Perseverance Under Persecution
Persevering under Persecution
Read Acts 5:17-42
Last week we ended looking at
- Persecution (vs. 17-23)
- Confusion (vs. 24-28)
- Peter’s Proposition (vs. 29-32)
- Consultation with Gamaliel (vs. 33-39)
- Exultation (vs. 40-42)
We looked last week at the characteristics of the early church and their fresh zeal, diversity yet unity, their generosity and yet the serious judgement of God on Ananias and Sapphira and adding of yet more people into the kingdom. Many were coming to faith in Christ as they heard the Gospel, repented and placed their faith in Jesus. So, while we got a look at what the Holy Spirit was accomplishing in their midst Luke the author of Acts pulls us back here in verse 17 telling us “But the high priest rose up, and all who were with him (that is, the party of the Sadducees), and filled with jealousy they arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison.” Did you notice that? Jealousy? Really? Oh how we must see what is at stake here! Before we dismiss ourselves thinking that we would be the ones to gladly be persecuted for our faith, notice that Christ through His Holy Spirit challenges any power that would raise itself against His rule and reign. Do you think you call the shots in your life? Last time I reflected on this year I noticed I have no control what-so-ever on the events of life. 🙂 Could it be that we get jealous of the Lord and His glory? Could it be we are jealous when He uses others in better ways than us? Ways that may get more spotlight than us? The Sadducees and religious leaders were jealous of the people’s attention, God’s glory, and the growing popularity of the Apostles. Can we learn to humbly accept that Jesus is enough and that our soul can be complete only in Him? So this jealousy lands the apostles in prison.
Vs.19 “But” God has different plans. He employs some amazing locksmiths. This locksmith, an angel also is a messenger and in verse 20 he says, “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life.”
Nothing like a little encouragement from an angel! Such practical advice as well! When things go well, preach! When things go bad, preach! When you are locked up for preaching, preach! When you get out of jail via an angel, preach! God chose to communicate this supernatural message through human mouths! He exemplified this in sending His own Son! His message from heaven is, “keep going!” no where in scripture does it tells us to throw in the towel when things get tough. Sure, we need encouragement sometimes but we are to keep on task!
Vs. 21 – what do they do? They go to the temple and began to teach. They probably would have begun in the wee hours of the morning but no one was up yet! In fact the high priest wasn’t up yet. He didn’t need to get up early and have a devotional time because he knew it all and so he probably had his morning cup of joe and gets in the text tells us secord part of verse 21, “Now
when the high priest came, and those who were with him,
they called together the council, all the senate of the people of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought. “
See what he is doing? Getting the group together and getting everything straight and then he is going to call them in and to put them on trial once again.
Vs. 22 “But” notice verse 17 “But” verse 19 “but” and now verse 22 “But” it is back and forth….. The high priest acts, God acts by sending an angel, the high priest acts, but the apostles are not where they are supposed to be…..well they are where God wants them to be but not where the high priest thinks they should be. In Prison. But, they are not there. The officers went to get them and they are not there. The guards were posted, doors locked, but no apostles. This is the proof text for hide and go seek by the way…… this wasn’t funny though…. At least for the guards…. This happens a bunch in acts and the first few years of the church it was just a bad time to be a guard or prison warden. Usually punishable by death….at least the Romans had that rule.
So, this persecution of the apostles has led to confusion on the part of the religious leaders.
Confusion (vs. 24-28)
“Now when the captain of the temple and the chief priests heard these words, They were greatly perplexed about them, wondering what this would come to.”
Confusion of course is not from the Lord, they are confused due to their own error. This should encourage us as God is always bringing order out of the chaos and bringing peace and understanding in their time.
Vs. 25 – so right when they are aware of having no leads as to the apostles whereabouts, an informant walks in who has seen them in the temple teaching. Notice here in verse 25 it says “look!” as a matter of explanation. The wonder that not only were they not in prison but they are continuing the very thing they had been arrested for! See, after you get out of jail nothing changes! You go right back to your old ways… 🙂
So, what is their response? Vs. 26 they go and get them! But notice it is not by force…….why? Because they were afraid of the people……
Are you seeing the lineup of characteristics of those who are wrestling against the Lord? Jealousy, confusion, fear…. And that, fear of being stoned! There is a sense that they know they are guilty.
Vs. 27 they set them down before the council and question them about why they continue to preach in Jesus’ name and bring His blood on their hands. His blood is indeed on the sinners hands.
