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Facing Off Without Falling Apart

Seven principles for proclaiming the gospel in hostile territory.

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In Acts 4 we witness an epic battle between a David-like underdog and a behemoth giant. In one corner you have two unschooled, unimpressive Galilean fishermen named Peter and John. In the other corner you have all the power and authority of 2,000 years of religious tradition. This was the first such clash in the history of the Christian church, and it all took place in the temple precinct.

Earlier in the day, Peter and John had been on their way to the temple to pray around three o'clock, when they stumbled upon a middle-aged man, who had been lame from birth, begging alms. Peter looked at the man and said he didn't have any money, but in the name of Jesus Christ he commanded him to walk. Immediately, Luke tells us, the man leaped up and began walking and praising God. He followed Peter and John into the temple, so that by the time they left, there was quite a crowd. Everyone was amazed, because they recognized this man as the one who always sat and begged in the same spot. Peter seized the opportunity to tell the crowd that this miracle was not done because of his own power or piety, but through faith in the name of Jesus.

Because they had raised such a commotion, the religious authorities in charge of the temple arrested Peter and John. This is the first of many times in Acts when the early Christians clashed with the Jewish rulers. Luke writes this account in such a way as to impress upon us the array of rulers the Christians were facing off against. In Acts 4:1-6, Luke lists no fewer than eleven different individuals or groups who opposed Peter and John. There were the priests, the captain of the temple guard, and the Sadducees (verse 1); the rulers, elders, and scribes (verse 5); and four individuals: Annas ...

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