Peter and John, by God’s power, have just healed a man who had been crippled from birth, and they preached the gospel to the people at the temple. This was not in the best interest of the unbelieving Jewish leaders, so they had Peter and John held in custody and put before the council.
Peter and John stumped them. The council had no answer, but they didn’t want them spreading this stuff among the people. And so, we read,
18 So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.
19 But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge,
20 for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” – Acts 4:18-20
From these verses, we can draw four principles for when we are persecuted.
1. Expect persecution
Peter and John would not be the only ones warned and threatened not to speak about Jesus to others. This persecution has gone on for roughly two thousand years now all over the world. Christians are an aroma of death unto death for those who are perishing (2 Corinthians 2:16). When the word of God is preached, the conscience of those who don’t want to believe are pierced, and they may react with the attempt to suppress the gospel’s proclamation. This is to be expected.
If we don’t expect persecution, we won’t be properly prepared for it, and so let us be reminded on this day that if you would follow Christ, you will face opposition for being obedient to Him.
2. Have an answer
Imagine being Peter and John, whisked away by domineering authorities, put before a council, as if on trial, and warned to discontinue evangelism. What’s implied is that you will be left alone if you merely comply. The temptation is to simply agree. But instead, Peter and John, by God’s grace, give an answer.
This is an encouragement for us to be prepared for persecution by having an answer. This passage was put here for us not only to give us a history of the Spirit’s work in the early church, but also to embolden us to act as Peter and John did in this instance. We must have an answer when suppressed, and the answer is this:
3. We must obey God rather than men
Peter and John say, Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge. This is rhetorical. Of course it is right to listen to God rather than to men. What could they say to that? The council already had no answer for the content of the gospel. What right did they have to suppress God’s word?
This is our answer for when we are told not to speak of Jesus. Our allegiance is to the One who has commanded us to do so. His authority is higher—the highest.
Elsewhere, we know that we are to be humble, submissive to governing authorities. But the line is drawn when they charge us to do something that is disobedience to the King of kings. That’s part one of our answer. Part two follows it:
4. We cannot be silent
Peter and John continue, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard. There’s a sense here in which Peter and John cannot be silent because of God’s command, and that might be the main point. There’s another sense in which they cannot be silent because of the content: what we have seen and heard.
The reason why Peter and John were so bold and unstoppable was that their Teacher and Lord was not merely a man, but God Himself. He is the God-man who went to the cross to suffer the penalty of God’s wrath that sinners like them and us deserve, and rose from the dead to conquer sin and death for all eternity. And they had the knowledge that everyone who believes in Jesus will be saved from the wrath of God. That knowledge alone should make a man insuppressible.
Moreover, Peter and John were charged by the Savior to spread this news to all peoples and filled with Spirit to do so. They could not be silent.
And neither can we. For all who believe in the gospel of Jesus, the content alone should keep us speaking. And moreover, it is our God-given mandate, and we have the Holy Spirit to help us. Brothers and sisters, we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.
So, when persecution strikes, may we have expected it, prepared with the answer that we must obey God rather than men, and we cannot be silent. If you found this helpful, feel free to share.