But when the temple police went there, they did not find them in prison; so they returned and reported, “We found the prison securely locked and the guards standing at the doors, but when we opened them, we found no one inside.”
Now when the captain of the temple and the chief priests heard these words they were perplexed about them, wondering what might be going on.
Then someone arrived and announced, “Look, the men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people.” Then, the captain went with the temple police and brought them, but without violence, for they were afraid of being stoned by the people.
When they had brought them, they made them stand before the council. The high priest questioned them saying, “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are determined to bring this man’s blood on us.”
But Peter and the apostles answered “We must obey God rather than any human authority. The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him to his own right hand as Leader and Saviour that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.” When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them.
Some strong words and accusations flying about here!
Let’s set the scene. The jail is locked, the guards are outside but no one is inside, how can this be? More importantly where are they? Where have Peter and the Apostles gone and what are they doing? Well, they are doing exactly what they were doing when they were arrested; they are preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ.
So, the captain and the temple police go and get them. Temple police! That set me wondering, but of course it was the temple police who came to arrest Jesus in Gethsemane (Luke 22:52) so they bring the Apostles and Peter back in and say “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.”
Many years ago I spent ten years in what I call my ‘spiritual wilderness.’ I was brought up in Church life, steeped in it, taking youth services and was a Deacon in my late teens, only to drift away in my late twenties. I drifted back ten years later and many passages that I’d read in church without much understanding, suddenly started to make sense and this was one of them.
The preacher that day – I won’t name names – read this passage and asked, ‘What would you do if you had been arrested and told you would only be released on condition you stopped preaching?”
I said, “exactly what I would do at work – tell them what they wanted to hear then please myself!” In other words, had I been Peter I would have said ‘Yes, fine I’ll go away and be good, I’ll not trouble you any more,’ then once on the street I’d continue as before. My logic being that I wouldn’t be of any use to anyone in prison.
This is the worldly view – very hypocritical and with no integrity whatsoever. Hopefully I’ve learned since – but I’m still aware that there is a lot of cynicism out there.
Anyway, back to Peter and the other apostles. No such cynicism or hypocrisy with them. Peter leaves the accusers in no doubt, about whom Jesus is with his heated reply. In a nutshell:
“We must obey GOD not you. It was GOD who raised Jesus from the dead, whom YOU killed by hanging him on a cross. GOD exalted him as Prince and Saviour that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins. We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”
The pre Pentecost Peter denied Jesus. The post Pentecost Peter swore his love for Jesus, and here Peter is in no doubt about his mission or his message. So strong a message, that his accusers wanted to put them to death.
I wonder, if I was arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict me?
Lord, thank you that we are blessed with the scriptures and that through the lives of those gone before we have examples of living faith. Thank you that we can practice our faith without fear of persecution and we pray that, in some way, the time will come when all will be free to practice their faith in freedom as we learn to truly love you and so learn to love one another. Amen
The Rev’d Lena Talbot is Minister of Revidge Fold, Trinity Brownhill and Westbury Gardens URCs in Blackburn.