Sermon for Sunday Evening, February 27th, 2022 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)
[Act 5:12-42 ESV] 12 Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico. 13 None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem. 14 And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, 15 so that they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them. 16 The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed. 17 But the high priest rose up, and all who were with him (that is, the party of the Sadducees), and filled with jealousy 18 they arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison. 19 But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, 20 “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life.” 21 And when they heard this, they entered the temple at daybreak and began to teach. 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. 22 But when the officers came, they did not find them in the prison, so they returned and reported, 23 “We found the prison securely locked and the guards standing at the doors, but when we opened them we found no one inside.” 24 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. 25 And someone came and told them, “Look! The men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people.” 26 Then the captain with the officers went and brought them, but not by force, for they were afraid of being stoned by the people. 27 And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, 28 saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you 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 Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. 31 God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.” 33 When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. 34 But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in honor by all the people, stood up and gave orders to put the men outside for a little while. 35 And he said to them, “Men of Israel, take care what you are about to do with these men. 36 For before these days Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. 37 After him Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him. He too perished, and all who followed him were scattered. 38 So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; 39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” So they took his advice, 40 and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 41 Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. 42 And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.
Much of the book of Act so far has seen the contest between the apostles and the Jewish religious leaders. And that theme continues in our text today as the High Priest and the Sadducees supporting him arrested the Apostles and put them in prison.
Escaping from prisons seems to be something of a speciality for the apostles. In this account in Acts we are not told which apostles are put into prison, but Peter has been mentioned twice with signs that he is among the leaders of the group. This isn’t Papal Primacy of course, that false doctrine developed centuries later. But we do find the sick hoping that the shadow of Peter might fall on them. And we find that Peter is the spokesperson for the apostles in answering the High Priest saying “We must obey God rather than men.”
Well, these apostles are freed from prison when during the night an angel of he Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out.
The other prison break is later in the book of Acts (chapter 16) when an earthquake shakes the very foundation of the prison where Paul and Silas were bound with chains. And this not only opened the doors of the prison but somewhere removed their chains as well.
We see in each of these cases that God is in control. He lets his Apostle’s be put into prison, and He takes them out again.
And in each case their release is the for the purpose of preaching the Gospel. When Paul and Silas are set free the jailer immediately as them, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” and they answered “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”
In our text for today the Apostles are freed and given directions from an angel to “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life.” That “Life” with a capital L. They are not just to talk about the daily affairs—the news—but of the Life that comes from Jesus Christ—the good news!
I. God’s Wisdom far above Man’s Wisdom
For this preaching they are challenged by the high priest who said, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and intend to bring this man’s blood on us.”
But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.”
And of all the phrases in the Scriptures perhaps none is more pressing on us in our age. “We must obey God rather than men.”
What is the church to do if the government says “no attendance” or “no singing?” Remember that?
What is the church to do if the government, like in Finland, says “no ‘conversion therapy’” or if they say the Bible is “hate speech?”
What are we to do in our lives when the world and the people around us pressure us to do sinful things?
The answer in all of these and many more is “We must obey God rather than men.”
But I do not want to focus on the politics of our time. I want to focus rather on the superlative wisdom of God.
We are to obey God rather than men BECAUSE God is wiser than men. And this is not merely a difference in degree. God is not twice as wise as men, but infinitely more wise. Wisdom is one of His attributes. His very nature defines what wisdom is. God is a spirit, infinite, eternal and unchangeable in his being, WISDOM, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.
While man might occasionally have a good idea or be right about something, God always is.
So it is very dangerous to follow man, and very safe to follow God.
The gambler get’s “lucky” on occasion. He may even string together a few “wins.” But following that path inevitably leads to a loss. The casinos are not in business to lose money. Few, if any, have ever been wise enough to beat the odds. The true winners are those who do not play.
But following God is always the safe bet, and the good bet. He does not change, there is no loss. Every moment that we pray, every moment that we sing to God, every moment that we read his word is of benefit and value to us. There is not the ups and downs of the gambler, but the everlasting peace of God.
And the Apostles, obeying God, were to tell of the message of the Gospel.
“The God of our father raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”
Against all threat of prison and even stoning, the Apostles preach the good news that salvation is of the Lord. Yes, He the Lord gives repentance and forgiveness. And this is so crucial to understand. God’s forgiveness is not dependent upon our repentance, but rather God gives us both forgiveness and the spirit of repentance, to all who believe, all those, as the text says, whom God has given the Holy Spirit to obey God.
The wisdom of God is foolishness to men.
The Gospel enraged the High Priest and the Sadducees. They may be angry in part because Peter said that Jesus who was killed is not alive, and the Sadducees didn’t believe in the resurrection of the dead.
