Powers and Principalities
Sun, May 12, 2019


Duration:30 mins 14 secs

17 Then the high priest took action; he and all who were with him (that is, the sect of the Sadducees), being filled with jealousy, 18 arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison. 19 But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors, brought them out, and said, 20 “Go, stand in the temple and tell the people the whole message about this life.” 21 When they heard this, they entered the temple at daybreak and went on with their teaching.

When the high priest and those with him arrived, they called together the council and the whole body of the elders of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought. 22 But when the temple police went there, they did not find them in the prison; so they returned and reported, 23 “We found the prison securely locked and the guards standing at the doors, but when we opened them, we found no one inside.” 24 Now when the captain of the temple and the chief priests heard these words, they were perplexed about them, wondering what might be going on. 25 Then someone arrived and announced, “Look, the men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people!” 26 Then the captain went with the temple police and brought them, but without violence, for they were afraid of being stoned by the people.

27 When they had brought them, they had them stand before the council. The high priest questioned them, 28 saying, “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are determined to bring this man’s blood on us.” 29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than any human authority. 30 The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. 31 God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.”

This morning we continue with our Easter Season series – Solid as a Rock: Peter, the Church, and the Acts of the Apostles. Each week we join Peter and the early church as they live into the reality of Jesus’ resurrection. The resurrection changes everything and empowers both with new roles in ministry. So far, we have encountered Peter as preacher and healer. As we begin to consider our text for today, let us pray:

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

It has been said that one has not truly earned the good mother or good father merit badge until you have left a cart full of groceries in the middle of the aisle and carried your screaming toddler out of the store while they are screaming “NO!!!!!!!!” That’s really what we celebrate on Mother’s Day, right? Mother’s Day can seem like a very sweet and sappy holiday. And yet, it seems to me that the real test of motherhood is how one handles the screaming “NO!!!!,” the eye roll, the stomping feet, and the slamming door. Yes, motherhood is about how one responds to the protest.

I suspect that for many of us at Reid Memorial the idea of protest carries a negative connotation. To protest is to be unhappy. To protest is unruly. To protest is to create disorder; it is to rock the boat; it is to step outside the safe and acceptable modes of public discourse and behavior. To protest is to violate the essential Presbyterian creed to do all things “decently and in order.”

Yes, we tend to forget that the very name of our larger family within the Christian tradition is Protestant: one who makes or enters a protest.

We tend to forget that Presbyterians were leaders in the “voluntary societies” of the 1800’s and 1900’s which protested and sought to change the culture of American society by fighting alcoholism, supporting Sabbath observance, opposing slavery, distributing Bibles and tracts, and joining the Social Gospel’s efforts to create just working conditions.

We tend to forget that John Witherspoon, a Presbyterian minister and President of Princeton, and other Presbyterians contributed to “the sacred cause of liberty” better known as the American Revolution. Perhaps you have heard that when the Declaration of Independence arrived in England, the Prime Minister remarked, “Cousin America has run off with a Presbyterian parson!” Yes, such is the history of Presbyterians and protest.

We tend to forget a multitude of other examples, including our text from Acts. Peter and the apostles are arrested because too many people are being healed. Think about that for a minute. Too many people are receiving the life transforming gift of healing, so the authorities arrest them. But an angel from the Lord opens the prison doors and tells the apostles, “Go, stand in the temple and tell the people the whole message about this life.”

So that’s what the apostles do. Instead of fleeing for their lives, the apostles return to the temple and start proclaiming the gospel again. They will not be deterred. The whole message about this life must be proclaimed!

Quickly re-arrested and brought before the authorities, the apostles are told, “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are determined to bring this man’s blood on us.” The authorities could not have been clearer. Stop preaching in the name of Jesus.

But Peter answers, “We must obey God rather than any human authority.” In his response, Peter uses a little word in Greek: dei. Dei means, “it is necessary,” or “it is required,” or “there is no choice but to.” The disciples are not protesting like the toddler in the grocery story. They are not protesting because they are obstinate or self-centered or they just enjoy defying a direct order. No, they must, they have no choice, it is a necessary that they obey God rather than any human authority. They have been given a vision of life, a story of good news, a word that transforms the world and they must share it. They cannot sit in prison. They cannot flee for their lives. They cannot remain silent in the temple. They have to speak and share the whole message about this life.

That kind of necessity is the heart of Presbyterian protest. We protest not out of sense of entitlement. We protest not as a tantrum until we get our way. We protest not because we particularly enjoy defying authority.

No, we protest because our lives have been transformed by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We protest because that transformation is too good for us to keep to ourselves. We protest because Christ’s resurrection creates a new world in which the kingdom of God breaks forth. We protest because we must obey God rather than any human authority.

My friends, I ask you today: does your faith move you that much? Is there anything you hold so dear that you would get out of your pew and hit the streets in protest this morning?

I want to encourage us, all of us this morning, to leave this sanctuary today with a spirit of protest, sharing the whole message about this life that we have been given.

Because faced with a world that wants to keep strangers out, we protest with a message that there is room for everyone at God’s table.

Faced with a world full of despair, we protest with a message that life is stronger than death.

Faced with a world set on violence as the answer to every problem, we protest with a message of peace and understanding.

Faced with a world set on jealousy and revenge, we protest with a message of forgiveness.

Faced with a world set on accumulation of stuff out of a sense of scarcity, we protest with a message of generosity and grace.

Faced with a world that says faith is just a private matter, we protest with a message that faith transforms every moment of your life.

Faced with a world that seeks to create division and distrust, we protest with a message of reconciliation and new community.

Faced with a world so full of hate, we protest with love.

Yes, my friends, the good news of the gospel, the whole message about this life, must lead us out of our pews and into the streets. Do we believe the good news of the gospel enough to protest? Yes, the true test of the church just might be if we are willing to engage in the protest.

Thanks be to God.

Let us pray: