In Acts 3, Peter and John are on their way to the Temple at the hour of prayer when they encounter a lame man, begging alms. Peter famously responds to him, I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk! (Acts 3:6) The man immediately jumps up and begins to walk, heading into the Temple and praising God. A crowd gathers as a result, because everybody recognizes him as the fellow who sat there begging every day. So Peter takes the opportunity to preach the gospel to them.
All of this greatly annoys the Jewish leadership: the number of Christians is growing daily—the number of men alone came to over 5,000—and that was a threat to the status quo and, by extension, the Sadducees power. They were the ones ultimately responsible for the death of Jesus; now, these apostles are preaching that Jesus is alive! And so they effectively declare war on the church, jailing Peter and John. But they are political creatures, and it comes through in their deliberations: they cannot deny that a great miracle has been done, and the apostles are popular with the people, so they cannot punish them too severely. Thus they settling on commanding them not to speak anymore about Jesus. It’s Peter’s bold answer to that we want to note: Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard. (Acts 4:19-20)
We cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard. Think of how many in Scripture felt that same way! For starters, there is the lame man himself, leaping and praising God. There was the Samaritan woman of John 4. When Jesus told her about living water, she went into the city, leaving her waterpots behind, to tell everyone about him; many Samaritans believed as a result of what she told them. There was the man lame for 38 years by the pool of Bethesda who Jesus healed; he told the Jews who was responsible for the miracle (Jn 5).
People simply could not keep quiet about Jesus! They had to tell others! Mary Magdalene ran from the tomb saying he was alive! Those two disciples Jesus walked with to Emmaus ran several miles back to Jerusalem to tell the others they’d been with Jesus!
We could think even about what happens here in the sequence in Acts. The apostles, of course, don’t stop talking about Jesus. So they are brought before the Sanhedrin again. And the high priest questioned them, saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:27-29) This tension culminates with a Christian named Stephen, who stands before the Council and accuses them of rejecting the Righteous One, Jesus; for that, he is stoned to death. But think of what Acts 8 says about the early disciples in the aftermath: they went everywhere preaching the word! The early Christians could not help but proclaim Jesus!
Now it’s easy for us just here to make excuses about how things are different for us than the earliest Christians, and you cannot expect us to be as fired up in our day and age. So let’s bring it down closer to our era. If you know any hymn writers at all, then Fanny J. Crosby is a name that is probably familiar to you. But you might not know a lot about her personal history. At only 6 weeks of age, she became desperately ill. The country doctor prescribed a poultice for her eyes. But the mixture caused an infection that left her blind. When her grandmother heard she was blind, she said, “I will be her eyes.” She described everything to the little girl—the color of a rainbow, the shape of a tree. She also taught her Scripture, verse by verse, until Fanny had memorized entire chapters.
At 15, she went to a school for the blind in New York City and became a star student. Before long, she was a teacher in that school. She spoke to Congress—the first woman to do so!—and moved many to tears with her appeal to provide more schools for the blind.
In 1848, cholera swept through the city. The deaths made her think seriously. Then one day, she heard the old Isaac Watts’ hymn, “Alas, and Did My Savior Bleed” and was struck by the words: “Here Lord I give myself away; ‘tis all that I can do.” She decided to do just that, devoting her life to God. The publisher William Bradbury asked her to write some words for a piece of music he had—she was already a nationally-known poet—and was so impressed, he declared, “as long as I have a publishing house, you will have work.” For many years, she would write 2 songs a week, many of them still favorites today.
One day, the story goes, she met with some children under an old apple tree. They thrilled to hear her recite a few of her poems. They listened intently as the told them stories. After a while she pulled out her “Wordless Book” The Wordless Book was an evangelistic tool of the 19th century, developed by the famous British preacher Charles Spurgeon. It was not a book in the usual sense, but consisted of several blocks of pure color. Each was a cue for the teacher to expound on the gospel and a way for the illiterate or children to remember the message.
Fanny Crosby told these children the significance of the colors. The black represented the sinful state of humanity. The red represented the blood of Jesus. The white represented the righteousness God gave to believers through the sacrifice of Jesus. The gold represented heaven. When she got to the red pages she said, “Red is for blood—always remember you are redeemed by the precious blood of Christ.”
That was her unending message. Many of her 8,000 or so Gospel songs mentioned her favorite words: redeemed, love, blood, proclaim. That comes through clearly in a hymn we still sing:
Redeemed, how I love to proclaim it!
Redeemed by the blood of the Lamb!
Redeemed through His infinite mercy
His child, and forever, I am
Redeemed by the blood of the Lamb
His child, and forever, I am!
Do we love to proclaim our redemption in Jesus like that? Like the early church did?