This year’s testimony of Joseph Bondarenko at the Gatlinburg conference reminded me of Peter and John. As I listened to Bondarenko describe how the KGB paraded him in front of an assembly of his fellow college students and told him to choose between God and a diploma, I thought of Peter and John standing before the council of their nation’s leaders and being forced to choose between obeying God or man (Acts 4:5-31).
Like the KGB that called an assembly to intimidate Bondarenko, the “rulers, elders, and scribes, as well as Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and as many as were of the family of the high priest, were gathered together” to intimate Peter and John. They “set them in their midst,” so that, Peter and John were standing on the floor looking up at seventy judges looking down on them from raised seats (Acts 4:5-7). It was designed to shake up the apostles, but they were unshakable.
Instead, Peter full of the Holy Spirit charged them with two crimes before God. “You crucified him” and “rejected the Cornerstone,” he said. Then he said, “There is salvation in none other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Peter and John were unshakable.
The Council was shook instead. They had assessed Peter and John to be uneducated and untrained men, but Peter spoke with the boldness of the Holy Spirit. Finding they could do nothing more, they threatened them and let them go.
Peter and John returned to “their own and reported all that the chief priest and elders had said to them” (Acts 4:23). The response of the church showed that they too were unshakable. They prayed. That alone doesn’t indicate they were unshakable. Shakable Christians pray too. Unshakable Christians pray in one accord and pray with confidence.
Unity is essential to standing in shakable times. This reminds me of what Ben Franklin said after signing the Declaration of Independence. He said, “We must hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.” Peter and John knew who they were hanging with. They went to “their own.” This is the first description of the church as a separate people from the world.
During shakable times, you must know who are your own. Christians who don’t know who are their own do not make a stand during shakable time. They don’t know if they stand with the church or the world. You see them today soft peddling the gospel rather than speaking with the boldness of the Holy Spirit. If they had been there when Peter reported what he had said to the chief priest and elders, they would have cringed and quite possibly asked, “What tone did you use when you said, ‘You crucified him?’”
“Toned down” Christians are more concerned about the feelings of the world than proclaiming the Gospel. I wonder how many “toned down” Christians were in the auditorium when Bondarenko chose God over his diploma. When the KGB led Bondarenko out of school to the applause of his fellow students who rejected the gospel, did the “toned down” Christians clap with them or just watch quietly? They probably rationalized their silence as the better way to show the gospel rather than say it.
The early church spoke the word of God boldly and lifted their voices to God in one accord and prayed, “Lord, you are God.” They didn’t start with the need. They started with the greatness and purpose of God and didn’t get to the need until five verses later. Then they prayed, “Now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Your servants may speak Your word with all boldness (Acts 4:29 NAS). With a passing note, they committed their persecutors to God and prayed for boldness to speak the Word.
God was pleased and gave them a sign. “And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31) God shook the house as a sign that it was the world that would shake when Christians speak the word with boldness.
I have two artifacts that remind me that God shakes the world. I have a coin from the Roman era of Diocletian. It has his image on it, and it reminds me that persecutors pass. He was the last Roman emperor to persecute the church. And I have a piece of the Berlin Wall. It reminds that nations that build walls to keep out God crumble. God shakes the world through unshakable Christians who speak the Word of God with boldness.
Michael Peters, Pastor