This part of the story we began yesterday could easily be entitled ‘Who do you think you are?’ – Not like the TV show which explores people’s family tree – but an outraged challenge. ‘Who do YOU think you ARE?’. What right do YOU have to do what you are doing? It’s the outrage of the powerful social and religious elites, as two fishermen from the hick-backwater of Galilee stand up in the busy temple; the hub of Jewish identity and preach a profound and compelling sermon. It’s the question of one power system confronting another… and trying to shut it down.
Yesterday, we heard the wonderful story of a life-long disabled man who lived the pitiful existence of a beggar, seated ironically by the gate named ‘beautiful’ on the way into the temple. Peter and John perform a miracle so astounding that the whole town is stirred up – seeing him now walking and leaping and praising God. Their astonishment prompts Peter to give his second sermon since Pentecost, explaining Jesus, his mission, death and resurrection and calling them to repent, to turn around and put their faith in the Messiah who transforms lives like this!
But, just as they did when Jesus healed a man born blind, those with power don’t celebrate the marvellous event. They challenge the right of Peter and John to preach, particularly on THEIR turf, the temple.
– The captain of the temple is much annoyed that normal order is disrupted.
– The priests are much annoyed that the disciples are preaching – that is THEIR JOB!
– The Sadducees are much annoyed that they are preaching resurrection – which is theological nonsense!
All in all, they are… well… much annoyed!
But the people, the people are responding to the evidence of their eyes and the teaching of Peter. Teaching of hope, forgiveness, freedom, life, joy. Teaching about Jesus. 5000 of them respond! And those with power arrest Peter and John gathering the next day at the home of the elite; the high priest’s family.
Can you imagine? Two fishermen, with bumpkin accents, hands rough and scarred by a life of manual labour, in working men’s clothes dragged into the middle of an elegant courtyard, surrounded by the sneering power players with their elite education and important friends in their fine, clean clothes. “By what power or by what name did you do this thing?” In other words – how did men like YOU do this? What authority do YOU have? Who do YOU think you are?
I wonder how you would have responded?
Many of us get anxious about public speaking. Many of us don’t like being put on the spot. Many of us are reluctant to talk about our faith, especially if people are being hostile.
But what happens here is what Jesus promised in Luke 12. He told the disciples “When they bring you before the synagogues, the rulers, the authorities, do not worry about how you are to defend yourselves or what you are to say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that very hour what you ought to say.” And the Holy Spirit did! Peter is fearless. “What you see has been done in the name of Jesus of Nazareth – whom YOU crucified whom GOD raised from the dead. There is salvation in no one else.”
Peter directly contrasts the two power systems:
- Human power, which killed Jesus and did nothing to help this lame beggar for his whole life.
- And God’s power which brings resurrection, firstly to Jesus dead body and now to this man’s future.
Peter and John have chosen a side and they have been given power, wisdom and great boldness by God’s Spirit. Where human power tries to silence and cause people to cower. God’s power gives them voice and dignity.
I wonder how we, you, answer the question – ‘By what power, in whose name – do you live the way you do? Do you act and speak the way you do?’ I wonder if we ever do anything that makes people notice the difference in our lifestyle or values or perspectives? Perhaps the challenge for some of us if anyone EVER asks us about our motivations and actions – or do they just look like everyone else around us?
But here is the promise we have – because of Jesus, because of his Spirit poured out on his church. We are powerful people, in many different ways because of that Spirit in us. People with the power to pray, to heal, to love and offer hope, to give and to forgive, to challenge injustice, to live differently, to be unafraid – be it of mockery, persecution or even of death.
And we do it in the name of Jesus – God with us, God to the rescue, Saviour of all humanity who has welcomed us into the family of God.
Who do we think we are? His greatly beloved, who he will return for one day.
We are the Church of Christ, in a world that needs dignity, hope, truth. That needs those who will speak resurrection and freedom not death and oppression. And Peter and John are undoubtedly in the great cloud of witnesses cheering us on, no matter who we are, where we are, to be bold in the power of God’s Spirit.
Father God, in the name of the resurrected Jesus please fill us again with your Spirit. Make us bold to pray, to act, to speak for those who need help and hope. Make us wise to challenge oppression and systems that wish to control and destroy the precious people you love so much. Give us grace to use whatever tools and gifts you have given us to be a blessing, that others might see our good works, ask us about our faith and praise you because we have served them well in their need. Make us light in the dark, and fearless to shine confident you will give us the words we need when we need them. In the mighty name of Jesus,