In yesterday’s blog post called, “Its Time For The Confrontation Of The Apostles,” we discovered that there are four great factors brought out that will always be present whenever the church is operating, in the midst of times of peril, as God intended it to work. These four factors are evident in this account. If we are aware of what is going on in our day, we can see that these four are essential to us and must be present in our hour.
The first-factor found in Verses 12-16, is where you have a clear demonstration of the power of God.
The second factor evident in this account follows immediately,
But the high priest rose up and all who were with him, that is, the party of the Sadducees, and filled with jealousy they arrested the apostles and put them in the common prison. But at night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out and said, “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life.” And when they heard this, they entered the temple at daybreak and taught. (Acts 5:17-21a RSV)
For some reason, most of us know of the event, which occurs a little, later in the book of Acts, about Peter released after being put in prison. But almost no one ever mentions this event, which came first, when all twelve of the apostles were put in jail and were suddenly released by the intervention of an angel and sent to preach in the temple again. Then follows one of the classic examples of double take in all history.
Later that morning the High Priest and his courtiers arrived at the Temple, and, convening the Jewish Council and the entire Senate; they sent for the apostles to be brought for trial. But when the police arrived at the jail, the men weren’t there, so they returned to the Council and reported, “The jail doors were locked, and the guards were standing outside, but when we opened the gates, no one was there!”
When the police captain and the chief priests heard this, they were frantic, wondering what would happen next and where all this would end! Then someone arrived with the news that the men they had jailed were out in the Temple, preaching to the people!
The police captain went with his officers and arrested them (without violence, for they were afraid the people would kill them if they roughed up the disciples) and brought them in before the Council. (Acts 5:21b-26 TLB)
What is the lesson God is trying to teach us here? Why? That there is liberty in the Spirit which nothing man can do will ever eliminate. “Where the Spirit of God is, there is liberty…” (2 Corinthians 3:17).
There is power in God to set men free when put in prison. It is no problem to God to get a man out of jail. He does not even have to go through a bail bondsman; he only sends an angel. It happens again in the book of Acts. He can even send an earthquake, as he did for Paul and Silas at Philippi. It is no problem to God to get his people out of prison.
But it is also evident, from events later on in Acts and in church history, that God does not always intend to get his people out of prison, physically.
The point of the story is, as Paul beautifully put it another place, that “the word of God is not bound…” (2 Timothy 2:9). Man cannot stop the word of God. Man cannot halt the power of God. Prison walls, gates, bars, and chains cannot hold the resurrection power of a living God.
Men have been taught that lesson again and again in history, and yet they never seem to learn. They strike back with the only procedure they know — to put someone in prison, lock them up.
But you cannot lock up ideas. You cannot hinder the preaching and the teaching of the word of God with prisons. There is a great liberty always present whenever the word is spoken in power. It cannot be stopped solely by the arrest of Christians.
The third factor is in the next section:
The police captain went with his officers and arrested them (without violence, for they were afraid the people would kill them if they roughed up the disciples) and brought them in before the Council.
“Didn’t we tell you never again to preach about this Jesus?” the High Priest demanded. “And instead you have filled all Jerusalem with your teaching and intend to bring the blame for this man’s death on us!”
But Peter and the apostles replied, “We must obey God rather than men. The God of our ancestors brought Jesus back to life again after you had killed him by hanging him on a cross. Then, with mighty power, God exalted him to be a Prince and Savior, so that the people of Israel would have an opportunity for repentance, and for their sins to be forgiven. And we are witnesses of these things and so is the Holy Spirit, who is given by God to all who obey him.”
At this, the Council was furious and decided to kill them. (Acts 5:27-33 TLB)
That last sounds familiar, does it not? All that Peter and the other apostles did was simply to tell these men the truth. They stood before them and very quietly said, “Look. The God of our ancestors brought Jesus back to life again after you had killed him. That is a clear statement of fact.
