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.
Gamaliel’s point is that the Sanhedrin had remained wisely neutral in the past. They let things take a more natural course. They had their finger in the wind and were always ready to jump on the winning bandwagon if one ever appeared. But they let the wind blow. The Romans would take care of everyone who was not the real Messiah. All the Sanhedrin had to do was wait. That’s his advice here. Let’s let God handle it through the means of the Roman empire. “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;” (Acts 5:38)
But there is a tone of doubt in his voice. He is ending the informal agreement between the Sadducees and the Pharisees against the Galileans (Followers of Jesus). Gamaliel is a well-respected and important member of the council. I wonder if he was in any of the closed-door meetings that happened on the day of Christ’s resurrection? Remember what Matthew tells us?
Matthew 28:1-4; 11-15
Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2 And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4 And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men.
11 While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. 12 And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers 13 and said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ 14 And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” 15 So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day.
On the heels of this report came the tongues event in Acts 2, and then first verified miraculous healing in Acts 3, resulting in the first apostolic trial in Acts 4. Then came the healing of multitudes, and both men and women started to believe that Jesus was the King of Israel in Acts 5. Peter, after this, begins to be able to heal the sick just by having his shadow pass over those in need. Finally, this morning brought the inexplicable escape of the apostles. Gamaliel is beginning to question whether it is wise, in light of all the unexplainable events of the last few months, to continue this course of action. He’s concerned the Sanhedrin might be found to be on the wrong side of history. “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!” (Acts 5:38-39). That is what we might call a candid admission. That is what he did not want the apostles to hear. He didn’t want them to know that he, and likely many of the Pharisees, wasn’t sure about his position anymore. Miraculously, it is Gamaliel, a Pharisee and renowned teacher of the law, that secured the apostles’ release in the providence of God.
The Sanhedrin does take a pound of flesh for their trouble however. They do beat them as a way to impress upon the apostles that their threats are more than words. They will resort to violence. “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.” (Acts 5:40)
The apostles leave this situation strengthened. Two arrests have resulted in two acquittals and one unjust beating. They’ve been told not to speak in the name of Jesus. But they are already committed to a regime of civil disobedience on that front. They are determined to obey God rather than men. They will fulfill the Great Commission no matter what. The apostles are bloodied and bruised and tired from the spiritual battle, but God has shown himself faithful. An angel and a Pharisee unexpectedly rescued them. The day opened and closed with miracles or two different sorts. They are limping, but with some pep in their step. We read, “Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.” (Acts 5:41-42)
Thanks for taking the time to read the blog! Look for Part 5 tomorrow!
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May God be with you!