we cannot keep from speaking: a sermon on a reading from acts 4

we cannot keep from speaking

Written by Dan King

Christ-follower. husband. father. author of the unlikely missionary: from pew-warmer to poverty-fighter. co-author of activist faith: from him and for him. director of family ministry at st. edward's episcopal church. president of fistbump media, llc.

April 6, 2024

Note: This sermon was delivered during the Eucharist for a class of ministry students studying for ordination to the diaconate, using the readings for Saturday in Easter Week, Year B.

the reading:

Acts 4:13-21

When the rulers and elders and scribes saw the boldness of Peter and John and realized that they were uneducated and ordinary men, they were amazed and recognized them as companions of Jesus. When they saw the man who had been cured standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition. So they ordered them to leave the council while they discussed the matter with one another. They said, “What will we do with them? For it is obvious to all who live in Jerusalem that a notable sign has been done through them; we cannot deny it. But to keep it from spreading further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.” So they called them and ordered them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.” After threatening them again, they let them go, finding no way to punish them because of the people, for all of them praised God for what had happened.

the sermon:

Back in 2009, I went on my first mission trip. It was a two and a half week trip to Kenya and Uganda with an organization that provides support (mostly educational and administrative) for microfinance groups designed to help people pull themselves out of extreme poverty. It was an amazing trip!

And as a blogger, I put together daily trip journals, detailing everything that I was experiencing on the trip.

When it was all done, I stepped back and looked at those trip journals and thought, “What a cool picture of what God is doing in the world today.” It’s not the whole thing. But it’s this little piece that I get to see. 

And it was beautiful.

So I took those stories and turned it into a book. Around those trip journals, I shared more insight into what God was doing in my life through the whole experience.

The book is called The Unlikely Missionary: From Pew-Warmer to Poverty-Fighter, and it’s about how every one of us sitting in a pew in church can change the world, whether it’s half-way around the world, or right in our own backyard. (That’s the one Arch-Deacon Julie mentioned in a recent email to all of us.)

the unlikely missionary

When I first published it, I was watching every detail with sales, reviews, and stuff other bloggers I know were writing and sharing about it. And all was good until…

A one-star review came in on Amazon saying, “This book never should have been written.”

I was devastated!

But I held my head up because I’ve also heard story after story about how my little story challenged and encouraged other people to go on and do some really amazing things.

Regardless, it got me questioning everything… my writing abilities, my experience, my credentials. I felt like a nobody, whose voice didn’t deserve to be heard.

uneducated and ordinary men

And in our reading from the Book of Acts today, we see a similar label being used with our dudes… Peter and John. 

The rulers, elders, and scribes… That’s like rounding up all of the most educated, influential, and powerful people in society, and getting them together in a big room to pass judgment on what’s happening.

The reading says it like this, “When the rulers and elders and scribes saw the boldness of Peter and John and realized that they were uneducated and ordinary men.”

Our guys didn’t have the credentials that impressed anyone yet, but that didn’t stop them from turning some heads with what they were doing.

You see… leading up to this, they would have just experienced the coming of the Holy Spirit, Peter addressing the crowd resulting in 3,000 people added to the church, people caring for one another (the Fellowship of the Believers), the healing of a crippled beggar, and likely even more stuff that wasn’t mentioned in Acts.

It caused such a disturbance and uproar that they were arrested and brought before the Council (these rulers, elders, and scribes).

And the text says that they were amazed, because they were just uneducated and ordinary men.

How could these nobodies be doing these incredible things? 

God can use me?

And that makes me think. God likes using the “nobodies.”

I’m reminded of David… the future king who was so inconsequential that his own father did even bother to have him come stand before Samuel. 

And there are stories just like this all throughout the Old and New Testaments!

These are some of my favorite stories in the Scriptures, because it’s easy for me to see myself in them.

Listen, I’m not saying that qualifications aren’t important. In fact, over time, I’ve developed my own qualifications and experiences that give me a little bit of a resume. And I can tell you that all of that certainly helps me in what I do in ministry. 

But… What’s most important to God is our heart. God can, and will, use anyone who stands up and has a willingness to serve and make an impact in the world around them.

It just starts with a [raise hand], “Here I am Lord, use me.”

we cannot keep from speaking

Coming back to our passage, we see the Council discuss what they should do, and they essentially just order them to shut up and stop talking about Jesus.

That reminds me of a story I heard TobyMac (a Christian musician) share about his group DC Talk. In their early days, they were getting really popular, and a major record label approached them about signing with them. 

But there was one condition. 

They had to lay off singing about Jesus.

Long story, short, they refused that contract and put out their next album called Jesus Freak. And the title song on that album has a verse that goes like this…

Kamikaze, my death is gain
I’ve been marked by my Maker a peculiar display
The high and lofty, they see me as weak
‘Cause I won’t live and die for the power they seek

“What will people think when they hear that I’m a Jesus freak?”

I’ve gotta think that Toby and the band were coming from the same place Peter and John were when they stood before the Council that just told them to shut up and responded…

…we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.

The boldness is incredible. 

And what I think is really cool isn’t just that they were speaking, but what they were speaking about… “what we have seen and heard.”

They walked and talked with Jesus for three years. And all they were doing was telling of the things that they saw and heard.

To take this a step further, this is also exactly what Luke (the Evangelist) was doing when he wrote down stories like this one in his Gospel and the Book of Acts.

our challenge

And here’s our challenge today. 

As we continue to walk this path that we’re on, regardless of where it starts, where you’ve been, or where you end up, we need to see and hear and experience God in every way we can…

  • Through our theological study,
  • Through our own prayer life and transformation experiences,
  • And through our service to others (and seeing God at work in their lives)

And then we need to tell that story! 

Telling that story can look like a lot of things. 

Maybe it’s by speaking and verbally sharing (to crowds or one-on-one). 

Maybe it’s through writing and documenting your experiences. 

Maybe it’s even through the testimony of the things we do that allow other people to see the Gospel in action.

final thoughts

Our Baptismal Covenant (BCP p. 304) asks us if we will:

  • Continue in the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers
  • Persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever we fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord
  • Proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ
  • Seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves
  • Strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being

And our response to all of that is, “I will, with God’s help.”

You see, that’s our walk with God, right there. We are with God and experience Him in all of these things. 

In everything we commit to as Christians, we have the opportunity to find these stories we can use to tell the world about the Gospel of Christ.


May we experience God in every possible way we can. 

May the Holy Spirit help us to see where He is in even our smallest acts of faith and obedience. 

May our hearts be to bring glory to the Gospel, so that all may see and be saved.

And like Peter and John and Luke (and TobyMac), may we have the boldness to share what we have seen and heard. Amen.


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we cannot keep from speaking: a sermon on a reading from acts 4

by Dan King time to read: 8 min