What is of God – July 3, 2022, Combined Worship
Psalm 111, Acts 5:27-42
July 3, 2022
What is of God. I’m using that as a description this morning. That’s the way I intended it, anyway. “What is of God” is a way of saying “things that are of God.” I could also have said, “That which is of God.” Do you see that?
But the way I wrote it, it could also be a question. In fact, I was afraid my grammar checker was going to flag me on it, and tell me that I needed a question mark. It didn’t, but it could have. But either way, those two ways of seeing this could go together! If we are thinking about, “What is of God,” we need to ask the question, “What is of God?” Do you see how that works?
That was the question that was before the ruling council of Israel during this trial of the Apostles. And yes, it was all of the Apostles this time, not just Peter and John like last week. They were all thrown in jail, even though technically it was only Peter and John who had defied the “injunction” not to speak about Jesus. Do you remember that? I don’t know if the council was going to attempt to sort that out, or just charge all of them. But after a while they became so angry – so enraged – it really didn’t matter.
In looking at that, I don’t know about you, but verse 33 has always seemed incredible to me! It’s almost incongruous! “When they heard this, they were so enraged they wanted to kill them!” Do you get that? Religious leaders wanted to kill these men! That sounds crazy doesn’t it? But before it sounds too crazy, keep in mind that there were crimes in Israel that called for the death penalty. Their penal code was rather harsh from our point of view! But remember also that the Romans had taken away their right to capital punishment. So, they weren’t allowed to put anyone to death, although we’re going to find out that they did, anyway. But that’s one of the things that made the trial of Jesus so tricky for them! They had to get the Romans to execute him.
And they were in a similar situation now with these followers of Jesus! And that’s where this man Gamaliel rose to speak. Gamaliel was a respected member of the council, and he was thought to be the teacher of Paul. And his words, among the many words spoken that day, were chosen by Luke to include in this account. And I’m glad they were! Because I’ve always seen them as very wise words – for all people. Gamaliel challenged them that day to think about whether or not what the Apostles were doing was “of God.” There’s the thought I started with – determining what is of God.
He told them, “If what these men are doing is not of God, they will fail.” “But,” he said, “if it is of God, you will not be able to stop them, and you might even find yourselves fighting against God!”
Again, those are very wise words! And they make me wonder, how many questionable things, in the long history of the Church, could have turned out differently, if people would have remembered those words? How many times has the Church done things that seem to us to be not “of God?” And I wonder also, does that ever happen to us? I think you know the answer to that question!
You know, when we think about things we do that are wrong, sometimes we try to make ourselves feel better by focusing on other worse things. Don’t we do that? I’ve heard people, who we’re trying to downplay their sinfulness, say things like, “Hey, at least I’m not as bad as _____!” And you can fill in the blank there – Adolph Hitler, Charles Manson, Vladimir Putin.
Don’t we sometimes think that way? Do we downplay our sinfulness by comparing ourselves to someone worse? But pointing to the big “sinners” doesn’t mean we don’t have a sinful nature. And it doesn’t excuse us from striving to rise above that. And it certainly doesn’t lessen the amazing Grace God has given us in his forgiveness!
The reason I say all this is that it has everything to do with this idea of doing, or not doing, what is of God. We can look back over the history of the Church, and we can think about thing that we see as wrong, and we think, “How could they believed that what they were doing was of God?” And we can look at our own lives and ask ourselves, “do we do what is of God?” Have we done things, as a church or individually, that maybe were not what God would want us to do?
That’s a tough question to ask. (It’s easier to point to the big things like the Spanish Inquisition!) And how do we know what is of God? Prayer is certainly a big part of that. And these Apostles devoted themselves to prayer. We know that. And part of prayer is listening, and discerning what it is God is saying to us. And that’s not easy. Sometimes we forget that, and we “do all the talking” instead. And when we pray, do we not sometimes think in terms of, “God, this is what we’re going to do. Please bless our efforts.” Or “God, here’s our plan. May it be your will.”
And that’s what this is all about, isn’t it? Doing “What is of God” is about doing God’s will! And that takes us back to that most basic of human frailties – the desire for our own will. This goes all the way back to Adam and Eve. It wasn’t a sin that they ate the apple. Actually, it doesn’t even say in was an apple. But whatever it was, the sin was that they ate the fruit after God told them not too! Remember, sin is not jumping on the bed. Sin is jumping on the bed after Daddy told you not to!
And what they ate was the fruit of “The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.” And the more I think about that, I think that meant more than just “knowing” what is good and evil. It had to do with knowing as in “deciding” what is good and evil. It was about mankind’s endless quest to supplant God in that department. We want to decide if something’s good or bad. We don’t want to be told what is bad by God. That lies at the heart of atheism. For many people, it’s not that they don’t want to believe in God, it’s that they don’t want God telling them what not to do!
There’s a real struggle within me when I hear people say that something that was once seen by God as wrong is not wrong. I remember listening to a young man being interviewed, and he was asked if a certain thing was a sin. And he kept saying, “I don’t see anything wrong with it. I don’t see anything wrong with it. Well, sin is not about what we see as wrong, but what God sees. But people don’t want to hear that. They want to decide. They’ve eaten from that tree as well! When people ask me if I think something’s wrong, I try to think about what God would want, not what I would want. Do you understand that?
Now, that is not to say that God doesn’t change on some things! We know that. The kosher laws are a good example. At one time eating certain foods was wrong – and for good reason. Certain things were not safe to eat. But God changed on that one. And throughout the years God has done that with other things. He said in the prophecy of Isaiah, “Behold I am doing a new thing!” (Isiah 43:19)
But it’s still God who does the changing! It’s still God who does new things. It’s still God’s will that is in question. And it’s still our job to discern what his will is for us. It’s still our job to determine “what is of God.” And that’s not easy to do. It’s hard for us to live out the words we say every week in church, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.”
That takes a word you’ve heard me use before. It takes our being “intentional” about it. We must actively seek God’s will. And that takes prayer. And that takes our focusing on it. As you know, there are way too many distractions in our lives for us to hear and see God very well – without that intentionality!
These men, these Apostles, were certain that what they were doing was of God. They knew it from the Spirit they felt within them. They knew it from all the praying we are told they did. And I have always loved their reaction here at the end. The council had them beaten and they let them go. “And they left the presence of the council rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name [of Jesus.]”
I’m not sure we would be able to do that kind of rejoicing. Maybe… But we can do what they did. As the old expression goes, we can “keep on keeping on!” Luke tells us at the end of this that, “Every day, in their homes and in the Temple, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ!”
So, think this week about “What is of God.” Be intentional about it. Seek to know God’s will for you. Think about that every day! And be open to the joy of his kingdom.
Eternal God, help us to have the discernment we need to know what is of you in our lives, and the strength we need to follow. Help us to have the diligence of prayer, and courage to truly say, “thy will be done.” Help us to have the joy of your kingdom, no matter what the circumstances of our lives may be. For we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.