Psalm 33, Acts 5:27-42
June 21, 2015
So, the chief priests weren’t sure what to do. Peter and John were creating quite a sensation! A lot of things were happening in the opening chapters of Acts, and they had a lot to do with it all! And at a number of different points in these first few chapters, we read how the Church was growing every day! The Good News about Jesus was spreading – rapidly!
So, what were these guys to do? They had already had the Apostles arrested – twice! They had tried to censure them. They had officially “charged” them to “cease and desist,” to stop talking about Jesus. But nothing had worked. The Apostles were continuing to preach and teach and perform miracles. The Church was growing! And the priests were starting to wonder if they would be able to do anything at all about it.
Today’s story is about them meeting in their religious council trying to figure it all out. They are angry and exasperated! And at the height of all their frustration, we meet this man named Gamaliel. And if I’m not mistaken, this is the only time in the scripture that we ever meet Gamaliel! But, we do meet one of his students – one of his “disciples.” His name was(?) Saul. And I have to wonder. As vehement, as calculating, as ruthless as Saul was in persecuting the new Church, did he possibly have within him at least a little of the wisdom of this man who was his teacher?
Gamaliel was a wise and respected member of the council. Acts tells that. And he showed his wisdom in the advice he gave that day. And I think his advice speaks very much to what we’re talking about today – seeking God. Yes, he was speaking about the Apostles, he was telling the council how they ought to “handle them.” But what he gave them was sage advice for anyone who seeks to do God’s will in their lives.
Look at this story. Gamaliel listened to the council air their frustrations about the Apostles and this “new religion” they were promoting. And then he stood up, and he said this. “Leave these men alone!” “If this effort is of their own doing, it will fail, as have so many others that we can all remember.” And he gave them some examples. “But!” he said. “If what they are doing is of God, you will not be able to stop them.” “And you might even find yourselves fighting against God!”
Now, those were great words! And I think that advice reminds us that, in our lives and in our ministry together, we need to ask ourselves if what we are doing is of God, or is it of our own doing? That’s a question we should ask in the Church – a lot!
And in our lives of faith – the same thing. We need to be concerned about seeking God! We need to strive to know him better and better all the time. And we need to seek to know his will for us – all the time! And that’s hard to do. As I’ve often said, we humans tend to want to have our own will, don’t we?
That’s what we are called to do. But these priests seemed to have forgotten all that. They seem to have strayed from seeking God. They had let their position and their pride and their own will and their own understanding get in the way of truly seeking God. Or at least some of them had. And the ones who had strayed from that refused to believe that this new movement could possibly be of God!
That seems crazy to us, doesn’t it? But we can easily be guilty of the same thing, can’t we? As I’ve said before, our endeavors in God’s kingdom can too easily be a matter of, “Here’s what we’re going to do, God. Please may it be your will.” Or “Here are our plans, God. Please bless them.” “After all, our motivation is good! We’re doing this for you, God!” You see, that’s different than saying, “What is it you want us to do, God?” or, “This is what we think you are leading us to do. Let us know if we’re on track.” Do you see the difference?
It’s hard not to want to be in charge, isn’t it. In fact, I’ve always said that wanting to be our own masters is the basis of sin. In it’s essence, our concept of sin is simply putting our will and our desire above what God wants for us. It is refusing to do what God commands. Or it’s doing what God commanded that we “shalt not” do! I’ve used this example before. It’s not a sin to jump on the couch. It’s a sin to jump on the couch after Daddy told you not to!”
We need to seek God. And that’s not easy! It takes diligence. It takes discipline. It takes the ability to concentrate on something other than our own little world, and our own way of thinking.
In Proverbs – part of the “Wisdom Literature” of the Bible, we find these wise words. And I can see Gamaliel reading them, and learning from them, and maybe having them in mind as he stood to address the council. This is what it says. “Trust in the Lord always, and rely not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will direct your paths.” (Proverbs 3:5) Is that what we really want? Do we want God to direct our paths? Or would we rather just “have God with us” as we pursue our own paths. That’s what I want you to think about today.
Peter and the boys made the conscious choice to do what God was calling them to do. Do we do that? Do we say, “God, what is it that you want me to do?” Or do we find ourselves saying, “God I hope you bless what I want to do?”
It is my hope that all of us can grow in the ability to seek God, to know him better, and to trust him in all of our ways. And if we do, I hope we will find the words of Jeremiah to be true, as God told the people in chapter 29, verse 13. “If you seek me you will find me, if you seek me with all your heart.”
Eternal God, help us to seek you with all our heart. Help us to trust you more each day and not to rely only on our own understanding. Help us to know as a congregation how to do what you are calling us to do. Help us to know the joy of being people who follow you together. For together we offer this prayer in Jesus’ name, Amen.