We live in a world of great struggle and violence. We have a president who spends a lot of time trying to justify those who commit those violences, calling them refugees, while at the same time, professing Christians die by the thousands because of their religion.
Jews are receiving more anti-Semitism all the time as they go through their lives. Some Jews and seventh day Sabbath keepers are migrating out of Europe because of persecution. We are seeing this increase in the world constantly. God’s church has been protected so far, but God will eventually allow some of that to come our way as well.
Has God designed His church to struggle? Why does He allow people to dishonor His church? Why do we suffer such disgrace for Christ’s name? Members of God’s church have had to deal with these questions since Jesus Christ established the church. You and I are dealing with this reality still today, as we see in the news increasing persecution.
In the book of Acts we see that Luke has a pattern to his writings. His plan is simple: he alternates firstly between a picture of the church by itself (which is a portrait of the members alone in their fellowship), and secondly about the church as it exists in its relationship to the world.
In the first picture Luke talks about the church’s life, witness, and joy. The second portrait increasingly deals with persecution. Here is how this pattern has unfolded up to and including the Acts 5.
In Acts 1, we see the church alone, the brethren are gathered together after the return of Jesus Christ in heaven, conducting their own activities. They elect an apostle to replace Judas.
In Acts 2, after the Holy Spirit was given at Pentecost, we see the church with the world. On this occasion Peter preached the first church sermon and many people believed and were added to the church.
Then beginning in Acts 2:42, Luke goes back to his portrait of the church by itself. He describes the church and they continue steadfastly in the apostle’s doctrine and fellowship of the breaking of bread and prayers.
Then in Acts 3 and Acts 4:1-22, we see the church in relationship to the world again. Before this the church had been with the world in a witnessing situation only. This time Luke brings in the matter of opposition and persecution.
Beginning here in Acts 4:23-31, Luke shows the church alone again and he gives us a peek into one of their early worship services and a similar description of the church as is found at the end of chapter 2.
Then in Acts 5, it continues the portrait but now there are divisions in the church, hypocrisy, and judgment. The judgment toward Ananias and Sapphira is important because it is only out of this judgment that we have the renewed picture of blessing in the church.
This alternating pattern alerts us to two important realities for the church. On the one hand, sometimes you have a church that goes so much over to the side of its own fellowship and the joy and wonder of its gathering together that it loses sight of the fact that it is called to be a witness to the world. The world tends to be forgotten.
On the other hand, the church sometimes goes the other way and the brethren are in the world all the time doing good works, but without the essential spiritual foundation that comes from the unity, worship, and prayers, in spirit and in truth. Luke is teaching that both intimate fellowship and good works are necessary.
If we have service without inner strength then the service becomes superficial and essentially no different from the kind of social work the world does. We see this happening to most of the mainstream churches out there where they are so focused on doing good deeds in the world that they neglect the doctrine of God’s church. On the other hand, if we focus on our fellowship and forget our responsibility, the church may become somewhat self-centered. The two have to go together, there has to be balance.
In Acts 5, we read that Satan is still attacking the believers and as he does he uses a dual plan: deception from within and persecution from without. Satan is a liar and a murderer and we see him operating in both spheres here.
Opposition from within the church begins in Acts 5:1-16. Here we see Satan operating as the serpent, using believers within the assembly to hinder the work of God.
In Acts 5:1-2, we see the flagrant deception. Ananias and Sapphira wanted to gain the reputation for being more spiritual than they actually were. When the others brought their donations, these two were jealous and wanted to have the same recognition.
Now, remember their sin was not stealing money from God, because Peter stated in verse 4 that it was in their power to use the money as they wished. Their sin was hypocrisy, deceit in trying to appear more spiritual than they really were.
In Acts 5:3-4, we see the inevitable discovery. Peter was a man of spirit-given discernment and here we see him exercising the binding and loosing power given to him by Jesus Christ. Sin is always discovered in one way or another. It always comes out, there is no hiding it.
Ananias and Sapphira had not mentioned anything openly but the terrible sin was in their hearts. They had lied to God, who was graciously working through His Spirit in the hearts of the believers, leading them to sell their belongings and share with others.
When we get to Acts 5:5-11, we see their deaths. This was not a case of church discipline, since God dealt with the sinners directly. The two deaths illustrate the kind of judgment Christ will exercise when He returns. It will be both decisive and just.
Now unlike local church discipline, where the pastor and church investigate a matter and give opportunity for forgiveness and repentance, this was a definite case of divine judgment.
Now it is interesting to compare Acts 5 to Joshua 7, where the covetous Achan tried to hide sin from God and was killed. Great fear fell on the church as the people saw the hand of God at work with Ananias and Sapphira.
