Or as Peter put it in Acts 4:19, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God.” That was Peter’s response to being commanded by the local government officials “not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus” in verse 18.
It was bold on Peter’s part, standing up against government and refusing to comply, but Peter had heard Jesus say that “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18). Jesus was the ultimate authority, and he was given that authority by God too, which makes it obviously “right in God’s sight” to obey Jesus first. And sometimes leaders need to be told that, like the reminder Jesus gave to Pontius Pilate, that “You’d have no power over me if it were not given to you from above” (John 19:11).
I wonder how many leaders actually realize that their hold on power and authority is only as good as what God allows them to have according to his plan and purpose. He can remove them from their position of authority at any time too – and if King Herod is anything to go by, their removal might not be that pretty.
Herod’s demise was recorded by Luke in Acts 12. In verse 21 Herod is at the height of his egotistical glory when he strides in to speak to a crowd in “his royal robes,” and he sits grandly “on his throne to deliver a public address to the people.” I imagine he milked the moment for all it was worth, basking in the adoration of the cheering crowd, and especially when they started yelling at the end of his address, “This is the voice of a god, not a man,” verse 22.
And Herod loved it. He could look out on that huge throng of adoring citizens and almost legitimately believe he was a god. But his “maybe I am a god” delusion didn’t last long, because in accepting “the people’s worship instead of giving the glory to God,” verse 23, “an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died.”
That tells me it’s dangerous ground when government officials and other leaders overreach their authority and act like they’re God. But it doesn’t help when people, like the crowd in Herod’s day, treat their leaders like gods too. How many leaders today, for instance, survive scandals, lies, hypocrisy and bully boy tactics, because they’re allowed to? No wonder they think they’re invincible and above the law, and they can stomp on anything they don’t agree with.
Well, Peter was faced with such leaders too, who had the egotistical cheek to try and censor all mention of Jesus. To which Peter replied, “Is it you we obey, or God?” – a highly appropriate reminder that we all, including those in the highest authority in the land, have a boss above we all answer to, and what is right in the eyes of our boss above is what we live by down here.
And if what we live by in obedience to our boss above clashes with the demands of lesser authorities down here, we can say to them what Peter said: “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God.”