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Saturday, 3 October 2015

Acts part 10: The problem with success.

Building the right foundation part 10

Acts 5:12-42.

Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon's Portico. None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem. And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, so that they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them. The people also gathered from the towns round Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed.
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. But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life.” 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 and all the senate of the people of Israel and sent to the prison to have them brought. But when the officers came, they did not find them in the prison, so they returned and reported, “We found the prison securely locked and the guards standing at the doors, but when we opened them we found no one inside.” 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. And someone came and told them, “Look! The men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people.” Then the captain with the officers went and brought them, but not by force, for they were afraid of being stoned by the people.
And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, 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.” But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Saviour, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”
When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in honour by all the people, stood up and gave orders to put the men outside for a little while. And he said to them, “Men of Israel, take care what you are about to do with these men. 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. 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. 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; 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, 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. Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonour for the name. And every day,in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.

English Standard Version Anglicised

This passage denotes the beginning of a second wave of persecution for the church. As with all opposition the resulting persecution progressively gets worse. In the first wave Peter and John were imprisoned overnight and instructed not to speak in the name of Jesus again. Peter's response was that they were to obey God rather than man on this issue and that they were compelled in spirit to speak of Jesus as Messiah. As you can imagine that did not go down too well with the ruthless men who made up the council. We have to remember that these were the very men that had orchestrated the arrest, mock trial and death of the Lord Jesus Christ and so for the Apostles to be preaching in His name was too much for them to bear.
Their problem was how do they stop what has now become a very successful movement?
In and around Jerusalem there were by now many thousands of Christians and the church was growing at a phenomenal rate, it was also being authenticated by remarkable signs and wonders. The High Priest of the day and his liberal theologian friends the Sadduccees were full of jealousy and had to do something about it. Therefore they persecuted the Apostles in the hope that fear might stem the tide of this new religious movement. Little did they know that they would prove something that many years later was recognised to be a fact:
Persecution promotes church growth.
Why that should be the case is beyond human logic but history proves it to be the case. My Romanian Pastor friend often says that he prays for the communists to come back because their persecution of the church had two effects: firstly it kept the faith of the church pure and secondly it caused people to call on the name of the Lord and to be saved. We will see how this is proven as we continue in our studies of Acts.

Today we will consider the effect that this wave of persecution had on the infant church and we will learn from them that opposition is not necessarily a bad thing.

As the apostles continued to preach boldly, the Holy Spirit worked miraculously by saving more people than ever and the church grew phenomenally! Conversion is the greatest miracle that ever takes place because it is the regeneration of sinful and dead spiritual life into a new life that is wholly acceptable to God. Upon conversion the impossible has taken place and the recipient can now come into the presence of Almighty God when previously he was barred by the offence that sin is to God. There were also signs of healing and deliverance given to prove that what was happening was not of man but a movement of God. Therefore even the shadow of Peter was believed to have healing qualities.
What an a mazing way that God had chosen to herald the church as the people of God.
Israel had now been replaced by the church as the people through whom God would glorify His name and will bring sinners into fellowship with Himself.

The religious leaders were sore at this but nowhere near as threatened as was Satan whose bidding they were willingly carrying out. The devil has no new tricks up his sleeve and so we can learn from this example that when the church becomes effective he will make sure that it's leaders will be under attack. Either from outside in the form of persecution as in this case or from within by those whom Jesus refers to as wolves dressed up as sheep. The effect is the same, the devil will do whatever he thinks is necessary and effective to prevent the gospel from being preached.
From the passage we see that the leaders had seized their opportunity and the apostles were in prison. Possibly this time Luke is referring to all of the apostles!
During that night:
Enter an angel of the Lord:
Immediately things are about to change, the angel of the Lord opened the doors of the prison and released the apostles. Before he secures the prison again there is an instruction for the apostles: they are to return to the Temple and are to speak of Jesus. They are to enter back into the lion's den. Remember when they were previously imprisoned and released Peter and John had prayed for boldness to continue preaching in the name of Jesus. Now the angel of the Lord was sending them on their way to do just that. For the apostles difficulties would be an ongoing situation for the rest of their lives for which they would need boldness.
The Temple was a hotbed of liberal theology where the priests being of Sadducee persuasion did not believe in angels, spirits, God's Holy Spirit, the resurrection, the after life, hell or heaven etc. Why such people become religious leaders completely confuses me but the same people are in much of the seen church of today. It was back into this environment that the angel of the Lord sent the apostles upon their release from prison. They were told to preach all that the leaders disbelieved and so they did.
Their mandate that day is no different to ours today we are still under the directives of the great commission just as they were at that time. We are equally called to be bold witnesses to an unbelieving world around us. They were to begin in Jerusalem and we are to begin in Callington. We must pray for boldness to speak of Jesus just where we are and then just as the apostles were, we are to obey God's directives and go and speak boldly of Jesus to an unbelieving people.

All of this of course turned the authorities into turmoil. Out of fear for their lives the leaders gently brought back the apostles to be tried before the council. The High Priest told them that they had disobeyed him and had spoken of Jesus against his express command. That was just what Peter needed in order for him to speak out. He reminded the council of their guilt in killing Jesus and spoke of Him now being in heaven as Saviour by whom repentance and forgiveness is given. Along with the Holy Spirit of God the apostles were witnesses to these facts! This ultimately made the High Priest and his cronies furious. They had been accused and their theology attacked and so they wanted to kill the apostles just as they had Jesus. It is amazing that those with liberal views of theology are less tolerant than any when their theological position is exposed. Death would have been a reality if it had not been for the entrance of:

The moderator:
Sadducees and Pharisees are often lumped together and often did join together against a common enemy but they could not be further apart in theology. What the Sadduccees disbelieved the Pharisees wholeheartedly embraced. They were what we might term uncomfortable bed-fellows. As the council were contemplating mass murder the Pharisee Gamaliel speaks words of wisdom; saying “let them be!!!”
This is the same Gamaliel who Saul of Tarsus had learned his bible truth from. Gamaliel was known to be a compassionate man and full of wisdom; we see this clearly in how he handled the council on that day. He reminded them of other cases where previously there had been religious uprisings that had come to nothing because they had been born in the heart of man. This new religious movement would come to nothing if it were of man but if it were of God, for them to attack it was tantamount to attacking God.
Enough said!
Advice taken!
The council agree to release the apostles but not before giving them a good thrashing and telling them to stop speaking in the name of Jesus.

Persecution as we said earlier has an amazing effect on the believer. The apostles went from there rejoicing!
Who would have believed that?
The apostles rejoiced because they had been counted worthy to suffer for the name of Jesus just as He had said at the beginning of His ministry. Remember the last of the Beatitudes? Matthew 5:10-12.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

They rejoiced and were glad and heaven was their reward. They went on their way evangelising even more fervently. As well as being witnesses in the temple they knocked on people's doors to tell of Jesus.

They never ceased preaching and teaching!
Persecution never did and never will work. The devil does not seem to have got that idea yet that the church always grows through persecution.
But we must be aware:

There was another and far more subtle attack on it's way. This is a big one that has a massive effect upon the church and causes us to stumble far more easily. It is mumblings amongst believers which we will address next time. 

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