One of the teachers who was with me in India on my last trip started one of his lessons by outlining some of the sufferings that he had heard these pastors had been going through. Many had been beaten. Wives had been raped. One man's leg was so broken that he will be a cripple for life, unless the Lord heals him. And the teacher said, "Some people will tell you that all of these sufferings are worth it when you see the results of your ministry. I am here to tell you that they are not worth it." The translator did a double take and looked at Dale and asked him to repeat himself. You could tell he didn't believe Dale had actually said that. And Dale said again, "The results of your ministry are not worth the sufferings that you have faced." The translator was a little bit dubious, but he translated. Then the speaker went on to say, "If you are looking for what you will get out of the suffering, it is not worth it. In fact, some of you are tempted to give up right now. But God is worth it. God and His kingdom are worthy of all the sufferings you have gone through and more. But if you are only waiting for results that will make your sufferings seem worthwhile right now, you will be tempted to give up. On the other hand, if your focus is on the greatness of God and if you are captured by the awesome splendor of Christ, then God will be worth all of the sacrifices that you have made, you will have what it takes to sustain you." And he went on to describe what is involved in a God-centered ministry versus a man-centered ministry.
And I am here to tell you this morning that only God is worth some of the sacrifices that you make for your wife and for your children. Only God is worth some of the sacrifices that you make for your husband. It may not be persecution, but we are all called to make sacrifices aren't we? What if the people that we are sacrificing for don't respond as we had hoped that they would? Will you give up, or will you glory in the fact that God is worth so much more sacrifice than you have been able to give Him yet? I think these disciples have had an amazing transformation during Pentecost. Prior to Pentecost they had forsaken Christ. And no wonder. They had been arguing as to who was going to sit at Christ's right hand and who was going to be at His left. They were asking what they would get if they gave up all to follow Christ. What's in it for us? I mean, you've got to hand it to them. They had deferred gratification. They had stuck it out a lot longer than the other disciples. But when it looked like they would lose everything that had motivated them, they ran. There came a point at which they realized that the sacrifice was too much to be worth it. They made an economic decision as it were. And for every person that may be different. But if you are motivated only by whether your sacrifices will pay off in dividends in this life, there may come a time when your sacrifices simply will not seem worthwhile. What made these disciples have boldness, courage, hope and enthusiasm in the face of losing everything was that Pentecost had ushered them into a higher motive for their ministry, or if you want to think in economic terms - a far bigger payoff. Their hearts had been so drawn to the glories of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, that Christ seemed worth any sacrifice that He might call them to make. They were living in a different kingdom.
God's Word Cannot Be Legislated Out Of Existence (27-40)
Last week we looked at Satan's attempt to bind the Word of God physically and to intimidate the disciples. Today I want to look at his attempt to legislate the Gospel out of existence. The law had already been passed earlier that week. Look at verses 27-28
The Criminal Charge (27-28)
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?
Well, there was no question about the truth of that. They had passed a law earlier in the week. The only question was, "Did they have the authority to do so?" If they didn't, it was not a legitimate law. It had no force. The trouble was, the Sanhedrin wasn't asking that question because they considered themselves to be the highest authority. They had a Constitution, and this law that they had passed was unconstitutional. It did not have the force of law, yet they were strictly trying to enforce it anyway. And so they falsely accuse the apostles of insubordination.
And this has been the strategy in America for the last 30 years with regard to abortion, and for many more years on other issues. Federal boards and agencies pass and try to enforce unconstitutional laws. Congress does the same. The Supreme Court unfortunately has done the same. I think it was Jonathan told me the joke about how many branches of governent the federal government has: and the answer is, the legislative, the legislative and the legislative. All three branches of government seem to want to be involved in making law. The IRS has on more than a dozen occasions that I am aware of threatened to confiscate property from churches for preaching against abortion, sodomy and American economic policies. And this, despite the fact that the Declaration of Independence complains that King George was usurping authority that he did not have. This, despite the fact that the first Ammendment to the Constitution says that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech…" Is it not abridging the freedom of speech and prohibiting the free exercise of religion when students are forbidden from praying or writing about Christianity in government schools, or when the Gideons can no longer hand out Bibles there? We live in a twisted society when a president can issue a national Day of Prayer proclamation, but local schools can forbid that proclamation from being distributed on campus because they claim that it is an illegal violation of the first amendment. A teacher was forced to take a verse out of a collection of famous quotations by famous teachers. A College student was told by the faculty that it was illegal for him to say that he was a Christian outside of a church building. Many claim that the law does not allow the Scriptures to be brought into any public forum. It's an attempt to legislate restrictions on Christianity.
