STANDING IN THE RIGHT PLACE
Scripture: Acts 5: 17-42.
THEME: As the Apostles continue to preach, the church continues to grow at a fantastic rate. The Jewish rulers become jealous of Christianity’s appeal and success, to the point of being alarmed and afraid of its impact on both the people and themselves. They attempt again to stop the Apostles, but are out-maneuvered at every turn. The Gospel Message of Christ the Resurrected Messiah continues to be preached and to produce numerous converts despite persecution.
I. Success breeds jealousy and enmity among the Jewish rulers and arrest of the Apostles again follows.
A. The Apostles’ earlier prayer (Acts 4: 24-31) is being continually answered, and it is clear that they are following God’s directions from Jesus in their preaching and living.
1. The Apostles are standing in the right place: at the head of crowds proclaiming the Gospel of the Resurrected Messiah in all its glory and implications.
2. (Acts 5: 14, 16) “Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number. . . Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed.”
3. The Apostles were very successful in their proclamation of Jesus. Their prayer for great boldness in preaching the Word and for accompanying miraculous signs to continue to authenticate the Message was clearly and continually being answered.
B. Such success was not without cost, however. Satan never seems to rest, and success draws his attention like honey draws flies. This time he uses the civil authorities as his agents and inspires them to step up the persecution.
1. The last time that Peter and John were arrested, Satan had thought of Peter as a weak and pliable follower of Jesus, one ready to deny him when confronted by servant girls; John as a nameless member in a covey of quail – all flying away thoroughly frightened and disorganized at the sight of troops arresting their Lord.
2. But Peter had changed dramatically since the night in the high priest’s courtyard. He had been recharged by Christ on the shores of Galilee. He and John had both received the Holy Spirit – a life-changing event if there ever was one.
a. Satan was not dealing with scared little children anymore.
b. He was dealing with Spirit-inspired men of steel who weren’t afraid of anyone anymore.
3. The civil authorities were filled with jealousy – an interesting emotion considering the situation.
a. One might think that hostility would have been more likely, or even irritation.
4. But they were jealous in several ways:
a. They were jealous of the Apostles’ expanding popularity.
b. They were angry over the Apostles’ disobedience to their previous command to stop preaching in Jesus’ name.
c. They were jealous for their power, for the Christian Way was expanding at a great rate, threatening the Council’s/Sadducees’ power and control over the people.
C. The whole group of Apostles was arrested and jailed, but without success. This shows us (and should have been heeded by the Sanhedrin) that the Holy Spirit was behind their efforts. Their angelic release from jail was rather strange:
1. Instead of having the Apostles flee from Jerusalem to safer environs, the angel gives them an interesting command: (v. 20) “Go, stand in the temple courts,” he said, “and tell the people the full message of this new life.”
2. They were not to run and hide, but continue to publicly proclaim the Gospel.
3. One is reminded of God’s later message to Paul in Corinth: (Acts 18: 9) “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.”
4. Obviously, there were many people left in Jerusalem to be converted.
II. The Apostles’ trial before the Sanhedrin and the interesting intervention by the Pharisee Gamaliel.
A. This trial is somewhat of a repeat or a reminder of Peter and John’s trial before the Sanhedrin in chapter 4, except that Satan ups the pressure on the Apostles.
1. Peter is again the spokesman for the group, as he had been throughout the Gospels.
2. He again uses this opportunity to fulfill Jesus prophecy and witness to the entire Council: (John 14: 26 & John 15: 20-21 & John 15: 27 & Luke 21: 12-15, 17-18): “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”. . . “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me.” . . . “And you must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.”. . . “But before all this, they will lay hands on you and persecute you. They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. This will result in your being witnesses to them. But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. . . All men will hate you because of me. But not a hair of your head will perish. By standing firm you will gain life.”
3. The Apostles both remembered these words and BELIEVED them. For they stood firm and did not waver in the least.
4. Think what would happen if you were standing in front of the United States Supreme Court on trial for your beliefs, with all those TV cameras and liberal left wing anti-Christian lawyers railing against you in addition to the open hostility by at least some of the judges.
a. Do you think you could stand firm for your faith?
b. Or would you just kind of melt away and try to hide from it all?
c. I’m afraid we all know the answer to this question.
d. I’m also afraid that, maybe even in our lifetime, this scene will be played out in the real world.
e. It’s already being played out in many countries of the world.
