Last week, Pastor Zane went over the characteristics of the early church. We saw some incredible signs and wonders being accomplished through the apostles. The people had such faith that they would carry the sick into the streets hoping that Peter’s shadow would pass over them which led to others bringing their sick and afflicted to the apostles so that they could be healed and people flocked to get closer. God was using the apostles to do incredible things, and He wants to use us to transform the world. This morning, we’ll see what happens when people in authority get jealous.
I encourage you to take the time and real our passage for today found in Acts 5:17-32.
We start with a very important word: but. Signs and wonders were taking place by the power of the Holy Spirit through the apostles. Sick people were healed; the afflicted were made unafflicted. The popularity of the apostles was growing and as people heard the message of the Gospel, they responded with decisions to follow Christ. The church was growing to the point that the number of people became multitudes, there were too many to count.
And then we see something that can plague any ministry leader. “The high priest rose up, along with all his associates (that is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with jealously.” And there it is. Jealousy is not always a bad thing. Divine jealousy is a single-minded pursuit of things that are holy. Ex. 20:5 speaks of God as a jealous God in the exclusivity of our worship. 2 Cor. 11:2 refers to jealousy in the exclusivity of the marriage relationship because you need that to make the marriage permanent. Not jealous because your spouse was talking to someone else or because they have a job. It’s jealousy over the importance of the marriage covenant. In modern English, jealousy is defined as a feeling or showing envy of someone or their achievements and advantages. In this context, jealousy is not good. In fact, I think I’ll paint with a broad brush and say that jealousy in ministry is rarely good. When we start looking at what others are doing for the Kingdom, or how many people they have, or how many salvations they experience, it can lead us to feel inadequate or somehow that we’re missing the mark. I’ve been there and it’s not a good place to visit. Your pastors regularly pray for other churches and pastors in our area. We must be Kingdom minded and not inwardly focused and that takes effort.
The high priest and all his associates were jealous of the apostles because of what was going on. They were filled with or consumed by jealousy. So, the high priest orders the apostles taken into custody and they were physically dragged to jail – again. Remember they were thrown in jail in 4:3. The next day, there was an inquisition as to what and why they were doing the things they were doing. Remember after the last encounter with the Council, they were, “commanded not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.” (Acts 4:18) Don’t forget the important conclusion from that story: the Sanhedrin that Pastor Mike spoke about: the Pharisees and the Sadducees found no fault in them and let them go – they didn’t do anything illegal, immoral, or unethical. We don’t know the exact time frame between that day and the day we’re talking about now, but it couldn’t be long. The Council was jealous of the success experienced by the apostles. Success is very difficult to define, especially in church. I’ve experienced this myself when I was seeking a job in ministry. Search committees wanted measurable means of success that they determined. The Sadducees were envious that people were responding in droves to the truth that the apostles were teaching and demonstrating in their lives and in the lives of countless individuals that responded to the message.
So, into jail they go with the intention of being tried the following day just like in Chapter 4. The Lord had something else in mind. The Spirit of God is moving mightily and things are happening that are inexplicable – they are by definition miracles: people healed, demons cast out, people selling stuff and giving to those in need. These miracles could only be attributed to the power of God. And He shows up again in the form of the angel of the Lord. The angel of the Lord, “Opened the gates of the prison, and taking them out he said, “Go, stand and speak to the people in the temple the whole message of this Life.” This isn’t just a great escape, this is miraculous! They were let out and were told something very specific: “Tell the whole message of life.” Keep doing what you’ve been doing; tell people about the resurrection, tell people about the transforming power of God, tell people how He dragged you from the miry clay, tell people how you’re a new creation, tell people how you’ve been redeemed, redeemed, redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. Don’t miss this! The apostles, “entered into the temple about daybreak and began to teach.” No prayer service, no consideration if they should do it again and risk being thrown in jail again – it’s already happened twice, they simply obeyed. The high priest sent his minions to get the apostles out of jail, but those guys find the apostles gone and the jail locked up tight as a drum with the guards in place totally unaware that the prisoners had been set free. The officers report back to the Council and tell them what they found inside the jail – nothing.