“God exalted him to be a Prince and Savior so that the people of Israel would have an opportunity for repentance, and for their sins to be forgiven.” That is another statement of fact. “And we are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit.”
With that simple statement of clear, plain truth, these rulers became violently furious and enraged and set about to kill them.
What does that show? It shows clearly the fallen character of man. Man is in the grip of forces beyond his knowledge and ken; evil forces, which are implacable, opposed to the will, purpose, and love of God.
Whenever truth is uttered, it enrages men like this. They oppose it with the only weapon they can think of — physical violence. And this explains the fact that wherever the gospel goes it invites men, attracts men, and redeems people, but it also enrages others. It is always a disturbing thing.
But God wants us to look beyond this immediate opposition of men and understand that the debate would never occur if it were not for the existence of certain malevolent beings behind men.
And this is what Paul says in Ephesians 6. ” For we are not fighting against people made of flesh and blood…” (Ephesians 6:12a TLB). It is not, finally, men who are the problem.
We are opposed by “persons without bodies—the evil rulers of the unseen world,” (Ephesians 6:12b), by great beings of malevolence and evil who are seated in positions of power behind the scenes and are manipulating men, keeping them under control, and using them as puppets.
That is where the opposition and hostility are coming from. If you do not view the opposition to the gospel from that point of view, you will not ever understand life. You cannot explain what occurs in history unless you understand it from that point of view. There are evil forces at work.
That is why theological liberals shake their heads at humanity and say, “What’s wrong?” They are baffled because they take into consideration only what they can see — human beings — and they say, “What is wrong with people? Why do they act this way?
Talk to them individually, and they’re friendly, courteous and gracious; but put them together in a mob and violence breaks out and darkness and death. What’s the matter?”
Well, says the Scripture, these men, and women, these students, and others, are being manipulated by powers they are not aware of. They have thoughts arising in their hearts, which they think, originate with themselves, but they are being put into their minds by invisible forces which are at work to oppose the will and purpose of God.
That is why it is so useless to attempt physical resistance against these kinds of forces.
- What good does it do to kill, and burn, and destroy those who are the puppets of evil forces? They will only raise up other men and use them in their place.
- What advantage is gained by wiping out at the polls groups of people who are opposed to something that God wants to be done? The evil forces will only raise other men and women to do it all over again.
What God wants to get across to his people is that they will never do any real good until they attack the spiritual forces. God has placed in our hands the spiritual equipment to do so. The next verses of the passage illustrate this.
But one of their members, a Pharisee named Gamaliel (an expert on religious law and very popular with the people), stood up and requested that the apostles be sent outside the Council chamber while he talked.
Then he addressed his colleagues as follows:
“Men of Israel, take care what you are planning to do to these men! Some time ago there was that fellow Theudas, who pretended to be someone great. About four hundred others joined him, but he was killed, and his followers were harmlessly dispersed.
“After him, at the time of the taxation, there was Judas of Galilee. He drew away some people as disciples, but he also died, and his followers scattered.
“And so my advice is, leave these men alone. If what they teach and do is merely on their own, it will soon be overthrown. But if it is of God, you will not be able to stop them, lest you find yourselves fighting even against God.”
The Council accepted his advice, (Acts 5:34-40a TLB)
Now here are the apostles confronted with the same group that had just murdered their Lord, threatened by the same hostility that had accomplished the death of Jesus. Their lives are at stake. And this council is enraged, and they want to kill them.
Then why didn’t they? Surely the apostles could not have predicted how God would deliver them. They had no way of knowing that there was seated on that very council a man with a calmer frame of mind, who would listen to reason and would lay a quieting hand upon these violent passions.
But God knew. And God knew how to use that man, and when to have him speak. It was God who was behind the actions of Gamaliel.
It is true these were men controlled by evil forces, but they were also subject to the sovereign overriding of the Holy Spirit. Though this account does not mention it directly, I am very confident that the church was praying for the twelve apostles. In answer to that prayer, God restrained those evil forces, using one of the enemies to do it.
