Thursday, Dec. 1, 1955, was a day like any other day for Rosa Parks. She would board the same bus after a long day of hard work and sit in the section reserved for colored people. She maintained this routine for years without complaint. However, when asked to give up her seat so a white passenger could sit, she decided she could accept racial injustice no more.
In her own words, she was “tired of giving in.” She refused the bus driver’s request and was arrested. As a result, she became a hero for standing up to the racially unjust laws of society and confronting the sin of racism head-on.
Approximately 1,900 years prior to Rosa Parks’ famous act of civil disobedience, the apostles of Jesus Christ faced a similar quandary. Do they cease preaching the gospel of Christ in order to appease the religious and political elite of the day, or do they ignore established law and preach the gospel anyway?
The Conviction of Experience and Truth
The religio-political leaders in the first century strictly charged the apostles not to preach in the name of Jesus, but their reasoning for this was not necessarily religious. In their eyes, the apostles intended to lay the blame of Jesus’ death at their feet (v. 27). In other words, their objection was that they would look guilty for all of Jerusalem to see.
At any one moment after the enforcement of the authorities, Peter and the apostles could have acquiesced to the wishes of the authority. I personally believe that for a split second, they considered how easy their lives would be if they chose to obey the chief priest, but perhaps the Holy Spirit recalled to their minds that following Jesus would lead to persecution. Peter, on behalf of the apostles, responded to the chief priest (perhaps with a tinge of fear in his voice), “We must obey God rather than man.” Why? Because to obey man would be to disobey the truth not only of their experience, but also of the Holy Spirit (v. 32).
The Conviction of the Gospel’s Power
For Peter and the apostles, the gospel presents the one hope this world has for salvation and redemption. For them, following the outdated rules and regulations would not lead to the repentance of Israel and the forgiveness of sins. Only Jesus can provide those things (v. 31).
If the apostles were to retreat on the truth of their experience, the people of Israel would not hear of the good news. As those closest to Jesus during His earthly ministry, they saw firsthand His power, and to lie about what they had seen would have gone against their conviction of the gospel’s power.
The Conviction to Obey God’s Commands
At the core of the disciples’ refusal to surrender to the demands of the chief priest is the conviction that God’s commands always must be obeyed, including when they directly contradict the laws of man. While Paul explicitly told us to obey those in authority over us (Rom. 13), our allegiance first and foremost is to obey God. Christ commanded the apostles to preach the good news across the planet and make disciples (Matt. 28:18-20), and because the chief priest inhibited the progress of the gospel, the apostles needed to disobey him. The commands of God come first in the life of the believer.
While we here in the United States never may experience the religious persecution common in Jesus’ day (and in many parts of the world today), we still have the responsibility of preaching the truth in our culture.
Just as Rosa Parks took a stand against racism, we have the opportunity to stand against the oppressive powers of this world and unashamedly preach Christ as its only hope for redemption. To do anything less would be to deny the power of the gospel.
Benjamin Espinoza is the pastor of Community Life at Covenant Church in Bowling Green, Ohio.