While Peter and John were speaking to the people, the priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees came to them, much annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming that in Jesus there is the resurrection of the dead. So they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. But many of those who heard the word believed; and they numbered about five thousand.
The next day their rulers, elders, and scribes assembled in Jerusalem, with Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. When they had made the prisoners stand in their midst, they inquired, ‘By what power or by what name did you do this?’ Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, ‘Rulers of the people and elders, if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. This Jesus is
“the stone that was rejected by you, the builders;
it has become the cornerstone.”
There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.’
Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John and realized that they were uneducated and ordinary men, they were amazed and recognized them as companions of Jesus. When they saw the man who had been cured standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition. So they ordered them to leave the council while they discussed the matter with one another. They said, ‘What will we do with them? For it is obvious to all who live in Jerusalem that a notable sign has been done through them; we cannot deny it. But to keep it from spreading further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.’ So they called them and ordered them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered them, ‘Whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.’
In 1 Peter 3:15 we find words that may guide our understanding of evangelism: ‘Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect’, (NIV)
This verse indicates that we gain the right to speak when something in our lives has prompted the question. Evangelism does not happen in a vacuum, and neither is it an optional add-on extra for those who are busy living good Christian lives. Effective faith sharing is part of, and flows out of, genuine Christian living. People see the Christian difference and become fascinated by it. They want to know ‘why?’
In Acts 4, we find this playing out for Peter and John. They were brought before the authorities who had seen their good work and demanded an explanation. In this case, someone who had been lame for many years had been healed. Who knows what other acts of kindness, love and service may prompt the questions today?
Authentic Christian living speaks loudly and clearly. But it also needs explaining – perhaps more so now than ever. Once upon a time, not so long ago, everyone who lived a good life was described as a ‘good Christian’ (at least at their funeral!). Is it still the case that people closely connect goodness with godliness? They might just as well see a difference in us and conclude that we have turned vegetarian!
For his part, Peter was more than ready to give account of his actions, boldly naming the crucified and risen Jesus as the one behind it all. Peter and John may have done great things in Jesus’ name, but in Peter’s own words; ‘we cannot stop speaking of what we have seen and heard’ (Acts 4: 20) Works and words belong together.
Are we ready to give our answer when asked to explain the hope that is within us?
Lord forgive me if my life is not prompting questions. Forgive us if our life and witness together as Church does not fascinate people enough to make them look again. Forgive us if we are not ready to connect works and words together in a way that points to Christ, who was crucified and is risen – our Living Lord who lives and works in and through us. Ready us to give an answer and enable us to explain the hope that is in us.
The Rev’d Nick Stanyon is Synod Evangelist for West Midlands Synod