PRINCETON CHRISTIAN CHURCH
ACTS 5:12-42 05 NOVEMBER 23
This passage in the 5th Chapter of Acts, I believe, is one of the most powerful teachings for the church that we will find in the New Testament.
In the first 11 verses, we find the account of Ananias and Sapphira, a married couple who sold some land and gave some of the proceeds to the church. But they lied about the price they received for the land and, thus, lied about their gift to the church.
Now, you may have heard – that God disapproves of people lying. Peter questioned Ananias, and because of his lie, Ananias fell dead in his tracks. Sapphira was out of the room at the time, but when she returned, Peter questioned her in the same way as he did Ananias. She supported Ananias' lie. She fell dead in her tracks as well, and she was carried out and buried with her husband.
It should be easy for us to learn that lesson. God REALLY does NOT like lying.
That is a prelude to the even more exciting events that took place in the early church among the Apostles.
Beginning in Acts 5:17-42, we find the Apostles busy with "signs and wonders" taking place. They were held in high esteem, as we see in verses 12-14 – multitudes of men and women were constantly added to their number. Many were being healed. Some would even bring their lame and sick to the streets, hoping that Peter's shadow might light on them and heal them.
So, let's begin reading there at verse 17 and go through to the end of the chapter.
But the high priest rose up, along with all his associates (that is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with jealousy. They laid hands on the apostles and put them in a public jail. But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the gates of the prison, and taking them out he said, “Go, stand and speak to the people in the temple the whole message of this Life.” Upon hearing this, they entered into the temple about daybreak and began to teach.
Now when the high priest and his associates came, they called the Council together, even all the Senate of the sons of Israel, and sent orders to the prison house for them to be brought. But the officers who came did not find them in the prison; and they returned and reported back, saying, “We found the prison house locked quite securely and the guards standing at the doors; but when we had opened up, we found no one inside.” Now when the captain of the temple guard and the chief priests heard these words, they were greatly perplexed about them as to what would come of this. But someone came and reported to them, “The men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people!” Then the captain went along with the officers and proceeded to bring them back without violence (for they were afraid of the people, that they might be stoned).
When they had brought them, they stood them before the Council. The high priest questioned them, saying, “We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name, and yet, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a cross. He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him.”
But when they heard this, they were cut to the quick and intended to kill them. But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the Law, respected by all the people, stood up in the Council and gave orders to put the men outside for a short time. And he said to them, “Men of Israel, take care what you propose to do with these men. For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a group of about four hundred men joined up with him. But he was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census and drew away some people after him; he too perished, and all those who followed him were scattered. So in the present case, I say to you, stay away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or action is of men, it will be overthrown; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God.”
They took his advice; and after calling the apostles in, they flogged them and ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and then released them. So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.
Here is where this account gets exciting.
The Jewish rulers are jealous of Jesus. So, they did what they do best. They tried to shut the apostles up. They arrested them and put them in jail. We can imagine that they were not free even to roam around in the jail cell but were more likely in chains shackled to the wall or floor. To be sure, they were not going to go anywhere.
The jail was securely locked, and the guards stood at their posts.
But that didn't stop what happened next. An angel of the Lord appeared and freed them from their chains. It was a jailbreak!
A miracle had taken place. The angel of the Lord freed them. This had to have given the apostles much courage and confidence. Their faith was confirmed.
As the angel led them out, he told them to "Go, stand and speak to the people in the temple the whole message of this Life." That is what they did – at about daybreak, they entered the temple and began to teach.
Later, the high priests and their associates got together for a meeting to determine what they were going to do with these lawbreakers.
They called their buddies – the Council and the Senate - and all decided to have the apostles brought to them.
The officers went to the prison; the guards were at the door, but no prisoners were inside the cells.
The rulers were standing around scratching their heads, wondering what could have happened. They didn't know what to do. These rascally apostles were troublemakers – but they were fearless.
We see in verse 25 that there was an informant among them. We are not told who he was or his position, but he informed the officials that the apostles were standing in the temple teaching the people.
All this activity – all this change in so many people caught the attention of the High Priest and his henchmen – the Sadducees.
A miracle had taken place. The angel of the Lord freed them - this gave the apostles courage and confidence – their faith was confirmed.
These prisoners were found teaching the people.
They were brought before the Sanhedrin – chief priests, scribes, and elders.
They didn't know what to do.
These apostles – to the rulers, troublemakers – were fearless.
The rulers are standing around, scratching their heads.
What had happened?
They were brought before the Sanhedrin.
Verse 28 – the charges against the apostles are re-read: "We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this Name, and yet, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and intend to bring this man's blood upon us."
So, they received the accusations of the Jewish leaders.
In a court of law, there are two sides to any situation. It was the same here, although the accusation and the sentence were pronounced before the trial. The apostles were ordered to hush up about this Jesus person.
But they did have the opportunity to present their defense. We read that in vss. 29-32.
Verse 29 contains not only their defense but also what they are going to continue to do: "We must obey God rather than men." Do you remember I said earlier these men were fearless?
