This weekly topic is an effort to recap the Wednesday night Bible study I teach at Sola5, my youth group. I hope it serves to help us all in contemplating the ceaseless riches of God’s grace as revealed through the Scriptures.
Last night was a different night, a challenging night, and a very rewarding night at Sola5. During our first hour (which is normally our game and fellowship hour) we packed up the van and headed a couple blocks down the road to Iroquois Homes, a large government housing project in our neighborhood. Our students spent an hour hanging out with the 30 or so kids who came out to see what was going on - painting their faces, blowing bubbles, and playing a spirited game of kickball. At the end of the hour, we gave out snacks and one of our students, Jeff, taught the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead to whatever kids would sit and listen. Many of the kids we interacted with were Somali immigrants, so some of them didn’t speak any English and many more were disallowed by their Muslim parents from listening to any Bible stories. Nonetheless, a few kids listened, with one boy asking many questions of Jeff about Jesus and why we believe in him. All-in-all, the night was a great chance for our teens to get out into our community and experience the missions opportunities available to them. In our neighborhood, the world is quite literally at our doorstep. Pray for the kids we interacted with, and pray for those who heard about Christ for the first time last night. May God take our feeble efforts and draw people to himself.
When we arrived back at Hazelwood, we continued our summer Q&A series “You Asked For It” by taking a brief look at the question, “What do we do when our faith upsets those in legitimate authority over us?” We know we’ve been called by Christ to take the gospel to all the world, but how do we respond when our families or government tell us to stop? To answer the question, we looked at Acts 4:1-22, an instance in Scripture where Peter and John faced exactly this dilemma.
In the passage, Peter and John will reject the authority that the governing counsel tries to exert over them. So, after talking about the biblically mandated authorities (parents, government, elders in the church), in the first four verses we sought to answer the question, “Why?” What was at stake that caused these men to rebel against the authorities? The answer is the gospel. They were preaching the good news about Jesus, and the people were believing and following in large numbers. This greatly angered the Jewish religious and political authorities, sparking a standoff. It’s important to establish right from the start why this happened and what was worth rejecting earthly authority for – the gospel of Jesus.
We then began to examine the response that Peter and John gave to the questions of the counsel, who essentially ask them in verse 7, “By whose authority do you challenge ours?” It is here that the disciples give voice to their rejection of the council’s authority, but perhaps the most important thing for us to take note of here is not that they rebelled, but how they did so. The first thing we see is them giving respect to the authorities. They address them formally, acknowledging the rightful positions of authority that they held. They don’t respond angrily or hurl insults, but they respond with reasonable discourse. We took a side trek to Romans 13:1-7 and 1 Timothy 2:1-2 to see the high calling that we have as Christians to respect and pray for our governing authorities, even those we don’t like (as the Roman Empire was hardly friendly to the early church). Yet notice that while the disciples address the authorities with respect, they also do so with boldness. They pull no punches. At every opportunity they have to soften their message to their hearers’ sensibilities, they take the other road – reminding the council of their condemnation of Jesus, of the prophecy of the psalmist of the cornerstone being rejected by the builders, and stating the exclusivity of the gospel while closing every foreseeable loophole. They realize that they do their hearers no favors by altering their message, since, in the words of James Montgomery Boice, “what you win them with is what you win them to.” A soft, palatable gospel is useless to us – the hope of Christ must first show us the ugly reality of our sin before it can display the hope of the cross. The disciples knew that, and they gave us a strong example of how to proclaim the truth in love.
Finally, we looked at why we should rebel. What reasoning do the disciples give for their rejection of the council’s commands? They respond that they answer to a higher authority, that they must obey God rather than men. They also point out that they are deeply compelled to talk about Christ – they can do nothing else. These were men who had been so completely changed and captivated by Christ that silence was not an option. That is the only type of faith that will have the courage and conviction to stand in the face of fierce opposition. The question to ask is whether we’re displaying that type of faith now. If we don’t have that love for God when times are easy, we won’t be able to conjure it out of thin air when persecution comes. Dig into God’s Word this week with ferocity and pray fervently for a deeper love for him and passion for his glory. If we are leading lives like that, then when opposition comes to our faith we’ll have the courage to reject all authority save the one who is with us always, even to the end of the age.
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