Peter and John before the Sanhedrin
13 When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. 14 But since they could see the man who had been healed standing there with them, there was nothing they could say. 15 So they ordered them to withdraw from the Sanhedrin and then conferred together. 16 “What are we going to do with these men?” they asked. “Everybody living in Jerusalem knows they have done an outstanding miracle, and we cannot deny it. 17 But to stop this thing from spreading any further among the people, we must warn these men to speak no longer to anyone in this name.”
18 Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. 20 For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”
21 After further threats they let them go. They could not decide how to punish them, because all the people were praising God for what had happened. 22 For the man who was miraculously healed was over forty years old.
The Believers Pray
23 On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24 When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. “Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heavens and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. 25 You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David:
“‘Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
26 The kings of the earth rise up
and the rulers band together
against the Lord
and against his Anointed One.’
27 Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed.28 They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. 29 Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. 30 Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”
31 After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.
Today’s New Testament reading continues a story in which Peter and John were arrested and questioned by the leaders of the temple after healing a crippled man and preaching in Jesus’ name in the temple precincts.
In today’s reading, the two apostles are commanded to stop preaching in Jesus’ name. But they respond by telling the religious leaders to take a hike, so to speak, insisting that they have been commanded by God to perform this ministry and showing no inclination whatever to obey the temple bigshots. The leadership can only threaten Peter and John, because public opinion is on the apostles’ side after the healing of the crippled man.
After being released, the apostles go back to the other followers of Jesus and tell the story of their arrest and interrogation. When the gathered disciples hear the story, they join in a very interesting prayer.
First, they acknowledge in the prayer that God had spoken through the prophets (in this case, King David himself, acting as a prophet) to foretell that the leaders of the gentile world would “rage” and “plot in vain” against the Messiah when he appeared. Then, they acknowledge that this very thing happened when the Jewish leadership got Herod and Pilate (both gentiles) to participate in Jesus’ crucifixion.
Then, the disciples prayed for the power to keep doing the very things they had been doing – preaching and healing in the name of Jesus. And when their prayer was done, they received a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit that renewed their power and confidence in telling the story of Jesus.
To me, the most interesting aspect of this story is that, faced with harassment and threats of persecution, the followers of Jesus responded by renewing their commitment to the task they had been given. Instead of saying, “Gosh! This is getting dangerous! We’d better cool it for a while,” the disciples prayed for the strength to go right back out and get after it again.
There’s a single-minded persistence among those genuinely empowered by the Holy Spirit – a persistence that can seem crazy in the world’s eyes. That persistence comes, I think, from the sense that you’re actually doing God’s work. And if you really are doing God’s work, how can you be stopped by a bunch of self-interested religious bureaucrats? Or anyone else, for that matter?
Let’s pray. Lord, by the power of your Spirit, empower us to go into the world and tell the story of Jesus. Give us such persistence that it might even seem crazy to some people. We pray all these things in Jesus’ name. Amen
(The other readings for today are Psalms 84 and 148; Judges 9:1-21; and John 2:1-12.)