Subversive Propaganda (28b)
The second accusation is that they are engaging in subversive propaganda. Verse 28 goes on to say, "And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine…" Now I find it interesting that they are even willing to admit this. The biggest enemy to the Gospel is admitting that the church is incredibly successful. Just as Christ promised, the gates of hell are not prevailing. It is Christian doctrine that is prevailing. And this should be true in every age: our doctrine should be filling the cities rather than being kept in secret within our walls.
Of course, that will bring backlash. You can't have Christ's kingdom growing unless it is at the expense of Satan's kingdom. And the interesting thing about the first century Jews was that they were rather tolerant of diverse views within Judaism. They were somewhat pluralistic. Yes, there were fights between the Pharisees and the Saducees. Yes, the Herodians and the Pharisees didn't get along too well. The Essenes didn't like anybody and went off to live on their own. But generally speaking, the dozens of diverse views within Judaism were tolerated so long as they didn't try to influence too much. The unpardonable sin for the rulers was to upset the status quo. Nothing has changed, has it?
The attitude of the Sanhedrin was, "We'll leave you alone if you keep your mouths shut." I think that twenty-first century humanists frequently have the same kind of attitude. One editorial was complaining about even watered down creationism being taught alongside of evolution. This lady said that only evolution should be taught, but she defended it in the name of freedom. Let me quote a little section from this amazingly stupid editorial. Speaking of a school that had added a tiny bit of creation theory into the overwhelmingly evolutionary curricultum, she said this: "These poor children are being denied the most basic right of childhood freedoms. The right to imagine and learn. Someone should remind these parents that the law of the land still requires that we educate our children in qualified schools with qualified teachers… They may rant and rave against humanism and feminism and any other ism on Sunday. But come Monday, the children belong in school." Isn't that what the Sanhedrin was saying? You can believe whatever you want in private, but don't be pushing your views on the public. We've got a monopoly of viewpoint pushing. And this idea that Christianity is pushing subversive propaganda is powerfully felt in China and other communist countries. The reality is that all teaching is subversive of something. It has to be. Any time I'm teaching, I'm trying to subvert error, and this humanistic lady is trying to subvert truth, but she just wants the government to prevent a free market competition of ideas. So there's the accusation of subversive propaganda.
Treasonous Statements (28c)
The third accusation is in effect accusing them of treason. They said, "and intend to bring this Man's blood on us!" Well, isn't that exactly what they said to Pilate? "His blood be upon us and upon our children"? "Either Christ and His followers are worthy of death or we are worthy of death," is what they were saying. They considered Christ to be an enemy of the state, which means that anyone who is an advocate for Jesus is automatically an enemy of the state. Treason is a word that Christians are frequently accused of in communist countries. And it's a false accusation, but it can sure intimidate.
The Christian Defense (29-32)
The Question Of Loyalty To A Higher Authority
What's the response of the apostles? Well, first, they bring up the issue of a higher authority. Verse 29: "But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: 'We ought to obey God rather than men.'" This implies several things: 1) It implies that God's law trumps man's law. 2) It implies that men have no authority unless that authority is delegated by God. 3) Third, it implies that men should rule by God's law, not by man's law. 4) Fourth, it certainly implies that when a civil government forbids what God commands, or commands what God forbids, that this law is null and void at the moment that it was made. 5) It implies that all human governments have limited jurisdictions. Peter made this explicit in chapter 4:19-20 when the law was first enacted. He indicated that the state had no jurisdiction to make the law because it amounted to overturning the very authority of God upon which all other authorities rested. 6) Sixth, I want you to notice the word "ought." They considered their disobedience to the Saducees on this point to not be an option, but rather to be a moral imperative. They had no choice but to disobey. As the early Americans said at the time of the War for Independence: "Rebellion against tyrants is obedience to God."
