We begin with the story.
Acts 5:17-42 NASB
But the high priest rose up, along with all his associates (that is the sect of
the Sadducees), and they were filled with jealousy. (18)
They laid hands on the apostles and put them in a public jail. (19) But during the night an angel of the Lord
opened the gates of the prison, and taking them out he said, (20) "Go, stand and speak to the people in the
temple the whole message of this Life." (21)
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. (22) But the officers who came did
not find them in the prison; and they returned and reported back, (23) 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." (24) 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. (25) But someone
came and reported to them, "The men whom you put in prison are standing in
the temple and teaching the people!" (26)
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). (27) When they had brought them, they stood them
before the Council. The high priest questioned them, (28)
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." (29) But Peter and
the apostles answered, "We must obey God rather than men. (30) "The God of our fathers raised up Jesus,
whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a cross. (31)
"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. (32) "And we are witnesses of these things; and
so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has
given to those who obey Him." (33) But
when they heard this, they were cut to the quick and intended to kill them. (34) 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. (35)
And he said to them, "Men of Israel, take care what you propose to do with
these men. (36) "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. (37) "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. (38)
"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; (39) but if it is of God, you will not be able to
overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God." (40) 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. (41) 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. (42)
And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on
teaching and preaching Jesus as the
May I point out the key verse in this chapter which concerns
government: verse 28.
Perhaps it would help if we began with an explanation of the
players. There are two groups of people in the Jewish Council at this time:
The Pharisees, who are the right wing religious fundamentalists
of the day. They had a great deal to the interpretation of the Old Testament,
but they rigorously insist upon the authority of all that we would call today
the Old Testament.
The Sadducees might be considered the intellectual wing. They
accept as authoritative only the first five books of the Bible. They do not
believe in angels, nor do they believe in life after death. They certainly do
not accept the possibility of the resurrection.
It is important to note that the Sadducees are the ones who
are most directly concerned with silencing the apostles. Their motive is quite
clear (verse 17) — jealousy. They consider themselves to be the experts on
religion; they now are confronted with unlearned men who can heal the lame and
the sick in the name of this Jesus of Nazareth. Their complaint against the
apostles this time is clear:
First, they have already given orders to the apostles to shut up.
These people are used to being obeyed; they don't know what to do with polite
Second, the teaching is enormously popular. One reason for this
is simply that it's easier to understand than the complicated theories produced
by the Sadducees. Another great reason for it is that genuine forgiveness from
God is included.
The point that hits home the most is this: even the simplest
history of the crucifixion and resurrection makes it clear that the Sadducees
are the primary culprits in railroading Jesus of Nazareth to death on the
Cross. Nobody likes to feel guilty.
Of course, the apostles have a different view. While
recognizing the authority of this Council in most matters, they have a conflict
here which is irreconcilable. God has told them to preach the gospel; the
Council has told them to shut up. It is a direct contradiction; one aspect
comes from God; the apostles will obey God, not man. They will do this at
whatever price is required.
Filled Jerusalem with Your Teaching
The nature of the teaching of the apostles is fairly clear.
We may see their main points as follows:
They preach that Jesus of Nazareth was, is and always will be the
Messiah of the Jews, the Christ. This may seem obvious to us today, to the
point that it is no longer preached as being too familiar to mention. At this
time, however, this was news. It was good news, at that, and we sometimes
forget that that is what the word “gospel” means.
They preach the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. Please
note that there is absolutely no thought whatsoever of it being a
"spiritual resurrection." It is a physical resurrection; no other
possibility ever occurred to the eyewitnesses.
If the fact they preach is the resurrection, the doctrine that
goes with it is grace. The command is simply this: repent and be baptized for
the forgiveness of your sins.
Finally, they proclaim the fact that they are eyewitnesses to all
the facts they are teaching. It's personal.
Bring This Man's Blood
There is a specific question: just who is responsible for
the crucifixion of Jesus Christ? We are told that tour guides in Jerusalem,
prior to the Israelis taking the city in 1967, always told tourists that the
Jews were responsible. After the Israelis took over, they said the Romans were.
The Sadducees here are in no doubt; if the crucifixion was a horrible
miscarriage of justice, they are responsible for it. There is blame enough to
share among other groups, of course.
