19 But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, 20 for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” – Acts 4:19-20.
In this era of fake news, hate speech, speech-chilling, echo chambers, incitement passing as reportage, name-calling, mud slinging and straw men attacks passing as academic debate, and people reporting any slightest thing they disagree with to the police, I often find myself threatened by fear to refrain from speaking about things which are important to me. I once feared talking about my faith in secular media or public online statements, as I thought that’s what the world would crucify me for. Once, someone wanted to ‘call out’ my faith in public for something I did as though it’s some sinister motive. Someone also once threatened to report what I said in a sermon to the Internal Security Department (ISD) for allegedly violating the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act (MRHA).
What should we do when threatened to silence?
Peter’s and John’s declaration is bold and definitive. Faced with the authorities’ command to stop speaking or teaching things in Jesus’ name, they essentially told those in power, “you want to punish us for speaking in Jesus’ name, go ahead. We are prepared to face your penalty. You are accountable to God for that decision. As for us, we will keep speaking about Jesus because he is a fact which we have seen and heard with our own eyes and ears!”
Be prepared for consequences. There will be people who will hate it when we do good and speak truth in Jesus’ name. But if it’s good and true, why should we fear? If we should have to suffer for Jesus’ name, it would be a privilege. The apostles rejoiced later when they suffered for Jesus’ name, for they were counted as worthy to so suffer.
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” – Matthew 5:11-12.
Leave ultimate justice to God. At times, we may be powerless to peaceably prevent or resist those in power who sanction against our speaking good and truth in Jesus’ name. Our powerlessness now does not mean impunity. Those in power will ultimately have to account to God for their actions. It would feel terribly unjust for us now. Yet, we are reminded that it was our injustice which caused Jesus to suffer great injustice. We leave ultimate justice to the ultimate Judge.
Speak what we’ve seen and heard. Philosophy and science are important domains of knowledge but debatable. Personal knowledge is another thing altogether. If I ask you what you ate for breakfast, and you tell me you had cereal, there’s little debate about it. Unless of course I was there with you the whole time and saw that you only ate eggs. More importantly, when is it justified for anyone to silence you for recounting an event you actually experienced, simpliciter? So we must speak the good and true we have seen and heard.
This means we must constantly venture in faith to personally experience the amazing works of God. God works in our internal reality in our private prayer and meditation. God also works in our external reality through our hands and feet. Like Peter and John who raised a man who had been crippled for more than 40 years to stand and leap and praise God dancing.
All about faith in Jesus’ name empowered by the Holy Spirit. This Peter who boldly spoke in the name of Jesus, defiant to the powerful religious-political leaders, was the same Peter who was so afraid of them, and of the consequences of being associated with Jesus, that he denied that he had anything to do with Jesus not once, but three times! The fundamental difference was the empowerment of the Holy Spirit and his internalisng the truth that the name of Jesus is powerful–the most powerful thing ever; more powerful than the earthly powers who could jail, torture or even execute him.
When we venture into God’s amazing works in the powerful name of Jesus, we too would not be able to restrain from speaking of what we have seen and heard. Nothing can silence us from that. For even the rocks and stones will cry out in praise.