If God impressed upon your heart to talk to your co-workers about Jesus, but your boss threatened to fire anyone he heard talking about religious things, what would you do? How bold would most of us be if our livelihoods were at stake? How about our freedom? How about our very lives?
Peter and the other apostles had to make those kinds of decisions every day, but as I read their stories, it doesn’t seem they wavered in the least. After all, Jesus had prepared them for what they would face.
Mark 13:9-11 – But be on your guard; for they will deliver you to the courts, and you will be flogged in the synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them. The gospel must first be preached to all the nations. When they arrest you and hand you over, do not worry about what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour; for it is not you who speak, but it is the Holy Spirit.
The difference for the apostles was the heathy respect and fear they had for God – they were compelled to obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29). The first part of Acts 5 reminds us that God is serious about His church and that He is not a God to be trifled with or treated lightly. As many in the newly formed Christian community were selling their properties and donating the proceeds to the body, a couple named Ananias and Sapphira decided to do so as well. We’re not told exactly what their motivation was, but as the story unfolds, it is evident that Ananias wanted to appear generous and completely “all in” with this new life in Jesus but did not trust God completely. He kept back part of the money and lied to the apostles about the amount. He persuaded his wife to lie also.
The Holy Spirit revealed this deception to Peter, and when he confronts Ananias with lying to God, he falls down dead. Three hours later, the same thing happens to his wife. As you can imagine, great fear came over the whole church. It is a serious matter to trifle with God.
Shortly after these things occur, Peter and some of the apostles are thrown in prison, as they will simply not stop talking and teaching and preaching about Jesus. During the night, an angel releases them from jail and gives implicit instructions from God: Go, stand and speak to the people in the temple the whole message of this Life (Acts 5:20). When the sun rises, they are faithfully standing where God has sent them, proclaiming Christ. The religious and political leaders are confused when they find their prison cells empty, but soon find Peter and his companions. Again, they tell them the exact opposite of what God had told them – stop speaking – but Peter and the others know who has the highest authority over them and assure the courts they will obey God, not man.
Gamaliel wisely advises the Council to back off, that if this movement is of God, they will not be able to stop it, but find themselves fighting against God. They release the apostles, but first, they flog them (publicly beat them). Even then, they are undeterred.
Acts 5:41-42 – So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name. And every day in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.
They respected God more than men.
They rejoiced to suffer for the name of Jesus.
They relied on the Holy Spirit for answers in the moment of trial.
We wouldn’t lie to God like Ananias, would we? Well, perhaps not intentionally, but when we try to appear more faithful – more “all in” with Jesus around our church body, but step back in reluctance and fear outside the church, isn’t that kind of the same thing? As the world grows more hostile toward anything to do with the Christian faith, we must be willing to do just what Peter and the apostles did. We must go, stand, and speak to the people the whole message of this Life – even when it offends, even if we have to suffer for the name of Jesus. We must obey God rather than men.