R. W. Stott says that “we are to submit right up to the point where obedience to the state would entail disobedience to God.” At that point our Christian duty is to disobey the state in order to obey God. If the state misuses its God-given authority either to command what God forbids or to forbid what God commands, we have to say no to the state in order to say yes to Christ. As John Calvin said, “Obedience to man must not become disobedience to God.”
And that is where this story lands us. The Jewish authorities told Peter and John they could no longer speak in the name of Jesus, which has to be a no to the state to say yes to Christ. And Peter says “that’s impossible. We don’t have the ability to not speak,” Peter says, “We cannot stop.”
Dr. E. V. Hill, one of the great Baptist preachers preached on this moment when Peter challenged the “no speaking” rule of the courts:
Peter spoke up and said, “You’ll have to judge whether or not we should obey you or obey God. But as for us, we have a condition, and it’s contagious and it’s called ‘can’t-help-it.’ We couldn’t stop if we wanted to. We could not stop in spite of your threats. We are not spectators; we are participators. No matter how you have threatened us and forbidden us to preach by this name, we will continue to do it, because we can’t help it. This isn’t something we can cut on and off. . .”
“We were with Jesus when He turned the water to wine. We were right there with Him when He hollered to Lazarus to come forth. . . . We were there when He gave sight to the blind. Don’t tell us to shut up; we’ve got evidence.” They said that on that basis they were going to keep on preaching Jesus. “We can’t help it.”
You and I need that “can’t help it” condition too. We all do.