But many people struggle over this. They ask, "Isn't it also a moral imperative to obey the king?" And the answer is, "Yes it is. But it has its limits." There is no institution upon the earth that has absolute authority. Not even the father of a home has absolute authority. Roman citizens disagreed because they claimed the right to even kill their children. They claimed absolute authority. But the Bible says that all authority is limited, delegated authority. During the Foundations class we have been going through Junius Brutus' book, A Defense of Liberty Against Tyrants. He was a French Hugeneot – a Reformed Christian who wrote this book as a defense of why the Hugeneots were fighting for their lives in France. It's a marvelous treatise, and I encourage all Christians to own a copy of it and to read it at least once in their life. It was one of the most influential books at the time of the forming of America. He shows the limits to government and the limits to obedience, when it is appropriate to resist, and when not. But anyone who claims to have absolute authority, whether he is a parent, a pastor or a magistrate, is claiming to be God. And God declares war on kings who refuse to see the limits to their jurisdiction. Turn to chapter 12, and I will show you an example right within the book of Acts. Acts 12:20-24.
Acts 12:20 Now Herod had been very angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon; but they came to him with one accord, and having made Blastus the king's personal aide their friend, they asked for peace, because their country was supplied with food by the king's country.
Acts 12:21 So on a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat on his throne and gave an oration to them.
Acts 12:22 And the people kept shouting, "The voice of a god and not of a man!"
Acts 12:23 Then immediately an angel of the Lord struck him, because he did not give glory to God. And he was eaten by worms and died.
Acts 12:24 But the word of God grew and multiplied.
Most Christians in early America saw the limited jurisdiction that the state had and recognized the evil of church incorporation, because incorporation made the church a state church, and every bit as much under the jurisdiction of the state as the Anglican church was under the King. But biblically, church and state are separate governments with separate jurisdictions. Neither is over the other. The early church saw this clearly and refused to incorporate and call Caesar lord. The authorities were flabbergasted at the lack of flexibility of the Christian Church. On more than one occasion, sympathetic Romans begged the Christians to just pretend. What big deal was it to call Caesar lord of the church anyway? They assured the church that Rome had been willing to give freedom religion by licensing every other religion, and Rome was willing to give the church a license if the church would only apply for it by calling Caesar lord. But the church refused, because this would compromise the kingship of Christ over the church, it would destroy the separate jurisdictions God had established, it would acknowledge that the state was indeed the highest authority – it would compromise the very kingdom of Christ. In fact, the early Christians went to the stake over this issue as a matter of principle. They received no license and no corporate status from Rome. The Jews who should have known better cried out, "We have no lord but Ceasar" and God justly used that Caesar to destroy these Jews who denied God's sovereignty. The Christian cry should be the opposite: "We have no lord but God." All others are servants of God and must do His bidding.
Romans 13 is the passage that tyrants frequently appeal to. They insist that this passage teaches unquestioning obedience to all that a king says, and that the king's word is law because he stands in the place of God. But that is the exact opposite of what Romans 13 teaches. Verse 1 teaches "For there is no authority except from God." Or literally, "there is no authority if not from God." If you can't show your authority to do the things you do as being from God, you don't have authority. It also speaks of God's delegation of authority. They are not appointed to do their own thing. Verse 2 indicates that the purpose of the government is to impose the ordinances of God. Verse 3 indicates how the authority should be exercised. "For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil." And of course, God is the determiner of evil and good, or the terms become meaningless. Verse 4 says that the ruler "is God's servant to you for good." So Peter is saying that the Sanhedrin is turning the process upside down.
