Christianity done correctly should have some tension between itself and the powers that be in the world. We see this from Abraham to Moses to Jesus to Peter and John. We should expect to see this today. If we neglect our mission, lose our focus and discard our values it is easier to get along with the world but we lose our distinctive identity and purpose in the world.
Somehow we feel it is a loss that Christianity has been marginalized in recent years. However, this is the place where Christianity thrives if understood and lived in line with the teachings and example of Jesus and the apostles.
In Walter Brueggemann’s book “Truth Speaks to Power” he suggests the heading for Jesus’ trial with Pilate be renamed “Pilate Before Jesus” rather than the tradition “Jesus Before Pilate.” We must recognize who is really in charge and in control of the situation.
“7 The Jewish leaders insisted, “We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.”
8 When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid, 9 and he went back inside the palace. “Where do you come from?” he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer. 10 “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?”
11 Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.” – John 19:7-11
Who has the most to lose here?
Jesus warned his disciples that they would be in tension with the powers of this world and even the powers that be in Judaism,
16 “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. 17 Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. 18 On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. 19 But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, 20 for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” – Matthew 10:16-20
If a disciple is to imitate their rabbi, it only makes sense that the fate that awaits the rabbi awaits the disciple as well. Now, Jesus takes the sting of that idea away in two ways: 1) his teaching his disciples to die to themselves, to take up a cross etc and 2) in his resurrection from the dead. They had nothing to fear from the world because they had already died and were promised resurrection, which put their lives and even their potential deaths in the proper perspective.
So in John 4 we see Jesus’ warning come to fruition. The disciples imitated Jesus in healing the lame man and now they are being persecuted for it just as Jesus was. This is a power struggle – ““By what power or what name did you do this?” (Acts 4:7). When the powers that be have their power questioned, you can bet they will fight and fight hard. They fight because they have a lot to lose, which creates fear. Pilate was afraid and now they are afraid. Fear and loss go hand in hand. There is little fear when you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Peter and John have little to lose in a worldly sense, which means they have everything to gain and nothing to fear. How much does a Galilean peasant have to lose vs Rome or the Jewish religious elite? This fact isn’t lost on the “higher ups” in Jerusalem’s religious power structure (Acts 4:13).
I wonder if fear is what holds us back from allowing the power of God to fully operate among us today. We don’t evangelize because we are afraid of how people might respond. We don’t want to be distinct from the world because we fear people’s perceptions. We aren’t even being truly persecuted and yet we live in fear when it comes to exercising many of the defining marker and callings of our Christian faith. If we truly believe in the power of God and the operation of the Holy Spirit what is there to fear? If we believe in the second coming of Christ and future resurrection what is there to fear? If we are not to fear death itself (Heb 2:14) then what else is there to fear? What are we afraid of losing?
The antidote to fear is coming to grips with the resurrected Jesus. The reason these Galilean fishermen took on the powers of the world from Jerusalem to Rome is that these men experienced the resurrected Jesus. They saw him, touched him, ate with him, and loved him. They saw him crucified and alive again. After that, there is no more room for fear because of the promise that one day we too will be raised to be like Jesus and with Jesus. So what is there to fear when you have resurrection power backing you every day?
This is what the “powers that be” don’t want you to realize. They would rather you stay silent, be defeated, unproductive and paralyzed by irrational fears and all they have to keep you stuck there is the same old smoke and mirrors show that dates back to Pharaoh in Exodus and beyond. Imagine what the church could do if we truly through off the things we fear and embraced new, resurrection empowered, Holy Spirit embedded life in the kingdom? We would be unstoppable.