“But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to 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. But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in honor by all the people, stood up and gave orders to put the men outside for a little while. And he said to them, “Men of Israel, take care what you are about to do with these men. For before these days Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. After him Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him. He too perished, and all who followed him were scattered. So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” So they took his advice, and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.” (Acts 5:29-42 ESV http://bible.com/59/act.5.29-42.esv)
One of the strongest influences in life is peer pressure. We are often moved to do things simply because others have done those specific things or they are urging us to do them. I can certainly remember the influence my peers had upon me during certain periods of my childhood. Often, the very things we are being urged to do make little or no sense. They can defy logic and understanding, but that makes no difference in the moment. We do what we are urged to do simply to fit in or be accepted by our peers. Sometimes this even results in foolish, dangerous or even wicked behavior on our part. Fortunately, there are times when individuals (hopefully, you’re among them) who resist the pressure and stand against their peer’s urgings. They resist the pressure to bully or act unseemly towards others.
In today’s story, the Apostles are being urged to listen to just such a group of peers, the Sanhedrin Council. They’ve been warned to remain silent and to stop preaching and teaching the message regarding Jesus. The Council is feeling some pressure from the people because the Apostle’s message is powerful and effective. It rings with truth and hope, just what the people are needing. But the Council takes action and places all of the Apostles under arrest and in the public prison. It appears this is intended to strike fear in the Apostle’s hearts and to silence their message but God has a different plan.
The Apostles had gathered as one in the Temple and were proclaiming the truth of the Gospel. While it appears that the “rest” of the church held back, the Apostles were not going to be influenced by the Council’s threats and they openly taught in the Temple. The people continue to see “signs and wonders” through the healing of the sick and many other miracles. As you can imagine, a crowd began forming especially around Peter. The Council grew jealous and needed to stop this, so they had the entire group of Apostles arrested and placed in the public prison. If they couldn’t silence Peter and John, perhaps their threats would be more effective when made against the larger group. It often is…
As the Apostles sat in prison that evening, I would love to have heard their conversations and prayers. Wouldn’t you? Based on our previous observations, I doubt the Council’s actions caused any fear in their conversations or timidity in their prayers. In fact, it seems that quite the opposite happened. While we aren’t told any specifics regarding their time in prison or their prayers, God does respond in a very dramatic way. An angel comes and leads them out, but instead of hiding from their enemies the Apostles are told to return to the Temple and to continue speaking and preaching. Probably not what you or I would do, but God often calls us to respond in ways that require faith and leads us down paths we would likely avoid.
Notice how today’s passage begins, “we must OBEY God rather than men.” Do you ever find it difficult to be obedient? Does obedience to God often lead you down paths that you find particularly challenging or illogical? I think disobedience to God is often disguised as the “practical thing” in our lives. We justify our actions and choices by assuming that God would never ask us to do something “stupid or dangerous.” And yet, that is the very definition of what Jesus said it means to “follow” Him.
“And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:38-39 ESV)
In essence, that was the heart of last week’s lesson. Absolute obedience to God resulted in Barnabas selling property and giving the money to the church but, to Ananias, that made no sense. Why would anyone do that? That’s just crazy! It is only crazy when you are living in and acting on human instincts and materialistic thinking. But we are called to be transformed in our thinking (see Rom. 12:1-2). The Apostles have been dramatically confronted by this idea of transformed thinking through the resurrection. So, when they are released from prison by an angel and then told to return to the very “scene of the crime” and continue their preaching and teaching, they don’t hesitate, they obey.
It is at this moment when their obedience comes most into question. They go back to the Temple and begin teaching the people and preaching the Good News of Christ. We often assume obedience to God will result in protection from persecution and trouble, but that isn’t what God promises and it certainly isn’t what happens. The Apostles are back in the Temple teaching and they get “arrested” again. What? God, are you paying attention to this? We just got out… now we’re headed back?
Do you ever question God’s wisdom in your circumstances when you act in obedience to His commands? Have you ever doubted His goodness or sovereignty when things don’t go as you expected? That’s the trouble with obedience, it often takes us where we didn’t expect to go and places us in circumstances we would normally avoid. “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me —practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:9 ESV) Meditate on that statement for a moment or two…
Next, notice the insight and advice Gamaliel gives to the Council. First, he reminds them of several “radical” teachers whose teachings and followers had come to nothing. Then, he advises them that if what the Apostles taught was “of men” then it, too, would fail and come to nothing. However, if the Apostles teachings and actions ore “of God” then it cannot be stopped and the Council risks standing in opposition to God.
We need to hear those words, again. If what we are doing is of man then it will most certainly fail. However, if what we are doing is of God then nothing will be capable of standing in its way. God’s perfect will and plan of redemption WILL triumph. Two quick thoughts… 1) the work of redemption that God has begun in you He will carry through to completion (see Phil. 1:6); 2) the ministry of redemption that God has called us to will not be thwarted even in this culture of unbelief and rejection of the uniqueness of Christ (see Heb. 10:35-36).
Finally, note what the Apostles did after being threatened… they counted it joy that they would be considered worthy to suffer for the name of Jesus, and they did not cease but continued to teach daily in the Temple and house to house. To “count” something as worthy doesn’t mean that if felt good or joyful. It comes from the word used to measure or weigh a product on a scale and then to mark down its value. In other words, the value of the situation or circumstance isn’t determined by how you feel about it but is based on the value God has placed upon it. Just like James says, “count it joy” when you face various struggles because God is at work in you making you resemble Christ (see James 1:2-4).
I have no doubt that the beating the Apostles received certainly didn’t “feel” like a good thing. The beating hurt and, likely, left marks. Some of those marks may have even been permanent. But the Apostles rejoiced that God considered them worthy of suffering for the sake of Christ and the gospel. Would we? Do we? As we stand for the truth of the gospel today, we are seeing an increasingly hostile response from our culture towards the truth of God’s Word. Are we willing to accept their response even while returning to the “Temple” (or office, school, neighbor’s house) and continue to speak and teach the truth?
I find that to be the hardest part of living in a culture that rejects the gospel. I want to withdraw and become protective but that’s not an option if I’m to be obedient. What about you? Does your obedience include the possibility of pain? Are you willing to follow Christ even when He leads you onto the path of struggle and pain? Are you willing to obey even when it leaves marks? Are you willing to mark it down or count it as a joyful moment? Are you willing to suffer dishonor so that He is honored? If so, you’ll discover Him right in the midst of it. Count on it…