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Sermon Summary - Sunday 23 October 2016

Main Bible passage:  Acts 5:27-42

A crisis is growing in first century Jerusalem as the 12 apostles play a dangerous game. Having already been arrested and threatened by the authorities (Ac 4:3, 5:18), they provoke them further by returning to the temple to preach (Ac 5:21). Yet they must do so because this is the Lord’s command to them (Ac 5:20). They are witnesses to Israel’s sin (Ac 3:15); the announcers of God’s judgement upon it (Ac 3:23) and those who offer the only way to escape being condemned (Ac 3:19). So though their actions seem suicidal, they are being obedient to their Lord.

For now, however, their lives are protected by their popularity with the crowds. The officers re-arrest the apostles but only with great care, since they fear an uprising (Ac 5:26). Nonetheless, the Sanhedrin council try to bully them, once more, into silence (v27,28). But though they might once have buckled under such questioning (Lk 22:61), the apostles, headed up by Peter, give a bold answer (v29). This is not easy: Christians can be intimidated into compromise. The Lord, however, forgives our failures and uses them to teach us to be faithful in honouring him (Lk 22:31,32) – as the 12 show here. So Peter hits the rulers hard, accusing them of disloyalty to Israel’s God (v30) and His anointed king who is their only hope of salvation (v31). Indeed, the Holy Spirit Himself, at work in the believers (Ac 2:33), testifies to the truth of this (v32)!

The room erupts, many wanting to lynch the apostles (v33). They fear these men whom they feel endanger their power, status and money (Ac 5:17) and, maybe, their whole way of life (see Ac 6:13,14)! Their anger is understandable. We all have parts of our lives which we’d hate to lose. Sadly, however, we can make too much of them and our obsession unlocks evil in our hearts. We become proud and envious, demanding the life we deserve. Our desires are corrupted into traits such as immorality and greed. Our reactions to others become cruel. The council show this. Why do they fear the apostles? The 12 are powerless, ordinary men who speak of a leader who died as a criminal, and live in a community of love and mercy. But the council dread the harm they might do, so they’ll murder the innocent to hide the truth and protect their lives. The rulers may be law-abiding, upright and zealous for God, but wickedness is deeply embedded within them (Ro 10:1-4). This is, as Jesus said (Mk 7:20-23), the problem of sin in all of us, which is soon exposed, given the right circumstances. We need to see this about ourselves; only then can Jesus help us.

Back in the council chamber, the difference between the two sides is striking: the powerless are calm and bold; the powerful are fearful and frantic. However, one of the Sanhedrin – Gamaliel, a highly regarded Bible-teacher – has a more controlled response to suggest. The apostles are removed so that a secret discussion can take place, at which Gamaliel makes his case. He agrees that the apostles are a threat but notes that past threats to civil society have always failed (v35-38), crushed by force: so why get uptight about this group? On the other hand, if they are truly from God as they claim, well who can stand against Him (v39)? It’s not clear which option Gamaliel believes is most likely (probably the former). The council, however, are won over by the idea and so bring the apostles back in to beat and threaten them, before granting release (v40). As the apostles leave, a striking contrast is seen between them and the rulers. The latter are fearful, brutal and secret schemers, blind to what God might be doing. The former are confident and joyful (v41), willing to suffer violence for Christ, and proclaiming openly their good news about Jesus (v42). They return to the temple and, even, receive invites into homes. The council not only fail to silence the apostles but actually see an increase in their evangelistic activity.

Jesus gives to his people a risky life that is well worth living. We see that clearly in the finest moments of the lives of the apostles and other Christians. So we can face our hardest times with hope. The Lord judges all, even the most powerful. The Lord controls all, and works everything for the good of his people (Ro 8:28). It’s not easy to do, but we can live calmly and boldly.

Crisis? What crisis?
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