How do you keep speaking about Jesus when you’re persecuted for doing so?
Assume for the moment that you want to share the good news about Jesus, how do you keep doing so if you’re threatened, or silenced in other ways?
That may not be the question some of you are asking. Some of you may be wondering: “Why would I want to tell other people about Jesus at all?” We’ll answer that question as well. If we come up with some good reasons to keep talking about him when it’s costly, those will also be good reasons to start talking about him.
Persecution. Is it really an issue?
It certainly is abroad. Saudi Arabia. Pakistan. Iran. Countries where you put your life on the line if you convert to follow Jesus.
But it happens here as well, in more subtle ways. But especially when we consider talking about Jesus. That was the issue in the story we just heard. Verse 18: “They called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.”
The authorities were quite happy for the early Christians to believe in Jesus. To pray to Jesus. To worship Jesus. They don’t mind them healing in the name of Jesus. But the one thing they may not do is to speak of him, teach about him. Don’t try to convert anybody.
Suddenly this is not so removed from modern day Britain. You’re welcome to be a Christian, provided you keep your faith to yourself. Provided you don’t try to change anyone else’s beliefs. Provided you don’t imply that other people’s religions aren’t OK, and they need to become Christians too.
North Korea is trying to promote a tourist industry. Westerners have gone to live there, to welcome you if you want to go and visit, give you a guided tour of the sites, show you that the country is more open, more friendly, than their reputation suggests. I strongly suspect that smiling welcome would change if you tested it by handing out evangelistic literature to the people of North Korea.
This is very relevant for us today, not as far removed from our own lives as we might have thought.
In this kind of climate, how do we keep speaking to others about Jesus? Wouldn’t it be easier, wouldn’t life be quieter, if we just kept our faith to ourselves?
Let me remind us of where we are in the book of Acts.
Peter and John have just healed a man who had never walked. That’s over 40 years. They have explained to the crowd that the risen Jesus is the one who healed him. And what’s more, it’s just the beginning. Jesus is the Messiah, the one who will restore all things, making this world a glorious place again. Miracles like this confirm that he’s going to see things through. We’ll have to wait until he returns to this earth, but he’s coming back.
The people loved it. They wanted to be a part of this. They wanted to be forgiven, to be refreshed, and to enjoy that final restoration. So much so that verse 4 of our reading says that the number of men reached 5000. That doesn’t include the women and children. Just a few days before, on the Day of Pentecost, the total number was about 3000. Now it’s shot up to 5000, plus women, plus children.
But not everybody loved it. The heavies turned up at the temple. Verse 1: “The priests and captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people.” That’s intimidating. They send in a senior group of people to interrupt them mid-speech. The captain of the temple guard was the second most senior priest at the time, and headed up the temple’s internal police force.
They arrested Peter and John, and put them in prison. Verse 5: The next day, an even bigger group gather together for a trial. This was serious. They meant business.
Their opening question is a stupid one. Verse 7: “By what power or what name did you do this?” They know the answer to that. It’s Jesus. That’s why they arrested them. Verse 2: “They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people, proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead.” And they ask what power or name? They’re just giving them an opportunity to incriminate themselves.
So Peter and John point out the hypocrisy. Why are they even on trial? They just gave a lame man his legs back. This shouldn’t need to be defended.
Verse 8: “Rulers and elders of the people!” Are we really “being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and being asked how he was healed?” Really? OK then.
Their answer goes once again to the book of Psalms in the Old Testament. This time, it’s Psalm 118. That Psalm will unpack two key facts about Jesus. Then flow two reasons why keeping quiet about Jesus is simply not an option.
Jesus: Rejected One
The first fact about Jesus is that he was rejected. He’s the rejected one.
Look down at verse 11. Here’s the quotation from Psalm 118. He is, quote: “The stone you builders rejected”.
This is a psalm that Jesus quoted several times to talk about himself. Peter actually changes the verse he quotes, ever so subtly. He inserts the word “you”.
The psalm originally talks about “the stone the builders rejected”. The picture is of some builders down the quarry looking for stones to use in a building. Today, we’d send them down the builders’ merchants. There they are looking at different masonry, timbers, other materials. In one corner of the yard is a chunk of stone. They have a really good laugh about it. It’s no use for anything. They certainly can’t use it in their building. In fact, you wonder why it’s even being stocked. You could come back in 20 years and nobody will have bought it.
In the context of the psalm, that’s a picture of the king of Israel. King David, rejected for the more impressive king Saul. Israel the tiny nation, scorned by the more powerful neighbouring neighbours. No use for anything.
He’s the rejected one.
Jesus: Unique Saviour
Second, he’s the unique saviour. Unique saviour.
Look at the second half of verse 11: “The stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.”
