Isaiah 66:10-16, Acts 5:17-42
June 29, 2014
Today we have the end of the story of the man who was healed by Peter and John at the Temple gate. And actually, it’s sort of the end of the story of these high priests of Israel. They’ve been trying to deal with these disciples of Jesus for some time now. They had taken care of their leader. But now his movement was starting to pick up momentum. And this is the last time we hear from them, though their influence was still felt in the early church.
In our story for last week, they had the disciples arrested. And they had them brought before the council for trial. There they questioned them. And in the end, then they charged the disciples not to preach or teach in the name of “Jesus the Christ.”
Well, that didn’t stop them. And so, in our story for today the council “ramped up” their efforts to silence them. They arrested the disciples – again! And this time they put them in prison. And notice that it doesn’t say for how long! I suspect it was to be indefinitely. That would certainly silence them, wouldn’t it! But, an angel of the Lord came and freed them. And the angel told them to go and stand in the Temple and preach.
Now, we can only imagine what the priests felt when they found them there again! After talking things over for a while, they sent word to the prison to have the disciples brought before them again. And look what it says. They had called together the Council and the whole Senate of Israel! They had gathered the whole government to deal with these men! But those who were sent came back saying the disciples weren’t in the prison! The doors were locked, and the guards were standing there… guarding. But when the doors were open, no one was there! And while they were all wondering what had happened, someone else came in and said, “We found them!” “They’re in the Temple, preaching to the people!” Can you imagine what those priests felt?
So, they sent for them there. And the guards brought them in, but “without violence,” it says. “For they were afraid of being stoned by the people.” You see, this movement was quickly becoming very popular! It wasn’t long before these priests realized that they hadn’t stopped this thing after all. At least not yet!
So, they brought them in. And the high priest, Annas, repeated the council’s injunction. “We told you to stop.” And remember that was a legal charge! But then look what else he said. “But you are filling all of Jerusalem with your teaching! And you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us!” That was a big concern! They were in danger of being seen as the ones who orchestrated Jesus’ crucifixion. They thought they had sidestepped that before. But it turns out, that fear was still real!
Well, Peter repeated the same response he gave to their injunction the last time. “We have to obey God, rather than you.” But then he also responded to the last part. “The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree.” “Yes, his blood is on you!” Peter didn’t let them off the hook, did he! In fact, he included that part in his response here, and he already had included it in all of his messages so far! Whether they liked it or not, they had a prominent role in the story he was telling!
Well, now these guys were really mad! They sent the boys out so they could figure out what to do. And that’s when we have this great speech, and this wonderful advice, from this man named Gamaliel. Gamaliel was a respected member of the council, and the teacher of Saul, who would become (who?) Paul. Gamaliel told them, “Keep away from these men and let them alone! For if this plan or this undertaking is of men, it will fail. But if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. And you might even be found to be fighting against God!”
Those are very wise words, aren’t they? In fact, those are the words I want you to think about for today. In all of our plans, we should ask, “is what we’re doing of God?” “It is God’s plan? Or is it our plan?” I hope you see how that makes all the difference!
Well, to their credit, the priests took Gamaliel’s advice. They brought the disciples in, they beat them, they charged them again not to preach about Jesus, and they let them go. That doesn’t sound like “letting them alone” to me. But it didn’t matter! The disciples didn’t obey their injunction, anyway! In fact, they left “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name of Jesus.” Do you ever “rejoice” that you’re “counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name of Jesus?” These guys did! “And,” we’re told, “they preached and taught every day – in the Temple.” You can only imagine what the priests thought about that! Not only, did they not stop them, but now it was worse! They were preaching every day in the heart of Jerusalem!
I hope we see that picture of the early Church. It’s one of rejoicing on the part of the ever-growing number of believers. It’s one of tension between them and the Jewish leadership. And it’s one of all those who were part of this story, wondering what was going to happen next! Because they had no idea, did they?
Well, woven into this story is this concern about “what is of God.” And I think it’s well for us to consider that for ourselves. Think about the things we do in the church. And ask yourself, is what we do of God, or is it of us? If we’re trying to do things for God’s kingdom, but they’re really just “our things,” they won’t have the same impact as they would if they were things that are “of God.” Isn’t that true?
I think the words of Gamaliel are as wise and true today as they were when he first spoke them. I’m sure his most famous pupil, Saul, would say the same thing. We’re going to talk about him next week. He was one who thought he was doing what God wanted him to do. He was attempting to stamp out the Church! But in the end, it turns out his zeal was all self inspired. He was doing what he thought he should do – by his own interpretation. And I’m sure the priests in this story thought the same thing. In a way, Saul’s journey was their journey. And I’m sure that he was there with them all along, through all the stories of Jesus. And I’m sure he thought he was doing the right thing for the faith.
But in the end, Gamaliel’s words ring true. Indeed what was happening with these disciples of Jesus was of God. And as much as the priests thought themselves to be in the right, and had even convinced themselves of such, they were not. In the end, they did find themselves to be fighting against God! And we need to ask ourselves, “Are we ever so sure of our motivations that we leave no room for doubt?”
In Romans 12:3, that same Saul, now known as Paul, said to the people, “For by the grace given to me, I bid every one among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith which God has assigned him.” The advice is, “Don’t think about things only from your own standpoint and power!” “Think about ‘what is of God.’” For if we think only of what is “of us,” it won’t be the same as seeking to do “what is of God.”
Then remember what Gamaliel said, “Leave these men alone. If what they’re doing is of men, it will fail. But if what they are doing is of God, you will not be able to stop them…” And it’s the same with us.
Eternal God, help us to pause, and to look at our lives from your perspective. Instead of thinking only of that which is from us, help us to think of what is from you. As hard as it is, help us to look to your will, not ours, and to seek first your kingdom and your righteousness. In the end, help us to take up our cross and follow. For these things we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.