(July 26, 2022) Dr Jim McClure, noted theologian, challenges every Christian to be a role model…
One of the great world leaders many decades ago was Winston Churchill. Recently I came across a statement he made which made me stop and think. He said, ‘Failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.’
1. Present experience
One of the things that has encouraged me in my ministry has been the courage of the prophets. One of their principle roles was to remind the people to live faithfully for God and to reject any ‘moral’ standard that opposed what He had revealed. Often the prophets were vigorously opposed as they declared what God had revealed. They were prepared to confront the ruling powers that were leading people away from God and they challenged the people to be faithful to God’s revealed truth.
They never preached compromise!
- Isaiah didn’t mince his words when he declared, ‘Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter’ (Isaiah 5:20).
- Amos was told by the leading priest in Israel told Amos, ‘Get out, you seer! Go back to the land of Judah. Earn your bread there and do your prophesying there’ (Amos 7:12).
- Jeremiah, during his 40 years of ministry was physically attacked, insulted, imprisoned in a hole in the ground, and put on trial for the things he preached were not what the people wanted to hear. The king even destroyed the scroll containing God’s word that Jeremiah had written, but God told Jeremiah to rewrite it.
All those men were threatened and abused because their preaching did not agree with moral and religious values of their day.
In Africa today many Christians are being persecuted and executed because of their solid Christian convictions. And in Australia, while we have not been subjected to such extreme opposition, Christians are increasingly being challenged and our commitment to Jesus Christ and the ethical values we hold are progressively scorned and derided. Basic ethical values are being reversed.
Truth is now defined as ‘anything we say it is.’ The Bible is dismissed as irrelevant and the Christian message is considered a fantasy.
In Melbourne, a few weeks ago at a pro-abortion rally, a protester was observed laughingly holding a sign that read: ‘Mary (the virgin) should have had an abortion.’ To suggest that Jesus should have been aborted is blasphemous!
Jesus rightly said in John 3:20, ‘Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.’
We are living in a very critical age in which God’s people need seriously to reconsecrate ourselves to God and to recommit to His will regardless of the consequences. Sometimes in our Christian discipleship we become careless and complacent, the pressures of the world get to us, and we fail. But ‘Failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.’
2. Peter’s example
The apostle Peter became one of the most influential of Christian leaders. But he almost didn’t! At one point he had a massive integrity failure shortly after Jesus was arrested. An hour or two earlier he had proudly asserted to Jesus that he would always be faithful to Him no matter what. He even stated, with great bravado, ‘Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you’(Matthew 26:35). But… just a few hours later he dogmatically maintained to a woman in the courtyard, ‘Woman, I don’t know him’(Luke 22:57). Not just once but three times he denied knowing Jesus.
That could have been the last we would ever have heard about Peter but about 10 days after his disappointing failure, Jesus met him at the Sea of Galilee and restored and recommissioned him.
Peter’s massive failure was not fatal; it was not the final word in his life! He preached the church’s first sermon on the day of Pentecost and saw 3000 people saved. In the years that followed, his boldness and courage made him a strong and solid leader, teacher, preacher and church planter in the early church and he has been an example of courageous Christian discipleship for all Christians ever since.
Acts 4:1-33 reveals the kind of man Peter had become. This chapter is more than just a historical record of something that took place a long time ago. It also serves as a model for how Christians in all ages should respond when those in authority try to intimidate, cancel, silence and seek to prevent us from being faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.
The events in Acts 3 and 4 began a couple of months after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. In Acts chapter 3 we read that Peter and John were going to the temple to pray. As they were about to enter they were confronted by a man who had been crippled from birth. He cried out to them for money but Peter, in effect, said to him, ‘I’ll give you something better than money.’ A miracle happened that day and the crippled man was healed.
That really stirred up the interest of the crowd and so we read in Acts 3: 11 that ‘all the people were astonished and came running to them.’ Peter used that opportunity to tell them about Jesus, His resurrection and wonderful salvation and he then invited them to put their trust in Jesus who would save them. But it wasn’t only the excited bystanders who heard what Peter was declaring. In the crowd were some others whose response was one of anger as they watched the people respond so positively to Peter’s message.
Chapter 4 begins by describing those people who were not pleased by what they saw. Verse 1 states, ‘The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people.’
They weren’t thrilled by the miracle which resulted in a cripple being healed or by what Peter had been saying about Jesus Christ. They were the same people, the same authoritative figures, who, a few months earlier, had played a prominent role in Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion and they were greatly concerned when they saw that the crowd was responding very positively to the message about Jesus Christ.
Let’s look at those people who were opposed to what was taking place that day at the temple.
- The priests
In Jesus’ day the priests had a prominent place in the religious, social and political life of the Jews. They were the religious leaders and were part of the Jewish parliament. They had regularly opposed Jesus, obstructed Him in His ministry and plotted His arrest and crucifixion. Matthew’s gospel tells us, ‘Then the chief priests… plotted to arrest Jesus in some sly way and kill him’ (Matthew 26:3-4). The priests wanted to get rid of Jesus because He challenged their integrity, their values, their agenda and their teaching.
- The captain of the temple guard
His role was similar to that of the chief superintendent of the police. His job was to prevent any disorder in the temple and it was evident to him that Peter and John were creating a disturbance.
- The Sadducees
They were a religious/political group of aristocrats who largely controlled the political structures of Judaism and they also wanted to keep on the right side of the Romans. They had often tried to trip Jesus up and make a fool of Him – but never succeeded. Sadducees denied the existence of the spiritual world and strongly rejected the belief that there can be life after death. In Acts 23:8 Luke makes this little side comment, ‘The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, and that there are neither angels nor spirits.’
This group of people, who held considerable political influence in Jerusalem, were disturbed when they saw that the crowd was responding very positively to the message about Jesus Christ.
