“But Peter and the apostles answered, "We must obey God rather than men.””
(Acts 5:29 ESV)
After Jesus ascended into heaven, and after the Holy Spirit empowered the apostles, they faithfully proclaimed the gospel. But, just as the ministry of Jesus brought the ire of Jewish leadership, so too did their ministry. The activity of the apostles was seen as something to be stopped.
After Peter and John healed the lame beggar in Acts 3, and after Peter preached to the crowd that assembled, they were arrested. We’re told that the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead.
The next day, they stood before the high priest along with the rulers, scribes, and the elders. Fearing that word of this miracle, and the message of the apostles, would spread among the people, they commanded the apostles to no longer speak or teach in the name of Jesus. Peter and John replied to them, saying (Acts:19-20) : “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”
In Acts 5, we see that the apostles were once again arrested. And they were reminded of the order that had been given them. The high priest said to them (Acts 5:28): “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man's blood upon us.” Peter and the apostles then answered him, as we see in the above verse, by saying they must obey God rather than men.
For many years in this nation, the church has had freedom. When it came to obedience to the Lord and the state, the two have not been mutually exclusive. Obeying the Lord did not mean disobeying men. It did not mean acting in disobedience to our government leaders. And obeying the government did not mean violating the will of God. But it seems this is now changing.
The freedom experienced by congregations hasn’t changed…yet. However, we are seeing changes when it comes to individual believers. We are told that we must lay aside our faith and act according to the conscience and the morals of American society.
Christian bakers have been told that they must bake cakes for homosexual weddings. One such couple was forced to close their business after being fined $135,000 and issued a gag order when it came to speaking about their views regarding gay marriage. A similar case is also taking place in Colorado.
We’ve also seen Christian business owners being required to provide abortion services and birth control in their health insurance even when it violates their faith. We’re being told that the freedom of religion doesn’t apply to individuals in our nation, but only to churches.
I expect that we’ll see more and more of this as time goes on. The American people no longer seem able to stomach Biblical teaching and values. And it seems that our government and courts will stop at nothing to force Christians to adopt their judgments and values.
Like the apostles, we may be forced to make a choice. We may have to choose whether we’ll obey the government and disobey God, or to obey God and disobey the government. And, like the apostles, I pray we’ll make the right choice.
That being said, if it comes to this, we must be prepared to face the consequences of our disobedience. We may face harassment by our neighbors. We may face fines. We may face the loss of our businesses and homes. We may face arrest and imprisonment. But these things in no way compare with the blessing God has in store for his faithful. And what an opportunity it provides for the people of God to share Jesus and the hope we have in him.