5. But the Apostles were standing in the right place: right where they had been told to stand.
6. It’s better to stand in the right place with the Lord than in the popular place of people and the devil.
B. It is interesting to note that the Sanhedrin is on the defensive from the very 1st words.
1. They admit that the Apostles have been very effective in their preaching.
2. They are in fear that the Apostles have successfully made them responsible for Jesus’ death on the cross.
3. Ahhh, how soon we forget the words we speak: (Matthew 27: 24-25) “When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!” All the people answered, “Let his blood be on us and on our children!”
4. They were willing to be responsible when there was no danger of the results being visited upon them. Now, the Council began to see the true power of the resurrected Christ and the Holy Spirit as compared to their nothingness, and it scared them: (v.28) “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.”
5. They had made themselves guilty – but they were scared when it looked like they might actually be held responsible by the people.
a. This sounds a lot like today: we want all the benefits and good times, but when it comes down to actually being responsible for our actions – no way.
b. “It’s not my fault.” (whine)
c. We want to stand with the winning side, but we run away to keep from any notion of responsibility.
C. The Apostles’ words scared them so much and filled them with an uncontrollable rage that many thought the only way out of their predicament was to have them executed.
1. But a highly respected Pharisee Rabbi, Gamaliel, (incidentally the teacher of Paul, probably during this time) kept them in check.
2. He provided a face-saving way out for them – he pointed them to a safe place to stand.
3. Gamaliel simply gave them a common sense proposal (with a couple of historical examples to illustrate his point).
a. (vv. 38-39) “Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose of activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”
4. Gamaliel gave them an out – and let them save face at the same time.
D. So the council had them flogged, again commanded them not to preach Jesus, and released them.
1. This was the Mosaic Law’s flogging – not the Roman flogging that Jesus withstood.
2. (Deuteronomy 25: 2-3) “If the guilty man deserves to be beaten, the judge shall make him lie down and have him flogged in his presence with the number of lashes his crime deserves, but he must not give him more than forty lashes.”
3. In an effort not to even come near breaking the Law, the Jewish authorities had made the maximum number of lashes 39, just in case someone might have miscounted.
THIS DOES NOT HAVE THE DESIRED EFFECT – IN FACT, IT HAS EXACTLY THE OPPOSITE EFFECT THAT THE COUNCIL WANTED IT TO HAVE.
III. The non-effect of the beating and the resulting actions of the Apostles.
A. The Apostles depart their trial back to their friends doing something that should AMAZE and INSPIRE us. (v. 41) “The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.”
1. They had been told where to stand – they did, and it cost them a shameful and painful beating.
2. But their feet were standing in the footsteps of Christ Jesus – and they understood fully that was the best place in the universe to be standing.
B. They had remembered what Jesus had told them: (Mark 13: 9, 13) “You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. . . All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.” (emphasis added)
1. They felt honored that they were standing on the same side (of the Jewish leadership) as their friend, Master, and Savior Jesus had been. They were proud to be beaten for preaching the Gospel Word and obeying the Father.
2. If Thomas County came down and said: “If you are a church attending Christian, your property tax bills will be doubled!” I can just see this congregation: There would not be half a dozen of you ever in church again, WOULD THERE??
3. You know yourselves – you know your standing with God. Would you stand if it cost you more tax money?
4. What if your tithe to the church was not deductible from your income tax?
a. How many of you would quit giving?
5. What that tells me is that you’re looking for an excuse right now to not give at all, much less tithe.
6. We’re like the parable of the sower:
a. (Mark 4: 16-17) “Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.”
7. Many of you received the word with joy – and happily got baptized. But you have failed to grow. You have not put down any roots.
8. How do you put down roots??
a. You put your nose in your Bible, and your knees on the floor.
b. Study God’s Word, and pray.
9. I’m afraid that the last time you ever stood for God was when you walked the aisle 40 or so years ago and stood beside the preacher and told him: “I want to be saved and baptized.”
10. If that is your case, when the hard times come – AND THEY ARE COMING – you will quickly FALL AWAY.
11. Do you REALLY AND TRULY understand what that means?
a. That means you will lose your salvation
b. Because you have not grown roots, you will not be able or willing to stand with Jesus against the devil.
c. You will wind up standing in the wrong place on judgment day.
d. Because you didn’t stand in the right place while you were living.
STAND WITH JESUS TODAY!!
PUT DOWN SOME SERIOUS ROOTS AND GROW!!!
DUST OFF THAT BIBLE AND R-E-A-D IT.
PRAY FOR GOD TO WELCOME YOU BACK INTO THE FOLD.
SO THAT YOU WILL STAND – AND REJOICE WITH HIM – WHEN THE HARD TIMES COMES.