- In our study of Acts, we have seen the apostles strictly warned not to preach or teach in the name of Jesus. The Sanhedrin, which was the ruling power over the Jewish nation, had threatened Peter and John to stop what they were doing. The only reason the Sanhedrin did not hold Peter and John in prison was because the people were praising God because of the healing of the lame man.
- We ended our study last time with the events surrounding Ananias and Sapphira, who lied to the Holy Spirit, and were struck dead by God. This event has brought great awe and fear on the whole church and all who heard of the matter.
I. The Story
A. Signs and wonders (5:12-16)
- Luke records that many signs and wonders were being done among the people through the hands of the apostles. It is important that we see only the apostles are able to perform these works. We do not read about other Christians having these abilities up to this point. This ability to work miracles came upon the apostles in Acts 2 when the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the twelve.
- We also notice that the apostles have ignored the threats of the Sanhedrin. The apostles are performing these signs in the temple complex. So powerful was the event that happened with Ananias and Sapphira that no one dared to join the apostles. It seems that the apostles would now be treated differently, perhaps no longer as common men, but with fear after what has happened. However, this is not to say that people were not becoming Christians, since verse 14 tells us multitudes of both men and women were being added to the Lord.
- Verse 15 also shows us that the people were still coming to the apostles even though they feared what had taken place. In fact, the crowds would carry the sick out into the streets and hope that at least the shadow might fall on some of them. The people realized the power of God was present in these apostles, both positively and negatively. The positive is the healing power the apostles exercised on the sick and those tormented by unclean spirits. As verse 16 concludes, "all of them were healed." But the people also remembered the power of God as punishment upon evil, because they had seen Ananias and Sapphira struck dead by God. It seems that the people are believing and are carefully dealing with the apostles.
B. Back in prison (5:17-21)
- The high priest is going to take action, as he and the Sadducees were filled with indignation. Remember, the high priest is Caiaphas, the one who saw to it that Jesus was condemned by Jewish trial and who handed Jesus over to Pilate. They are all filled with indignation because they have violated their command to no longer preach and teach. But word zelos also means jealousy. Why would the high priest and the Sanhedrin be jealous about what the apostles were doing? I think it is clear the Sanhedrin was upset that the people were listening and following the apostles and not them.
- So they arrest the apostles and put them into the prison. But an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail during the night and brought them out. Notice what the angel tells the apostles: "Go and stand in the temple complex, and tell the people all about this Life." Do you think the apostles needed some encouragement after being arrested again? The angel gives it to them and tells them to go back into the temple complex and tell the people about Jesus. Therefore, the next morning the apostles go back into the temple complex and begin preaching to the people.
C. Apostles on trial (5:21-32)
- Now the story becomes humorous to me. The high priest comes along with the whole Sanhedrin and they are ready to begin their trial of the apostles. They call for the officers to go to the prison and bring the apostles to them. So the officers go to the prison and did not find the apostles in the prison. So they return to the high priest and the Sanhedrin and tell them that they found the prison securely locked and the guards were standing by the doors, but when they went in to bring out the apostles, the apostles were not there.
- So everyone is greatly perplexed. They are trying to figure out what happened and what this means. How is it possible that the apostles are not in the prison when the doors of the prison are still sealed and the guards are standing out front? Does this not sound like what Jesus was able to do, who raised from the dead and left the tomb, even though the tomb was sealed and there were guards in front of the tomb? One would imagine this parallel might be coming to the Sanhedrin’s mind.
- While pondering this, someone comes running in and tells the Sanhedrin that the apostles are standing in the temple complex teaching the people. So the officers go and bring the apostles before the Sanhedrin, but not by force, for they were afraid of being stoned by the people. This statement again shows the favor the apostles had with the people. The people believed what the apostles were teaching and recognized their works as the power of God.