We see the testimony in Acts 5:12-16, the assembly was now unified and magnified and it therefore multiplied. This will always happen when an assembly is purged of sin. So Satan works inside the church and tries to divide it, disgrace it, and destroy it.
A local church must have standards and must be guided by God’s will and not man’s. Peter is shown to be the key man at this period of church history. God even used Peter’s shadow to bring healing.
Now in Acts 20, Satan still opposes the work of the church from within and Paul warned the elders that wolves would come in from the outside to attack the flock, but also that men would rise from amongst themselves to harm the church. Even to this day we see that happen.
Acts 20:29-32 “For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears. So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.”
That is what we are trying to do as ministers, warn you about these things and ask you to watch out for them. The greatest danger the church faces today, in this context, is not so much opposition from without, but deception from within.
Today I want to talk about the second greatest danger, opposition from without. Opposition from outside the church begins in Acts 5:17 and continues down through verse 42. This is what we will be concentrating on in this sermon.
In Acts 5:17, the Jewish leaders, spurred on by the disbelieving Sadducees, were filled with jealousy and indignation at the success and popularity of the apostles. This time all the apostles were probably put into prison and most likely in public prison and not in a special ward. An angel of the Lord delivered them and thus God graciously gave the nation another opportunity to hear the message of salvation.
The men went straight to the Temple, because this is where they would find the people who needed their message. Imagine the surprise of the leaders when they discovered the prisoners gone. Now keep in mind that deliverance is not always God's plan. He allowed Peter to be delivered, but James to be slain, because each event worked out for His glory.
Matthew 27:25 And all the people answered and said, “His blood be on us and on our children.”
Israel will not be cleansed until she sees her Messiah and is purged from her sin.
Peter and the apostles would not give in. In Acts 5:31, they announce that God would save Israel if the leaders repented, and if the leaders would turn from their sin the people would follow this example. The word, like the sword, cut the rulers to the heart and they wanted to murder the apostles, just as they murdered Jesus.
Gamaliel then gave his advice to the councils to stay neutral and find out if God was in this movement or not. This appeared to be wise counsel, but actually it was not, because no one can be neutral about Christ. To delay making a decision is to court disaster. God had given every evidence through signs and miracles that He was at work and there was no reason to put off a decision.
It is interesting to note the Gamaliel was a Pharisee and not a part of the Sadducee group that led the arrest of the apostles. He is also the great Jewish Rabbi, also called Rabbin, which is the highest honor for a teacher or someone of respect. He taught the apostle Paul and ultimately his pupil, Paul, made a better decision than he did.
The apostles were beaten and released and went away in joy, not defeated. They counted it a privilege to suffer for Christ. They were strengthened so that the ministry of the church continued daily in public and in private homes, preaching the gospel and teaching God's way of life.
Acts 5:12-42 contains two main sections: 1) a look at the church in the process of re-establishing itself after the fiasco of Ananias and Sapphira; and 2) a long section in which the apostles are once again arrested, testified to the Sanhedrin, and are physically assaulted.
Now the brethren had gone through a very difficult experience as a result of God’s judgment upon Ananias and Sapphira, and they had been shaken by that judgment. In verse 11, Luke says:
Acts 5:11 So great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things.
Try to imagine if something like that happened here and we were just frozen with fear. The brethren may have wondered if they had lost the blessing of God permanently or at least for a while. Harmony was broken, trust was destroyed, and they probably wondered if they would ever find those great moments of blessing again.
Luke reports that they did. In fact, after this period God did even more wonders among them then He had previously done. So when God does something so dramatic and so earthshaking and frightening, He comes back with great blessing to show that He is behind what happened. We see that many times in our own lives as we go through trials and come out of them.
There had been miracles earlier, the miracle of the healing of the lame man that lead to Peters sermon in the temple area, for instance. Now we will read Acts 5:12-15 here. The caption here is “continuing power in the church”
Acts 5:12-15 And through the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were done among the people. And they were all with one accord in Solomon’s Porch. Yet none of the rest dared join them [talking about the people who had heard the message], but the people esteemed them highly. And believers were increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women,so that they brought the sick out into the streets and laid them on beds and couches, that at least the shadow of Peter passing by might fall on some of them.
So we see that more and more men and women believed in the Lord and their numbers increased. So not only were miracles being done, but also the gospel was being preached and it was being preached with such force that people were actually responding to it in large numbers. Of course the inspiration comes from God and He was the one who gave the power to the messages to have effect.
Acts 5:16 Also a multitude gathered from the surrounding cities to Jerusalem, bringing sick people and those who were tormented by unclean spirits, and they were all healed.
It does not say some of them, it says all of them were healed. How encouraging that would be to see today.