The word is slightly ambiguous. It’s either the cornerstone, or the capstone. When we build our church hall, the first brick to be laid is very important. It goes at the corner. Get that one wonky, the whole building will be askew. That’s the cornerstone.
The capstone is the brick at the top of an arch that keeps the whole building up. The whole building relies on that one stone for its stability.
Go back to the builders’ merchants. There’s that lump that the builders thought was a massive joke. A year later, there it is, pride of place in another building. Some other builders had been along, and not only found a use for it. It was now the most important stone in its building.
Jesus is the one who died on the cross for our sins. He’s the one who rose from the dead to break down the door of death, blazing a trail that the rest of us might follow. Peter told the crowds in Acts 2, and again in Acts 3, that they need to put their trust in this Jesus. They need to repent, turn around and follow this Jesus. Lean all their weight on this Jesus.
But here’s the point: There is no plan B. There is no other saviour. Nobody else has died for your sins. Nobody else has risen from the dead for you to follow them. Nobody else is Lord and God.
Do you see? It’s not just the positive statement that Jesus is your saviour. It’s the negative statement: There’s no other saviour.
Peter is quite emphatic. He says it twice. Verse 12: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”
Jesus came to save us from sin, to save us from death, to save us from a world marked by pain and suffering, to restore all things. There is no other place you can turn to have this. There is no other name under heaven by which we can saved.
Science cannot save you. Buddha cannot save you. Mohammed cannot save you. Money cannot save you. Your family cannot save you. The state cannot save you. Jesus can save you. Jesus and nobody else. There is no other name.
That’s the second thing that Peter and John realised from Psalm 118. He’s now the cornerstone. They explained to their interrogators why they must go on speaking about Jesus.
He’s the rejected one. He’s the unique saviour.
From which, flow two reasons why they must keep speaking about him. And for these same two reasons, we must too. Whether we’ve never really thought of speaking about Jesus to others, or whether we try to but find that we get into hot water when we do: We have to.
Jesus’ Command to Speak
Reason number 1: Jesus’ command to speak.
Verse 19: “Which is right in God’s eyes, to listen you, or to him? You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”
They had two commands, from two different people. The religious authorities told them not to speak in the name of Jesus. The risen Jesus told them to be his witnesses. Which would they obey.
The authorities could have pointed out that they are God-appointed teachers. They are the voice of God. If the apostles want to listen to God, they simply need to listen to them.
But not if those authorities are contradicting what God has clearly said. Jesus is God’s word incarnate. The Bible is God’s word written. If God has clearly spoken, and the authorised teachers in the church are contradicting what he’s said, then they are no longer the voice of God. The apostles had to listen to God, and not to what other people were telling them to do.
Jesus commanded them to speak. So they must speak.
They were told to be witnesses in a unique way. They actually saw the risen Jesus with their own eyes; they ate and drank with him. We did not, but Jesus tells all Christians to spread the good news. “Go and make disciples of all nations, … teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you … to the very end of the age.”
So if other people tell us to be quiet, we have a choice. Even if religious people tell us to be quiet, we have a choice. We either listen to their command to be quiet, or we listen to Jesus’ command to speak.
And if you’ve never really thought of speaking about Jesus to other people, he tells us to.
Please don’t worry about putting things just right, about being fluent, about whether you’re the clearest at explaining Jesus. Many of your friends may not know any other Christians. That means you are the best person to tell them about him. Give it a go this week.
Jesus’ command to speak.
People’s need to hear
There’s a second reason why they, why we, need to speak about Jesus. And that’s people’s need to hear.
We all need saving. We need saving from sin, from death, from ourselves, from this broken world in which we need. We need saving for life, for God, for peace, for joy, for the restored future that God has planned for when Jesus returns.
There is a way to be saved, but there’s only one.
So everyone everywhere has an urgent need to know of Jesus. They need it more than they need a job, need education, need health, even need food.
They need to know of Jesus, because they need to be saved and there’s only one saviour.
If we don’t tell them, they won’t know. If they don’t know of him, they won’t respond to him. If they don’t respond to him, they won’t be saved. So they have an urgent need to hear.
Here’s the apostle Paul in Romans chapter 10, verse 14: “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?”
If Jesus is the cornerstone, the only saviour, they must speak. Because people need to hear.
So how do you keep speaking about Jesus even if it gets you into trouble? Why speak to others about Jesus at all?
You remember who he is. Jesus the rejected one is also the only saviour there is.
Which means that Jesus’ command to speak takes priority over anyone’s command to be quiet.
And people’s need to hear takes priority over anyone’s command that people should be kept in the dark.
Keep spreading the good news of Jesus, whatever it costs. Jesus commands it, and people need to hear of him.