Acts 4: 1-4
The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people. They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people, proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. They seized Peter and John and, because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day. But many who heard the message believed; so the number of men who believed grew to about five thousand.
The Sadducees were the elite religious leaders of the day. They were from wealthy backgrounds, were well educated and while they believed in God, they kept God out there, they didn’t believe He was personal and was involved in our lives. They didn’t believe in the supernatural or in life after death. They had a nice, respectable, dignified religion where God was more of a means for them to live with power and status in the community than anything else. Religion and God were used by them for their own ends.
So when they hear about what has happened in the temple, that this man has been healed, Peter and John are preaching about Jesus, and that crowds are gathering - they don’t like it one bit because it upsets the status quo. It doesn’t fit into the little box that they have placed God into. They don’t want anything too different or new or too emotional or supernatural going on in their religion – they want it to stay just as it is. And so to shut them up, they have Peter and John arrested and thrown into jail for the night.
Often we see the same situation in the religious world today. We don’t mind talking about God and spirituality in vague, general terms, where we can keep God at arms length and where He doesn't impinge on our lives in any way or make any demands of us. It’s a God in our own image that we’re comfortable with.
We end up with churches where it’s all about dry theology and religious rituals, we have ministers and congregations who love tradition more than they love Jesus, they are more devoted to respectability and looking dignified than they are to worshipping Jesus, they care more about their own power and status, than about the power and presence of God, and if anything or anyone upsets the religious status quo, they react very strongly against it.
They want to hear sermons about world peace and recycling and being nice people – but preach Jesus Christ and His death for our sin on the cross and his resurrection from the grave – and they’ll throw you out.
The simple reality is that if you want to live a life which is on fire for Jesus, this will always make religious people uncomfortable because living like that shows that God is alive and wants to know us personally – and most people don’t mind talking about God as long as he keeps His distance and doesn’t make any demands of us.
I came across an extract from John Wesley’s diary recently. John Wesley founded the Methodist Church but he never actually intended to. He was a Church of England minister at a time when it was all about nice, dignified, respectable, traditional religion and so when John Wesley is properly saved by Jesus and filled with the Holy Spirit he was on fire and started preaching with a passion which they didn’t exactly warm to in the Church of England.
"Sunday a.m., May 5 -Preached in St. Ann's; was asked not to come back any more.
Sunday p.m., May 5- Preached at St. John's; deacons said, 'Get out and stay out.'
Sunday a.m., May 12 -Preached at St. Jude's; can't go back there either.
Sunday p.m., May 12-Preached at St. George's; kicked out again.
Sunday a.m., May 19- Preached at St. Somebody Else's; deacons called a special meeting and said I couldn't return.
Sunday p.m., May 19-Preached on the street; kicked off the street.
Sunday a.m., May 26- Preached out in a meadow; chased out of meadow when a bull was turned loose during the service.
Sunday a.m., June 2-Preached out at the edge of town; kicked off the highway.
Sunday p.m., June 2-Afternoon service, preached in pasture; 10,000 people came."
I love that – the religious leaders in the church may not like you being passionate about Jesus – but when you live a life on fire – people are irresistibly drawn to find out what you can be so passionate about.
The same happened here in Acts – the religious leaders don’t want to hear it – but look at the impact Peter and John have on the crowds –
“But many who heard the message believed, and the number of men grew to about five thousand.” 5000 more men join the church – add women and children to that and you can multiply it 2 or 3 times.
Religious people think that watering down the Christian faith and avoiding all extremes will attract people to the church – but it actually does the opposite. People can tell if something’s real or if it’s not, they can tell if it’s dead or if it’s alive – your passion and boldness for Jesus will always convince people more than you trying to be all wishy washy and politically correct.
People on fire for Jesus will often find that their greatest rejection is not from those outside the church, but those within the church who prefer religion and traditions to a real, living relationship with Christ.