Acts 5: 27 – 39: “We must obey God rather than human beings. (Verse 29)
The high priest saw a fire starting
and wanted to get it under control. Burying Jesus seemed like the best
solution. If he were done with Jesus, he could get back to the story of his
life the way it was originally written - with the high priest as the central
religious figure, the true keeper of God. After all, he had a demanding job.
Besides managing the temple, he had Rome to consider. The whole Jesus shake-up created
the kind of disturbance that might be a problem to the Roman emperor.
Disappointingly to the authorities,
the death of Jesus only yielded three days of calm before the disciples came
out of hiding claiming that he was raised to new life. By the feast of Pentecost,
the flames were beginning to roar. As the high priest’s frustration escalated,
so did his attempts to discourage Jesus’ disciples from teaching, healing, and
preaching in Jesus’ Name.
The disciples gave the high priest
a headache, especially the one named Peter. He already had been detained once,
but when the council of elders listened to his appeal, they could find no
reason to keep detaining him. Yet, this time he jailed Peter and his friends straight
away. But the prison locks were not a barrier to God. Before daylight Peter had
returned to the Church and picked up where he had left off teaching.
The passage presents a striking
contrast between the disposition and mission of the high priest and that of
Peter. Throughout, the priest is beset
with anger and fear over his mission of shutting Peter down. But not Peter, who is focused on the spreading of the gospel
-- a mission that affords him a joyful and durable attitude.
The high priest’s questioning of
Peter was to the point. Why have you defied my express directive to stop this
Peter’s answer makes clear that from
his perspective the role the high priest plays is not that of authority, but of
a persecutor. They are politicians who fear a loss of power and credibility, as
well as repercussions from Rome. Killing Peter could solve the problem of his
filling up Jerusalem with impassioned teaching and relieve the building
pressure of their rage.
we must obey God rather than any human authority. After refusing to obey the Jerusalem authorities’ orders to keep quiet,
Peter and the apostles find themselves on the defense in a courtroom setting.
They remind Peter, “Did we not tell you to keep quiet?” Peter’s response challenges
their authority in the office he was called to.
Peter’s statement (“We must obey God rather
than human beings”) says “We’re the ones
doing what God wants, not you.” With
this statement they question the high priests calling and its legitimacy.
Peter’s statement in verses 30-32
uses language that commonly described ancient rulers as leaders and saviours.
These verses bring Jesus’ Kingship and his crucifixion together, highlighting
the offense of calling Jesus “Lord”:
30The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the
dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a cross.
31God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and
Saviour that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins.
32 We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy
Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”
The rhetoric of obeying God rather
than humans serves to highlight that ceasing
from public proclamation of Jesus would be submitting to the power-hungry modes
of existence that typifies the world.
Jesus’ resurrection says there is
something better, namely obediently offering God’s redemption, forgiveness, and
regeneration to the world.