A new and important thing we are told is that the gospel is beginning to spread beyond Jerusalem at this time. This is the first time in Acts that there has been any mention of any area beyond Jerusalem. Now it is recorded in Acts 1 that Jesus had said:
Acts 1:8 “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
Now at this time in Acts, this was beginning to happen. Up to this point the disciples had been witnessing in Jerusalem only, but now the gospel was spreading into Judea, the little towns around Jerusalem, and the tribal territory of Judah.
The second section, Acts 5:12-42, shows that the blessing described in verses 12-16 was accompanied by a time of renewed persecution. It begins as Acts 4 did, with the frustration of the Jewish leaders. Christianity was beginning to spread and thousands were responding to the gospel. We will continue here and read verses 17-21.
Acts 5:17-21 Then the high priest rose up, and all those who were with him (which is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with indignation, and laid their hands on the apostles and put them in the common prison. But at night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, “Go, stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this life.” [It is a way of life, it is not just isolated doctrine. They were told to go preach this way of life.] And when they heard that, they entered the temple early in the morning and taught. But the high priest and those with him came and called the council together, with all the elders of the children of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought. [They thought they were still in the prison.]
Those who were in charge of the religious and political life of the nation were greatly distressed at what was going on in the city. They were afraid that it would disrupt the stable social order that they were enjoying and their place in it.
There are three main things that bothered the Jewish leaders that are worth taking note of. The first thing was the name of Jesus. That really got under their skin. The leaders were bothered that the preaching of the apostles and the miracles being performed were in the name of Jesus of Nazareth, whom they had crucified. The way they speak of “that name” again and again shows how disturbed they were by it.
From their point of view, Jesus was only an upstart teacher and He had come from who knows where and had taken it upon himself to be a rabbi. That was the worldly perspective. It is true that He did it powerfully and convincingly so that he gained a large following, but if He was not who He claimed to be, they were not ready to bow to that claim. Jesus of Nazareth, in their minds, was a false prophet and a blasphemer.
Now He revealed that He was God and He did not state His claim too openly because if He had, they could have summoned witnesses, convicted Him of blasphemy, and gotten rid of Him too early in God’s plan. In the end they did get rid of Him, as we know. They had destroyed Him, but that name—Jesus Christ—that they did not want to utter out of their own mouths, was still being proclaimed before the people.
The second thing that bothered them was the resurrection. The leaders were also frustrated by the fact that the preaching of Jesus involved the resurrection. Luke notes, at this point in verse 17, that the high priest and all his associates were members of the party of the Sadducees. The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection.
It would be bad enough to be a Pharisee to condemn Jesus and then to have it preached in Jerusalem that God raised Him from the dead. The Pharisees were partly responsible for Jesus’ execution, yet they at least believed in the resurrection. How much worse for the Sadducees? They did not believe in the resurrection and for them, the preaching of Christ was an attack on their knowledge of the Scriptures and their theological position.
Furthermore, the resurrection, if it was true in their minds, was proof of Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah and this was an extremely dangerous possibility for those in their position. In fact, for them, it was an intolerable assertion and they could not let it stand in their minds.
The third thing that bothered the Jewish leaders was their own jealously. They opposed Jesus on the basis of His being a false prophet and that was bad enough, but what Luke tells us here is that the leaders were not really dealing with the claims of the apostles on a genuine level, they were being dishonest and deceitful.
There was something behind their opposition. Jealousy had been festering within them. Jealously of whom? Were they jealous of Jesus, who was dead? Where they jealous of the apostles, these whom they observed had no education? The answer is probably yes to both. It is amazing that they were still jealous of what they thought was a dead man.
They were jealous of Jesus because it was His name rather than theirs that was being proclaimed. They were also jealous of the apostles, because they were preaching powerfully and doing miracles and because people were following them and not the Jewish leaders.
The religious leaders wanted both of these things, they wanted to be well known, to have a name among the people, and they wanted people to follow them—both of which they had fierce competition for.
Many people today, even many ministers, want to be well known and have a following for the wrong reason. Much of the evil in the world happens as a result of this type of jealously. It is seldom given that name of course, but still when attacks are made on those who are being used by God, it is usually jealously that lies behind it. People resent the fact that someone else is getting the attention.
Acts 5:22-28 But when the officers came and did not find them [that is the apostles] in the prison, they returned and reported, saying, “Indeed we found the prison shut securely, and the guards standing outside before the doors; but when we opened them, we found no one inside!” Now when the high priest, the captain of the temple, and the chief priests heard these things, they wondered what the outcome would be. So one came and told them, saying, “Look, the men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people!” Then the captain went with the officers and brought them without violence, for they feared the people, lest they should be stoned. And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest asked them, saying, “Did we not strictly command you not to teach in this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this Man’s blood on us!”
