Have you ever noticed that people aren’t always receptive to the Good News of the Gospel? We’re living in a world where it is increasingly forbidden to share the Good News with a desire to win converts. The situation is getting to the point where the only place where the Gospel can be proclaimed is in a church.
This problem isn’t new. The disciples were some of the first victims of this type of persecution. We heard an example of this persecution in Acts 5:27-42. Peter and John were arrested for preaching and brought before the Jewish authorities. They were released with orders not to preach-orders they promptly disobeyed. They were arrested again, and when they were asked why they disobeyed the order, Peter made a speech similar to the one he made on the Day of Pentecost.
Acts 5:27-42 is a story about obeying God regardless of the consequences imposed by mankind. Like Peter, we as Christians are to obey the Lord rather than man in situations where the two are in conflict. For example, when obeying our political leaders would cause us to do something that goes against God’s Word, we are to obey God’s Word instead of our political leaders. At all other times we are to obey our political leaders as commanded by the apostle Paul.
In this reading, Peter and the disciples have been arrested and brought before the Jewish Sanhedrin, or high court, on charges of preaching the Gospel in spite of being ordered not to. In their defence, Peter preaches the second of his two famous sermons as recorded in the Book of Acts, the first one being preached on the Day of Pentecost. It is in this second sermon that Peter teaches that we as Christians are to obey God instead of man in cases where the two are in conflict.
Was Peter’s speech inspired by the Holy Spirit? We don’t know for sure, but I believe that it was. Was Gamaliel’s speech inspired by the Holy Spirit? Again, we don’t know for sure, but I believe that God used Gamaliel to save the lives of the disciples. If they had been put to death, Christianity would also have died. Instead, Gamaliel fulfilled his part in God’s plan by encouraging the members of the Sanhedrin to leave the disciples alone.
The problem the Jewish authorities had was not what the disciples preached but how they did it. They were drawing public attention to the message of a Jewish man who was executed on a Roman cross. That message was contradictory to common ideas about God’s anointed Messiah. Their message challenged claims associated with Roman rule. The authorities failed to realize who the apostles were because they failed to recognize who Jesus was.
God first delivered the disciples from jail through supernatural means by sending an angel from heaven. Then God delivered them through natural means by causing an enemy of Christianity to argue for their release. This is passage is proof of the work of God’s sovereign hand in history. He can even use the thoughts of those who oppose the gospel to preserve and protect His servants.
Gamaliel’s advice was wise, both for us and the Sanhedrin. There are times when certain people and causes are obviously a contradiction to the Word of God that we know they are not of Him. There are times when they may be great truths wrapped up in new methods with which we are not familiar. Wait. If they are of God we can’t stop them. If not, they will not succeed.
The disciples also obeyed God by continuing to teach and preach in spite of the warning from the Sanhedrin. The disciples knew that God wanted to fill the minds of the people with truth. That was the only way they could oppose the lies that Satan wanted to fill the people’s minds with. We as Christians today also need to be filled with spiritual truth in order to counteract the lies that Satan and our sin-filled world want to fill our minds with. We get spiritual truth by attending weekly worship services, studying the Bible either by ourselves or as part of a small group, and by listening to sermons preached by people such as me or other preachers.
Peter’s claim that the disciples had to obey God instead of man was a continuation of the tradition of appealing to a higher authority to support or challenge actions. He made the same points that he made in the speech he delivered on the Day of Pentecost:
- Christians must obey God rather than men
- Jesus the Messiah is alive.
- Jesus lives in us.
Peter and the disciples knew that following the outdated rules and regulations of the Jewish authorities would not lead to the forgiveness of sins. Only Jesus can provide forgiveness.
God calls on us to make disciples of all nations. This will likely mean that we will be persecuted, but the end result might be a period of revival. We are not alone in facing persecution. Our Christian brothers and sisters in the Third World face extreme forms of persecution such as death-all because of their faith.