Let's move on. Peter answers these three charges by showing that in reality it is the Sanhedrin that is guilty of all three charges.
Reversal Of Criminal Charges. Sanhedrin guilty of
Look at verse 30. "The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging on a tree." If God has sided with Jesus (if He has raised Him up), then the Sanhedrin is guilty of murder of their king and therefore treason.
Second, they were really the ones who were guilty of insubordination. Verse 31: "Him God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Savior…" If Jesus is a Prince, ruling the universe from the right hand of God, then they are not only murderers, but guilty of treason and insubordination.
subversive indoctrination (31b-32)
Finally they answer the charge of subversive indoctrination by saying that they are ambassadors of this Prince:
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.
If this is true, then it is really the Sanhedrin who is undermining the Prince with their false doctrines and false laws.
Now this may seem incredibly bold, but if you understand the teaching of the Reformers, you will discover that this was the historic practice of Christians down through the centuries. Junius Brutus describes the responsibilities of king and citizens this way: He says that God's covenant is not just between Him and the king, but also between Him and the people. And he shows several passages that show God covenanting in this dual way. Both king and people (through their representatives) were responsible to uphold the national covenant. Both king and people are responsible to uphold God's laws of the kingdom. If the king overthrows God's limits and becomes a tyrant, then the people are responsible to hold his feet to the fire and show him his limits. If the people overthrow God's limits and become licentious, then the king is responsible to uphold God's laws even if it is not popular. And Brutus goes on to show that if this was not so, then God would have violated His own justice when he judges the people for a king's sins, or when He judges a king for the people's sins. God does not put a father to death for the sins of his children or vice versa. Yet in this case, the people are punished for a king's sins. And Brutus shows why: the people were responsible to do what they could to make the king abide by God's Word. And if they refuse to do it through fear or through laziness, they are just as guilty of breaking the covenant as the king is. Our second President of the United States said that this book by Junius Brutus had more influence on the people than any other book to stir up both magistrates and citizens to their responsibilities. I encourage you to read it. I can send you a free pdf file if you don't have one already.
But in this chapter, no one else is standing up to these tyrants, and so the apostles bring a prophetic rebuke. That's one form of resistance. There are other forms as well. If they were magistrates, they should have brought other kinds of resistance, but we each have responsibilities based upon our station in life. And in our own country we must seek to do what we can as citizens to make sure that the government is not overthrowing the bonds of Christ. They have flagrantly violated their covenant that they signed in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. They have certainly cast off the bonds of Christ.
At the time of the Reformation John Knox rightly said, "Kings then have not an absolute power in their regiment to do what pleases them; but their power is limited by God's Word."1 We need more Peters & John Knoxes in America.
The Two Sinful Responses (33-40)
The Majority Desire (33)
The majority response to these bold words can be seen in verse 33. It was not a happy response. "When they heard this, they were furious" [the Greek literally means, "they were sawn through"] *"and plotted to kill them." That word for furious (or being sawn in two) shows that they were extremely sensitive about the charge of being responsible for the death of Jesus. Their conscience is obviously at work. It's tearing them up. But you know what happens when a conscience writhes like a snake on a fire? It does one of two things: it dies to self and gives up in repentance and faith or it makes them lash out and attack. And I have seen the same two responses to this day. Our job as pastors is to apply God's Word in preaching, teaching, counseling, exhortation, writing and everything we do. This means that you can count on two things happening in a Word-based ministry – people will change for the good as they repent and are transformed by grace, or they harden against you and usually go on the attack. But there can be no neutrality when consciences are being sawn through by God's Word. Don' t be surprised when people like Saul whom you would have expected to continue to hate the church become its greatest protectors, and sacrificial, holy servants of Christ. And don't be surprised when people like Demas and Cresence leave the church and turn on its ministers. A sawn apart conscience is a lively thing, so expect liveliness in the responses to ministries of the church.