In verse 2 we read that they ‘were greatly disturbed’ – a better translation of this is ‘they were thoroughly incensed’ – ‘because the apostles were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead.’
They thought that they had successfully silenced that ‘troublemaker’ Jesus when they planned His crucifixion and now His trouble-making followers had the audacity to assert that He was alive! They were ‘thoroughly incensed’ because those Christians had the daring to declare something that offended them and they decided to do something to silence them.
In Acts 4:3 we read that, ‘They seized Peter and John, and because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day.’ That was one way the authorities tried to silence them! They used their political weight to intimidate those with whom they disagreed.
How much courage Christians are going to need in today as governments are passing policies that make it illegal for Christians to hold and to share values, convictions and beliefs that we have held and shared for 2000 years. Today increasingly the Christian faith is being dismissed as irrelevant, the media is gleefully forecasting the demise of Christianity and Jesus Christ is being mocked and His name is used as a swear word. Churchill’s words are still relevant, ‘It is the courage to continue that counts.’
Acts 4:4 then adds this interesting side note: ‘But many who heard the message believed, and the number of men grew to about five thousand.’ There was amazing growth in the church in the first few months since Pentecost – now there were 5,000 men and that number did not include women. There were probably around 10,000 Christians in Jerusalem at that time. And this was a trend that the authorities dearly wanted to suppress.
So the next day the influential people, who had thrown Peter and John in jail, met to decide what they were going to do about this growing problem – how were they going to silence those Christians and stop their influence and growth. But they were unsure about how to proceed.
Peter and John, two ordinary fishermen by profession, were brought before this intimidating assembly of important men to be interrogated. And they were asked, (verse 7), ‘By what power or what name did you do this?’Or to put it another way, ‘Who do you think you are? Who gave you the right to say and do these things?’ How menacing this must have been for those two disciples.
And Peter, who had been terrified to admit that he knew Jesus just a few months earlier now displayed amazing courage!
Peter and John stood against the tide of political, social and religious hostility. What was the source of their boldness? We are told what it was in verse 8, ‘Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them…’
They were not alone as they took their stand against the threat that confronted them. God was with them as they faced the possible consequence of their stand for Jesus Christ. They were just ordinary men but they showed extraordinary courage as the Holy Spirit gave them boldness. Then in verses 8-12 we read that Peter and John courageously and unashamedly witnessed to their relationship with Jesus and clearly shared the Gospel with them.
Note this well, Peter and John did not try to arrive at a compromise with the authorities. We cannot compromise with the truth even if some people claim to be offended by it. As he stood before the council that was totally opposed to what he believed, Peter boldly stated, in verse 12, ‘Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.’ Uncompromisingly they declared their faith and affirmed the truth.
Peter and John’s courageous and uncompromising witness that day has served as an example to the church for 2000 years. We need to learn from their example because in many ways an inconvenient truth is confronting us – our discipleship and Christian witness has left a lot to be desired for so long! So often we have chosen to take the middle ground with our core Christian values. We have become too complacent, too compromising, too comfortable.
Those powerful leaders who had threatened the two apostles were in a quandary. ‘What are we going to do with these men?’they said. Then they arrived at their decision. They ordered Peter and John ‘not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus’ (v18).
Perhaps they thought that that would be the end of the matter and that Peter and John would slink out of the room feeling relieved that they had escaped so lightly from their predicament. But they hadn’t considered that these Christians were not easily intimidated. They had taken their stand to follow Jesus and there was no turning back.
While that secular authority had the power to threaten and imprison them, their commitment, their allegiance, was to a much higher authority, and Peter and John boldly declared, ‘Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard’ (v19-20). Their priority commitment in life was to Jesus Christ and nothing would silence them.
How much we need to rekindle that same level of commitment that is centred on Jesus Christ and faithfulness to Him. We need to pledge of unflinching loyalty to the One who gave His life for us.
Peter and John had absolute confidence in Almighty God. That was, as it were, the rock on which they stood. And so we read that when they left the council room, they went immediately to their Christian friends and told them about what had happened to them.
The response of their friends was inspirational. They didn’t panic, or express anxiety or have a discussion on how they thought things may develop. Instead, as the verse says, ‘They raised their voices together’ – unitedly they praised Almighty God! They expressed their absolute confidence in God and addressed Him as ‘Lord’ (the Greek word used here means ‘All Powerful Ruler’). So they prayed ‘All Powerful Ruler, You are God, who made heaven and earth and the sea, and everything in them …’
They had confidence in the All-Powerful Ruler who was in control of everything and nothing and no one could ever overcome Him. Their confidence in God echoed that of King David who about 1000 years before declared in Psalm 18:2 ’The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.’
In these changing, difficult, challenging and threatening times we should be encouraged by the fact that –
- God really is the Absolute Ruler of all things.
- He has not lost control of His world.
- He is present with us today and…
- He will never forsake us.
Remember Winston Churchill’s encouragement above… ‘It is the courage to continue that counts.’ Remember too the prophets of old above and Peter’s example role for us… never compromise, continuing to stand for what is right!
Dr Jim McClure, author of several books and Bible study series, welcomes questions from Christians seeking enlightenment on biblical perspectives.
His helpful book, Looking for Answers in a Confusing World, is offered free, all of Dr Jim’s writings are highly recommended – such as Grace Revisited, Looking for Answers in a Confusing World, Overview of the Old and New Testaments, Love, Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage, The Masonic Deception, Word of Life in the Old and New Testaments, Interpreting the Letter of James, and Faith Works – A Commentary on the Letter of James. All are available in electronic version in EPUB, Kindle and PDF formats with hyperlinks and. Link for orders and questions: OnlinerConnect@gmail.com