As this fledgling church grows, their presence in the city of Jerusalem has a polarizing effect on the community.
You’ve heard the term, “flying under the radar.” They didn’t. You remember in ch. 4 when the Sanhedrin called the apostles in and threatened them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus: “There, that ought to take care of that.” It didn’t. The apostles and the Sanhedrin are on a collision course.
The apostles do anything but keep quiet. Daily, the believers meet in the public square called Solomon’s Colonnade. The apostles preach about the risen Jesus, they work miracles, people are healed. There isn’t anyone in Jerusalem who hasn’t seen and heard what’s going on. And what is the response from all these people? Everyone holds them in high esteem, but nobody dares to join them. (Well not everyone – Luke tells us in vs. 14 – “Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number.”) Even the fear of the Jewish leaders isn’t enough to keep them away. That is the power of the gospel message – people will risk even their lives to be a part of something so dynamic and life-changing. And then in vs. 15-16, look at incredible response from far and wide as people come hungering to have their lives touched by this power from God – “As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed.”
Now, if such powerful miracles are being performed, if lives are being changed, if people are praising God, you would think everybody – especially the Jewish leaders – would be happy.
But you and I both know what happens when things start changing – it is tragically inevitable – vs. 17 “Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy.” It was jealousy that made Joseph’s brothers sell him into slavery, it was jealousy that made Saul seek David’s life, it was jealousy that made Jezebel attempt to murder Elijah, it was jealousy that drove the Jewish leaders to crucify Jesus. Whenever powerful people have attention drawn away, and control begins slipping away, jealousy rears its ugly head. And so they arrest the apostles – again – and put them in jail. (Is this beginning to sound familiar?)
What happens next is an incredible story – while they are in prison, in the middle of the night, an angel comes and opens the door and brings them outside – and he has a message – but not what you’d expect. You’d think the angel would tell them to run and hide and lay low until things cool down a little bit – that would be the smart thing to do. But can you believe what the angel told them to do?! “Go, stand in the temple courts and tell the people the full message of this new life” (vs. 20).
The next morning, the guards go to bring the prisoners before the high priest and the Sanhedrin (serious business - “the full assembly of the elders of Israel”) but as you already know, the jail’s empty. The guards are there, the doors are locked, no tunnels dug – but they have vanished. The perplexed guards go back to the waiting Sanhedrin and report. As they are standing around scratching their heads, suddenly someone runs up and says, “Look! The men you put in jail are standing in the temple courts teaching the people.”
The guards rush to the scene, and re-arrest the apostles and bring them back to the Sanhedrin. (By this time, don’t you know Caiphas, the high priest is about to have a stroke?) “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man's blood.”
(Time out – Controversy stirred up about the Mel Gibson movie about the crucifixion – claims of anti-Semitism because it makes the Jews look like they’re guilty of crucifying Jesus. They were guilty! That’s not ant-Semitism, that’s historical accuracy. Don’t change history to be politically correct. But having said that, there have been terrible things said and done against Jews through the years because they are blamed for the death of Jesus – when the real truth is that we are all guilty of the death of Jesus, and beyond that – nobody put Christ on the cross, he chose to go to the cross for your sake and my sake.)
Peter’s response is exactly what it was back in ch. 4 – “We must obey God rather than men.” And then Peter begins to give them the short course in Gospel 101 – vs. 30-32.
As you can imagine, that was like pouring gas on the flame – vs. 33 “When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death.”
And they would have – if it hadn’t been for a fellow named Gamaliel. Gamaliel is a voice of reason when everybody else has blood in their eyes. Gamaliel calms them down and gives them a little history lesson of his own – this isn’t the first band of upstarts – and he tells them about a couple of revolutionaries named Theudas and Judas the Galiliean who both tried to start uprisings and came to nothing. And then his advice -- vs. 38 “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.”
Well, what can you say to that? We surely don’t want to be fighting against God. So they bring the apostle back in – and this time along with the threats not to say another word about Jesus they have them flogged (and a flogging wasn’t a little slap on the wrist – they are beaten with a whip until they are nearly dead – some men did die from flogging – Jesus was flogged before being nailed to the cross – so, while Luke flashes quickly by it – this was a severe beating.)
Two unbelievable things follow – their immediate response isn’t hatred and resentment – they aren’t bitter victims – and they certainly don’t skulk away and lick their wounds and resolve never to do that again. Luke says “The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.” And then the aftermath – “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 Christ.” True to their word, “we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” Even the threat of death will not stop them.
There is a way to avoid these kinds of consequences – do nothing, say nothing, be nothing. With the first hint of annoyance, we would shut up and keep our beliefs to ourselves. The first sign of opposition and we’d apologize for giving the wrong impression. Some of us are thinking to ourselves – all they had to do was be a little more discreet – don’t be so public – don’t stand out in the temple courts – you can still “do church,” just keep it to yourselves – like we do.
And I’ll tell you what – if your toes aren’t hurting from being stepped on – mine are. This is painful stuff – to think of what they were willing to do and to suffer for the sake of the gospel – and think how pitifully safe we keep our lives by not speaking out and not standing up for the gospel. We should be ashamed every time we keep the message to ourselves because we’re afraid someone will even disagree with us, let alone reject us. Our consciences should scream out every time we avoid the topic of religion because we don’t want to be offensive.
These apostles and early Christians were courageous and selfless in the face of inevitable opposition and suffering so that the good news of Jesus would be preached to every living creature under heaven.
It’s time to stand up and be filled with boldness and courage – it’s time for the church – every single one of us – to rise up to the call of God and the great commission of Jesus – to fearlessly speak about what we have seen and heard – and make sure that everyone we know has heard the saving message of Jesus Christ.
And here’s the promise – the power is in the message – not in you, not in your technique, not in your ability to answer every question – it’s not in how persuasive you are, or how appealing you make it sound. The power is in the gospel – the good news that Jesus died, was buried and raised from the grave to save me from my sin. The gospel is not about getting into debates over doctrine – it is about how God changes people’s lives and gives them a home in heaven – remember the angel’s words: “the full message of this new life.” And every person deserves an opportunity to hear the gospel and decide for themselves.
And what I want you to see here in Acts, and what I want to challenge you to let happen in your own life is the Holy Spirit at work. We have reduced this whole process of evangelism to a human process – and it isn’t. Did you hear what Peter said? God raised Jesus from the dead, God exalted him as Prince and Savior, so that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins. But then, there in vs. 32 – “We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.” Yes, you are a witness of what God has done, and what God is doing – but so is the Holy Spirit. He is creating opportunities for you to speak, he is preparing ears to hear and hearts to receive, he is convicting people of sin and revealing the path to salvation.
Is there somebody in your life that needs to hear the gospel, but you have just avoided the topic because you’re afraid of what their reaction might be, afraid of alienating them. It’s time to risk the relationship – it’s time to let the Holy Spirit have a hand in the process – it’s time to quit wondering (will they, won’t they?) and let them decide.
Illustration -- Karen – “I’ve always wished somebody would ask me.”
Posted on Sun, April 18, 2010
by John Roberts