“And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.” Acts 5:42
Ever have one of those profound moments when your Scripture reading for the day lines up with current events?
This morning, on the holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, my read-through-the-Bible schedule arrived at Acts 5—sometime after Pentecost, when Peter and the other apostles were occupied with their Lord’s legacy of preaching, healing, and discipling. These brave men spoke boldly about Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, despite an atmosphere of intense hostility.
Not surprisingly, the local religious authorities had them hauled off to the common prison. But an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors at night and ushered them out, saying, “Go, stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this life.” (Acts 5:20)
I don’t know about you, but it would take a lot of guts for me to go back and do the same thing that had just gotten me arrested. Peter and his colleagues didn’t miss a beat…they returned early the next morning and kept right on teaching the words of Jesus.
Once again, these intrepid fellows got brought into custody, this time in front of a hostile audience that included the high priest and his council. But Peter and the other apostles didn’t mince words:
“We ought to obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging on a tree. Him God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are His witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him.”
That’s when the crowd almost boiled over, furious and plotting to kill them.
Then came a voice of reason. Gamaliel, a well-respected teacher of the law, took charge, sent the apostles outside, and spoke to his peers with great wisdom, reminding them of other factions that had arisen and ultimately failed in their political quests. Here’s the rest of the story:
And he said to them: “Men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what you intend to do regarding these men.…And now I say to you, keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this work is of men, it will come to nothing;but if it is of God, you cannot overthrow it—lest you even be found to fight against God.” And they agreed with him, and when they had called for the apostles and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name. (Acts 5:35,38-41)
Gamaliel’s logical, calm reasoning defused a volatile situation. He observed that God will ultimately be the judge—that whatever He purposes cannot be overthrown.
Shortly after reading this passage, I looked up Dr. King’s 1963 “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” You can find a copy here: https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/sites/mlk/files/letterfrombirmingham_wwcw_0.pdf
In his eloquent and ardent appeal, Dr. King dismantled the arguments of those who criticized his methods and wanted to “wait” on what had become unending negotiations and unfulfilled promises.
Despite the humiliation, outrage, and frustration that Dr. King should have experienced at that moment during this unjust confinement, his words were remarkably calm. He engaged and answered his critics with logic and reason, treating them with respect as brothers in Christ. No inflammatory words. No character assassination. His letter was in complete accord with his lifelong mission to promote non-violent direct action. And, he invoked his own faith as well as his opponents’ faith in God to find true brotherhood.
I thought it was a fitting counterpoint to the words of Gamaliel, even though these two men were on different sides of the coin…oppressors. vs. oppressed. In both cases, they asserted command over their own emotions and avoided escalating the situations where they found themselves. In both cases, they overcame anger and violence with the voice of measured reason and took action to prevent injustice.
This week, as we watch national events unfold in the U.S., may we seek those who speak with wisdom…the truth that comes from Christ and His word. May we be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath (James 1:19), respectful in our conversations with others. May we treat others with the same kindness we wish to have shown to us.
May we trust that what God has ordained, He will carry out for our good…whether we rejoice in or mourn the current situation. May we fight for God and not oppose His holy will. Our eyes must be on Christ alone and follow His example. For we have been forgiven much and must in turn be forgiving and loving. He has left us no other alternative.
Jesus Christ, You are the Light to a darkened world. You are our example of remaining unashamed, without retaliation, when You were unjustly accused before Pilate. You sacrificed Yourself to the point of death for our sins, both in our actions and in our hearts. Have mercy upon us, and so fill us with Your love and forgiveness that we can do naught but pour out the same to others. In Your name, Amen.
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