The Jewish council just would not let up, they put the apostles on trial again, this time all of them. The high priest and his associates had three reasons for arresting the apostles. To begin with, Peter and John had not obeyed the official orders to stop preaching in the name of Jesus Christ. They were guilty of defying the law of the nation. Second, the witness of the church was refuting the doctrines held by the Sadducees giving every evidence that Jesus Christ was alive. Then third, the religious leaders were filled with envy and indignation at the great success of these untrained and unauthorized men.
The traditions of the fathers had not attracted that much attention or gained that many followers in such a short time. It is amazing how much envy that can be hidden under the disguise of defending the faith, which is actually what the Pharisees and Sadducees were doing. In their minds, in their perversions of what was going on, they believed that they were defending the faith, the traditions of the Jews; the man-made traditions.
The apostles did not resist arrest or organize a public protest, they quietly went along with the Temple guard and actually spent a few hours in the public jail. But during the night, as I mentioned, an angel set them free and told them to return to witnessing in the Temple. The Sadducees, of course, did not believe in angels so they did not believe it could be a miracle.
In the book of Acts you will find several instances of angelic ministries as God cared for His people. The agents and servants who minister to us as we serve Christ.
Hebrews 1:13-14 But to which of the angels has He ever said: “Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool”? Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation?
So we do not know how many angels we have around us at all times, but how safe do we feel with all these angels and Jesus Christ overseeing them, pretty safe I would say. It is always good to keep that in mind.
As in Peter's later deliverance, found in Acts 12:7-11, neither the guards nor the leaders knew that the prisoners had been liberated. We are tempted to smile at this imagining the surprised looks on the faces of the guards as they discovered that their most important prisoners were gone.
Imagine the astonishment of the envious members of the Sanhedrin when they heard the report. Here they were trying to stop the miracles but their actions only multiplied the miracles, which is an interesting principal in God's plan.
What a contrast between the apostles and the members of the council. The council was educated, ordained, and approved and yet they had no ministry of power. The apostles were ordinary laymen, yet God’s power was at work in their lives. The council was trying desperately to protect themselves and their dead traditions while the apostles were risking their lives to share the living Word of God.
The dynamic church was enjoying the new and the dead council was defending the old. Now you find a variety of emotions within this section: envy (Acts 5:17); bewilderment (Acts 5:24); fear (Acts 5:26). It appears that the emotions of the brethren at that time were being jerked all over the place through these trying times.
When the apostles came in, the high priest boldly accused them of defying the law and causing trouble. He would not even use the name of Jesus Christ, but instead "this man; and this man’s blood," lest by speaking His name they would defile the high priests lips or bring down the wrath of God. They were still thinking of themselves as being righteous in this.
Even this hateful indictment was an admonition that the church was increasing and getting the job done. The wrath of man was bringing praise to the Lord. This was an ongoing prophesy from Psalm 76 that has been fulfilled time and again down through the ages. It says there:
Psalm 76:10 Surely the wrath of man shall praise You; with the remainder of wrath You shall gird Yourself.
That is a principle that works throughout Scripture. The more the church is persecuted, the greater the witness of the church becomes.
The high priest realized that if the apostles were right then the Jewish leaders had been wrong in condemning Christ. If the apostles were right then the council would be guilty of His blood, and they were not about to admit that.
Matthew 27:24-25 When Pilate saw that he could not prevail at all, but rather that a tumult was rising, he took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, “I am innocent of the blood of this just Person. [speaking of Jesus Christ] You see to it.” [speaking to the Jewish mob] And all the people answered and said, “His blood be on us and on our children.”
I cringe at the thought of what they cursed themselves with at that point. You look at the Jews today and they are still persecuted more than any other group of people on earth. I would not doubt that it was at least partially because of this very statement here: “His blood be on us and on our children.”
As this trial by the council progressed, the apostles became the judges and the council became the accused. All of this caused the leaders to move against the apostles again, only this time more forcefully than before.
The first time they hold the apostles in and made threats and told them not to preach anymore. The apostles continued to preach about Jesus anyway. The next thing they did was arrest them again and unleash a proceeding that eventually ended in the apostles being beaten.
What else could the Jewish leaders do? They had no other options left, in their minds, than to use force. That is why such procedures almost always lead to an attempt to kill people who are not liked.
If it were simply a matter of truth contending with falsehood, the result would be a free and open debate, but that is not what was going on here and that is not what is going on when God’s people are persecuted. This was hatred born of jealousy, and since they were unable to contend with the disciples on the level of truth, they resorted to brazen authority in force. First, was threats, then a beating, and then death.