“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.” They didn’t understand how those guys weren’t still locked up. As they’re scratching their heads, someone comes in and says, “The men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people!” The Sanhedrin are not the kind of people that take too kindly to having their orders ignored. Back to the temple the captain and his officers go to do over what they did yesterday. Remember the captain is second in line after the high priest and is responsible for what happens in and around the temple. If you want something done right, do it yourself, right? Something different happens from the previous day, the captain and officers brought them back to the Council, “without violence (for they were afraid of the people, that they might be stoned).” Normally, the punishment for disobedience would be stoning and the captain probably wanted to make that happen, but the apostles were so popular that if they were harmed, the captain and his officers feared retribution from the crowd. Remember the Council was filled with jealously over these men of God.
Here comes the stand-off. The stand-off includes one of the most often misquoted and misused phrases in Scripture. The apostles are brought before the Council again to be questioned by the high priest. The high priest reminds them, “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.” Remember in Peter’s first and second sermons, he placed responsibility for the death of Jesus on those he is standing in front of. Of course, the Council is responsible for Jesus’ death just as we are in the sense that we needed atonement for our sin. The difference is the Council thought their religiosity would save them. Their message was not received by the people. The message of the apostles was received by many people and the Council sought to shut that down once and for all.
After the high priest’s accusation, Peter and the apostles respond by saying, “We must obey God rather than men.” I want to spend some time here to clear up this phrase. I have heard this used as justification for civil disobedience, for not submitting to a husband, for trying to dominate a wife, and for beating children. I’ve heard it used to justify witnessing for Christ on the job and not working. I heard it used as a legalistic proof text for anything and everything church related. What Peter says has nothing to do with any of that. If we are to take 2 Tim. 2:15 to heart, and we should, then we must understand what is happening in the context of the verse you’re looking at. I think we often get interpretation and application mixed up when studying scripture. Just to set the record straight, there are some things in Scripture you can read and understand the meaning in the context in which it was written. But there is great danger in carelessly handling the Word of God. It must be studied with the understanding of the human author, the intended audience, the time in history, the culture at the time, the language, and a host of other important aspects. Wait a minute, you’re thinking, that sounds a lot like work; I thought we’re supposed to sit back and enjoy so great a salvation! Let me put it in perspective. The average American spends just over 8 hours a day at work. That same guy spends almost 9 hours a day in personal care which includes sleeping, 2.5 hours a day in leisure pursuits, and just over an hour eating. The average American spends about 7.5 minutes a day in pursuit of religious activity. Hold on now, I’m not an average American, I am a Christian! How you spend your time reveals your priorities. When Jude says to, “Earnestly contend for the faith” in Jude 3, he means it. I cannot comprehend how people will work so hard at things of this world and casually pursue the things of eternity or perhaps even ignore them all together. If you find yourself without time to study God’s Word, to spend time with God, to pray, to fellowship with believers, to go to church, or to pursue God, you need to reevaluate your time.
“We must obey God rather than men.” Do you think God would tell us to, “Obey your leaders and submit to them,” (Heb. 13:17) yet not really mean it? Do think He would tell us, “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God,” (Rom. 13:1) and not really mean every person? If you’re at work and your boss says you cannot witness on the job, consider what he is saying. Are you witnessing when you should be working? Do you have an attitude that you’re going to do whatever you want regardless of the authority? Do you think that God would have you sin no matter what you do? Obey God and sin against the authority. Obey the authority and sin against God. No win situation. If your boss really, really says you cannot mention God or Jesus at all, ever at work, find a different job. There are breaks that legally cannot restrict your conversation, but when your boss expects you to work, then be the very best worker you can be. Be a model employee. If you’re going to use the obey God card, you better know what God says and many, many times, people use that to justify their own desires.
Peter concludes his defense before the Council in vs. 30-32. He reiterates what he said the last time he was before these men. God had given these men the privilege and responsibility to carry the Gospel message to the people. The Council was attempting to stifle the message of hope the apostles carried to the people. What the apostles were doing was not illegal, but teaching about Christ did not line up with the goals of the Council. The message of hope carried people from the burden of religion to the freedom found in Christ.
I do not believe that God will put you in a situation where you must sin to honor Him. Believers absolutely should obey God, but it’s rarely an either-or situation. If you want to use the obedience card, you better play it consistently in every avenue of life. So, what happens next? What will become of the apostles? Will they be able to escape the clutches of the Sanhedrin? We’ll have to wait until next week to see what happens to these heroes of the faith.