As a young man, one of the songs on the hit parade was Cat Stevens’ song, “I can’t keep it in”. The lyrics of the first verse went like this … “Oh, I can’t keep it in, I can’t keep it in, I’ve gotta let it out, I’ve gotta show the world, world’s gotta see, See all the love, love that’s in me.” Whatever the song’s intent was does not matter, these words explain a burning passion within the heart of the singer declaring the love in his heart that needs to be let free for the world to see it. When I became a Christian, in my inadequate way I had to tell people about Jesus and warn them about the disaster of eternal hell. There was a burning passion in my heart. I could not explain it … but I had to talk about Jesus … as the “Cat” sung … “I can’t keep it in, I’ve gotta let it out.” The apostles had that deep burning in their hearts. The Gospel was for all … they could not keep it in, they needed to let it out … whatever the consequence! We read on in Acts 4:
Ac 4:17 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.
1) The decision. The religious leaders decided that due to the public’s interest in this healing, to only issue the two apostles with a warning (v17), which turned into a command (v18). Taking both words we have the concept of putting into one’s mind an admonition coupled to being urged, incited and ordered. Because of the crowds, the religious leaders could not punish (v21) them severely because these apostles had suddenly become the peoples’ hero … and this was Jerusalem … the home of religious authority and aristocracy! The influence of Real Christianity wherever it is found in the world causes political leaders and religious institutions to issue warnings against those who release the Gospel message in their country or community. Pray for missionaries … but also pray for the True Church in First World countries … especially in the democratic world … because the Gospel speaks against so many things they permit.
2) The reason for the command was to “stop this thing”. In other words it was all about their fear of losing support, members and finances. “This thing” was the Gospel. The miracle was done in Jesus’ name and in essence this meant that it was associated with Jesus who died and rose again. It was done in the name of the one they killed, yet whom God the Father rose from the dead. In other words the Gospel needed to be stopped from spreading. The word spreading” in verse 17 means to distribute something … to spread it out far and wide. This is how shaky their belief in their own religion was … if it spread it would influence the masses and they would lose their authority as the leaders of the Jews. The Roman Empire would as it were, dethrone them … so at all costs they needed to stamp out this movement related to the risen Jesus that was gathering momentum in the home of Judaism. The Gospel spread like wild fire in Jerusalem as well as many African, European and Eastern Nations … and it will continue to spread … especially when God’s people are commanded not to speak in Jesus’ name. The Church grows most dramatically when persecuted and under pressure.
3) Peter and John were told not to speak or teach in the name of Jesus (v18). Consider this … “to speak” means that in normal conversation they were not to mention Jesus at all! To teach went far deeper because it means to instruct. In the context it meant not to teach what the Jewish religious leaders considered “a different doctrine”. That is how they viewed the Gospel … false doctrine. They ought to have known better if they had used the whole Old Testament that was available to them … but they restricted their Scriptures to the Law of Moses and followed the teachings of the fathers / elders. Some mission organizations have lost the Gospel and become Humanitarian Missions because they have submitted to being told not to speak in the name of Jesus. It might be easy to criticize them … but maybe we need to pray for them to rediscover a passion for the Gospel. Closer to home, our public schools may not pray or teach the Bible any longer … no wonder some schools and learners are what they are today.
4) Remember these apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit. They knew Jesus personally and experientially. They were his bond slaves. They obeyed him to witness and make disciples. They were fearless … humbly so!
Ac 4:19 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.”
(1) The word “judge” is interesting. They were saying to the religious leaders … you make a determination … you form an opinion … you weigh up the facts …. You examine the Gospel facts yourselves. You are the spiritual leaders of the nation, do some work on the power of the Gospel. Then you decide whether we can obey your commands or not.
(2) The word “right” actually means righteous … “would it be righteous to disobey God and obey you?”
(3) The only option is to obey God! They could not keep the Gospel Message in … they had to let it out. The world needed to know the burning passion of love for Jesus in their hearts. They saw Jesus and heard Him in action. They saw the crucifixion. They saw Jesus after He rose from the dead … how could they keep such salvific news to themselves? How could they see souls go to hell without the option of hearing the Gospel? They had to let it out. What would you say about yourself? Would you sentence souls to eternal damnation by not telling them about Jesus and His Gospel … or would you at any and all cost tell them about Jesus and His promise of heaven?
5) Due to the response of the crowds the religious leaders were hamstrung. All they could do was threaten the apostles because the jubilation of the crowd prevented any restraint being placed on Peter and John.
Heavenly Father, graciously send Your Holy Spirit upon Church Leaders and all Christians, granting boldness, fearlessness and faithfulness in the Gospel. Amen.