By REV. LUNA DINGAYAN
But Peter and John answered them, “You yourselves judge which is right in God’s sight — to obey you or to obey God. For we cannot stop speaking of what we ourselves have seen and heard.” — Acts 4:19-20
(This is an excerpt of a message I gave on March 23 to the graduating students of the Presbyterian Central College of Ministry and Theological Seminary in Urdaneta City).
The theme for this graduation ceremony says: “Jesus Christ the Only Hope Adventure for a Lifetime. Our theme implies that we are living today in a world of hopelessness and that Jesus Christ our Lord alone is the source of our hope. And that to proclaim in words and in deeds Jesus Christ as the only hope is really our lifetime adventure.
A Biblical story
In Chapters 3 and 4 of the Book of Acts, we read a story about Apostles Peter and John. As they entered the Temple to pray, they saw a lame man begging for money. The existence of beggars in a particular society, as we know, is a sign of desperation and hopelessness. But in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, the two apostles healed the lame man. And those who witnessed the event were greatly amazed.
Peter and John took the opportunity to proclaim the message of Jesusf life and death. But they were still speaking when the Temple guards arrived and arrested these two apostles and imprisoned them. However, many of those who heard the good news believed – about five thousand men according to the Scriptures.
Then, Peter and John were questioned before the Jewish Council, even as they courageously testified for Christ. The leaders of Jerusalem were greatly surprised to witness the courage of these two apostles, knowing that they were not highly educated; they were just ordinary men. Perhaps, you are even more educated than them. But nevertheless, the leaders of Jerusalem warned Peter and John to stop speaking in Jesus’ name.
Empowered by the Holy Spirit, these two apostles, however, responded to them saying:gYou yourselves judge which is right in Godfs sight – to obey you or to obey God; for we cannot stop speaking of what we ourselves have seen and heardh (vs.-20).
The Jewish authorities would like to punish Peter and John, but they could not do it because of the people. The people might rise up in protest. And so, the authorities could not do otherwise but to release them.
Now, this Biblical story would show us what it means to proclaim Jesus Christ our Lord as the only hope in the midst of hopelessness. It could provide us some valuable insights concerning this so-called adventure of our lifetime.
Speaking out for the Truth
First of all, the story tells us that to proclaim Jesus Christ as the only hope is to speak out for the truth. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, Peter and John spoke courageously about the truth of Jesus life, death, and resurrection. Without fear and favor, they pointed to the powers-that-be in Jerusalem as the ones responsible for the mistrial, execution, and death of the man Jesus of Nazareth, whom God raised from the dead. Consequently, Peter and John were arrested; they were imprisoned; they were harassed and questioned before the Jewish Council.
Truly, my friends, an encounter with truth is often times an encounter with suffering. In our world today, there are in fact torture chambers established to process truth into false confessions. There are investigations and trials being conducted to turn the truth into lies. And worst of all, there are killings being carried out to silence the truth.
The wicked spiritual forces of this present age cannot withstand the truth. Truth is so naked that it must be covered with falsehood. Truth is so eloquent that it must be put to silence. This organized crime against the truth defiles our true humanity; it mocks the tears of people, and it defies the power of Godfs love.
Truth is so bright and clear. But those who are blinded by the authority and power in their hands could not see it. At least, the leaders in Jerusalem themselves saw it. For the truth that the lame man was healed and restored into wholeness was right there in front of them. In fact, they could not help seeing it, because the man was standing right beside Peter and John.
This, my friends, is something we should always remind ourselves: that we cannot quarrel against the truth. The bearers of truth may be arrested and imprisoned, like Peter and John, but the truth will always come out. This is our hope. This is our courage to be. For our God is a God of truth.
Taking people seriously
Moreover, the story also tells us that to proclaim Jesus Christ our Lord as the only hope is to take people seriously. People are the basic force for the building up of new Christian communities. This is the reason why the disciples directed their proclamations of the truth of Christ to the people themselves. And thousands of them believed the Good News. And because of peoplefs power, the Jewish authorities were not able to punish Peter and John.
People have the truth. Of course, people commit mistakes. As a matter of fact, they have committed mistakes many times before. Perhaps, we remember the story of the Golden Calf in the Old Testament. In the absence of Moses, the people persuaded their acting leader, Aaron, to make a Golden Calf to serve as their god (Ex.32).
People can be manipulated by certain power groups for certain vested interests. This was the case of the crowd who welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem shouting hosannas, but demanded his death shortly afterwards simply because of the manipulation of Jewish authorities. We must not make idols of people. People are not gods. We must remember this always in our theology of people.
However,there are situations wherein people have the truth. These are situations wherein people are condemned to poverty, exploitation and hopelessness, or even death. This is where God seeks to exercise the power of hope. This is where we could most likely encounter our Living God. This is where we could discover the imperatives of our faith. For God takes up the cause of the suffering people as His own, and calls us to be His partners in this missionary task. It is in being with people and learning from them that we discover, my friends, what God is telling us to do in our present time.
Obeying God rather than men
Then finally, the story also tells us that to proclaim Jesus Christ our Lord as the only hope is to obey God rather than men. Peter and John were commanded by the Jewish authorities to stop all preaching in the name of Jesus. However, they answered full of courage and faith that if and when they were required to choose between the will of God and the decree of men, they have no other choice but to obey God.
This reminds us of Bishop Desmund Tutu of the Anglican Church of South Africa. He is a very small fellow, but perhaps he towers above us in terms of his faith and obedience to Christ. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize due to his active involvement in the movement against the Apartheid Policy of their government.
By the way, Apartheid, as we know, is a policy that violently discriminates against the black people of South Africa. It is a policy that led to the death of hundreds of children in the townships of Johannesburg and Soweto. Because of his participation in the anti-apartheid movement, BishopTutu was arrested many times.
However, it was because of his efforts and those people like him that led to the abolition of this policy and restored to the black people of Africa an equal status with the whites. In one of his most celebrated arrests, he was brought before the Minister of Defense of South Africa. And in that confrontation, Bishop Tutu said to the Minister of Defense: “Mr. Minister, let me remind you that you are not god; you are just a man. And one day, your name will just be a faint scribble in the pages of history while the name of Jesus Christ our Lord will live forever.”
Oftentimes, obedience to God rather than men would make us live a very dangerous lifec and also a very adventurous kind of life. But then,it is also such kind of life that brings hope in the midst of hopelessness, and life in the midst of death.
Call of the hour
Hence, the call of the hour is a call for us to proclaim in words and in deeds Jesus Christ our Lord as the only hope in the midst of hopelessness, in the midst of a world that seems to be dominated by the wicked spiritual forces of this present age. This means to offer ourselves for the cause of fulfilling Godfs saving act in the world: to become bearers of Godfs truth in a society dominated by lies and deceit; to become instruments of Godfs love and forgiveness in a community wherein to deny onefs self, onefs pride, and one’s hatred is the hardest thing to do.
Our world today, needs men and women who are willing to manifest the love of God in a world of hatred, selfishness and greed, and transform it into a world of peace, of justice and of love. This, I believe, is our historic task as new graduates of this institution for theological education. This is our adventure for a lifetime. # nordis.net