Compulsory witness - Hope 103.2

Compulsory witness

In our society, occasions for civil disobedience may be rare. But the times may be changing, and we must be prepared to obey God rather than man.

By David ReayFriday 30 Jun 2017LifeWords DevotionalsFaithReading Time: 0 minutes


Read Acts 4:13-20

13 The members of the council were amazed when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, for they could see that they were ordinary men with no special training in the Scriptures. They also recognized them as men who had been with Jesus. 14 But since they could see the man who had been healed standing right there among them, there was nothing the council could say. 15 So they ordered Peter and John out of the council chamber and conferred among themselves.

16 “What should we do with these men?” they asked each other. “We can’t deny that they have performed a miraculous sign, and everybody in Jerusalem knows about it. 17 But to keep them from spreading their propaganda any further, we must warn them not to speak to anyone in Jesus’ name again.” 18 So they called the apostles back in and commanded them never again to speak or teach in the name of Jesus.

19 But Peter and John replied, “Do you think God wants us to obey you rather than him? 20 We cannot stop telling about everything we have seen and heard.” (NLT)

How things change! The man who once refused to acknowledge Jesus for fear of being caught by the authorities was now challenging those same authorities. The man who lurked timidly in the shadows before Jesus was crucified now testified to Jesus in the light of day. No prizes for guessing what made the difference: Pentecost, and the giving of the Holy Spirit who promises to bring each of us new life and new insight and new boldness.

The authorities here are embarrassed. A man has been healed by followers of Jesus. They can’t deny that, nor can they give proper honour to Jesus. So they try to hush things up. Which is a pretty futile thing to do. What do we expect Peter and John to do? Keep secret what they reckon is the best news in the world? Deny that Jesus had anything to do with the man’s healing?

Peter says that this is a time to obey God and disobey human authority. Of course this can’t be used as a general truth in order to justify disobeying laws we don’t like or disrespecting authorities we dislike. This applies to situations where civil authorities demand we don’t do what Jesus commands us to do. In this case, Jesus had commanded his followers to tell others about him. When the authorities demanded they do not do that, Peter makes his choice. The good news is too good to be kept secret.

In our society, occasions for civil disobedience may be rare. But the times may be changing, and we must be prepared to obey God rather than man in some situations. Christian witness is not an optional extra: it is compulsory.

David Reay