- The apostles are brought in for trial and the high priest begins to question them. Notice the high priest says, "you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us." The high priest himself, along with other Jewish leaders and Jewish people, had said "His blood be on us and on our children." The blood of Jesus was on their heads. The apostles answer that they must obey God and not men. Further, God raised Jesus from the dead and the apostles and the Holy Spirit are witnesses of this resurrection.
D. Rejection in the face of truth
- Before we go on in the story, I think it is important for us to stop and notice the key theme of this section of text. The high priest and the Sanhedrin refuse to see the truth. Consider all that the Sanhedrin has ignored up to this point.
- First, the healing of the lame man was, in their own words, a notable miracle that no one could deny. The enemies of Jesus and His apostles had no alternative but to accept that the lame man had been healed. Peter and John declared that this miracle had been performed through the power of Jesus Christ, whom the Jewish leaders had crucified. However, they continued to reject God’s will.
- Second, the apostles have been released by an angel of the Lord. The prison was secure and well guarded. When the officers go to bring the apostles to trial, they find the prison intact, but the apostles in the temple complex teaching. Instead of consider this notable miracle, the Jewish leaders continued to reject God’s will.
- Third, the apostles are witnesses of the resurrection. Here we have twelve men who claim to be eyewitnesses of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. There is nothing more powerful than eyewitness testimony. According to the law of Moses, upon the testimony of two or three men was something to be taken as fact. In this case, we have twelve men who claim to have seen the risen Lord. Yet the Jewish leaders continued to reject the will of God.
- Fourth, the Holy Spirit is a witness of the resurrected Christ. The apostles are openly telling people that they are not able to perform these miracles by their own hands. These miracles are done through the power of the Holy Spirit, which was promised to be received by the apostles when Jesus resurrected and returned to the throne in heaven. Since the apostles are performing these miracles, the Holy Spirit has been sent by Christ who is ruling on the throne in heaven.
- Fifth, Gamaliel gives some important advice to the Sanhedrin in Acts 5:34-42. The Sanhedrin is enraged and wants to kill these apostles. However, Gamaliel reminds the council that if something is of men, it will not last and will be overthrown. If the work is from God, then they may find themselves fighting against God. This is great council. The deeds of men will perish but the work of God will never be overthrown. So what does the council do? The council has the apostles flogged. The council does not care if they are fighting against God. They do not like these apostles because they are jealous of them, as noted earlier. Not only this, the council again charges the apostles to no longer speak in the name of the Jesus. However, the apostles go their way rejoicing and continuing to preach and teach Jesus as the Christ.
II. How We Reject God
A. Refusing to believe in the face of clear evidence
- While we may read about these Jewish leaders and be appalled at how they were blind to the obvious facts, we must realize that we can do the same thing. We look at all of the evidence that made it clear the apostles were teaching the truth about the risen Christ and cannot understand why they would not become believers.
- But we also can refuse to believe in the face of clear evidence. The same testimony rejected by the Sanhedrin is put before each of us to accept or reject. Jesus lived and died. This is a historical fact that is indisputable. There are hundreds of witnesses that saw the resurrected Jesus. If we had five people all give us the same eyewitness testimony about a crime a person committed, we would know beyond a shadow of a doubt the person was guilty. The scriptures tell us that there were over 500 people who saw the resurrected Christ. Yet many refuse to believe the clear evidence.
- Do you believe that we can go down to the junk yard, pour gasoline on it, and light a match and expect to start producing automobiles? I am sure you would think I was crazy to make such a suggestion! Then why would you ever believe that the complexities of this world, with planets and solar systems, and with complexities of our own human body were created by explosion? It is the exact same principle. Show me an explosion and I will show you death and destruction, not life and organization!
