Willful Disbelief

Being a Christian is risky.

We live in a world that is increasingly hostile to a Christ-centered worldview. Our beliefs are seen as childish, ignorant, or sometimes downright malicious. As culture moves further and further away from the cross, the chasm between believers and non-believers grows wider and, at times, un-breachable. The arguments against Christianity come from every side and often range in tone somewhere between pity and hatred. I firmly believe it is every Christian’s duty to be able to defend the faith (see 1 Peter 3:15) and heartily endorse at least a basic understanding of the study of apologetics. As Jesus himself said in Luke 10:27: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind…”

Apologetics, I believe, is a way to love God with your mind.

And so I’ve studied apologetics for many years. I find it fascinating how the gospels can stand up to even the harshest of tests; my faith has been made stronger for my searching. Not only that, I’ve also been able to answer some of the questions that have come up among my children as they grow and explore their own faith as well those from a few of my non-believing friends. While I may not have “converted” anyone, I at least remain confident I’ve stood my ground, defended my faith, and given him or her something to think about.

And then there’s this one guy.

While you may not know this guy personally, I can almost guarantee you’ve come across someone like him in your life. Someone who isn’t just a non-believer but anti-believer. That one guy who finds every opportunity to belittle Christians or mock God. That guy who challenges every aspect of your faith with questions and snide remarks but refuses to acknowledge any defense you try to mount.

No matter the evidence, no matter the explanation, this one guy simply refuses to see any validity to your side.

It’s absolutely infuriating.

But it’s not new.

After Jesus’s ascension, the disciples quickly took His command to “be [His] witnesses” (Acts 1:8) to heart and began preaching the gospel around Jerusalem. Aided by the Holy Spirit, they were able to speak with boldness and perform miracles in Jesus’s name, including healing a man who was “lame from birth” (Acts 3:2). The man was situated outside the temple gate and begged Peter and John, who were going inside to pray, for money. But Peter said, “‘I don’t have silver or gold, but what I do have, I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, get up and walk!’ Then, taking him by the right hand he raised him up, and at once his feet and ankles became strong. So he jumped up and started to walk, and he entered the temple with them–walking, leaping, and praising God. All the people saw him walking and praising God, and they recognized that he was the one who used to sit and beg at the Beautiful Gate of the temple. So they were filled with awe and astonishment at what had happened to him” (Acts 3: 6-10).

A wonderful, life-changing miracle, right?

Not if you were a Sadducee.

Just a few verses later, we read that “while they [the disciples] were speaking to the people, the priests, the captain of the temple police, and the Sadducees confronted them, because they were annoyed that they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. So they seized them and took them into custody until the next day since it was already evening” (Acts 4:1-3).

I love the CSB translation that the Sadducees were “annoyed.” Other versions translate this verse as “disturbed” (NIV) or “grieved” (KJV), but the message is essentially the same. The Sadducees, along with the Pharisees, had just put that Jesus guy to death. They believed they’d put an end to His movement. And yet here these two men still talking about Him, preaching about Him, and now–apparently–performing miracles in His name?

Something had to be done.

“The next day, their rulers, elders, and scribes assembled in Jerusalem with Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, Alexander, and all the members of the high-priestly family. After they had Peter and John stand before them, they began to question them: ‘By what power or in what name have you done this?’ Then Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit and said to them, ‘Rulers of the people and elders: If we are being examined today about a good deed done to a disabled man, by what means he was healed, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified and whom God raised from the dead–by him this man is standing here before you healthy. This Jesus is the stone rejected by you builders, which has become the cornerstone. There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to people by which we must bed saved” (Acts 4:5-12).

Peter did not mince words. He pointed out the hypocrisy of the meeting itself, wondering why there was a full-up inquisition for a “good deed,” and proclaimed boldly the truth of Christ–His death (for which they were responsible), His resurrection (in which they didn’t believe), and His godliness (proven through the man’s healing).