Now if we are very angry about something, especially in religion, it is probably a sign that we are on the wrong track. There is such a thing as righteous anger. Jesus Christ had righteous anger against those who were keeping others from the truth, those who were setting up barriers for them and making merchandise of spiritual things.
But when anger is not righteous, as it usually is not, we need to deal with it immediately. The leaders’ anger was an indication that something was very wrong. Acts 5:26 tells us that the leaders brought in the apostles carefully, because the apostles were popular and the leaders were afraid, but afraid of what?
Acts 5:26 Then the captain went with the officers and brought them without violence, for they feared the people, lest they should be stoned.
So the people were for the apostles and their teaching and for the name of Jesus Christ, although they were fearful to do anything about it. The leaders were actually fearful of being stoned by the mob.
They wanted to do away with the apostles probably by stoning as well, but here they were afraid that the people would try to stone them instead. When they were ready to proceed with the trial, they sent the captain of the guard to bring the apostles out of the jail and into the court. But when they got to the jail, there were no apostles, they were gone. Luke tells us what happened, God sent His angels during the night and he opened the doors of the jail and brought the apostles out.
So they went out and then were arrested again and they were brought before the Sanhedrin once more. Again they began their accusations and this time the accusations went a step further. First of all they accused them of disobeying orders.
Acts 5:28 “Did we not strictly command you not to teach in this name? [That was a simple assertion of authority. It did not matter if the apostles were right or wrong, they went on to say:] And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this Man’s blood on us!”
At the trial of Jesus, this was the very thing that they had willingly taken upon themselves and now they were appalled at the consequences. The blood of Jesus is upon unbelievers today because they, like the Jewish rulers, set their face against the Lord and His anointed. Now Jesus is not here to be physically mistreated, but that is essentially what unbelievers would do if Jesus was facing them today.
The rulers did not have to be made guilty, they already knew that they were guilty. We know that they knew because of the way they were talking about "This name”; “This man." They were guilty of murder and they did not like the consequences that it brought with it.
Next we find the apostles declaring that they must uphold the truth.
Acts 5:29 But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: “We ought to obey God rather than men.”
How many times, as members of God’s church, have we said that in our own minds to keep us on the straight and narrow. This is probably one of the most quoted sentences in Scripture.
The apostles did not change their convictions, they obeyed God and trusted Him to take care of the consequences. They could not serve two masters and they had already declared whose side they were on.
Had they have been diplomats instead of ambassadors they would have pleased everybody and escaped a beating, but they stood firm for Jesus Christ and He honored their courage in faith. Neither did they change their message.
Acts 5:30 “The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging on a tree. Him God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.”
So Peter indicted the leaders for the death of Jesus Christ and boldly affirmed once again that Jesus Christ had been raised from the dead. Not only was Jesus raised from the dead, but He was also exalted by God to heaven. The Sadducees did not rejoice to hear the apostles speak about resurrection from the dead.
The fact that Jesus Christ is at God’s right hand is a key theme in the Scriptures. The right hand is a place of honor, power, and authority and that is exactly where Jesus Christ sits. Here is this basic prophesy.
Psalm 110:1 The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool.”
Soon, in Acts 7:55, Stephen would see Jesus standing at the right hand of God. In his second sermon Peter had called Jesus the Prince of life, and in Acts 3:31, he called Him a Prince and Savior. The original Greek word prince here actually means pioneer; one who leads the way; an originator.
The Jewish leaders were not interested in pioneering anything, all they wanted to do is protect their vested interest and keep things exactly as they were. They had the exact same attitude toward Jesus. We will read in John 11:
John 11:47-53 Then the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered a council and said, “What shall we do? For this Man works many signs. If we let Him alone like this, everyone will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and nation.” And one of them, Caiaphas, being high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all, nor do you consider that it is expedient for us that one man should die for the people, and not that the whole nation should perish.” Now this he did not say on his own authority; but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for that nation only, but also that He would gather together in one the children of God who were scattered abroad. Then, from that day on, they plotted to put Him to death.
So as the Forerunner of life, Jesus saves us and leads us into exciting experiences as we walk in newness of life. There are always new challenges and opportunities to make life interesting for us as Christians. We look at them as trials, we look at them as challenges, but we should look at them as conquerable, because the power of the Holy Spirit, given by God the Father and through Jesus Christ, gives us the power to stand up and conquer anything.
This a new life, it is not the old life reformed or changed over, it is an entirely new life. Hebrews 2:10 calls Christ the captain; forerunner; or pioneer of our salvation, perfect through sufferings.
Our salvation experience, our sanctification process, must never became static or stale. A Christian can never stand still because he is either going backward or forward. He has to work with God in going forward.
We easily forget that our Christian life is not a parking lot, but rather a launching pad. It is not enough to just be born from above, we must also grow spiritually and make progress in our walk. There is a whole process involved here.