What does that do to you? Doesn’t that get you excited? You sit there so unimpressed by this! But I get excited about it. God uses the very forces opposed to the gospel to fight against them and restrain them.
- When are we going to start believing the Scriptures?
- When are we going to act consistently with the spiritual weapons God has given us?
- When are we going to believe that God is moving today exactly as he moved in the days of the early church?
I am convinced there is no difference whatsoever between the church of our day, in its possibilities and potential, and the church of the first century as it affected the world of that day. The book of Acts is still being written today.
There is one other factor here, and it closes the account.
The Council accepted his advice, called in the apostles, had them beaten, and then told them never again to speak in the name of Jesus, and finally let them go. They left the Council chamber rejoicing that God had counted them worthy to suffer dishonor for his name. And every day, in the Temple and in their home Bible classes, they continued to teach and preach that Jesus is the Messiah. (Acts 5:40-42 TLB)
I love that, and they did not stop and counted themselves fortunate to suffer dishonor for his name. It seems to take Christians so long to face up to the simple declaration of Scripture that, when they were called to be a Christian, they were called to suffer.
As Paul said in his letter to the Philippians, “It is given to us not only to believe on him but also to suffer for his name’s sake…” (Philippians 1:29). We are called to this; suffering is an integral part of the Christian experience. It is not something that is unusual or reserved for just a few; it is for all.
Peter said in the passage read to you this morning, “Do not be surprised at the fiery trial which comes upon you to prove you, as though something strange were happening to you…” (1 Peter 4:12).
Don’t think it strange. You go through problems, difficulties, heartaches, disappointments, ostracism and coolness from others, all for the sake of “the Name.” Don’t think that is strange. That is part of the “sufferings of Christ for his body’s sake” (Colossians 1:24 KJV), which Paul speaks of. It is that to which we are called.
In a world that is run by illusions, governed by deceptions, and is a victim of lies and maliciously evil falsehoods, what else can we expect if we stand for the truth?
People will think we are strange, at times. People will believe that we react in funny ways. There will be some degree of coolness, even among those who are, in many other ways, friendly toward us.
They will think we are a little odd. But it is they who are odd; it is we who are normal. When an ordinary person lives in a world full of oddballs, they think he’s weird. But that is the suffering to which he is called.
Like these disciples, we ought to thank God for it and rejoice in it. Didn’t Jesus say that? “Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and say all manner of evil against you falsely for my name’s sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad, … for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you…” (Matthew 5:11-12 KJV).
The church, then, is not to wring its hands, and say, “Oh what a terrible thing! We’re being opposed! These committees against us, and the powers that be, etc., they won’t let us do what we want. What an awful thing!”
No! Rejoice, like these early Christians, did. Count it an honor that you have been called to suffer a little for his name’s sake. Stand up and be counted. These are perilous times, are they not?
These same four factors are as present with us today as they were in that early day:
- Power, the power of God to change lives, to heal, to restore, to make people whole. It is manifest all around us, everywhere, on every side today.
- Liberty, the word of God, is not bound. Nothing can stop it, nothing can hinder it, and nothing can thwart it or change it.
- Our physical circumstances are entirely irrelevant. It does not make any difference.
- The opposition is here, terrible, deadly opposition, designed to strike to the heart, to the jugular vein.
As Joe Blinko used to put it, “The devil is no pimple-squeezer; he goes for the jugular vein.” But also there is suffering, suffering but rejoicing in that suffering. To this, we are called!
Our Father, help us to stop playing at this business of being a Christian. To stop playing church. Stop making it a religious episode once a week in our lives. But to understand that here in these relationships of which we have been speaking, in our tie with the living God, is all that it takes to change the world around us and that the events of this day and hour that are reflected in the newspapers are tied into what we do or do not do here in this place. Help us to understand, Lord, that we are the salt of the earth, we are the light of the world, and we must begin to act that way again. We ask it in Jesus’ name, Amen.