Adventures in Missing the Point (How to Mismanage a Miracle)
Reflection by Rev. Richard Jorgensen
1 As they spoke to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came to them, 2 being upset because they taught the people and proclaimed in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. 3 They laid hands on them, and put them in custody until the next day, for it was now evening. 4 But many of those who heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to be about five thousand.
5 In the morning, their rulers, elders, and scribes were gathered together in Jerusalem. 6 Annas the high priest was there, with Caiaphas, John, Alexander, and as many as were relatives of the high priest. 7 When they had stood Peter and John in the middle of them, they inquired, “By what power, or in what name, have you done this?”
8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “You rulers of the people and elders of Israel, 9 if we are examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, 10 may it be known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, this man stands here before you whole in him. 11 He is ‘the stone which was regarded as worthless by you, the builders, which has become the head of the corner.’ 12 There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven that is given among men, by which we must be saved!”
13 Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and had perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marveled. They recognized that they had been with Jesus. 14 Seeing the man who was healed standing with them, they could say nothing against it. 15 But when they had commanded them to go aside out of the council, they conferred among themselves, 16 saying, “What shall we do to these men? Because indeed a notable miracle has been done through them, as can be plainly seen by all who dwell in Jerusalem, and we can’t deny it. 17 But so that this spreads no further among the people, let’s threaten them, that from now on they don’t speak to anyone in this name.” 18 They called them, and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus.
19 But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, judge for yourselves, 20 for we can’t help telling the things which we saw and heard.”
21 When they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way to punish them, because of the people; for everyone glorified God for that which was done. 22 For the man on whom this miracle of healing was performed was more than forty years old.
23 Being let go, they came to their own company and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24 When they heard it, they lifted up their voice to God with one accord and said, “O Lord, you are God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and all that is in them; 25 who by the mouth of your servant David, said,
‘Why do the nations rage,
and the peoples plot a vain thing?
26 The kings of the earth take a stand,
and the rulers take council together,
against the Lord, and against his Christ.’
27 “For truly, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, 28 to do whatever your hand and your council foreordained to happen. 29 Now, Lord, look at their threats, and grant to your servants to speak your word with all boldness, 30 while you stretch out your hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of your holy Servant Jesus.”
31 When they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were gathered together. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.
Adventures in Missing the Point (How to Mismanage a Miracle)
Through the power of Jesus Christ, Peter and John just healed a man who had been lame since birth. Peter once again proclaimed the Gospel of Jesus Christ with power. While the crowd of worshippers eagerly receive this Gospel, the priests, Sadducees, and the temple captain do not share their joy. In fact, they are upset and angry that Peter is preaching about the resurrection from the dead. Rather than celebrating what God has done, they have Peter and John arrested and taken into custody.
The next morning when the religious leaders gather, we see some familiar names, particularly Annas and Caiaphas who were instrumental in putting Jesus to death perhaps only weeks or months earlier. The writer of Acts offers a quick glimpse into temple politics, as we notice that most of the religious rulers seem to be related to one another. What should be spiritual leadership in the temple has been replaced with internal politics and a family that has grasped for power, and the cost of the people.
No one can deny or disprove that God’s power has been shown in this miraculous healing; however, rather than praising God, or humbling themselves in the presence of the God, these religious elite simply want to hold on to their own power.
No other name. . .
The religious leaders ask what turns out to be a dangerous question – for them! They ask by what power or what name was the man healed; the answer is in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, the very same person they put to death in collusion with the Romans. When Jesus speaks of their personal guilt in the death of Jesus, he is truthfully naming two things: What they had done and what God had done. While they plotted against Jesus to have him put to death, they also acted according to God’s foreknowledge. And, while these religious leaders worked against God, they were in fact playing their part in the fulfillment of God’s word and promise.
It is once again noteworthy that while Peter denied knowing Christ three times on the night in which he was betrayed, he is no longer afraid. Filled with the Holy Spirit, Peter is speaking the truth to those in power, and preaching the Gospel to those who will listen. Regardless of his audience, Peter does not alter the message, and the Gospel is the same, whether it is received with faith, or rejected. Jesus is still Lord.
Peter is not afraid to name sin as sin, and while he names the guilt of these religious leaders, he in no way places that guilt upon all Jewish people, any more than he might say that all Gentiles personally crucified Jesus. Peter names their sin only to invite them to receive God’s mercy, which is still being offered to them, even as they continue to harden their hearts to the mighty acts of God.
They marveled. . .
While the crowds marveled at what God had done to heal the man who had been born lame, the religious leaders now marvel that Peter and John can speak with such boldness in their presence. They are not impressed by the acts of God, but by the seeming defiance of these “uneducated and ignorant” men. The designation of Peter and John’s lack of formal education is a way for the religious leaders to distance themselves from the truth of their proclamation, and indeed, it allows them to once again “judge” the Word of God, rather than submit to that Word and come to believe.
