When they had brought them, they had them stand before the council. The high priest questioned them, saying, "We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are determined to bring this man's blood on us." But Peter and the apostles answered, "We must obey God rather than any human authority. The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Saviour that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him." When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them.
The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks about earthly things. The one who comes from heaven is above all. He testifies to what he has seen and heard, yet no one accepts his testimony. Whoever has accepted his testimony has certified this, that God is true. He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. The Father loves the Son and has placed all things in his hands. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but must endure God's wrath.
How to distinguish inner strength from a stubborn love of confrontation? How to know if our convictions are from God and should be obeyed at all costs? Could our resistance to authority be just stubborn pride? Direct revelations from above must be quite rare, so how can we tell if God is really prompting us? To follow Jesus and speak in his name presumes that we are ready to walk the way of the cross with him, radically. We cannot forget that Jesus was nailed to a tree, the most public and painful of deaths, in defence of his convictions.
Today's text from Acts shows people courageously following Jesus. Peter and John hold their ground before the Jewish council: "We witness to him, and so does the Holy Spirit." We regularly invite the Holy Spirit into our hearts through personal prayer, on a regular basis. We can also consult the Holy Spirit by checking out our ideas with an honest mentor. It is good to have someone who will tell us the plain truth, on request. Prayer and spiritual guidance can help us grow beyond our own obsessions and our comfort zones. Another test of validity is suggested by Peter's reference to the God of our ancestors. So, do I pay heed to the Bible and listen to it, to have my spirit in tune with the early church's faith? We need this kind of listening to acquire a valid, integral spirituality. If we just pick and choose texts to suit ourselves, we may be just reinforcing our own oddities and stubborness. We must respect our origins, so that our present position can be a flowering of the seed that was planted in the past. Then our word, like Jesus' own, will witness to what we have seen and heard.
John the Baptist says that Jesus comes "from above," and that the Father has "entrusted everything to the Son." None of those things can be said about the Baptist himself. He profoundly appreciates the uniqueness of Jesus, which is why he can say, "he must increase, but I must decrease." In this life we cannot fully appreciate the specialness of Jesus. The more we see, the more we recognize what is yet to be seen. The closer we come to him, the more we realize how much deeper our relationship with him could be. There is always a sense in which we can use with John the Baptist's words, "he must increase; I must decrease." As he increases in us and we decrease, we don't cease to be ourselves. Rather, the more Jesus increases in us, the more we become our true selves, our Christ-selves, the person God is calling us to be.