In Hebrews 12:2, Jesus is called the Captain; the Author of our faith, which suggests that He leads us into new experiences that test our faith and help it grow. One of the major themes of Hebrews is: let us press on toward perfection, or better yet as the NASB translates it: “let us press on toward spiritual maturity. We cannot mature unless we follow Christ as His witness into new areas of faith.
Acts 5:31-32 “Him God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are His witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him.”
The title Savior was not new to the members of the Jewish council, because the word was used for physicians, who saved peoples lives; it was used for philosophers, who solved people’s problems; and also for statesmen who saved people from danger in war. It was even applied to the Emperor. So the Greek word for savior was one that was used almost universally for that type of thing.
All of these have the appearance of being able to physically rescue a person from death and misery, but only Jesus Christ is the true and living Savior who rescues both physically and spiritually from sin, death, and judgment.
Peter again called the nation to repentance and promised that the gift of the Spirit would be given to all who will obey Him. Now this does not imply that the gift of the spirit is a reward for obedience, because a gift can be received only by faith.
The phrase’ obey Him’ is the same as the phrase “obedient to the faith” in Acts 6:7, and means to obey God’s call and trust God’s Son. God does not suggest that sinners repent and believe, rather He commands it. In Acts 17, Luke writes:
Acts 17:30-31 “Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.”
It was a bold witness that the apostle gave before the highest Jewish religious court. The Spirit of God enabled them and they were not afraid. After all had not Jesus promised to be with them and through His Holy Spirit to empower them for the witness and service that He required? They were His witnesses of His resurrection and He would see them through, just as He will see us through.
Peter had an opportunity to give a brief sermon in his defense before the Sanhedrin, though it may have been a considerably longer one than the account Luke has preserved for us. The sermon contains a fixed structure, what we might call a pattern, to it. It mirrors the fixed structure to almost all New Testament presentations of the salvation message.
The sermon is designed by God as a pattern for the proclamation that Jesus Christ is the salvation of mankind. In this pattern, these facts include Christ's death for sins, His burial, His resurrection, His ascension into heaven, and His appearance in His resurrected form to chosen witnesses. We find the clearest example of this proclamation pattern in I Corinthians 15, but it is also found elsewhere and is the basic structure for the four gospels and it is precisely what we find in Peter's short sermon to the Sanhedrin in Acts 5.
That pattern is this:
The crucifixion, in verse 30, which says: “whom you had killed by hanging on a tree.”
The resurrection, also found in verse 30, which says: “God raised Jesus from the dead.”
The ascension, found in verse 31, which says: “God exalted Him to His own right hand as Prince and Savior.”
The witnesses, found in verse 32, which says: “we are witnesses of these things.”
We might ask ourselves about this pattern. Where is the ethical teaching of the New Testament? It is not present here. Much of what Jesus taught in the gospels was ethical teaching and spiritual principles of living, sometimes in the form of parables and sometimes in the form of formal discourses. But when we come to this early Christian preaching, we find that the apostles did not do exactly as Jesus Christ did. Why not?
Obviously the reason the apostles began with the basic pattern for the proclamation that Jesus Christ is the Savior, is that they knew, as we should also know, that a person must first come to Jesus Christ as Savior, before he/she can take on the weight of His teachings.
A person can understand Christ's teachings on the surface, but until they have accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Savior, been baptized, and received the Holy Spirit, they cannot really understand or comprehend the meat of the Word.
It is true that we cannot have one without the other, but unless a person firsts believes on Jesus Christ as his/her Savior, thus the new life with Christ within, that person cannot live the life Christ commanded.
The apostle told the Jewish leaders to repent of their sin and come to Jesus Christ for cleansing from it. In fact, unless you first confess your sin and find forgiveness, you only go on to increasing sin, which is what these leaders did. By confessing, I do not mean standing at the street corner professing all that you have done wrong, I mean confessing to God and repenting of it.
At this point the apostles found an unexpected ally in Gamaliel, the teacher under whom the apostle Paul had studied. Gamaliel was a Pharisee who was a scholar highly esteemed by the Jews, rather liberal in his applications of the law and apparently moderate in his approach to problems.
Acts 5:33-39 When they [the Jewish leaders] heard this, they were furious and plotted to kill them. Then one in the council stood up, a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in respect by all the people, and commanded them to put the apostles outside for a little while. And he said to them: “Men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what you intend to do regarding these men. For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody [incidentally they beheaded Theudas for his act]. A number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was slain, and all who obeyed him were scattered and came to nothing. After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census, and drew away many people after him. He also perished, and all who obeyed him were dispersed. And now I say to you, keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this work is of men, it will come to nothing; but if it is of God, you cannot overthrow it—lest you even be found to fight against God.”