If you want the right answers, you have to ask the right
questions. We might better ask who is ultimately responsible for the
crucifixion. The answer, in general, is that we are. If mankind did not sin,
there would be no need for grace. If there was no need for grace, there would
have been no crucifixion. Even at 2000 years distance in time, we can still say
that it is our own fault. If you say that Christ died for your sins, you are
perforce saying that you helped cause the crucifixion. He took my place.
May we return to the question of government for a moment?
The fact of sin can be denied, but sin remains. We cannot avoid it. But we may
ask what responsibility the church has in dealing with sin in the society in
which it finds itself. I submit to you that the answer is different for the
apostles that it is for us. The apostles lived in a dictatorship, namely, the
Roman Empire. In their lifetimes the church was so infinitesimally small as to
have virtually no influence on such things as legislation or public morality.
Another 250 years would pass before they even began to have such influence. But
in our time the church is a large portion of our society — and we live in a
democracy. I submit to you that living in a democracy implies responsibility
for the citizen which does not exist in a dictatorship. At the very least, the
Christian citizen has the obligation to vote. We are citizens of the kingdom of
heaven; we are also citizens of our own nation. That citizenship implies
responsibility. It is a historical fact that the church has most commonly
spoken out on issues of sin and morality. Why?
Proverbs 14:34 NASB
Righteousness exalts a nation, But sin is a disgrace to any people.
If you love your country, you will want to see it do well,
not disgraced. This does not imply that we sit around with our mouths shut and
our fingers pinching our noses tightly closed.
Permit me to bring to you a definition of the word which has
fallen out of favor with preachers: Providence.
theology, the care and superintendence which God exercises over his creatures.
He that acknowledges a creation and denies a providence, involves himself in a
palpable contradiction; for the same power which caused a thing to exist is
necessary to continue its existence. Some persons admit a general
providence,but deny a particular providence, not considering that a general
providence consists of particulars. A belief in divine providence, is a source
of great consolation to good men. By divine providence is often understood God
The above was taken from the original Webster's dictionary,
published in 1828. The reader should note that in the earlier documents of the
American Republic the word "Providence" is often used as a substitute
for the word "God." An excellent example of this may be found in the
writings of George Washington. You should please note that the Providence of
God sometimes includes the miraculous, but most often does not. It often
appears to be simply a divine coincidence. The reader having difficulty with
the idea that God sustains his creation as well is having created it should
read the second chapter of Philippians.
This account contains three instances of God's Providence:
the release from prison, the attitude of the crowd and the words of Gamaliel.
Release from Prison
The release from prison may seem to you to be thunderously
miraculous — after all, God sends an angel to do the work. But please notice
that he does this in the middle of the night, without alarming the sentries (in
fact, they are completely ignorant of the departure). There is nothing triumphant
about it; it is not a display of God's power but of his care. As God told
Zechariah 4:6 NASB
Then he said to me, "This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel saying,
'Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,' says the LORD of hosts.
Note what this means: the fact that the angel has released
them from prison does not confer upon them any particular power. This is an
important aspect of God's Providence; if you receive his favor in this way, it
does not mean that you have been given some sort of spiritual gift. It means
that he has helped you.
Afraid of the People
One of the great inconsistencies in the early church history
is the attitude of people in the mob of the ordinary. Sometimes we find that
the mob is outraged by Christianity; sometimes, as here, the mob receives the
word with gladness — and protects those who are delivering it. There seems to
be no pattern to this, and it does not seem to be something over which the
early church had any great control.
Of course, when it comes to public relations, we should have
a good reputation. It's even more preferable to have a reputation which
honestly represents what we mean. I was once given three rules for handling any
public relations crisis:
it with class.
Notice that in these instructions there is no sense of
buying a reputation using the method of changing our moral values to match the
political correctness of the moment.
We must begin with a little bit of background history. In the
Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions Gamaliel is honored as
"Saint Gamaliel." Jewish tradition, as you might expect, does not
recognize any conversion on the part of Gamaliel. The evidence for this
conversion does not date to the first century; in Fact, the earliest evidence
is not for another couple hundred years. The proclamation of Gamaliel as a saint
did not occur until the ninth century. It appears rather unlikely that Gamaliel
was actually a Christian, or that he ever converted. But the reader should be
aware that this is proclaimed by the two largest portions of Christianity.
Sometimes you find God's Providence in the most unlikely
places — or unlikely things or unlikely people. That's a characteristic of
God's Providence: it defies human expectations. The apostles did not think they
were going to get sprung from jail by means of an angel. They certainly weren't
expecting a Jewish Pharisee to speak up for them.
