Compelled to Speak
Topic: Dudley's Monthly Message Passage: Acts 4:20–4:20
COMPELLED TO SPEAK
“. . . for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”
Acts 4:20 (ESV)
The state of current American Christianity is generally rather shaky. For generations, we have spent the capital of moral strength we had stored up from generations that preached and practiced the gospel of transformation. We have tried to maintain a moral society without the infusion of passion that comes only from believing in the resurrected and ascended Lord. When we look at the model of New Testament believers in comparison to contemporary Western Christians, we are astounded. It causes us to wonder if we can expect to live the same way. Were they living in an easier time? Was the Spirit more available to them than to us?
The demeanor of the New Testament Christians is not an unreachable ideal. It is the norm for those whom God has given the ability to see his kingdom. The question we must ask is: What had happened to those disciples that so changed their lives and emboldened them to confront the powerful entities of evil in their day with remarkable confidence and effectiveness?
- The New Testament Christians were radicalized by hearing the shocking announcement that the long-awaited Kingdom of Heaven had arrived in their day. Since the Garden of Eden humans had longed for order to be restored in creation. Torn by sin and tossed by confusion, mankind hoped for restoration. Hope was given by God’s promise that the head of Satan would be crushed by the seed of a woman. History reveals the development of God’s plan to win the earthly battle through earthly people. The descendants of Abraham were enslaved to Egypt but delivered by the covenant-keeping God who brought them to a new land with a new identity. Under the reign of David and Solomon, this people experienced a prosperity unmatched in their history, but they soon lost their land and their privilege. In Exile, the prophets stoked the hope for a future day of deliverance and vindication. Four hundred years passed before the promise was fulfilled. There was plenty of time to speculate as to how the coming day of the Lord would look. Of course, the likes of Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, and Rome had shaped their concept of “kingdom.” Surely it would be a political, and military kingdom with monarchs, armies, wars, and domination. We can sympathize with the Jewish people when a man from Nazareth came to town and announced that the kingdom was at hand. They were skeptical. Then when the Romans crucified and buried him, it was hard to believe the kingdom had come. Evil forces had dominated the now-dead king. No monarch had ever defeated that enemy (death), no matter how big his army. But then he appeared to them after his resurrection. Later, he ascended. They had been there at Pentecost when Peter explained what had truly happened. They had experienced the supernatural phenomena accompanying the gift of the Spirit. Those who believed Peter’s explanation changed their minds and their lives. They received the Spirit and began living a brand-new kind of life. The world had never seen such a life. No person had been resurrected from the dead and then shared his resurrection life with others. Evidence of his exaltation to the right hand of the Father came when they spoke in Jesus’ name to heal a 40-year-old man who had begged for years. That challenged the council in charge of maintaining peace in the town. They were confronted with a kingdom power they could not stop by legislation. They demanded that the disciples not use that name again. That is when Peter uttered those words that haunt us and give us hope: “We cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”
- The Spirit interpreted the New Testament Christians' observation of historical facts in such a way as to entirely change their lives. The future had moved into the present, and their hope was being realized. What the Old Testament saints had seen as the far-off future was present and had to be engaged. Either Jesus was the fulfillment of the promises that had propelled the previous hope, or he was a fake and deserved to be eliminated. But one thing was for sure. They couldn’t casually consider him. He was not merely the teacher from Galilee, the miracle worker from Jordan. All the people of Jerusalem knew the facts of what had happened. When meaning was given to interpret the facts, the story became transforming. Too many contemporary Christians have heard the stories about Jesus and believe they are factual, but they haven’t entered the story themselves. They have an ethic supported by the teaching of Jesus, but not the life that fills out the ethic. No passion. No victory. No joy. Those who continue to live as if the kingdom is yet to arrive will not be compelled to live radically. They will live essentially like Old Testament saints waiting for the Messiah.
- These believers who were compelled to speak, even in the face of persecution and death did not come to their state by half-hearted assent. They did not pick this religion out of the religion lottery. They had been captured by the resurrected King to spread the aroma of his victory everywhere he led them (2 Corinthians 2:14-16). Paul used the imagery of the triumphant general marching back into town with his train of captives trailing behind. They had been in the bloody battle for days, and the smell could be atrocious. To counter it, much perfume and incense were used to give the captives a distinct but better smell. It was the smell of victory for the Victor, but for those who were enemies, it smelled of death. The early disciples were aware that the ultimate king had captured them and that just by following him they would emit an aroma that would repel some and attract others. They were content to have Jesus’s friends as their own and to have his enemies as theirs. Their aroma was unmistakable. Those who hated Jesus would hate them. They, like Jesus, were offensive by their peace. Their joy in the face of death was unsettling. Their contentment with little while the undeserving had much weighed on the conscience. Their confidence in the face of unjust trials was baffling.
- God had elevated the New Testament Christians' mission in life to the highest possible privilege. They were aware that they were partners with God to bless all of creation. The one who has all authority over all things had sent them. They had no fear of lesser authorities. They spoke from a position of human weakness, with the confidence of those assured of divine justice. They were so sure they were part of the unshakable kingdom of God that they were not intimidated by those whose primary threat was death. For them, death was a conquered foe, not a fearful fate. The eternal life they shared with God himself was not subject to termination. Freed from the baggage of guilt and shame, they expected God not only to supply them but to accompany them in their march through the expanding spheres of earthly life. Their goal was global blessing. Jesus had paid the price for the full restoration of all things, and they were honored to be his ambassadors offering reconciliation to all those estranged by sin.
- The Spirit who had raised Jesus from death infused the life of the New Testament Christians. They were new creations in their inner person. Led and empowered by the very Spirit of God, they faced the power of sin in their own lives as well as the obstacles in their assigned relational and physical gardens, with a power much higher than their own will. Knowing Satan would tempt them, but that God would always provide a way of escape, they lived with an assurance of no condemnation from any accuser and no separation from the love of God (Romans 8). As the Spirit continued to make the person and work of Jesus real to them, their love and worship continued to increase with zeal and joy.
- The New Testament Christians were marching under the orders of the one who delivered them. Their commission was clear: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (John 20:21). Confident that God loves and delights to give, they did not beg from a reluctant deity, rather they laid hold of his generosity, and dared not get trapped by the distractions of earthly substitutes. They prayed as no other people had ever prayed. They were standing on ground already secured by Jesus and laid hold of the fruits of his finished work. They appealed to the King who had defeated all other rivals at the place of the skull. They were executing his orders to dispel every argument that exalted itself against God. They ruled from their knees because they knew it was there that the necessary power was accessed. The prayers of the saints would topple more dictators than all the swords ever made. They believed in the power of the declared word of victory. They expected God’s word in their mouths to be accompanied by God’s power in their midst.
- The New Testament Christians lived in community. Knowing that God had gifted each of them with some endowment, but that no one had it all, they lived interdependently with each other. They valued each person and sought to discover how to walk in the unity of the Spirit. Having been included in the fellowship of the Triune God, they rejoiced in the fellowship with the family of God. God finally had a people on earth who as his partners could manage his creation. They would do it together and rejoice that everyone had a part.
Living now in the kingdom of God is not only possible but mandatory IF we are to fulfill our own calling in our day. We dare not devalue the grace of God, who at the cost of his Son gave us this privilege. To settle for some measure of relief from the threat of hell is to miss the grandeur of living now in the kingdom of God. We are tired of constrained living and long for compelled living. We want to be carried by a love that will not let us go. We want to feel the passion. Fear has not provided the necessary motivation to live right. Knowledge has proven insufficient. Causes have left us empty. We want to see and hear the things that compel us to speak and act.