But they are also angry because they are afraid that the preaching of the Gospel will bring blood upon them. This Gospel is overturning the nation. It may even result in a revolution, and if that happens, the Romans will come and kills us all.
The religious leaders liked their cushy lives and did not want to make any changes that might impact their lifestyle or even bring about their death.
But the Apostles stood on greater principle. They were willing to stand for the truth against all threat of death because they knew that Christ promised eternal life.
The wisdom of God has made the religious leaders to be fools in their rejecting of the offer of the Gospel.
And the Apostles are willing to be seen as fools for Christ’s sake, following the wisdom of God.
II. The wisdom of Gamaliel?
But what are we to do with this statement of Gamaliel. He was the teacher of Paul and a Pharisee, not a Sadducee like the High Priest.
And he steps in to the debate and says:
“Men of Israel, take care what you are about to do with these men. 36 For before these days Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. 37 After him Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him. He too perished, and all who followed him were scattered. 38 So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; 39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!”
Is this man wise? Is this man a follower of God?
Much of what we see in Gamaliel is tolerance.
“Gamaliel’s tolerance makes senses from a Pharisaic perspective. Whereas the Sadducees, who held most of the political power, were sensitive to political threats, the Pharisees would likely object to executing those who kept the law.” (Keener, p. 1224)
Gamaliel speaks about failed revolutionary movements of the then recent past. But there is a big different with the Christian movement. It is not fighting with the sword but with the word. The word of God.
IF it is of God? IF! What would it take for you to believe it is of God. They will not be convinced even if someone should rise from the dead! There were “many infallible proofs” that the Scriptures had foretold the death and resurrection of Christ, and it had happened in their midst, and the disciples were performing miracles, and the Jewish religious leaders didn’t know what had caused these miracles. The were oblivious to the realities occurring around them.
It is like the story I read this week, or a young man in Ukraine writing online “why is there all this noise outside, I want to sleep.” And the commenters in response said, “Dude, Russia is invading!” How can you sleep through an invasion! This is War.
And how can the religious leaders, even Gamaliel, say “IF” when they should be saying “HE IS RISEN!”
This is of God.
If this is not of God, what could be?!
Why the wait and see attitude, when they have already seen?
Gamaliel, the religious leader, who is supposed to know the Scriptures, but misses their focus on Jesus. He is indeed a fool.
Imagine a firefighter saying what Gamaliel says. Let’s wait a see if the fire grows. Imagine a cancer patient saying what Gamaliel says. The danger is upon them now. And the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.
What can we conclude but that Gamaliel lacks wisdom. It may sounds wise, or have some truth in it, but it is total foolishness in his unwillingness to admit the truth, that Jesus is Lord.
The lesson for us, is that you cannot be noncommittal on Jesus Christ. A decision must be made. Fence-sitters are against God. Agnostics do not worship the Lord. The agnostic claims to be neutral, but does he then come to church every other Sunday, or do his actions not prove that the agnostic is always guided by his own wisdom and worshipping his own devices.
All that are not Godly are ungodly. The idea that one be neutral is false.
Indeed Gamaliel is not wise. There is no wisdom that is opposed to Christ. And if not even the “Great” Gamaliel is wise, then no one is wise. We must rely not on the wisdom of man, but the wisdom of God, Jesus Christ our savior.
If you are relying on your own wisdom, I am here to tell you “rely on Christ.” Lay your burdens upon him. Trust in the Lord. Seek His will. Save yourself from the wrath to come. For in the wisdom of God this gospel message, of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, is the message for all to hear, that you may come to the Lord, your creator and worship him and enjoy him forever.
After the apostles were physically beaten by the Sadducees, yet …
“they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. 42 And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.”
It is always dangerous to stand up for the truth.
The world doesn’t like truth.
It likes power. It likes control. It likes lies.
Being a Christian you will suffer. You will struggle. You will lose friends, be unpopular in the world with their opinions.
But as Christians you will rejoice.
For who can rejoice while knowing in their heart that they have lied? The unbeliever is in a miserable state, suppressing the truth of God, living for nothing but themselves. Even upset at the Christian for claiming that there is truth!
It used to be that people argued against Christianity in favor of some other truth claim. Modernism.
Then they argued against Christianity in favor of their being no truth. Post-modernism.
In recent years the same people (and many of them are identically the same people) claim that truth is merely based on power, thus they have returned to the barbarism of physical violence to argue their point. Where they have failed to convince rationally, they attempt to convince physically. And this is always bound to fail. For truth is not pounded into us, but accepted by a heart renewed by Christ, so that we love the truth, so that we love the Lord, and in all times and places always rejoice.
Rejoice, Rejoice, Immanuel, and ransom Captive Israel.