(Acts 4: 1-20)
Fear of rejection. Man, that ranks right up there with the fear of public speaking, spiders, clowns, things that go bump in the night and sticks that look like snakes. I remember when I was growing up in my small town the community council used to have dances at the fire hall. As a teenage boy I was at the height of my insecurities. Five feet ten inches tall, a whopping 120 pounds, all arms and legs, hair that wouldn’t cooperate and dance moves like an ostrich on drugs. At these dances all the girls would sit in chairs lined up on one wall and all the boys would sit in chairs on the opposite wall with no-man’s land in between. The only guys dancing were those fortunate few who already had a date or a steady girlfriend. Us losers were relegated to sitting and sweating it out on the opposite sideline. So you’d screw your courage up, hopefully before your deodorant stopped working, and strut your stuff across no-man’s land as you zeroed in on the lucky lady. As you got closer the giggles and titters got more audible and your knees began to weaken. Trying to ignore the horrified look on your intended’s face, in your most manly voice you’d ask her if she wanted to dance. In what seemed like an eternity, she’d shoot you down. Now, with all the other girls suppressing a giggle and looking at the top of their shoes, you’d turn around to make the long retreat back across no-man’s land as the guffaws and hoots from your friends grow louder. Hey man, she said she wanted to dance but her new shoes were too tight, and it hurt her to even walk! The fear of rejection spread like a virus as no one else dared to venture across no-man’s land and suffer a similar fate.
The fear of rejection was not something that stopped the Apostles John and Peter. They had received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and were preaching up a storm in the streets of Jerusalem making new believers by the thousands. Peter even healed a crippled beggar in public for all to see. The people were beginning to talk and the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council, took notice. Luke, the author of Acts, tells us that 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 and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. The Sadducees were members of a small but powerful Jewish religious sect that did not believe in the resurrection of the dead. They were the religious leaders who stood to gain financially by cooperating with the ruling Romans. These guys were rocking the boat and making waves. They were upset with what John and Peter were teaching about resurrection because it went against one of their fundamental beliefs and called into question their very authority as religious teachers. They feared being rejected by the people if this Jesus movement gained traction and popularity. Because they were openly teaching something that contradicted what they believed they seized Peter and John and put them in jail until the next day. Can you imagine being jailed for exercising your free speech and religious freedom?
The next day the rulers, elders and teachers of the law met in Jerusalem. Annas the high priest was there, and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander and the other men of the high priest’s family. They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them asking; By what power or what name did you do this? The fact that the Jewish authorities would call a couple of ordinary fishermen into the Sanhedrin for a chat was significant as what they did was generally not open to the public. They were concerned at what was playing out in the streets. The Jewish authorities had thought that the crucifixion of Jesus would put an end to this movement, but here we have two more persistent followers of Jesus standing up to them and even pointing an accusatory finger. They promised to be just as troublesome and something needed to be done.
In response to the question about by what authority they did this street preaching, Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them; Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. Ouch! The apostles had gone on the offensive boldly speaking out for God and presenting the Gospel to these leaders. Peter then quoted Psalms 118: 22 when he said; He is the stone you builders rejected which has become the capstone. In the building trade, the capstone is what unites the two sides of an arch holding it together. Peter is saying that because the Jews rejected Christ, now Christ has become the capstone of the church. Without Christ there would be no church because it wouldn’t be able to stand on its own. Peter then boldly proclaimed; Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved. The members of the Sanhedrin were stunned. Never had they been lectured by ordinary men such as these two. They knew they had been with Jesus and with the healed beggar standing by their sides they knew there was nothing they could say. So they went into their version of executive session to see what they could do about this and save face. They came back out and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. They were given a stern warning. An “or-else”. But Peter and John replied; Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard. After a few more threats they were shown the door.
What Luke is telling us is that our focus should be on Jesus, whom God offered as the way to have an eternal relationship with himself. There is no other name or way. Rejection in working to spread the truth and lead people to the light is not something that should concern us. There was nothing special about John and Peter. They were ordinary men, not seminary trained, yet they were empowered by God and led by the Spirt to speak the truth. Luke has shown us that ordinary people can become extraordinary witnesses when they know Jesus and follow his lead. The truth must be the natural outflow of the believer’s life. We must say and do what is right in God’s sight, and we must speak and teach about what we have seen and heard and know to be true just like John and Peter boldly did.
The Jewish authorities wanted to maintain their status quo. But we’re not about the status quo, especially when it doesn’t serve God’s most vulnerable children. Our calling is about hope and change. Hope for the hopeless and change for the last, the least, and the lost. The miracles we are performing here in our community cannot be denied because we are ordinary people empowered by God and led by the Holy Spirit. Our changed lives can convince people of Christ’s power. One of your greatest testimonies is the difference others see in your life and attitude since you came to believe in Christ. We sometimes may be afraid to share our faith in Christ because people might feel uncomfortable and might reject us. Yeah, it is what it is. So don’t be surprised if some people reject you and your positive witness for Christ. When minds are closed, even the clearest presentation of the facts can’t open them. But don’t give up either. Pray for those people and continue to spread the gospel. If your courage to witness for God begins to weaken, pray that your boldness may increase. Remind yourself by what power and name you do what you do and remember what Jesus promised in Matthew 10: 32; Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven.
Please pray with me.
Father, please draw us nearer to you every day that we might shine with a light that shows we’ve been with you. Then give us the strength to boldly proclaim your gospel through our actions and words. In Jesus’ name, we pray, Amen.