And, as if that wasn't bold enough, they accused the leaders: The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a cross.
Again, you may have heard – these men were fearless.
Those two statements – their defense and their accusation - should give us, as followers of Christ, the boldness and the fearlessness to share the Gospel with unbelievers.
They go on to say (verses 31-32): "He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him."
Well, this was too much for these religious leaders – they were cut to the quick – you know how much that hurts.
So, they made up their minds that He must be killed to stop His blasphemous teaching.
Now, another character comes into the picture – Gamaliel – a Pharisee - a teacher of the Jewish law – honored by the people.
It is important to note that Gamaliel was one of the Jewish teachers. He was the most distinguished rabbi of his time. He wasn't a Christian. He was a Pharisee who apparently opposed violence.
Gamaliel was one of the Jewish teachers who taught Paul in the way of the law.
Gamaliel stood up in the Counsel (courtroom) and gave orders to put them outside briefly.
So here is Gamaliel's advice to the rulers:
Men of Israel, take care what you propose to do with these men. For some time, Theudas (who was a Jewish rebel of the first century AD) rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a group of about 400 men joined up with him. But he was killed, and all who followed were dispersed and came to nothing.
After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census. He was a Jewish leader who opposed the census imposed for Roman tax purposes by Quirinius in the Judaea Province in 6 AD and drew away some people after him; he too perished, and all those who followed him were scattered.
Gamaliel continues to speak,
"In the present case, I say to you stay away from these men (the apostles) and let them alone, for if this plan or action is of men, it will be overthrown; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God."
Do you see what happened in that speech by Gamaliel? He said this: these other two leaders, Theudas and Judas of Galilee, rebelled against the system, but their efforts eventually failed.
Gamaliel is saying that the Jewish leaders should let these Christian rebels do their thing and over time, it will die down and eventually disappear.
Wise words from one who could have condemned these men to death. Now, I believe that Gamaliel actually believed what he said would happen.
But it didn't. And that is why we are here today. The forces of evil may, at times, hamper our efforts to seek and to bring the lost to salvation, but the cause of Christ will never be defeated.
The only explanation for this outcome is that the decision was God using a man who could have ended the lives of these apostles but worked it out for good for them instead.
We can see in this the way God can use any man or woman for His plan to be carried out.
It is interesting to note that the civil authorities accepted Gamliel's decision.
But they satisfied their desire to inflict punishment on the apostles.
They still flogged them. They ordered them again not to speak in the name of Jesus before they let them go.
I think we know that the apostles did not cower down to the floggers and say, "Yes, Master, we won't ever speak in the name of Jesus ever again."
But we find in Matthew 10:17-20: Jesus had long before warned them that they should "beware of men, for they will hand you over to the courts and scourge you in their synagogues." READ
The apostles left the presence of the Council (vs. 42) – not with their heads hanging low – not depressed or defeated – but rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His Name.
And verse 42 says:
"Every day, in the temple and from house to house, they
kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ."
And that is the mission of the Church of Jesus Christ today – to carry the Gospel to those who do not have it – to edify (build up) the church and the Gospel in the things of God.
This is more than just a nice story that could have gone bad but turned out with a happy ending.
The most powerful statement in all this discourse is in Chapter 5, verse 29, where Peter and the apostles answered: "We must obey God rather than men."
If we see it any other way, we are not promoting God. We are fighting against God and His plan.
This 5th chapter of Acts reminds us of who the enemy really is - the enemy is not flesh and blood, ideologies, or even legalism. The enemy is a spiritual being who manipulates, twists truths, and uses the ego of mankind for his gain.
Look around today and see what causes most arguments; most of the time, the underlying issue in arguments is a person's ego. What about my rights? What about my feelings? These are the issues.
Most skeptics argue from a point of feeling rather than truth.
Peter had a most persuasive argument. But the Sanhedrin is unmoved.
The issue became "what about us" rather than "what does God want." So, I ask today, are we fighting GOD for our benefit?
Here are some examples of how we fight GOD:
1. Disobedience: God says GO, we say NO
2. Jealousy and Pride (Sanhedrin Problem) verses 27-28
3. Legalisms (Pharisee Problem)
4. Changing His Word (World Problem)
Are we fighting GOD?
We are to obey God rather than man. God has called us to be good citizens and obey our earthly leaders, yet when the rules of our earthly leaders command us to disobey God, we must disobey men.
We might call this civil disobedience; praise God that here in America, we have not yet been pushed to that extreme.
The Apostles were given a choice: obey the Sanhedrin and be free temporarily, or obey God and be eternally free.
Once again, Peter tells the TRUTH, plain and simple. Sometimes, we will explain things plain and simple, and still, people will reject it. How will we react when that happens?
If you examine all the world's religions against Christianity, the most significant difference comes when we discover who Jesus is and what man is. Peter's statement was not about himself, the other apostles, or even the Sanhedrin. It was about who Jesus is and what He did for us.
The world will rebel, the world will persecute, but in the end, they will find out they have been fighting GOD. Whose side will we be found on?