God's Providence is directly related to God's sovereignty.
As far as we know, Gamaliel was a man who attempted to please God with his
conduct. You can see from his remarks that his concern is not for appearances,
or to soothe the jealousy of the Sadducees, but rather to do what God wants him
to do. Such a man may be used as the instrument of God's Providence, without
his own knowledge of it. Similarly, if you are surrendered to God and willing
to do his will, you may be a divine Providence for someone else without knowing
Peter might well have ask at this point: "if God is
favoring me with his divine Providence, why did I get flogged? Why am I
suffering?" It's a good question. We often have the idea that if we are on
the side of the Almighty, the trip should be a smooth one. Peter learned
1 Peter 4:12-17 NASB
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon
you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; (13) but to the degree that you share the sufferings
of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you
may rejoice with exultation. (14) If you are
reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory
and of God rests on you. (15) Make sure that
none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome
meddler; (16) but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be
ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name. (17)
For it is time for judgment to begin
with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the
gospel of God?
It appears, therefore, that suffering is a normal part of
the life of a true Christian. Indeed, as one author put it, if you don't have a
thorn in your flesh and suffering in your life – at least eventually – then you
ought to question whether or not you're really a Christian. So why then does
God give us suffering as well as Providence?
Suffering Keeps Us Humble
My daughter, who writes science fiction with a lot of
superheroes in it, pointed out something to me. At least in the early days of
the comics, whenever Superman walked alongside Batman, Superman floated a few
inches off the ground. Batman walked like the rest of us. Sore feet remind you
that you are human. Similarly, suffering reminds you that you are not perfect;
you are a sinner. Which is a reminder also that you need to do something about
Humility seems to have very little to recommend it. Our society
takes great pride in being proud; arrogance is proclaimed to our children to be
a virtue, particularly in athletic competition. But have you ever noticed that
humility carries with it a certain attractiveness? You might admire a man who
is a strutting, arrogant athlete — but you probably wouldn't enjoy his company
very long. In fact, you'd think he was a jerk. You'd much rather talk with
someone who's genuinely interested in you. Such a person has humility. We might
not want to have it ourselves, but we cherish it in others.
Suffering Keeps Us Dependent on God
Some things are only taught by experience.
By suffering God gives us the grace of perseverance.
Suffering also teaches us that God's strength is best shown in
Suffering prepares us for future work — a process
which is often referred to in the Scripture as "perfecting."
Think about it: when you seek someone with whom to share
your troubles, or someone to pray with you in your difficulties, don't you look
for someone who has had the same kind of problems that you have? If you want to
be that person, you have to have those problems.
Worthy to Suffer for the Name
It is quite the case that God's Providence will be available
for God's purposes. It logically follows that God's Providence will be opposed
by Satan's efforts. If you are the beneficiary of God's Providence, then it is
highly likely you will be the beneficiary of Satan's opposition. In a sense, it
means that Satan thinks that you are a worthy opponent — at least, worthy of a
little aggravation. When that happens (notice that I did not say
"if") you should rejoice – you have been honored.
It means more than that. If you are standing firm in the
faith, despite the suffering you are having, that's a very good sign of your
It also means that Satan is trying to shake you out of it. Greater faith often
means a rockier road.
Always remember that God is just. If you suffer for him, he
will reward you for that — if you will be faithful about it. The author of
Hebrews puts it this way:
Hebrews 10:32-39 NASB
But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a
great conflict of sufferings, (33) partly by
being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly
by becoming sharers with those who were so treated. (34)
For you showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted joyfully the seizure of
your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and a
lasting one. (35) Therefore, do not throw
away your confidence, which has a great reward. (36)
For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you
may receive what was promised. (37) FOR YET
IN A VERY LITTLE WHILE, HE WHO IS COMING WILL COME, AND WILL NOT DELAY. (38) BUT MY RIGHTEOUS ONE SHALL LIVE BY FAITH; AND
IF HE SHRINKS BACK, MY SOUL HAS NO PLEASURE IN HIM. (39)
But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have
faith to the preserving of the soul.
The difference between courage and cowardice is often simply
five more minutes of endurance. Take courage; endure the suffering put before
you. God will never put you through something which will completely overwhelm
you, if you lean on him. Remember, at the end, the reward is great. If we
suffer with him, we shall reign with him.