Acts 5: 21 – 42 The apostles persecuted
At daybreak they entered the temple courts, as they had been told, and began to teach the people.
When the high priest and his associated arrived, they called together the Sanhedrin – the full assembly of the elders of Israel – and sent to the jail for the apostles. But on arriving at the jail, the officers did not find them there. So they went back and reported, ‘We found the jail securely locked, with the guards standing at the doors; but when we opened them, we found no one inside.’ On hearing this report, the captain of the temple guard and the chief priests were at a loss, wondering what this might lead to.
Then someone came and said, ‘Look! The men you put in jail are standing in the temple courts teaching the people.’ At that, the captain went with his officers and brought the apostles. They did not use force, because they feared that the people would stone them.
The apostles were brought in and made to appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. ‘We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,’ he said. ‘Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.’
Peter and the other apostles replied: ‘We must obey God rather than human beings! The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead – whom you killed by hanging him on a cross. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Saviour that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins. We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.’
When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death. But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honoured by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while. Then he addressed the Sanhedrin: ‘Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men. Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing. After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed and all his followers were scattered. Therefore, in the present case I advise you: leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.’
His speech persuaded them. They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.
The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.
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A few days ago, in “Acts 4: 23 – 31 The believers pray” we saw how effective prayer revealed God’s will to the apostles. Their prayer had asked for the apostles to be enabled to “Speak out God’s word with great boldness,” and they asked God “Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”
Their prayer was answered. They spoke out boldly and their ministry was accompanied by signs and wonders.
The apostles had been strictly warned not to preach and heal in the name of Jesus. When they persisted, the jealous high priest and his associates had them imprisoned. They were miraculously released from prison, and immediately started to teach the people.
The captain of the temple guard went with his officers and fetched the apostles from where they were teaching. The crowd must have been large and excitable; the officers didn’t use force to arrest the apostles, “because they feared that the people would stone them.”
So, once again the apostles were facing the Sanhedrin. The high priest charged them that despite strict orders not to teach in the name of Jesus, they had filled Jerusalem with their teaching.
Peter and the other apostles then gave strong testimony, proclaiming Jesus as the risen Lord, the Prince and Saviour, who had come “that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins.”
In this chain of events, we see God’s wisdom. The apostles, men without any qualifications to preach, teach and heal, have been enabled to do all these things by the power of the Holy Spirit. Having prayed effectively, and obeyed God in what he has told them to do and say, God promptly answers the prayer with miraculous signs. This directly challenges sinners either to repent or to oppose God. The Sanhedrin, who oppose God’s will, take action against the apostles, thereby giving them another opportunity to state God’s message to the leaders of the nation.
After the apostles’ testimony, most of the Sanhedrin are outraged and want to put the apostles to death, but Gamaliel, a well-respected Pharisee, intervenes. He reminds them of some history, giving two examples where men claiming to be significant had attempted armed insurrection and failed. He points out, “For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.’
Once upon a time, I thought that was wise counsel. Now I see it as being mistaken and woefully inadequate.
Gamaliel knew that Jesus had performed healings and miracles; everybody in Jerusalem knew that. Now the apostles were claiming that Jesus had risen from the dead, and that they were witnesses. Furthermore, Gamaliel knew they were healing the sick.
Gamaliel knew there was evidence that Jesus was the Messiah. Why didn’t he enquire further? Why didn’t he use his status as someone “honoured by all the people” to urge his colleagues to investigate matters with open minds and be prepared to acknowledge that Jesus is Lord?
Gamaliel’s words are human wisdom. What a contrast with God’s wisdom!
Thank you for Jesus. Thank you for the testimony of the apostles. Please help me to do your will.
In Jesus’ name, Amen