Our reading today is Acts 5, I’ll focus on verses 17-29.
17 But the high priest rose up, and all who were with him (that is, the party of the Sadducees), and filled with jealousy 18 they arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison. 19 But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, 20 “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life.” 21 And when they heard this, they entered the temple at daybreak and began to teach.
Now when the high priest came, and those who were with him, they called together the council, all the senate of the people of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought. 22 But when the officers came, they did not find them in the prison, so they returned and reported, 23 “We found the prison securely locked and the guards standing at the doors, but when we opened them we found no one inside.” 24 Now when the captain of the temple and the chief priests heard these words, they were greatly perplexed about them, wondering what this would come to. 25 And someone came and told them, “Look! The men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people.” 26 Then the captain with the officers went and brought them, but not by force, for they were afraid of being stoned by the people.
27 And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, 28 saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” 29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.
Peter and the apostles answered: “We must obey God rather than men.”
In his powerful book Unspeakable, Os Guinness wrestles with the problem of evil in the world. In one section, he focuses on the Nuremberg trials that followed World War II. The Nazi officers, having been charged with crimes against humanity, offered the following defense: “I was merely following orders.” The verdict, however, was that the soldiers had a moral obligation to defy orders that – though legal – were clearly wrong.
In a much different context, Peter and the disciples were arrested for presenting the message of the risen Christ and brought before the religious rulers in Jerusalem. Rather than allowing themselves to be shaped by the mood of the mob, the disciples declared their intention to continue preaching Christ.
The orders of the religious establishment may have been legal, but they were wrong. When the disciples chose to obey God rather than the godless religious leaders, they raised a standard of conviction that rose above the opinions of the rulers of this world.
The trials we face may test our commitment. But we will find opportunities to exalt God if we trust Him for the strength to go beyond the words of the crowd-pleasers to do what is truly right – NOT just what is acceptable under the terms of legality in our society.