Burning Coals: God Knows How To Deliver Part 2

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

Today we will continue 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. 

Read Part 1


Acts 5:17-42

17 But the high priest rose up, and all who were with him (that is, the party of the Sadducees), and filled with jealousy 18 they arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison. 19 But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, 20 “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life.” 21 And when they heard this, they entered the temple at daybreak and began to teach.

Now when the high priest came, and those who were with him, they called together the council, all the senate of the people of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought. 22 But when the officers came, they did not find them in the prison, so they returned and reported, 23 “We found the prison securely locked and the guards standing at the doors, but when we opened them we found no one inside.” 24 Now when the captain of the temple and the chief priests heard these words, they were greatly perplexed about them, wondering what this would come to. 25 And someone came and told them, “Look! The men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people.” 26 Then the captain with the officers went and brought them, but not by force, for they were afraid of being stoned by the people.

27 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.” 29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. 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.”

The text that is the focus of this essay, Acts 5:33-42

33 When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. 34 But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in honor by all the people, stood up and gave orders to put the men outside for a little while. 35 And he said to them, “Men of Israel, take care what you are about to do with these men. 36 For before these days Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. 37 After him Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him. He too perished, and all who followed him were scattered. 38 So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; 39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” So they took his advice, 40 and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 41 Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. 42 And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.

Things were already on the edge of exploding. The Sadducees are frustrated by the morning’s escape, the change in the nature of the apostles’ appearance before them (free), and the shifting political situation. The clearest evidence that I can give that the Sadducees intended to put them to death all along is their vicious response to the apostles’ testimony before them. “When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them.” (Acts 5:33). Why respond like this now? This is the same general message that was delivered to them in the previous chapter by Peter. It is not like this is the first time they’ve heard it. In Acts 4, during the first trial, this is what Peter says to these same men.

Acts 4:8-12

8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, 9 if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed,10 let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well. 11 This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. 12 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

The Sadducees, and at least some of the Pharisees, were ready BEFORE they arrested them to put them to death. The problem is that it is NOT the first time they’ve heard it. The members of the Sanhedrin have listened to this message every day for months, publicly, right outside their place of business. The crowd of believers has swelled to an enormous size outside their office window. The gall of these “uneducated, common men” (Acts 4:13) accusing them daily in public of murder. When they hear the Gospel presented, that is all they hear, an accusation of murder. They are tired of hearing it. They’ve been itching to use their power and take revenge on the Twelve. What was good for the Master (Jesus) will also be good for the disciples (the apostles). “(T)hey were enraged and wanted to kill them.” (Acts 5:33)

But then, a very well-respected member of the Sanhedrin rises to speak. A man who, if I were guessing, is likely Caiaphas, the high priest’s peer on the Pharisee side of the room. You can think of  Him as the minority leader if you will.

33 When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. 34 But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in honor by all the people, stood up and gave orders to put the men outside for a little while.

At this point, the apostles’ do not know what will happen. The men of the gallery rush the podiums, grab the apostles, and begin to drag them outside to either stone them or take them to Pontius Pilate. Either of those options is bad news. Then, at the very last moment, one of the prominent judges, probably seated in a place of honor near the front, rises and calls the mob to order. He has the apostles placed outside the room. He wants to address the Sanhedrin, but he doesn’t want the apostles to know what he is going to say. We know what he said because, as we’ve discussed, Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea, and the apostle Paul (as Saul of Tarsus) are all probably in the room. Gamaliel is going to speak on the apostles’ behalf, but he doesn’t want to give the apostles any ammunition to use against anyone later. That’s why he has them placed outside.   

That’s enough for today. We’ll return to Gamaliel’s intervention on the apostles behalf tomorrow!

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