Just Announced: Philippians Sermon Series

Summary: Peter and John before the Sanhedrin provide an example of how the child of God is to respond to pressure from the world to conform to low expectations.

“When [the guards] had brought [Peter and John before the council], they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, 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.’ But Peter and the apostles answered, ‘We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savoir, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.’”

Christians increasingly face opposition from those belonging to this dying world. The presence of a godly person condemns the unrighteous. The child of God’s inability to condone the sinful proclivities that identify the wicked infuriates the sinner. Sinners not only want to enjoy the fruits of sin, but they also want the approval of all about them as they engage in sinful behaviour. Because they know in their heart that they are sinning against Holy God, they do not want to be reminded of their rebellion.

Had Peter and John but shown proper deference when they were haled before the religious leaders, they would have avoided the problem they were facing in our text. Proper deference would have meant that they kept “religion” in its place, which was not in the forefront of life. Nothing much has changed in the past two millennia.

In our modern society, religion must not be permitted to intrude into social interactions. The mere thought that one takes his or her faith seriously is a grave violation of social convention. Even the suspicion that one’s faith may dictate choices and actions is sufficient to create grave concern among colleagues and critics, invalidating opinions and negating any good that the righteous person may accomplish. Notice how often the press spoke in alarm at the thought that George Bush actually prayed for wisdom. Notice in our own nation how the press is gravely concerned that Stephen Harper frequently concludes an address with the words, “God bless Canada.” Faith must not be permitted to have a place in the life of public officials, and within society, the Christian must keep his or her faith concealed.

The doctrine under consideration is commonly known as “religious liberty.” This truth will be a constant desire in the lives of believers who are fully aware of the Lord’s will for their lives. The basis for our study is the interaction of Peter and John with the learned scholars that populated the Sanhedrin. The Apostles had been haled before the august council. They had been arrested and incarcerated, in the apparent hope that they would be cowed into silence concerning their faith.

However, God had other plans for His servants. His angel freed them and instructed them to declare the message of life to the residents of the city. They were obedient to this divine injunction, but it quickly came to the attention of the temple guards, who again took them into custody. Now, standing before the council, they are questioned about their disobedience to the council, and here we take up the account.

THE ONGOING EFFORTS TO OPPRESS THE SAINTS — “The high priest questioned [the disciples], 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.’” The high priest anticipated that threats would silence the disciples. If social censure does not silence the faithful, then surely threats will succeed. If threats fail to intimidate believers into silence, then outright persecution will stifle their witness.

I watch with dismay the increasingly intensive efforts to coerce compliance with the new social orthodoxy. Under this “new” orthodoxy (which is anything but new), Christians must not notice that certain religions are not merely opposed to the Christian Faith, but that these religious practitioners produce a plethora of preachers of violence, vilification and vituperation who are intent on persecuting those who dare practise the Faith of Christ the Lord. Our world is increasingly scarred by violent assaults; and many—if not most—of these violent incidents are religiously motivated. However, we are not to notice this, and we are assuredly not to comment on the obvious facts.

In Australia, two preachers were convicted of “hate speech” by a quasi-judicial tribunal. During a public service of Christian worship they read from the Koran in order to demonstrate the difficulties of reconciling Muslim assertions that Islam is a “religion of peace” with the authoritative basis for Muslim faith and practise. Such an audacious display of common sense is proscribed under the tenets of the new orthodoxy.

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