- Do you believe that things are evolving from a state of disorder to order, as theorized by evolution? Do you see anything today that goes from a state of disorder to order all by itself, without applied energy? If you do, then do not wash your car and do not clean your house, because over time it will clean itself! No, time causes things to go from a state of order to state of disorder. Our bodies are falling apart as we get older, which simply proves it. In fact, this is so proven, science has called it a universal law: the second law of thermodynamics. Yet we are supposed to believe that we evolved from monkeys who evolved from fish, who evolved from some sort of primordial ooze? The theory violates the law of universe. You must have greater faith to believe in scientific explanations for the origin of the universe than you must have believe in God.
- Why refuse to believe in the face of clear evidence? The answer is easy to come by. Why did the Sanhedrin council refuse to believe? They did not want to accept Jesus as their Messiah. They did not care what the evidence was, that was something they would not believe. The only reason to not believe in God and that Jesus lived, died, and rose from dead is because you do not want to. You do not want to be subject to God. I submit to you there is no other answer. We are being stubborn and rebellious to God our creator, just as this Sanhedrin council was. We are just as condemned as they were if we maintain our rebellion.
B. Refusing to obey though we believe in God
- The second way we can reject God is by not obeying His words and not submitting to His will. This is a state that, quite frankly, I do not understand. Once we accept the clear evidence that there is a God who created us and loves us, why would we refuse to obey Him? How can we say that we believe in God yet not do what He has told us to do? James addressed those in this state when he said, "You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe – and tremble! But do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith without works is useless? You see a person is justified by works and not by faith alone" (James 2:19-20,24).
- It is not acceptable for us to think that since we accept that there is a God and live a generally moral life that this is considered obedience. Jesus made this point clear, "No everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 7:21). Hear Jesus’ words again, "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments" (John 14:15). The story of the scriptures is not about convincing people there is a God. Most people already knew and believed that. The story of the scriptures is convincing people to obey God because He sent His Son to die so that we can be forgiven. Belief is not enough to God. Obedience is what God calls us to so that we can be in a relationship with Him. Baptism is the act where God says that He removes our sins and places us in a covenant relationship with Him (Colossians 2:11-14). Baptism is when God says He performs His work of grace upon us. There is no other point in time when someone can claim salvation. There is no other act that can be done to be right with God. Baptism is how we unite with Christ (Romans 6:1-4). To believe in God, but not obey, is again to be like the Sanhedrin in Acts 5. They believed in God, but refused to do what God asked. They were condemned and so are we for disobedience.
C. Refusing to accept the clear teaching of God’s word
- The scriptures were clear that Jesus is the Christ. Jesus fulfilled every prophecy to show Himself for who He is. The Sanhedrin wanted to believe what they wanted to believe. They did not care that the apostles quoted Old Testament scriptures. They did not care that notable miracles were being performed. They did not care what the apostles said or did to try to prove their case, the Sanhedrin was going to believe what they wanted. They had their traditions and laws and they were going to keep them, even though God condemned them.
- This is also a way that we reject God today. We refuse to accept the clear teaching of the scriptures. We want to believe in our own knowledge. Perhaps you have grown up with a particular teaching. Perhaps your family always believed a certain way about God or were part of a particular denomination or religion. Perhaps you have listened to the religious noise that the world generates, supposedly teaching what is in the Bible. We cannot hold on to any of those beliefs when it is contrary to the word of God. We cannot fight for our beliefs when our beliefs contradict the clear teaching of God’s word.
- We can argue that God is love and will never punish people. But that is not what the scriptures teach. Jesus said in Matthew 25 that those who do not obey will be cast into eternal punishment and eternal fire. What good will it do to stand before God on the day of judgment holding on to false beliefs? What defense will we give before God? Will we say that we just did what our family taught us? Will we say that we liked another denomination or religion better? Will God accept our excuses? You and I have a responsibility to do what we know is right and be obedient to God.
- What is keeping you from obeying God? Why would you continue to reject God through disobedience in the face of the clear evidence of His existence? Become a child of God by being baptized for the forgiveness of your sins today. Let me leave you with the words of Gamaliel. "For if this plan or this work is of men, it will be overthrown; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You may even be found fighting against God." Let us not fight against God.