As Christians, we must acknowledge that there is a tension between obeying God and obeying civil governments. God, not government, is to be obeyed when it comes to the mission of the church, which is to spread the Good News of the Kingdom. Civil governments might seem to be the answer to all of our problems, and they might even seem to be the potential saviours of our world, but they aren’t. Civil governments must be obeyed except when they overstep their bounds by trying to stop the work of God. When that happens, governments must be disobeyed. When injustice and oppression are part of religious, social and political systems, nothing short of mass activism will transform them.
Here in Canada we are fortunate in that we can share our faith with others. In many other countries it is against the law to share our Christian faith. We as Christians have an allegiance to a higher authority-God. In the words of Dr. Charles Stanley, who is the President of In Touch Ministries and the man who compiled one of the study Bibles that I use when I prepare sermons, when God tells us to do something such as sharing our faith with others, we have to “obey God and leave all the consequences to Him”. We must expect persecution for doing God’s work, but we must remember that if we are persecuted for obeying God, God might not stop the consequences from happening. He might not ease the consequences. The persecution we face might be part of God’s plan for our lives.
Would we, like the disciples and the apostle Paul, rejoice if we suffered for the Lord? If we feel battered and bruised, we must remember that God sometimes delivers us through the battering and the bruising, not from through the battering and the bruising. We, like the disciples, must remain committed to obeying God, regardless of the cost.
When we obey God by doing things such as loving an enemy, people will be amazed because it is not the logical thing to do. Obeying God is the Christian thing to do. In contrast, obeying man is the worldly thing to do. When we obey God, we don’t know what the result will be, but God will bless our obedience in some way.
God wants us to acknowledge that He is sovereign and trust him instead of rejecting him and following our own plans. The disciples decided to follow God’s plan, and in doing so they set a good example for us to follow. If we are ever asked to do something that would cause us to disobey God or violate our conscience, that is where we have to draw the line. Our conscience tells us what is morally right and morally wrong, and if we go against our conscience, then that is sin. Our allegiance must be to God and not to man, because God is the ultimate authority that we must answer to.
God is in charge of our lives. He has rescued us from the bondage of sin, forgiven us and brought us into his family. The proper response is for us to be so grateful that we will spread the Good News in spite of opposition. God calls us by our baptism and authorizes us to keep doing what the apostles were doing. The Holy Spirit calls us by the gospel, and the gospel creates hearts that are obedient to God. We are latter day apostles. We get to follow the first apostles and speak the gospel to people who are gathered in places where anyone can come.
- Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, NKJV (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013)
- Randy White, “A Time of Risk?” Retrieved from Christianity.firstname.lastname@example.org
- M. Moore, “When Not to Obey.” Retrieved from www.colsoncenter.org/the-center/colummns/viewpoint/18240-when-to-speak
- Charles Stanley, “Obeying God.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
- Bayless Conley, “When Is It Right to Disobey?” Retrieved from email@example.com
- Kyle Fever, “Commentary on Acts 5:27-32.” Retrieved from workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1616
- Bruce K. Mondahl, “As One with Authority.” Retrieved from Sabbatheology@Crossings.org
- Exegesis for Acts 5:27-32. Retrieved from lectionary.org
- Preaching Magazine, January/February 2016 (Nashville, TN: Salem Publishing; p. 52)
- Mitzi J. Smith, “Commentary of Acts 5:27-32.” Retrieved from workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2824
- David Jeremiah, “Cause for Amazement”. Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org
- Fred Gillett, “Obedience, Not Outcome…”. Retrieved from hourofpower.org
- Jack Graham, “Loving God with Your Heart and Mind”. Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
- Bayless Conley, “When It Is Right to Disobey”. Retrieved from email@example.com
- M. Moore, “The Courage to Endure”. Retrieved from www.colsoncenter.org
- Charles R. Swindoll, “An Unexpected Ally”. Retrieved from for.Living@insight.org
- Exegesis for Acts 5:27-32, 40-41. Retrieved from sermonwriter.com
- Ogilvie, L.J.; The Preacher’s Commentary Series; Vol. 28: Acts (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1983)
- The NKJV Study Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 2007)