On the surface, this sounds like good and righteous advice, but I take issue with that. Gamaliel’s counsel was illogical and mistaken. God used it to save the apostles from death. That the Sadducees would heed the word of a Pharisee shows how distinguished a man Gamaliel was.
In spite of the fact that Gamaliel tried to use cool logic rather than overheated emotion, his approach was still wrong. To begin with, he automatically classified Jesus with two rebels which means that he had already rejected the evidence. To him this Jesus of Nazareth was just another zealous Jew trying to set the nation free from Rome. But did Theudas or Judas ever do the things that Jesus did? Were people raised from the dead by anyone else?
With a clever twist of bad logic Gamaliel convinced the council that there was really nothing to worry about. Furthermore Gamaliel assumed that history repeats itself. Gamaliel gave this reasoning to the council: “Trouble makers come and go, so be patient. Theudas and Judas rebelled, were subdued, and their followers were scattered. Give these Galileans enough time and they too will disband and you will never again hear of Jesus of Nazareth!”
The birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ had never happened before and would never happen again. God had broken into history and visited the earth for this unique incident which will be followed up by God's peoples’ resurrection.
Gamaliel also had the mistaken idea that if someone is not of God, it must fail, but this idea does not take into consideration the sinful nature of man and the presence of Satan in the world.
In the end God’s truth will be victorious because His plan always pans out. Meanwhile, Satan can be very strong and influence multitudes of people. God allows a great deal of persecution against His people. Success is no test of truth in spite of what the world would have us believe.
False cults often grow faster than God’s church, and this world is a battlefield in which truth and error are at mortal combat and often it seem as if truth is on the scaffold while wrong sits arrogantly on the throne.
The biggest weakness of Gamaliel’s advice was his motive. He encouraged neutrality when the council was facing a life and death issue that demanded a decision. The “wait and see” approach is not actually neutrality but rather a definite decision. Gamaliel was voting no, but he was preaching maybe; or someday. He was the diplomat.
There are many matters in life that demand a courageous decision of conscience. It is not a courageous decision of conscience to choose what route to take on your way home or whether to walk one mile or two when you exercise. But when we face a serious matter of conscience, we had better examine the evidence carefully. Gamaliel refused to do this. He missed an opportunity for salvation because he turned the meeting into a petty discussion about Jewish insurrectionists.
Jesus made it clear that it is impossible to be neutral about Him and His message.
Matthew 12:30 He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad.
The members of the council knew the words of Elijah in I Kings 18.
I Kings 18:21 And Elijah came to all the people, and said, “How long will you falter between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.” But the people answered him not a word.
This is what the council, and Gamaliel, ignored. There are times when being neutral means making a quiet or perhaps cowardly decision to reject God’s offer.
It is significant that in Revelation 21:8, the first group named among those who have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death, is the cowardly. These are the people who know the truth but are afraid to take their stand.
Now if Gamaliel was really afraid of fighting against God, then why did he not honestly investigate the evidence, diligently search the Scriptures, listen to the witnesses, and ask God for wisdom? This was the opportunity of a lifetime for Gamaliel.
Is anyone born a coward? A coward is a person who does not trust in God. Courage comes from trusting God and steadfast knowledge of the truth.
Now Gamaliel was not called, we know that. His mind was not opened, however the fact remains that the facts and the truth were there. Had he and the council not have not been so blinded, they could have drawn the right conclusion. But it was because of their arrogance against God that they came to the conclusion that they did. Psalm 112 says:
Psalm 112:7 He will not be afraid of evil tidings; his heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord.
This is saying is that if you are steadfast in God’s truth and trusting in God, having faith in Him, then we will not be afraid of evil things that come, or the trials we will be put through, or the challenges that face us. What some men call caution God would call cowardice. The apostles were two ambassadors, Gamaliel was really just a religious politician.
We must be worthy to suffer for the name of Jesus Christ.
Acts 5:40-42 And they agreed with him [that is Gamaliel], and when they had called for the apostles and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name. And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.
So part of the council wanted to kill the apostle, but Gamaliel’s speech tempered their violence. In a compromised move the council decided to have the apostles beaten, so the men were given 39 lashes. Later, the apostle Paul would go through this sort of torture. He told the Corinthian brethren, in his second letter to them,
II Corinthians 11:24 From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one.
Apparently this was a common practice among the Jewish leaders. How unkind and unjust they must have been to have done this five times to God’s servant. Following the 39 lashes, the apostles were commanded to stop speaking the in name of Jesus Christ lest something worse happen to them.
When people refuse to deal with disagreements on the basis of principle and truth, they often resort to verbal and or physical violence. The sad thing is that this violence often masquerades as patriotism or religious zeal.
