“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 and 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.” Acts 4:1-3
“When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished, and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” Acts 4:13
He was tired, not so much physically though it was approaching evening and the changing of the guard. He was weary of the bickering and the snide, politically heavy innuendos that echoed through the temple. The priests and the members of the Sanhedrin, both Sadducees and Pharisees, were livid this afternoon, and he was uncharacteristically impatient with their antics. As a Levite and now captain of the temple guard, his responsibility was to remain alert to everything that took place in the temple, supervising the guards assigned to the various gates and acting as overseer for all the religious and government business conducted in the temple. He loved his job. He had worked hard to get to this position. He loved the prestige, and he loved being in the temple and rubbing shoulders with the powerful. On the best day, it was a weighty responsibility. Today, however, he felt less like a guard and more like a captive, and he was tired of it all.
He was irritable, therefore, as he watched the two men, Peter and John, enter the temple for prayers a little before three in the afternoon. He was acquainted with these men. He had been on duty when Peter addressed the large crowd gathered on the day of Pentecost. The crowd of people, many from other lands and regions, was loud and excited as they heard Peter speak. It seemed that everyone could understand him, though there were many languages spoken in the crowd. He also clearly heard Peter’s words and had, in fact, been pondering them over and over since that day. “Therefore, let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” He didn’t know what that meant, but he was annoyed that the words would not leave him alone. He was, therefore, more than a little wary when he saw Peter and John today.
With attentive eyes from his position near the gate called Beautiful, he was not surprised to see the crippled beggar ask them for money; the beggar asked everyone for money every day. But he was astounded at what happened next. Peter and John stopped directly in front of the beggar and ordered, “Look at us! Silver and gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” Everyone in the gathering crowd was shocked into silence as Peter extended his hand to the beggar and the man jumped to his feet, and solidly walked with them into the temple, praising God as he went. The silence was broken then as the Sanhedrin began to stir in anger, an anger that only escalated when Peter explained that the man was made strong through faith in the name of Jesus. By the time Peter commanded, “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord,” the priests and members of the Sanhedrin were frothing in fury.
He saw them striding toward his post, their robes swirling violently in their haste, and there was no doubt what the high priest would command him to do. Sighing in resignation, he met them with his keys to the jail in hand. He had no choice but to seize Peter and John, even though they had committed no crime that warranted their arrest. It was too late in the day for the rulers to meet, so they would spend the night in captivity. For reasons he could not explain, he released the guards from duty that night and chose to remain with the prisoners himself. He needed to somehow understand what made these men so different. He knew they had been ordinary fishermen, but now they spoke with such knowledge and authority that their words pierced his heart and would grant him no rest, no matter how tired he was.
He spent that night captivated in the cold, dark prison sitting on the stone floor and listening to the Scriptures come alive. His exhaustion fell away as he heard the sweet message of forgiveness and put his faith in the name of Jesus, just as the crippled beggar had done. He felt the chains of contempt, pride, apathy, and self-advancement wash away with the tears that streamed down his weathered face, cleansing his soul. Morning dawned and with it the promised refreshment of the Lord’s presence. His step was light as he unlocked the prison gate and gently escorted Peter and John to their meeting with the Sanhedrin. Then he slipped behind a pillar so he would not miss one word these courageous men had to share with Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, and the other men who held the power over their lives.
It was no commonplace fisherman who boldly proclaimed the message of salvation that morning, and this exalted captain of the guards fell humbly to his knees in worship. He didn’t care who saw him like that. These men may have been unschooled and ordinary, but Peter and John spoke without fear or compromise the message that resonated like fire in the depths of this guard’s soul. It was obvious to him and to everyone present in the temple that day that these men had been with Jesus, and his voice now joined with the throng of men who believed the message, crying for the release of Peter and John. He left his prestigious post that day and joined the healed cripple as a follower of Jesus. The captain, now captive to the love of Christ. No longer guarding a temple of stone, he was a now a guardian of the Gospel message. No longer proudly rubbing shoulders with the prestigious, he was now a lowly servant of the King of kings. And just like Peter and John, he could not help but boldly speak to everyone about what he had seen and heard.
As I contemplate the beginning of a new year, these words from the Book of Acts have pierced my heart and prompted contemplative questions:
- What holds my heart captive?
- How boldly will I stand for Jesus Christ in my daily life this coming year?
- What courageous stand is God asking me to take for the sake of the Gospel?
- How obvious is it to strangers, and to family and close friends, that I have been with Jesus?
Father, strengthen my feeble heart and mind to stand firm for You this coming year. Forgive me for the self-promotion, pride, and apathy that can imprison me. Refresh my soul and grant me faithful obedience to serve You with a heart of love and gratitude. Like Peter and John, I am an unschooled, ordinary woman held captive by the love of Christ. And just like them, I yield myself to You to do the extraordinary in and through me for Your glory.