And when they had summoned them, they commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered and said to them, "Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard." When they had threatened them further, they let them go (finding no basis on which to punish them) on account of the people, because they were all glorifying God for what had happened; (Acts 4:18-21)
It occurred to me today as I thought about this event, what was really going on here in one respect. These religious leaders were completely entrenched in the legal mindset of thinking, you know, the rule-based mentality. And they had set up the rules as most rule-makers do, to force everyone to do things their way in order to shape circumstances to benefit their desires for power and control. Anyone daring to cross these rules could then be accused of breaking the laws of the land and be punished as a rule-breaker whether what they were doing was actually bad or not. We like to call this today, the rule of law.
These disciples had grown up under this system and were completely acquainted with how things were set up to work. They also very likely had propensities to become quite defensive in their natural ways of reacting when treated unfairly. However, they had also spent a number of years being mentored by God Himself in the person of Jesus and on top of that they had been radically changed at a very deep level by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit just days prior to this.
As a result, while they were keenly aware of the trap being set for them by these rulers in the demands they were making, they also had enough presence of mind and courage from being with Jesus who had never been afraid of earthly authorities, to differentiate between slipping into a trap of arguing about legal matters with experts who could never be out-maneuvered or simply keeping their focus on what was really important and leaving everything else alone.
So instead of putting up resistance, arguing or even trying to defend themselves, just like the three Hebrews answering the king in front of the fiery furnace they simply stated that they would leave the legal matters up to those who were obsessed with them while they would only pay attention to their relationship with God and do what He had commissioned them to do – speak the truth about Him to anyone who would listen.
As I thought about this I realized that this is a lesson that I need to learn very much. My mind tends to always get extremely defensive whenever I encounter anyone in the legal realm and my heart all too easily becomes overwhelmed with fear. It is also very easy for me to forget who I really am in Christ and to began scrambling around in my mind for ways to escape the threats being used against me. That is living from the back of the brain in fear. But what I am seeing in this story and in other places throughout Scripture is that I need much more grounding in a solid and secure sense of my true identity in Christ and a much stronger belief in what God really thinks and feels about me.
I also can really relate to the fact that the one thing the believers prayed for after this event was for more boldness. That is exactly what I need as well. I need boldness to believe in my true identity in Christ. I need boldness to believe what no one else around me can see or believe at times. I need boldness to trust God when circumstances are screaming that He can't be trusted or is nowhere to be seen or felt.
I heard something today in a teaching that really got my attention. The teacher said that the reason that Jesus told us that we must become like little children to enter into the kingdom of heaven is because children, unlike most adults, easily believe that they can become something they are told they can become without having any idea how that is going to take place. By contrast, most adults under the influence of the sarc – the flesh – tend to limit their view of themselves in the future or even their current sense of identity by their past behavior, their abilities or their feelings. They find it extremely difficult to realistically imagine themselves being the kind of radically different kind of person that Jesus insists that He can see in them. Thus their lack of childlike faith blocks God's ability to bring into reality that future in their life. Then their assumptions that it is impossible seem to be self-fulfilling prophecies reinforcing the lies that they believe about themselves.
I remember when I was a teenager that one of the leaders in my life used to say that he believed God really liked teenagers because they were too young to “know” that many things simply couldn't be done. I was one of those young people at that time and I was full of excitement, daring and hope for the future. A lot of things happened in short order to destroy my ability to dream and hope and dare and it was not long before I was just living in survival mode. I was quickly initiated into the adult world of limitations, rules, regrets and narrow thinking. Now I want to break out of that terribly restrictive jail of the soul and learn to become a child of faith again, to reignite my dream circuits and to allow the Spirit to inspire me to imagine the impossible and dare to believe that God is far bigger than our puny religions.
But I also need to learn to keep my focus on God and His character and presence and not get sidetracked by the many traps set by those who insist that keeping millions of rules is the all-important goal of life. I need my defensiveness disarmed by a living connection with the peace of heaven and a strong sense of God's sovereignty over my life. I need to trust more fully in God's ability to take anything that happens to me anytime whether good or bad and bring good out of it as I rest in His care. I want to have that holy boldness that Peter and John possessed as they kept their eyes securely fixed on their love for their best Friend while the authorities desperately attempted to reassert control over their lives through fear, but without success.
If Peter and John had tried to answer any other way, by appealing to their rights or trying to use the system to help get them out of trouble, they would have been immediately sucked into the labyrinth of lies and treachery that is inherent in every political system of this world. But what they did do was put the burden of decision back on those who were trying to entice them into a legal argument by telling them that it was up to them to decide what was really right and wrong or what they wanted to do with their petty rules. Peter and John were not going to enter into judging others, even in front of obvious hypocrites who could have easily been exposed as frauds. They kept their attention fixed securely on the business of serving Jesus and sharing the real truth about God while letting everything else simply take its place as they trusted God with their safety and even their lives.