The Rest of the Story, Acts 4:5-12
First United Methodist Church, April 22, 2018
Pastor Toni Carmer
Why does something so good cause so much trouble?
The healing of the lame man that we talked about last week? The "something good" is what happened when the man was healed. But the trouble that creates is the "rest of the story" that we're going to talk about this morning.
It was a really good day for the guy sitting at the temple gate. He hadn't been able to walk his whole life. A friend, his older brother/someone would bring him every day to sit in a good place to beg from the men going into the temple for prayer, and then he'd still be there when they came out, just in case they'd walked on by the first time. But on that day, John and Peter came along. They didn't have any money to give to him, but they did something a whole lot better—and amazing. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk, Peter had said, and that's what the man had done. But he didn't just walk, of course, he danced, and jumped, and gave thanks. He was hardly subtle in his response, and who could blame him? People heard him, people saw him, they gathered around him and around John and Peter, too, because the guy held onto them, he wasn't about to let these two miracle workers get away from him, until everybody around could see this incredible thing that had happened to him.
The problem is, all this good news started a chain reaction of misunderstanding and trouble for John and Peter.
Peter had healed the man in the name of Jesus—but witnesses to the healing either didn't hear that or completely forgot what Peter had said—they saw the man walk and that's all they needed to know to interpret that these two men were very powerful healers. To them, it was about Peter and John, they missed the part about Jesus.
I understand how you can do that. Scott will tell me about something, and by the time he gets to the real deal of the story he's telling, I will have forgotten the details at the beginning of the story. I have to say, go back to the beginning, because I lost the part of who did whatever it was, or why they did it. So he starts it over, and after about 6 words, oh, yeah, I remember. But no one said to Peter- will you repeat what you said a little bit ago, I missed those words. They were caught up in the moment of the no longer lame guy dancing around on the portico.
Peter realized what was happening and he made it clear for them: Nope, wasn't us who did this. It was the power of God and the power of faith in Jesus that did it. But he didn't stop there, he kept on preaching. (That's such a temptation to us preachers sometimes—we just keep going when maybe we should have just stopped with that last thought!)
Peter preaches about the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, which doesn't impress the temple officials—they don't believe this bit of recent history, it isn't a part of their faith experience. They intervene and by nightfall, the two disciples are under house arrest. In verse 4, right before our reading today—there's an important word—which is what was a huge concern for the officials. It reads: "…many who heard the message believed; so the number of men who believed grew to about five thousand."
Peter's preaching is definitely having an impact.
The next morning, the Sanhedrin, Israel's supreme court, are all gathered together—the rulers, the elders and the teachers of the law. I don't know if they had already planned to meet that day, or that the disciples' healing and teaching was such a threat that there was no way anything else could take precedence.
Word had traveled fast—and it wasn't "look, what a great thing has happened, this man can now walk!" Instead, it was "look, at the trouble these men are stirring up." As their interrogation begins, the first question reveals their concern: "By what power or in what name did you do this?" In other words, who authorized you to do this?
Peter can't help himself, the consummate preacher: "How, you ask? If we are being called to account for an act of kindness and are being asked how he was healed, then know this: this man stands before you today because of the name of Jesus Christ whom you crucified, but whom God raised from the dead."
The religious leaders are in a tough spot. It is obvious these two men are followers of Jesus and teaching and preaching contrary to the established faith of their church fathers. The Sanhedrin's desire would be to stop all this "nonsense" in its tracks, to punish the disciples and return to the way it's always been/to the way it "should" be. But the healed man was standing in their midst, his life undeniably changed. The sentiment of the public is tipped in the direction of the Jesus followers. They can't punish these men and simply move on. The people might turn on them.
The disciples are sent away so options can be discussed. They're called back in. The verdict? You're free to leave, but stop teaching and preaching in the name of Jesus.
Peter's response? Listen to God, or listen to you?