When understanding fails, violence starts to take over and people destroy each other in the name of their nation or their god. It is tragic. The history of religion, especially, is punctuated with accounts of persecution and holy wars. Even now a religious war is going on and Satan is behind it.
Christians are called to the hardest of all tasks, to fight without hatred; to resist without bitterness; and in the end, if God grants it, to triumph without vindictiveness.
How did the apostles respond to this illegal treatment from their nation’s religious leaders? They rejoiced. Jesus had told them to expect persecution and had instructed them to rejoice in it. The opposition of men meant the approval of God and it was a privilege to suffer in His name.
Philippians 1:29 For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake
The purpose of life is to glorify God by the building of character through truth no matter what it takes.
The Sanhedrin thought that it had won a great victory when actually the council had experienced a crushing defeat. No doubt they congratulated each other for doing such a good job of defending the faith, but it was the apostles who were the winners because they grew in godliness as they yielded to God’s will and suffered for their Master.
In later years Peter would have a lot to say in his first epistle about the meaning of suffering in the life of a saint, but now he was learning the lessons. Neither the threats nor the beatings stopped them from witnessing for Jesus Christ. If anything this persecution only made them trust God all the more and seek greater power in their ministry.
True believers are not quitters. The apostles had a commission to fulfill and they intended to continue as long as God enabled them. Acts 5:32 mentions that the apostles witnessed in every house, meaning that they did not leave a stone unturned.
Unlike congregations today, these people had no buildings that were set aside for worship/fellowship. Brethren would meet in different homes worshipping God and listening to teaching. Years later the apostle referred to a number of household fellowships when he greeted the saints in Rome.
The early church took the Word of God right into the homes and today we have a similar situation that is increasing all the time and will continue to increase. And as persecution continues to increase that will be all the more necessary. This does not mean that it is wrong to have special buildings set aside for church ministry, but only that we must not confine the ministry to the four walls of a church building.
The apostle’s ministry went on without ceasing, the authorities had told them to stop witnessing, but they went ahead and witnessed all the more. Their motive was not defiance to the law, but rather obedience to God. It was not something they turned on and off depending on the situation, they were always working at it and kept going at it as long as God gave them the opportunities and empowered them.
The witness of the church included both teaching and preaching and that is a good balance. The word translated “preach” gives us our English word evangelize. Acts 5:42 is the first of 15 times it is used in the book of Acts. It simply means to preach the gospel of the coming Kingdom of God and to share the good news of Jesus Christ.
The proclamation of the coming Kingdom of God and the good news of Jesus Christ must be accompanied by instruction. The message cannot produce fruit unless the person understands it and can make an intelligent decision. Those whom God calls cannot fully grow unless they are taught the whole Word of God, both from the Old and New Testaments.
Jesus Christ came to declare God the Father and the apostles were commissioned to declare Jesus Christ as the center of their witness. That was the very name that the Sanhedrin had condemned.
Down through the ages being a Christian has been branded by many to be a disgrace. One reason is that it requires duties: prayers, praise, seriousness, and benevolence. All of these things the people of the world view as degrading and menial and so they connect those who practice with disgrace.
A short list of disgrace for Christians includes: loss of property; loss of reputation; shame of public punishment; terrors of prison, the stake, and the rack. One main design of persecution was to select a kind of punishment so disgraceful as to deter others from professing Christianity.
Disgrace may subject one to the ridicule of friends and family. We hear our opinions abused, our names vilified, our Bible falsified, and as if that is not enough, the name of our God is profaned and our Redeemer blasphemed. Our feelings are shamelessly and rudely torn by cutting sarcasm or bitter sneer.
Books and songs revile us, comedians/actors encourage indecent laughter in the stage, in this way we are subjected to shame for the name of Jesus Christ. But we must not be ashamed of Christ because He said, if we are ashamed of Him, He will be ashamed of us. So we can stand with the righteous pride that comes from Jesus Christ as to what we have been given.
Everyone who is called to be a Christian must remember that this is part of our inheritance and we should not think of it as dishonorable to be treated as Jesus Christ was before us. We have the assurance of God’s grace exactly as the apostle Paul was promised regarding his major trial.
II Corinthians 12:8-10 Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
Paul prayed that his thorn might be taken away from him, but God answered that prayer, as He answers so many prayers, by not taking the thing away, but rather He gave Paul the strength to bear it. That is how God works, He does not spare us things, but makes us able to conquer them. The more we are persecuted, the more trials we go through, the more challenges we have, the stronger we become. That is the way we must look at these things.
To Paul and all the disciples of Christ come the promise and the reality of the all sufficient grace. This is true for us as well because we are His disciples.