In short, the council had asked Peter a question, and he had given them an answer. A powerful, succinct, truth-filled answer, backed up by evidence not even the Sanhedrin could deny, as it was there before their very eyes.

First, they “observed the boldness of Peter and John” (Acts 4:13): Gathering these two men in front of the entire Sanhedrin was act of intimidation and power. The disciples would have been very aware that these men had just crucified Jesus…and were very capable of doing the same to them. And yet rather than cower or acquiesce (as most would do), Peter spoke plainly and confidently, without reservation or fear. Not only that, at the end of his speech, Peter unflinchingly maintained faith in Jesus as the only means to salvation.

Secondly, “they realized that they were uneducated and untrained men” (Acts 4:13): The disciples had no formal rabbinic training but Peter was able to eloquently quote Scripture (Acts 4:11 is a quote from Psalm 118:22). Although many Jewish men were raised in devout homes, not many–especially not many sons of fishermen–were able to quote the Word of God. The only difference between the disciples and other “uneducated men” was that they “had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13).

Lastly, and perhaps most strikingly, was the evidence of the healed man himself. The Sanhedrin “saw the man who had been healed standing with them” and they “had nothing to say in opposition” (Acts 4:14). Here, in the flesh, was indisputable evidence that a miracle had occurred. This man, lame from birth, was now standing beside Peter and John, whole and healthy, with no other explanation besides the one given by the man through which the healing had come. And that man–uneducated but bold–said the healing had been done through Jesus.

Pretty powerful and compelling stuff.

And yet the Sanhedrin, rather than gathering this evidence and coming to a reasonable conclusion–that Jesus had been raised from the dead and was performing miracles through His disciples–instead “conferred among themselves saying, ‘What should we do with these men? For an obvious sign has been done through them, clear to everyone living in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. But so that this does not spread any further among the people, let’s threaten them against speaking to anyone in this name again” (Acts 4: 15-17).

This was a willful and arrogant denial of evidence, rooted in the Sanhedrin’s desire for self-preservation. Their decision came, not out of a desire to protect God’s people from false teaching, but out of self-interest: a desire to protect themselves and their position. You see, accepting this evidence for what it was–proof of who Jesus is–would have meant accepting the truth about themselves: that they had been wrong.

Wrong about Jesus. Wrong for crucifying Him. Wrong for denying resurrection. Wrong for detaining the disciples.

Accepting evidence would have meant a personal reckoning the Sanhedrin were unwilling to endure. So, instead, they threatened the disciples and “ordered them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus” (Acts 4: 18).

And the same self-preservation and denial methods continue to this very day. While we should always be prepared to defend our faith, we must realize that there are some people out there who will never be convinced about the Truth of Jesus, no matter what evidence or arguments we present. For these people, they choose not to believe NOT because there is “no proof” (although many will still claim this defense) but rather because they don’t want to believe.

Because believing can upend your world and everything in it.

Because believing forces you to come to grips with who you really are: broken, sinful, and in need of a savior.

Because believing can cost you money, position, power, and friends.

Because believing means accepting that you are not the god you thought you were.

Because believing makes you realize that have been wrong.

For some people, these are prices too steep to pay for faith, no matter what evidence we provide to its validity. And, sometimes, these people will choose to react exactly like the Sanhedrin did thousands of years ago: they will threaten you. Or perhaps belittle or mock you. Anything to cut you down so they can continue living in their version of truth.

We should pray for these people, of course. That God will soften their hearts and open their eyes to His saving grace. But that doesn’t mean we have to continue to argue with them nor remain silent out of fear. Because when hostile unbelievers threaten or discourage us like the Sanhedrin, we can respond like Peter and John.

“Peter and John answered them, ‘Whether it’s right in the sight of God for us to listen to you rather than to God, you decide; for we are unable to stop speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20).

Don’t let anyone bully you into silence, brothers and sisters. For while it is not our duty to get others to believe Truth, it is our duty to preach it.

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