It is on us as well. We have sinned! Don’t you understand that if you do not understand your sin before a righteous and holy God and that you, yes you and I were the reason Christ went to calvary we do not understand the gospel of Jesus. But remember He did not just die! He rose again and ascended to heaven and sat down at the Father’s right hand sending the Holy Spirit as a guarantee of our inheritance! As the angel told the apostles to do, go and share the Words of this life. It is life! There is no life apart from Him. Do you have life today? True life from above? You can have it if the Father has drawn you to Himself, you have heard this great news of His death on your behalf and because of His power rising from the dead you too can have life abundantly if you repent of your sin and follow Christ in faith. There is no greater joy than to hear of more placing their faith in Christ. We see that here in this text and we long to see it in our lives. So this confusion of the religious leaders lead to a proposition by Peter.
Peter’s Proposition (vs. 29-32)
After being told not to preach or teach in this name, Peter has a proposition. How about we obey God? Vs. 29 and then in verse 30 he reminds them again that God raised Jesus from the dead and yes, they are guilty of putting Jesus to death.
“God exalted Him at His right hand and made Him leader and Savior to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.”
Remember follow the Leader as kids? Oh how we forget! The leader is the leader. These “leaders” thought they were the leader, but no, Christ is the Supreme Leader. The issue is whether we are submitting to Him! Christ came to deliver that Jew first. However the glories of the Gospel reveal that God extends His grace to all peoples. He is redeeming a people from every tribe, tongue, and nation.
Vs. 32 Peter finishes his statement by saying that the apostles are His witnesses and that is not all, the Holy Spirit is witness. Isn’t this awesome? God is witness to Himself that the Gospel is true! There is no way these leaders can find fault with the apostles except for the fact that they won’t blindly obey their rule apart from God. So, how do they respond to this proposition of Peter’s?
Vs. 33 They got really mad and wanted to kill them…… I think this is a good illustration of where Jesus taught them that murder begins in the heart…..
So this proposition of the apostles leads to a consultation with an earthly wise Pharisee named Gamaliel. This guy is not a nobody in the sense that this is the PHD of Jewish Law. He also instructed Paul in his religious education…..of course Jesus ultimately finished that education……He always finishes our education!
Some say that Gamaliel was secretly a believer but we do not have evidence of that here from the text. I like what Dr. Alexander Whyte says that Gamaliel was
“a liberal long before his time. He was all for toleration, and for a free church in a free state, in an intolerant and persecuting day.”
Consultation with Gamaliel (vs. 33-39)
So what does he say?
- Put them outside (vs. 34)
- Warns them concerning killing them (vs. 35)
- Theudas – Which means “false teacher”. This was probably a nickname given to him and some scholars believe this to be a rebellious servant of Herod who proclaimed himself king and burned Herod’s palaces. He must have made at least a little stir since he had a following of 400.
(which is interesting given the fact that that the church now is in the thousands…… seems to be a bad comparison on part of the Sanhedrin, but Gamaliel seems to get through to them. He uses a second example.
- Judas the Galilean
- Let the apostles and church go – if it is of man, it will fail. If of God, far be it that you will fight against the LORD. That is a wise statement no matter how you cut it. So at very least Gamaliel is leaving the possibility in his reasoning of this being from God. But like any of us, reasoning is not enough. As Pastor Luke has said many times, “it is not just what you say you believe, but how you live out what you believe that shows the true content of your faith.”
So, they took his advice.
So, this consultation leads to exultation on part of the apostles.
Exultation (vs. 40-42)
Vs. 40 the leaders were still angry so they still needed to let out some physical aggression so they beat them and let them go, cuz that is what tough guys do, and then notice what they say once again, “they charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus.” That was the only thing…. They are fine with everything just not this speaking of Jesus or His gospel……sound familiar?
So, they let them go (end of vs. 40) and then they left the council (41) they rejoiced! Why, they were counted worthy to suffer! Do we respond like this to suffering or persecution? Notice verse 42, everyday they continued in disobedience to the religious leaders preaching and teaching in Jesus’ name. Of course obeying the call of God in Christ to preach the Word.
So, while we may not face direct persecution……my question is why not. This leads me to three points of application:
- Are we sharing the Gospel? Are we being faithful here? How do you expect God to give boldness unless you open your mouth……you will find God faithful here.
- Are you truly obeying God rather than man? Do you take your orders from mere human mouths? Can everything you do be explained in fulfillment to your plans or job description at work? Or, can it be seen that you take your instruction from the Lord primarily which influences your choices in business, family, and in fact every decision, that you are living for His glory and not your own.
- Regardless of persecution in our lives, are we rejoicing to be counted with His people? Before persecution can ever be endured, it needs to obviously come into our lives, and it comes into our lives through faithful proclamation of the gospel, through our identification with Jesus and His people. So while I would love to sit here and try to encourage us amidst persecution, the fact is many of us have elementary steps to take. Our view of God’s people is anemic, our identity as a believer is sometimes wanting and our proclamation is sometimes nonexistent. So, may the Lord use this to call us to repentance in a multiplicity of ways. And may we be found worthy if its is God’s will to suffer dishonor for His name.
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