Tag Archives: Acts 4

When Systemic Power is Threatened

When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.
Acts 4:13 (NIV)

There’s a lot of talk these days about “the swamp.” For Americans, this typically references what is perceived as the professional political class who corruptly rule from Washington D.C. oblivious to the day-to-day thoughts and concerned of the millions who carry on life outside the beltway. In the days of Jesus, Jews could easily have called the Temple in Jerusalem “the swamp.”

For Jewish people living in and around Jerusalem life revolved around the Temple. Not only was it the center of their religion, the only place where sacrifices and offerings were made, but it was also the center of political power. Life was dictated from the religious ruling class of priests and leaders in the temple who interpreted the law of Moses and told people what they could and couldn’t do. These priests, rabbis, lawyers, and scholars ruled over the people and claimed God’s authority for doing so. In reality, these guys had a great racket going. It was a system of power and corruption. They used their power to make themselves rich, lord over the common people, and consolidate their power and positions.

So it was that in today’s chapter, Peter and John’s healing of the crippled man and their bold proclamation of Jesus’ resurrection created a threat, a political threat, to the ruling religious class.

First, it threatened the priests own power and authority to have “unschooled, ordinary men” preaching so boldly. The religious leaders wanted common people thinking that only the educated and extraordinary teachers within the powerful ruling class in the Temple could speak for God.

Second, the miracle of the healing of the crippled man by such “unschooled, ordinary men” went against the narrative that God only works through the religious Temple system and its priests. They, however, had no similar miracles to point to showing that God was doing such things through them. If the common people began to think that the priests and teachers of the law were impotent it threatened their systemic stranglehold on power.

Third, the fact that Peter and John were speaking about this pesky teacher, Jesus, and proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus from the dead stirred dissension within the religious ruling class itself. Resurrection was a theological topic of hot debate. Those who believed in resurrection and those who didn’t were bitter rivals. You’ll note that it was the Sadducees (an anti-resurrection faction among the temple scholars) who had Peter and John arrested. The high priest is not going to want this miracle business to create an internal rift within the swamp.

Finally, the high priest and his cronies had to have been frustrated that this Galilean rabbi, Jesus, kept coming up. “Didn’t we execute him weeks ago? Can’t somebody figure out what they did with his body so we can be done with this?”

When you threaten a powerful system, that system will act to stamp out the threat to its power. The story of Peter and John healing the crippled man is like the pebble that starts an avalanche. This conflict is just getting started.

This morning I’m thinking about the many times in my life when I’ve watched systemic and institutional authority feel threatened and the ways that authority reacted to consolidate power and diminish or eliminate the threat. I’ve seen some doozies in families, schools, businesses, churches, and civic organizations.

In the quiet I’m mulling over my own circles of influence. In some I am the systemic authority. How do I respond to threats in a positive way, recognizing that my discomfort just might be reluctance to change in ways that would be positive for the system? In other cases, I’m an anonymous cog in a larger system with a penchant for initiating change. How can I do so in ways that are honoring to God and authority?

Status Quo

source: pictoquotes via Flickr
source: pictoquotes via Flickr

They said, “What will we do with them? For it is obvious to all who live in Jerusalem that a notable sign has been done through them; we cannot deny it. But to keep it from spreading further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.” Acts 4:16-17 (NRSV)

Along life’s journey, I have had the opportunity of finding myself in leadership of different groups and organizations. As a leader, I am always looking for ways that things can be improved. I want to be effective and for whatever I’m involved in to have a positive and lasting impact. Often, this means I have to fight against the entrenched attitudes of others.

I have found that there will always be individuals who are motivated by a need for a sense of safety and stability. These individuals can easily equate sameness with safety. If things remain exactly the same then the anxiety produced in their spirits by the fear of change is reduced to acceptable levels. Sameness becomes tradition which is zealously protected. When personal authority and power is attached to the tradition, the desire to shun change and maintain the status quo becomes even stronger.

I was amazed reading today’s chapter that the priests and temple leaders gave little thought to the fact that a well known person in their community, a man who had been lame his entire life, was healed and dancing in the streets. They were not the least bit concerned about the miracles which were taking place or the thousands of individuals in whom God was working with life changing power. Their only concern appears to have been maintenance of the status quo and their vice grip hold on power.

Today, I’m praying that I never become one who fears change. Jesus said, “you don’t put new wine in old wineskins, otherwise the skins will burst and the wine is lost.” I want my heart and mind to remain fresh and pliable so that any new thing God is doing will fill me with Life rather than cracking and bursting my spirit because of some false sense of security to which I cling. I want to be part of whatever new thing God is doing in our midst.

Chapter-a-Day Acts 4

education
education (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

The members of the council were amazed when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, for they could see that they were ordinary men with no special training in the Scriptures. Acts 4:13 (NLT)

Our culture is blessed by ancestors who believed in the need for education. Before public education was available, virtually all of America’s private educational institutions were founded by followers of Jesus who felt that education was a crucial need for their children and for the successful future of generations who would come after. Today, between private colleges, community colleges, public universities, education for working adults, and on-line coursework, a higher education is more readily available than any time in history.

I have, however, come to realize that our belief in higher education can easily and subtly deceive us. Education is not spiritual knowledge. A diploma does not give you wisdom. A higher education is not equal to, nor superior to spiritual giftedness. I have witnessed many men and women who were placed in positions as teachers and pastors because they had the right educational credentials, but those individuals failed and their churches suffered because they were not spiritually gifted for the task. I have likewise known successful pastors and teachers who never darkened the door of a college or seminary, but who were blessed with spiritual gifts that more than enabled them for the task. Education is important, but a institution of higher learning is not Holy Spirit. Having a string of letters behind your name should never be confused with spiritual knowledge, wisdom or giftedness.

I find today’s chapter fascinating and heartening. Peter and John, these uneducated, blue-collar fishermen from the sticks, had been transformed in a matter of weeks from fearful, skulking followers into bold and capable leaders who would change the course of human history. We can all be encouraged by that. What any of us may lack in education and abilities is nothing compared to what the fullness of God’s Spirit in us makes possible.