Intimidation has always been a powerful weapon in the armory of the enemy of all righteousness. Intimidation can come in many different forms. It can be subtle or obvious. It can come in the form of mockery, disdain, physical harm and even death. Intimidation can come from many different sources. Co-workers, classmates, the culture, religious people, antagonist, family, and government.
Intimidation is nothing new. Its purpose is to silence the truth. To push people of faith into a small corner where they cower and whisper. As we face the transformation of America (which by the way did not start seven years ago it has been underway for at least 60 years) we have probably contemplated the possibility of cultural and governmental intimidation directed at people of faith. It should be noted that most will capitulate, most already have. The effect of their capitulation will ramp up the intimidation against those who are standing their ground.
There are probably many places in scripture that could give us courage and wisdom for such a time as this. This past week I had occasion to spend some time in one such passage.
Then the high priest rose up, and all they that were with him, (which is the sect of the Sadducees,) and were filled with indignation, And laid their hands on the apostles, and put them in the common prison. But the angel of the Lord by night opened the prison doors, and brought them forth, and said, Go, stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life. And when they heard that, they entered into the temple early in the morning, and taught.
There are some things worth considering in these few verses. First:
The Indignation of the Enemy
In verses 17 and 18 the indignation of the enemy is front and center. There is a particular group of people brought to our attention. "The high priest and all that were with him". This is a familiar group of people. Along with the Pharisees, scribes and lawyers the high priest and his associates were, plainly put, religious zealots who knew not God and opposed the Savior, the Son of God. This is the very group of people who harassed Jesus throughout his earthly ministry, ultimately having him put to death on a Roman cross. Now, just a short time later, we find them opposing the disciples of the risen Lord. The Apostles were not likely surprised by the treatment they were to receive at their hands. After all Jesus had alerted them in the upper room the night of his betrayal when he said, "If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you."
The bible tells us that these men "were filled with indignation". Their passion was up! They were, as we might put it, HOT! In an unfavorable sense this word is connected to jealousy. I think it is safe to say they were indignant because they were envious, jealous. This is what had been driving them from the beginning. Even Pilate knew this. Mark informs us in chapter 15 and verse 10 of his gospel when speaking of Pilate, "For he knew that the chief priest had delivered him (Jesus) for envy." These were power hungry religious partisans who considered Jesus and now the Apostles as a threat to their influence over the people.
Their indignation caused them to lay "their hands on the Apostles". In the previous chapter of Acts they had laid their hands on Peter and John after the healing of the man at the gate of the temple. They had threatened them not to teach or preach anymore in this name (Jesus). They continued to do so! The result is that they rounded up all the Apostles.
The put them in the common prison! If we ever get placed in the common prison may it be because we were uncommon men, living uncommon lives, devoted to an uncommon cause!
We then notice in verses 19,20:
The Help of an Angel
"The angel of the Lord by night opened the prison doors". The common prison had an uncommon visitor. The angel of the Lord no only opened the prison door but he also "brought them forth". They were set free. The indignation of the enemy had put them in the common prison and the infinite power of God brought them forth from the common prison. Obviously this does not, yea, it has not always happened. Many of God's most faithful people have been allowed by God to suffer immeasurably from the intimidation of those in power. We are not to take from this what God will do but what he can do! This simply reminds us that the Lord can, at his discretion, intervene in a very personal way in the defense of his people and his church! Our comfort when facing the intimidation is not in know what God will do but in knowing what he can do. And if he can deliver from the intimidation of the enemy and he does not then he will give grace to face the intimidation of the enemy. I would remind you that this account concludes at the end of the chapter with these very men being beaten for the message they preached. And they didn't leave asking why God did not deliver them the second time but rather rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name.
Not only does the angel of the Lord deliver them but he also directs them. "Go, stand, and speak". There is nothing quite so powerful as a brilliant stroke of brevity. These three words tells them all they need to know about how to conduct themselves moving forward.
Go (into all the world and preach the gospel)
Stand (stand therefore having your loins girt about with truth)
Speak (boldly, as I ought to speak)
In the face of this intimidation they were to just keep doing what they had been doing. In the very first part of the next verse (21a) we view:
The Commitment of the Apostles
Their response is remarkable. They had basically been instructed to go right back into the teeth of the enemy. There are so many reasonable excuses that could be made. Yet, they make none. The bible says, "When they heard that, they entered into the temple early in the morning". They may have got a few hours sleep, but they certainly didn't sleep in. They didn't give time for doubt to rush in. They didn't contemplate; they obeyed! Hesitation has no doubt been the birthplace of much unbelief and cowardice. Once we know what to do then we should set out to do it. They didn't sit around, convene a committee, and parse words. Go?? Go where?? Stand?? Literally or figuratively? Speak?? What are we to say? There was none of this. The angel said go, stand, speak. They went, stood, and spoke!
In fact the bible says they "taught". The very thing for which they had been cast into the common prison they continued to do. Duty does not retreat in the face of difficulty.
Of course the chapter continues and they are ultimately brought before the enemy and the courage they manifest before these "learned" men is remarkable. They are threatened, beaten and released. And the last verse of the chapter reports "And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ."
Twenty first century Baptists may have something to learn from first century Baptists.