They Charged Them not to Speak in Jesus’ Name

November 29, 2012 at 10:06 am | Posted in Devotional thoughts | Leave a comment

So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.  But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”  Acts 4:18-20 (ESV)

Yesterday, while catching up on some reading material that had piled up on my desk, I read two articles about our religious freedoms being curtailed.  This morning I read Acts 4 and 5 in my devotions.  It is amazing how much overlap I saw in those things.

Our religious freedoms in the United States have been drastically reduced in recent years, and I’m afraid the news of the past few weeks means that they will continue to be reduced even further.  I showed my daughter an article in World magazine about the number of colleges in the USA that have either excluded Christian groups from their campuses or even outlawed them (“Toxic U”  World, November 17, 2012, p.34.  The other article demonstrates how the current opposition to Christian freedoms has been often held up in the courts – “Individual, Community, and State: How to Think About Religious Freedom”  Imprimis, September 2012).  So we are losing the freedom to speak of biblical values, and, in some cases, even the freedom to speak of Jesus, sometimes actually being told it is unlawful to do so!  And all in the name of tolerance!  It seems this direction will not soon be reversed.

In Acts, the disciples were forbidden by the Jewish authorities to speak any more in Jesus’ name, which sounds to me exactly like what is happening on our college campuses.  The reason given for the prohibition is the authorities don’t want “it” to spread any further (v17).  Whatever “it” is, they do not say; in context it sounds like “it” is not the Gospel, but the good deed the apostles just performed!  When the authorities threatened the apostles the second time (ch 5), it becomes apparent the real reason is jealousy (5:17).  They were afraid they would lose their powerful positions if this “it” spread.  I believe that is not at all dissimilar to today’s situation.  The leaders in Peter’s day whined that the apostles were determined to bring blame for Jesus’ death on them.  This was, of course, totally off base, as the apostles would have been quick to offer grace to any religious leader who trusted Jesus, as they did for many of the priests (6:7), but, when someone feels threatened, he latches on to anything he can find to blame those who threaten him.  The same silly arguments are presented against Christians today by those who would strip our freedoms.

The disciples’ reaction to that opposition is instructive to us.  They gathered together with other believers and prayed.  First, they reminded themselves of good theology:  God is in control, and what has happened is a part of his sovereign plan (4:24-28).  Second, they asked God for boldness in face of the troubles and threats (29).  They had already determined to speak in spite of the threats (19-20), and they needed God’s strength to carry out that commitment.  When they were arrested the second time, they were ready with the answer, “We must obey God rather than men” (5:29).  Only the wisdom of an old respected rabbi kept the council from killing the apostles then and there.  Jesus’ followers had a bold perspective about it.  “When they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.  Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.” (5:41)  Wow, they were honored to suffer for Jesus!  And they continued to be bold: “every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.” (5:42)  As a result of their boldness, “the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem.” (6:7)

As opposition against Christians mounts, as our religious freedoms are taken away, may Jesus’ followers today determine to be bold, remember that God is sovereign, ask our sovereign God for boldness, and see his word increase in our world.

For similar thoughts, see my articles “Persecution — A Gift of God’s Grace?” and “Rejoicing They’d Been Counted Worthy.”

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