The fifth chapter in The Acts of the Apostles is an historical reference to possibilities when the church learns to unite behind the Gospel. In verse 12 Luke tells us, “Many signs and wonders were being done among the people through the hands of the apostles.“ We read this as if this were a one-off event instead of the possibilities for which the Church was commissioned and authorized to promote. Verse 14, no surprise, testifies, “Believers were added to the Lord in increasing numbers…” Governments of the world, take notice!
When the sick were carried on cots out into the streets hoping that Peter might pass by, believing that just the apostle’s shadow was enough to heal them, the earthly authorities knew that God was getting out of hand. The theology in Jesus’s day was: touch Him to be healed (Mark 6:56). But for the apostles, their shadow was sufficient. (It had to be, obviously, during sunset when a person’s shadow was longer and more likely to sweep the crowd along the side of the road or Peter had to step over them!). What a parade! Touch or no touch, it is not a question of theology but of faith, and the crowds were there, swept up in the assurance that God was there and God would heal. They came—I dare say—by the hundreds, and now whoever saw themselves in office were under immense social pressure to stop it.
Verse 17, Luke noted, they were “filled with jealousy.” You see (not to preach but, just saying) God gets in the way of the would-be powerful, famous and rich, and they don’t like it! “So,” verse 18, “they arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail.” That is that!
No that wasn’t that. The following morning, the political leaders, had to check it out for themselves. Peter and the apostles with him were in the public area, the Temple court, (verse 21) teaching. Teaching what? Verse 28: teaching “in this name” [Jesus’s name, i.e. The message of the Cross]
And how did they get out? I can imagine the soldiers being asked and replying, “Don’t ask, sir!” So now what do we do. An official statement with the force of law should be issued. It should work to silence them.
It didn’t. Peter and the others were re-captured and brought before the religious leaders. They’re in serious trouble now! Jesus warned them, “You will even be brought before governors and kings because of me.” (Matthew 10:18) He gave them a heads-up, “You will be hated by everyone because of my name.” (Matthew 10:22) And here we are!
(Reminds one of Martin Luther before the Diet of Wörms, a formal deliberative assembly called by the Emperor Charles V. to deal with this maverick. Luther dared teach against established religious order. According to tradition, Luther is said to have declared “Here I stand, I can do no other,” before concluding with “God help me.”)
“Didn’t we strictly order you [Peter and those with you] not to teach in this name? [Freedom to speak has limits. Talk about anything or anyone you want, Peter … but not “Him,” not Jesus, not the Cross!] Look, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.” This verse is psychologically rich. Peter’s message was not one of guilt but it was the Spirit’s opportunity to convict (John 16:8). Sad, when someone doesn’t see the difference, not knowing that “godly grief produces … repentance that leads to salvation without regret.” (2 Corinthians 7:10) Peter didn’t fill Jerusalem with anything …God did!
But what interests us here is the official executive order that was issued against teaching the Gospel message of the Cross and Peter’s and the other’s response: They replied, “We must obey God rather than people.” (Acts 5:29)
Make no mistake about it: “the offense of the cross” (Galatians 5:11) is real. We must not be “…ashamed of the gospel, because it [alone] is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…” (Romans 1:16) If our message were the misinformed ramblings of a few unrealistic visionaries, we would be more entertaining than threatening (perhaps, an SNL parody in the U.S. we might laugh at). But this is not the case. The Gospel is empowered to change the world, to bring a sweeping spiritual revival that, subsequently, has political consequences for governments that find God somewhere between a nuisance to a genuine providential force that cannot be ignored.