The Bible’s book of Acts details the activity of Jesus’ apostles as God blessed the early church. In the third chapter of that book, there’s a particular situation where a man was healed (see Acts 3:1-11). This man had been unable to walk on his own since birth, but instead of receiving a donation of money from two of Jesus’ apostles (Peter and John), he was healed of his infirmity.
Peter took this opportunity to share good news about Jesus with the amazed crowd (see Acts 3:12-26), giving the credit to God for healing the man in Jesus’ name. However, as is the case with many people who find others talking about a belief that is different from their own, local religious leaders sought to suppress this message (including the idea that someone could be raised from the dead), and they put Peter and John in jail (see Acts 4:1-4). Peter was happy to share the truth with them, too, but his new audience was torn between their previously-held beliefs and the reality that the man had been healed (see Acts 4:5-17).
I hope that you are familiar with this account (and, if not, I encourage you to read all of Acts chapters 3 and 4). Let’s pick up at verse 18, with the religious leaders’ response:
So they called the apostles back in and commanded them never again to speak or teach in the name of Jesus.
Acts of the Apostles 4:18 NLT
After nearly 2000 years, some things haven’t changed all that much. Sometimes, it seems like there is a cultural taboo against talking about Jesus. You may have heard the old saying that there are three topics that should be avoided in conversation: women, politics, and religion. Today, society has at least become more respectful of women, but talking about politics still seems to lead to conflict – despite it being a frequent subject of conversation. Still, while talking about God (in the most general of senses) is often “OK”, it seems like Jesus Christ is not a legitimate subject of conversation. There’s almost this idea that only superstars who win a championship get the opportunity to be truly honest about their faith in Him, and only while they are on stage accepting the trophy – when no TV camera or microphone can cut away.
On the other hand, there are those who follow Jesus who avoid taking about Him voluntarily. Whether out of peer pressure, fear, or some other reason, these Christians “self-limit” their speech about their Lord and Savior.
What was the apostles’ response? It definitely wasn’t to accept the social, political, and religious pressure that they were under:
But Peter and John replied, “Do you think God wants us to obey you rather than him? We cannot stop telling about everything we have seen and heard.”
Acts of the Apostles 4:19-20 NLT
Here, Peter and John didn’t say that they were getting paid to preach. They didn’t indicate that they had to “save people” (since only Jesus can do that; we can merely point lost souls to Him, and tell them about His salvation), or that they were somehow obliged do good things in order to win God’s favor. Instead, they had experienced a life-changing relationship as they walked with Jesus, listened to His teaching, saw His miracles, and even heard God testify to Jesus’ authority. The apostles just couldn’t keep that good news to themselves, because it wasn’t only for them: the same salvation and purpose that they had learned about was available to bless and transform other people, too.
In our lives, what we might call “evangelism” or a “testimony” is often just telling others what we have observed and experienced. This means paying attention to what God is doing, and just sharing it as part of our normal conversation.
Consider this: When someone asks about what is going on in our lives (for real, not just a casual greeting), do we tell them what God is doing in our lives? Or, do we talk about what we (or our kids…or political and religious leaders) are doing? Sure, it may be fun to relate our recent experiences, or what is going on around us (and that’s OK at the proper time). However, isn’t what God is doing in our lives – and in the world around us – even more impressive and interesting? People didn’t flock to Jesus’ apostles and choose to follow Jesus by the thousands because the apostles talked about where they went to eat last week, or how their kids were doing. Those who needed truth, grace, and hope found those things when the apostles told them about Jesus!
What was the result of Peter and John’s response? In our day, we might expect the audience to laugh at them or ostracize them. Instead, though, under opposition that was probably more organized and influential than many Western Christians experience today, here was the outcome:
The council then threatened them further, but they finally let them go because they didn’t know how to punish them without starting a riot. For everyone was praising God for this miraculous sign—the healing of a man who had been lame for more than forty years.
Acts of the Apostles 4:21-22 NLT
When we share what God is doing, there’s little to genuinely argue with. Sure, people can use attack us personally, deny the truth that we know, or use classic logical fallacies to protest. However, when what God is doing is obvious, and when our words (and our actions) line up with those facts, there is only so much that anyone else can do when they choose to ignore the truth.
Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.