But remember that we have said that God is sovereign over what persecution He allows to be brought. He is even sovereign over the hearts of kings. Proverbs 21:1 says, "The king's heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wishes." In the first half of the chapter we saw this happening as the officers were scared to death of the crowds, fearing that they would be stoned. God used that fear to keep them from doing violence to the apostles. Here a similar nervousness makes them carefully deliberate how they would go about killing them in a safe way. This gives time for Gamaliel (a moderate) to urge them to go slowly. This was all orchestrated by God. By the way, Gamaliel was Paul's teacher. Gamaliel was the head of the Pharisees, a minority, yet quite vocal and powerful. The Saducees couldn't afford to ignore his counsel. IF both Chrsitians and Pharisees were against them, they would be in trouble. So they listen up.
The Moderate Response (34-40)
Moderation prevailed in the Past
And Gamaliel urges moderation because (he says) it worked in the past. Verse 34-39.
Acts 5:34*/sup> But a certain 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.
[That was a wise move, because people will frequently refuse to budge an inch if their pride is at stake. So he removes the apostles so that they can talk freely.]
Acts 5:35 And he said to them, "Men of Israel, take care what you propose to do with these men.
Acts 5:36 "For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody; and a group of about four hundred men joined up with him. And he was slain; and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing.
Acts 5:37 "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.
Acts 5:38 "And so in the present case, I say to you, stay away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or action should be of men, it will be overthrown;
Acts 5:39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God."
We are not told what Gamaliel's motives were in saying this. We know that he was no friend of Christianity, but he was known to be moderate. He liked to play both sides. He was very indecisive. And it's good to know that God can even use such people to slow down humanism.
But I think we ought to at least say that his advice is not godly advice. Never follow the thinking of Gamaliel, like some Christians have mistakenly done. His advice basically boils down to this: 1) we have no way of knowing what is true or what is false, 2) time will tell whether something is true or not, 3) if it does not grow, it is false (well what does that say about Old Testament Christianity?), and if it does succeed in growing, it is true. 4) Fourth, we should never take definitive action, because we might just make the wrong move and be on the end of judgment. We need to leave ourselves some options.
There are people who act that way. But it's not Biblical. Based on that advice, we could never oppose most of the religions in the world. Based on that philosophy, God's blessing is on Islam. Based on that philosophy, the majority is right. And that actually may have been one of the key points in his mind. Do we really want to be opposed to the majority of Jews in Jerusalem? Pragmatists sometimes have a very difficult time knowing where to stand. And so they make good cases for not taking stands.
But there is no reason why a Christian should do that. The Bible is sufficient to make the man of God complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17). You may not like it. You may not be comfortable with it. But its got everything you need to take tough stands. It gives to us all things that pertain to life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). There is no reason we cannot take definitive positions. It's basically a cowardly way of never taking sides. And some people feel comfortable doing that. The Pharisees were pros.
Let's Be Generous Now
The compromise position (39 lashes and another warning)
The majority on the Sanhedrin were Saducees, and they obviously are persuaded by this speech that killing the apostles is not wise. Verse 40 begins by saying, "And they agreed with him…" So Gamaliel had convinced them not to kill the apostles. But they didn't agree to wait before they judged; they didn't agree to leave them alone, because the rest of the verse says, "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 it was a political agreement. And as frequently happens in political agreements, absolutely contradictory positions are maintained. One commentator argued that the Saducees realized that if the Pharisees sided with the Christians, all would be lost, because the majority would be overwhelming. So they take a different tack.
Derek Carlson said on this passage:
The fact that they had the apostles beaten with rods means that they didn't agree completely with what Gamaliel said, i.e., that this movement might be of God. For if they truly believed this and were going to wait and see if this group would continue before they decided whether it was of God or not, then they wouldn't have passed judgment (by beating these fellow Jews, they were saying, ‘You are guilty!'). What were they guilty of? If blasphemy, then they should have been executed, but if not blasphemy, then what? It was obvious that they were beaten for speaking in the Name of Jesus, for they then commanded the apostles not to speak in His Name. But why were they not allowed to speak in the Name of Jesus? Was it because Jesus was a blasphemer? If Jesus was a blasphemer, how do they know this? If Jesus was a blasphemer, then why didn't they execute those who were continuing the blasphemy? If Jesus wasn't a blasphemer, then why did they murder Him? This ‘wise' group of elders was nothing but a confused mess. Thus, I believe that their agreeing with Gamaliel, was purely a political thing – they believed that the apostles were a threat to them while they were alive, but to kill them would threaten their positions even more at the present time. So they agreed that it was best not to kill the 12, but still treated them as guilty. It is only by completely relying upon the Word of God that we can be saved from such foolishness in our thinking." (p. 129).