The religious leaders who are unable to perceive the heart and mind of God, even when it is seen and spoken plainly in their presence, resort to using the only power they actually understand. They attempt to threaten and intimidate Peter and John to keep them from speaking in Jesus’ name again.
Again, we see the irony that these religious leaders used their position to make themselves wealthy and privileged. However, it was Peter and John who had neither silver or gold, who had displayed the real power of God in healing the lame man and proclaiming the Good News with power.
We can’t help telling the things which we saw and heard. . .
After conferring among themselves, the religious leaders summon Peter and John once again, and order them to stop speaking the Gospel. The disciples’ response is a masterpiece in understatement: “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, judge for yourselves,for we can’t help telling the things which we saw and heard.” These supposedly ignorant and uneducated apostles have in fact shown far greater wisdom and insight than the learned and powerful leaders of the temple. Their response to the religious leaders’ order is quite simple; they choose to obey God rather than human authority. And indeed, they cannot keep themselves from proclaiming the Good News, because it is God’s Word of life.
Praying for Boldness!
While the religious leaders have all the trappings of wealth and power, in this story, none of that seems to work in their favor. All they can do is threaten the disciples. Based on the response of the people to the Good News of Jesus, they cannot do anything else, so they send Peter and John away. Again, it is ironic that although the disciples had been taken into custody, it is the religious leaders who find themselves guilty of conspiring against the will and Word of God.
When Peter and John regain their companions, they pray not for deliverance from suffering or danger, but to preach the Good News with boldness. Once again the house where they are gathered is shaken, they are filled with the Holy Spirt and proclaim God’s Word with boldness.
The actions of the religious leaders in this story are sadly not as unique as we might wish to imagine. Far too many times in the history of the church we have seen power abused. To have a religious elite of any kind is a contradiction of terms. To be a faithful leader in the church, we must first be followers of Christ. “Followership” should come before leadership, and we should never forget that it is always our first call to follow the Lord.
It is also dangerous whenever leaders of the church choose certainty over faith and choose their own security over the untamed Word of God.
Finally, we should never forget that the Holy Spirit will speak through whomever God has chosen. God’s power is often shown by those who are most humble and open to God. The proclamation of the Gospel does not require eloquence, nor does it need to be packaged to make it attractive or palatable. The Gospel is simply the truth of God revealed as God acts with power to save us from ourselves and make us God’s people anew.
Holy Spirit make us humble enough to receive all that you give. Make us bold enough to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ with honesty and courage. Amen.
Spiritual Practice Invitation: Accountability Partners
Reflection offered by Deacon Marsha Roscoe
We were made to journey this life of faith together. Without trusted companions on the way, we become self-reliant islands unto ourselves. This is not the life God intends. When you consider the marks of the early Christian church, we see how praying together helped the followers grow in God’s wisdom as they journeyed through their fears and struggles. What we see from the disciples in Acts embodies accountability partners as a foundational spiritual practice.
Peter and John recognized they needed God first, as well as each other. This is evidenced in Acts 4:24 when they turn to God in prayer together. Finding out what was on God’s heart, they once again experienced God’s life-giving power and presence through the Holy Spirit. Accountability partner prayer is a common theme in the Book of Acts. We learn repeatedly how praying together moved the disciples beyond fear to proclaim God’s Word with holy boldness and courage. Prayer strengthened their faith and hope in Christ and equipped them to tell the story of Jesus.
Accountability partners are faith-based relationships that give honest account to our choices, priorities and temptations that point us to or away from Christ. We know this all too well; when left to our own devices, our eyes and hearts easily drift away from what’s most important – loving God and others.
I invite us to consider the role of accountability partners in our lives. While giving and receiving input may feel vulnerable, a trusted companion keeps company with you and Jesus no matter what happens. When we become humble enough to experience God’s love and forgiveness through the love and acceptance of a faithful accountability partner, we honor the truth that we are beloved children of God living in community with another.
This week consider identifying someone whom you can share the truth of who we are in Christ. Begin by asking God to bring someone to mind. They do not have to be older and wiser; they simply need to share the desire to keep company with you and Jesus. If you feel called to go deeper, pray for someone who is willing to ask the hard questions, willing to challenge and is committed to encouragement and prayer together.
When someone comes to mind, invite them to accompany you, at whatever level you are comfortable, in your struggles, failures and temptations. Begin and end with prayer, sharing your stories, temptations and desired areas of growth in between. I personally value concluding these holy conversations by celebrating and sharing God’s work in our lives. My prayer for each one of us is that God blesses us with accountability partners who accompany our lives in staying connected to the true vine of Jesus Christ.
If you would like resources on accountability partners, consider Finding a Spiritual Friend by Timothy Jones or sections of Marjorie Thompson’s Soul Feast.