It’s nice to know that some people are consistent. Do the first few verses of today’s passage seem familiar? They should, since it’s a similar pattern to the Gospels. Jesus would heal a man, and the religious leaders, standing off on the sidelines—unable to heal anyone, of course—would carp about how he was doing it all wrong. Quite frankly, I think our Savior purposefully provoked them at times in order to spur clarity as to what the true issues were. With all their complaining about Jesus’ alleged desecration of the Sabbath, that wasn’t the real heart of the dispute. There were two issues which lay at the foundation of this irreconcilable conflict: A) What type of God do we really serve? and B) Who is Jesus?
And the conflict continued past the Passion and Resurrection and Ascension into the age of the Church. Why shouldn’t it continue? The religious leaders (for the most part) never accepted Jesus as the Messiah, and they were convinced that their view of God was biblical and accurate. Now the apostles came along and were teaching publicly that this same trouble-making Jesus whom they'd crucified recently was risen from the dead and Lord of all creation. And worst of all, they were succeeding in their mission: Peter’s Pentecost sermon brought 3,000 people into the Body of Christ, and now the teaching of Peter and John brought about the conversion of 5,000 people. How did the apostles expect the leaders to react?
So they hauled them into court and demanded to know in whose name the apostles were teaching. As if they didn’t know already! They either wanted to give the apostles a chance to recant or to get them on record of following Jesus of Nazareth, recently executed by the Roman government for sedition.
I love how Peter responds. A few weeks (or maybe months) ago these two men were hiding like little girls from the bogey men of the Sanhedrin. They'd seen their Master tortured and crucified, and they'd been terrified at the prospect of the same fate, a common occurrence when the Romans squashed an insurrection. Peter had thrice denied that he even knew the name of Jesus. No question about whether or not he knew that Name now!
And not only did he say that the Master had risen from the dead and was the Messiah whom everyone had been waiting for. As if eager to twist the knife, he points out that Jesus was the One “whom you crucified.” Way to make friends, Peter!
Why would he do something like this? Why would he needlessly bring up the “sore spot” and provoke them? Should we always be bold like this?
I don’t think so. There are times to be a lot more subtle than Peter here. We’ll see some later sermons by Paul in that regard. But under the guidance of (or “filled by”) the Spirit, Peter knew that this was the time for confrontation. He could've danced around the main issue, but that would be a disservice in this context. The main sticking point, the main point of contention was—and always will be—who is Jesus? Was he a crazy person who was misleading the people? Or was he really who he said he was?
And ultimately there's no middle ground here. There’s no other name under heaven that can save us. Not Moses, in whom they trusted. Not Mohammed or Buddha or Krishna or any other name. In this age, to claim that is to invite being called “narrow minded” or “bigoted.” Well, I don’t know about bigotry, but it’s certainly narrow-minded, just like our Savior: “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”
Like I said, there’s no middle ground here, at least not on a long-term basis. If you’re a believer who’s trying to witness to someone, it might just be time to stop tap-dancing around the real issues. There’s such a thing as being too bold at the wrong time, but I'd venture that there are few of us who are in danger of it. Most of the time I think I'm too far on the other extreme, keeping silent when I should be speaking up. What do you think?
Lord Jesus, how many opportunities have I missed because I don’t want to offend anyone? Please forgive, and make me as bold as necessary to lovingly confront people who are in desperate need of you. By your grace.