The religious leaders are caught in a conundrum. They can't win no matter what they do. Peter and John are released.
There is no conundrum in the disciple's hearts and minds…as far as they are concerned, they have no question about what they need to do. They have experienced truth and that truth has changed them. They can't pretend they don't know it. They can't pretend it doesn't matter. They have no choice but to live it…to speak it.
You can't keep truth a secret.
Scott and I learned not to take Olivia out birthday shopping for her mommy until the last minute. Before we learned that lesson, we'd take her out shopping, and then when we got back together with mommy, Olivia would immediately tell her: We didn't get you anything for your birthday, Mommy. Since that wasn't a part of the conversation at that moment, of course that would catch mommy's attention, and before too long, the secret was spilled. Mommy knew exactly what she was getting for her birthday from Olivia. Olivia couldn't help herself, she had no choice but spill the beans. You can't keep truth a secret.
The disciples couldn't help themselves…they were so moved by the truth of Jesus that they couldn't hold it in. They couldn't keep from sharing it.
That truth upset the equilibrium of the world as they all knew it. That truth threatened the religious powers, it threatened the political powers, it threatened the economic powers. It was no longer a "simple" battle against Rome and their occupation of Israel; this truth involved a completely different way of viewing faith, of living life, of caring for one another, of listening to one another, of perceiving God. The old ways of living and expressing their faith no longer worked; God was calling them into something new. And the leaders of the old ways were not pleased. It didn't make sense to them. This new way was perceived as a threat.
We can understand that. We are naturally inclined, I think, to stay with the familiar. To keep what we understand, to not take the risk, to stand still rather than take a leap of faith. And then something happens and we see things in a new way, and we realize that staying the same isn't good. Isn't true. Isn't right.
I think of John Wesley and Martin Luther…their eyes were opened and they saw the need for reform and transformation of the church they served. It wasn't easy, but there were choices they had to make for them to be true to God's calling…to the truth that had been revealed to them.
I think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor who was executed because of his involvement in rescuing Jews and his resistance to Hitler and Nazi Germany.
I think of Martin Luther King who led the civil rights movement until his death at the hands of a gunman in 1968.
I think of Mother Theresa whose faith led her to serve the poorest of the poor in Calcutta.
And yet I realize, it's not always religious leaders who see truth and can't help but speak to it…I think of the physician who blew the whistle in Flint Michigan because of the amount of lead she discovered in the city's drinking water. The leaders of Flint and the state of Michigan denied the truth of that discovery, until there came a point when they couldn't deny it anymore.
I think of the high school students in Parkland Florida whose lives have been forever changed and who have been compelled to share their response to the tragedy.
And maybe it has happened to you, with your group of friends, when someone shared that joke that troubled you, or made that comment that spoke against a group of people who you believe with all your heart to be beloved children of God. It was so hard to say something…but you did…or perhaps that comment still unsettles you today because you remained silent.
That's the challenge to all of us—to every individual, to every system and nation…will we be silent, will we keep living and doing what we are now, even though God has shown us another way? Or will we speak the truth we've come to know? Silence is certainly the easier course. Staying just as we are right now doesn't take near as much effort. How many of us enjoy rocking the boat? We prefer to fit in, mostly, we want people to like us, not to be angry with us. We don't want to be annoying, to be someone who others think—really, is she back at it again? I wish she'd just be quiet about that.
But can we trust the power of truth even more than we love the way things are?
Here's the thing: truth has this way of getting out. The word about Jesus and the power of God would spread, even if those two would have remained silent. God's will will still be done when we're silent. But when we hold it back, when we don't speak the truth that we've come to know, then there's this piece of ourselves that becomes lost. When we decide that pleasing others, pleasing the world is more important than being true to Jesus, to his truth, to his promises, then we’re less than what we might have been.
These disciples made the decision to speak the truth they had come to know in Jesus.
May we have the courage to do the same. In Jesus' name. Amen.