26 Then the captain went with the officers and brought them without violence, for they feared the people, lest they should be stoned. 27 And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest asked them, 28 saying, “Did we not strictly command you not to teach in this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this Man’s blood on us!” 29 But Peter and the other apostles answered and said:“We ought to obey God rather than men.
The text above teaches us about the proper way to respond to authority, particularly when that authority involves wicked men with evil intents! How we react to those who have power over us reveals a great deal about our hearts. Jude 8 describes ungodly men as individuals who “reject authority, and speak evil of dignitaries.” We live in a day when many, in word or in deed, refuse to respect authority over them, and they excuse their behavior because of the ungodliness of that authority. But, the Scripture is clear. God calls us to submission and grants us liberty to rebel in only rare circumstances. Let’s consider three points of instruction from our text today.
1) Resist not evil against us
The disciples clearly had the heart of the people in our passage because the Sadducees were afraid of how the people would respond if they took them forcefully. However, notice thatbthe phrase “without violence”is not only true of the Sadducees, but also of the disciples taken into custody! Even though the disciples might have caused an uproar, they went peacefully with their captors. Such was the instruction and pattern of Christ. “But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.” (Mt 5:39) Jesus never instructed us to do anything that He was unwilling to do Himself. He lived as a man “who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously”. (1 Pet 2:23) Such a pattern MUST be followed if we are to reveal the Christ we claim to serve.
2) Submit to the authorities over us
This attitude of patiently enduring when suffering wrongfully is not natural. 1 Pet 2:19 says, “For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully.” But, the word “commendable” is not what you might think. It is in fact the Greek word for “grace”, which Eph 2:8 says is the gift of God. In other words, you can only act this way by God’s grace! As the old saying goes, “To err is human, but to forgive is divine.” Whether good or evil, whether they establish godly or ungodly policies, we are almost always (we’ll see the exception shortly) to submit to the authorities over us. Why? Because God gave them their power! “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.” (Rom 13:1-2)
3) Obey God rather than men
Since the authority comes from God, when we submit to earthly rulers we are in fact submitting to God. And, that fact is really the point. Obey earthly masters not to please them but to please God! If our service to God is what we always have in mind, there will be no question as to what the right course of action is when our rulers would have us disobey Him. “Children, obey your parents in the Lord.” (Eph 6:1) “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.” (Col 3:18) “Bondservants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh, not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but in sincerity of heart, fearing God. And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men…” (Col 3:22-23) Submission to man is always contingent upon obedience to God! The one exception to obeying authority is NOT when that authority hurts us, costs us, or mistreats and takes advantage of us. We only have permission to rebel when to obey authority would force us to disobey the Lord.
Christ lived in a day of ungodly authority. The government he was under was idolatrous. They legalized all kinds of wicked practices, but you’ll be looking a long time to find Christ speaking evil of those authorities. When asked if it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, we read that Jesus “perceived their wickedness” in such questioning of authority and bluntly replied, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Mt 22:17-21) Don’t get caught up in the hateful rhetoric of our day by men who seem to enjoy nothing more than bashing those that rule over them–whether in the government, on the job, or in the church. Sure, we’re going to find corruption in those places, but God says, unless they would have us disobey Him, we must honor Him by submitting and praying for them! “Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.” (1 Tim 2:1-2) Remember: “Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.” (1 Pet 2:17)