And I say, Amen. We must avoid such pragmatic foolishness in our thinking.
Those gripped by God's Word Cannot Be Intimidated
Total Identification With Christ
Let me end with a couple comments about the apostle's response to this beating and these threats. We see that they were not intimidated. The wind was not taken out of their sails. Their spirits were not dampened. And the reason given by Luke is not that they considered the number of converts to be worth it, or the growth of the church to be worth it, or their position as apostles to be worth it. There comes a time when no amount of accolades, positions or results will be worth the pressures that a Christian has to endure. But the glory of knowing Christ in the fellowship of His grace and sufferings does make it all worth while.
Verse 41 speaks of their identification with Christ. "So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name." Knowing Christ in the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings is something that can make all our pains and discomforts and persecutions worthwhile. And because I devoted an entire sermon to that subject, I won't develop it here. But if you feel like giving up your labors because it just doesn't seem worth while, I urge you to get that tape and to spend time meditating on what Paul means when he made it his life goal to know Christ in the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings. What did Christ mean when He called us to leap for joy when we are persecuted, for so they persecuted the prophets. And what did He mean when He said, "Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for so did their fathers to the false prophets." Our identification with Christ not only brings out the persecution, but it enables us to rejoice in the face of persecution.
Total Involvement With Christ
Secondly, there was total involvement with Christ. This was not their agenda or their kingdom they were building. They were driven by a cause that was far bigger than they were. And verse 42 ends by saying, "And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ." [as the Messiah] Their lives revolved around His cause, as should ours. When you have a cause that is huge and compelling, it motivates you. They were not intimidated into being quiet. And that is significant when these people had been beaten – probably with the maximum penalty – 39 lashes. The word for "beaten" in verse 40 means literally to flay or take off the skin. It refers to a rather severe flogging. So there is something unusual going on here when that does not dampen your spirits or keep you from the work of the Lord. And I think that something is the greatness of Christ and the greatness of His cause. Paul said that the love of Christ compelled him. I saw that same motivation keep my parents in missions even in the most dire of circumstances. It gave them passion. It gave them enthusiasm. I saw the same motivation move Ethiopian evangelists to go into danger. When one set of evangelists were thrown in jail, there would be another group that would replace them.
When the missionaries left Ethiopia during World War II there were only 2 dozen Christians in Wallamo province, 2 or 3 others in another province and a few in Sidamo. Those Christians underwent intense persecution as they shared the faith with others. They were imprisoned. And Ethiopian prisons make our prisons look like Hilton hotels. You sleep on the mud floor that is just crawling with fleas, lice and bedbugs. The Christians would often come out of those prisons raw from head to toe with bug bites. Unless relatives brought food they would starve to death, and when they brought food the guards would defile it with excrement unless they were bribed. They had hard physical labor and abuse by inmates unless they were bribed. On many occasions these Christians would be killed, eyes gouged out or beaten severely. But it did not stop them from enthusiastically advancing Christ's kingdom. They didn't have much training and didn't have many Bibles, but they memorized what they could. One man my Dad knew started 8 thriving churches armed only with Matthew 5. At the end of the war there were 15000 believers, and by the time my Father left Durammi station, there were 500 churches in Kambatta province alone. These were men and women who identified with Christ and whose lives were totally involved in Christ. They did their work to God's glory. They had their weddings and funerals to God's glory.
And this is what I desire for you. That you would come to know Christ so well, that persecution would not take away your motivation to serve Him. Let's pray.