Unflinching

Unflinching

When Peter and John go up to the Jerusalem temple one afternoon, they meet a man who’s been unable to walk his whole life. Every day he would have someone carry him to the temple gate so that he could ask for whatever generosity some passerby might feel like offering. As Peter and John walk by, he asks them for the same alms he asks of everyone. “I have no silver or gold,” Peter tells him, “but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ, stand up and walk.” (Acts 3:6)
   We know how stories like this go. The man jumps up, legs immediately filled with life and strength, and begins praising God, filling everyone else in the temple with “wonder and amazement.” Peter seizes the opportunity to make the crowd aware of just who is really responsible for this miraculous healing. “Why do you stare at us as though by our own power we made him walk? The God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, and his name itself has made this man strong.” (Acts 3:12-16) Peter challenges the temple crowd to begin a life of Jesus-oriented repentance and something like 5,000 people become new believers.
   Now the priests and other temple leaders catch wind of what’s been happening. They arrest Peter and John (how dare they practice any kind of healing authority and proclaim an unapproved savior in God’s house!?). “By what name did you do this?” Peter gives the same answer he already gave the crowd (though not before pointing out the irony of being interrogated for a good deed). “This man stands before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name by which we must be saved.” (4:10-12)
   The priests see that Peter and John are unintimidated, and they can’t really threaten them with anything substantial after 5,000 people witnessed the healing and joined the church in a single day. So they give one last hollow warning (which amounts to little more than some stern finger wagging) and send Peter and John on their way.
   The two apostles now join their brothers and sisters and enter into a time of prayer, which concludes with, “Grant to your servants to speak your word with all boldness.” (4:30)
   What would we have prayed for if put in Peter’s and John’s shoes? Would we pray for boldness and daring? Or might we pray for escape, for a safer way to be a Christian? The church of Acts 4 knows better than ask God for a safer way of being a Christian. They plainly acknowledge that they have every intention of heading back into the belly of the beast, of facing opposition wherever it may arise. And then they ask God to empower them to face that opposition with unflinching bravery.
   God doesn’t want us to be safe all the time. What God does ask of us, all the time, is to be bold. The apostles are in trouble for the same thing that always got Jesus in trouble. For being too kind, too forgiving, too welcoming. For healing too many people (the world would prefer to just ignore some people), and for doing so in the name of Jesus. If we’re doing our job correctly, the Church today will get in trouble for the same things. And when we do, let’s not pray for an exit strategy, but for boldness and daring in the face of everything trying to make us afraid. “When they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered was shaken, and they were filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness.” (4:31) The prayer for unflinching bravery is a prayer God is eager to answer.

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