Reading: Acts 5:25-42
And so we continue upon our journey. The early church continues to grow in number and in strength. Word is spreading across Jerusalem and as we have already discovered the Jewish leaders are finding themselves in a very difficult situation. Luke records the incredible growth of the church no less than a dozen times in his writings. All of this at a time when there was no formal organisation. The people who came to faith did so by sharing the good news of Christ and the prompting of the Holy Spirit. There was no Institutional Church but there was growth. There were no buildings to be called a church but the word was being shared and heard. People were proclaiming Christ and claiming him as their Saviour. The setting this week is very similar to that of last week. The apostles have been healing many more people. People were bringing their sick out onto the streets, placing them on beds and mats, in the hope of a healing for them.
The word is now spreading beyond Jerusalem as we are told that crowds from other towns were bringing their sick and forming part of the crowds. As a result of this the powers that be became jealous and we read another account of Apostles being arrested and thrown in jail. An angel came to the men in the night and released them from captivity telling them to go to those temple courts and tell the people the full message of this new life. Meanwhile the Sanhedrin is convened and the prisoners are sent for only for the report to come back to them that even though the prison was fully locked, with the guards there on duty, the prisoners were not inside. That is where we pick up the story this morning as the report is made that the arrested men are free and are in the temple courts teaching the people. The Sanhedrin postpone any further, harsher treatment of them realising that for now they cannot make martyrs out of these men. But persecution of the early church is very much front and centre of things as they stand. The time will come when people will die because of their faith in Christ. In the whole discussion that takes place accusations and counteraccusations are fired by both sides. You have continued the teaching in the name of Jesus after being directly told to stop doing so. You are making us the guilty ones in front of all the people for putting him to death. And the response comes back. We have no option but to put the work of God above the instruction of man. It was you who nailed him to the tree and it was God who raised Jesus from the dead.
The apostles repeat as they did in an earlier chapter that they were eye witnesses to all of this. Just as it was with Jesus the Jewish leaders thoughts were now turning to how do we get rid of this situation for good? Their answer just as it was with Jesus was simple they must be put to death. But remember even within the Sanhedrin there were opposite parties who thought different things. And it on this I want to focus. It would appear that surrounding the time of Jesus life there were several uprisings and revolutions against the Roman Empire led by armed men. There were lives lost and the people simply drifted back to whatever they did with their lives. The man who speaks out almost in defence of the apostles is Gamaliel. A highly respected man in all Jewish quarters. He was a leader of the Pharisees. One of his students was a man very well known to us, his name was Saul before his conversion on the road to Damascus. He was a man very much part of the Pharisees movement and very much opposed to this new teaching. A man who will be renamed Paul and become one of the great disciples of Christ. Gamaliel’s reasoning hits home. If, as it was in the past, all of this new teaching is coming from false prophets and from man alone then it will die away of its own accord. If it comes from God nothing and nobody will ever stop it and just as the apostles did last week he issues a very stark warning to the Sanhedrin. If you continue with your intention to argue with them and even kill them it will be God that you are fighting with. To save face a lesser punishment of flogging is dished out as a way of letting the people know the Sanhedrin has dealt with these revolutionaries. But notice one small detail that comes in on the tail end. Once again we see that hidden agenda as the Apostles are warned by the Sanhedrin again not to do these things in the name of Jesus. To those on the outside the matter has been dealt with but to those on the inside moves are still underway to bring these men and their teaching to a permanent stop. The leaders knew fine well it was all too late. These Apostles were not going to listen to them, they were going to continue preaching and healing and serving in the name of Jesus because they had arrived at that point in their journey of faith and discipleship that they could do no other thing. Even though they would most definitely have been reflecting on much of Jesus teaching when he was with them. Teaching such as, ‘you will be handed over and flogged’ ‘if they persecute me, they will persecute you’ They will, I am sure, have also reflected on the promises that Jesus left with them. Promises such as, ‘blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven.’ From this point on the good news will begin to spread further from Jerusalem into Samaria. From this point on the persecution will be cranked up a notch and taken to a new level. The Sanhedrin will no longer postpone the harsher treatment of those who follow Christ. The persecution of the early church is very much front and centre. From next week onwards people will die because of their faith.