Burning Coals: God Knows How To Deliver Part 1

From our sermon series “Acts of the Apostles: The First Thirty Years.”

Today we will be looking at Acts 5:33-42. It is part of Acts 5:17-42, which covers one event, the second trial involving an apostle. The first trial was in Acts 4 and involved only Peter and John after Peter healed the lame man at the Temple gate in Acts 3. At the end of that trial, the apostles were commanded by the Sanhedrin to no longer preach in the name of Christ. 


The second trial, which we are examining now, involves all the apostles. Today we will conclude the trial and Acts 5 along with it. To reset the stage, Caiaphas, the high priest, and the Sadducees had the apostles arrested out of jealousy. The prosecution has declared the charges. The first charge was insubordination, because they continued to teach in the name of Jesus. The second charge was endangering a public official or conspiracy to incite an insurrection. 

Acts 5:27-28

And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, 28 saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.”

The apostles defied the council and continued to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem. Their ministry of miraculous healing, coupled with declaring Christ as the resurrected and ascended King of Israel, has expanded their influence in Jerusalem exponentially. Five thousand men, heads of households, were in the Church by the end of Acts 3. Early in Acts 4, we read, “But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand.” (Acts 4:4). This would give us an estimate of likely more than 20,000 people under the apostles’ ministry at that time. Later in Acts 5, we read, “And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women” (Acts 5:14). The new Gospel phenomenon of female inclusion is outlined for the first time and with it a vast expansion of the healing ministry of the apostles. The familial caregivers (women) begin to bring those they care for to the apostles on a larger scale. “The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed.” (Acts 5:16). Who knows how many are a part of the apostolic Church at this point in her existence? But, as we say in the South, it is a little more than a lot.

Every time the apostles share the Gospel, they tell of the resurrected Christ, who was “crucified by the hands of lawless men.” (Acts 2:23). Those lawless men are the men of the Sanhedrin. The Sadducees hear the Gospel as an accusation of murder (which it is to us all), but they mistakenly believe that the apostles are attempting to stir up a mob out for blood against them. They don’t understand it as a part of the message of salvation. They understand it as a political machination. That is, at root, why they are jealous. They are jealous of their position of power. They are losing their constituency to the apostles. They are down in the polls. 

The apostles, speaking in their own defense, have responded to the prosecution in the trial too. Regarding the charge of insubordination, they repeat what they told the Sanhedrin when first commanded not to teach in the name of Jesus. “We must obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29). Regarding the charge of conspiracy to incite a insurrection, they don’t deny the charges; instead, they repeat them, except set in the ultimate victory of the resurrection, ascension, and subsequent sending of the Holy Spirit.

Acts 5:30-32

30 The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. 31 God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”

As we’ll see today, this will not be taken as kindness. It will instead be taken as an affirmation of the Sanhedrin’s pre-supposed intentions. It will also be taken as an insult. It was meant to be jarring. The men of the Sanhedrin are not being obedient to God. They are not prepared to bow to Christ as their King. In short, the apostles make an accusation of their own. They accuse them correctly of not obeying God, and they know this for sure because most of them, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus excepted, have not had a saving experience of the Holy Spirit. 

Finally, I want to remind us that there is more than one faction in the Sanhedrin. There are quite a few, but the main two are the Sadducees and Pharisees. The Sadducees are responsible for the apostles’ arrest. The passage opens with that explicit statement. “But the high priest rose up, and all who were with him (that is, the party of the Sadducees), and filled with jealousy they arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison.” (Acts 5:17-18) The Sadducees and Pharisees, however, have been working in league. It is not just the Sadducees alone. They’ve worked in tandem against Christ and this new Christian sect known as the Church. The murder of the prophet, Jesus of Nazareth, was supposed to bring an end to His ministry, only it didn’t.

On the contrary, it is a bigger problem than ever. Where there had been One, now there are Twelve men working miracles. Miracles that have been verified and are verifiable. And the apostles escaped from under their hands in a way that has not been explained. The Pharisees believe in the Messianic concept. They believe in miracles. They don’t think Jesus is the Christ, but a number of them are uncomfortable enough about the miraculous events surrounding the apostles that they have decided that now is a good time to part ways with the Sadducees. Let’s read the entire section this morning as we bring it to a close

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