“We Must Obey God Rather Than Men”-Peter & the Apostles
Immanuel Baptist Church – Sunday, October 11, 2020
The Apostles Peter and John spent a night in jail
after healing a crippled man lame from birth
in Jesus’ name.
The authorities in Jerusalem released them
with a stern warning to stop preaching about Christ.
But, instead, they stirred up the city and the surrounding area
by healing every sick person brought to them
and by using the attention that brought them
to preach about Jesus to crowds of people.
So, the authorities took action again.
We read in Acts 5:17,
17 But the high priest rose up, and all those who were with him (which is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with jealousy, 18 and laid hands on the apostles, and put them in public custody.
Notice that it was jealousy
that motivated the religious authorities
to take this action.
This time it was not just Peter and John
who spent a night in jail,
but it was all of the Apostles
who were arrested and jailed.
Their night in the jail cell was interrupted, however,
by a miraculous early wake-up call.
19 But an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors by night, and brought them out, and said, 20 “Go stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life.”
21 When they heard this, they entered into the temple about daybreak, and taught.
Remember that sharing the Gospel of Christ
is a divine mission.
It’s not just a human activity.
God’s hand is in the matter,
supporting the preaching of the Gospel
with miracles, great and small.
An angel breaking the Apostles out of jail
was a great miracle.
Over the course of 38 years in ministry,
I’ve seen many small miracles.
Immanuel Baptist Church was seeing 25 or 30 people
at our Sunday morning services
just before the coronavirus lockdown.
But our service 2 weeks ago reached over 2,500 people.
Some people might consider that a small miracle.
But when one of God’s holy angels
freed the Apostles from prison,
and told them to go preach Jesus in the Temple,
there’s no question that was
a big miracle from God.
At first, it was only the Apostles themselves
who knew about this angelic jailbreak.
The authorities found out later,
as we continue to read.
But the high priest came, and those who were with him, and called the council together, and all the senate of the children of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought. 22 But the officers who came didn’t find them in the prison. They returned and reported, 23 “We found the prison shut and locked, and the guards standing before the doors, but when we opened them, we found no one inside!”
We read earlier that the angel opened the doors
for the Apostles to escape the prison,
so the angel must also have blinded
the guards who were at the doors,
and kept them from seeing the escape take place.
So, the empty jail
left the authorities scratching their heads,
wondering what had happened to the Apostles—
but not for long.
24 Now when the high priest, the captain of the temple, and the chief priests heard these words, they were very perplexed about them and what might become of this. 25 One came and told them, “Behold, the men whom you put in prison are in the temple, standing and teaching the people.”
That was exactly what the authorities
had forbidden them to do—teach the people about Jesus.
And the authorities were not about to back down.
But they had to exercise caution
when arresting the Apostles again
in front of all the people who honored them.
The officers were instructed not to use violence
when making the arrests, as we read:
26 Then the captain went with the officers, and brought them without violence, for they were afraid that the people might stone them.
At this point in time there was a huge gap
between the attitude of the authorities
who killed Jesus and hated his Apostles,
and the crowds at the Temple
who kept coming to the Apostles
for all their sick ones to be healed.
The crowds would likely
have come to the Apostles’ defense,
if the officers had roughed them up
during the arrests.
But, once they got the Apostles out of sight of the people,
they harshly repeated their earlier demands.
27 When they had brought them, they set them before the council. The high priest questioned them, 28 saying, “Didn’t we strictly command you not to teach in this name? Behold, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and intend to bring this man’s blood on us.”
The repeated accusation and questioning
gave the Apostles another opportunity to answer
and to uphold the Gospel of Christ—
even before this hostile audience.
29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you killed, hanging him on a tree. 31 God exalted him with his right hand to be a Prince and a Savior, to give repentance to Israel, and remission of sins. 32 We are His witnesses of these things; and so also is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”
Peter brought up obedience twice in this brief message.
First, he told the authorities
“We must obey God rather than men.”
Which means, in this case, we must obey God
rather than YOU—you men.
And, if there was any doubt that they were obeying God,
Peter added that the Holy Spirit was
“given to those who obey him.”
It was through God’s Holy Spirit
that the miraculous healings occurred
at the hands of the Apostles,
confirming that it was the Apostles
who were obeying God.
God was working through them,
rather than through the Temple authorities,
and the powerful works of the Holy Spirit proved it.
But the authorities’ reaction to Peter’s words
showed what was in their hearts.
We read in Verse 33,
33 But they, when they heard this, were cut to the heart, and determined to kill them.
Peter’s words always had a powerful effect.
But the effect was not always the same.
A few days earlier, when he spoke to the crowds
on the day of Pentecost, we read, beginning at Acts 2:37,
“they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized...
41 Then those who gladly received his word were baptized.
But now, the Temple authorities
reacted quite differently to the Apostles’ message.
“were cut to the heart, and determined to kill them.”
This showed that they had wicked hearts.
They heard the same message as the crowds on Pentecost,
but their response was evil, instead of good.
Instead of listening to God’s message and repenting,
they decided to kill the messengers.
They were determined to kill the Apostles.
That would have put an end to Christianity,
before it even got a chance
to spread beyond Jerusalem—
if God permitted it.
What stopped these evil men
from carrying out their plan to kill Christ’s Apostles?
Beginning at Verse 34, we read,
34 But one stood up in the council, a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, honored by all the people, and commanded to put the apostles out for a little while.
Recall that, at the beginning of this account,
we read that the High Priest and his close associates
who arrested and jailed the disciples over-night
were all of the sect of the Sadducees.
But now they were assembled with the Sanhedrin—
the full governing body of the Jews—
and so there were also many Pharisees there—
a different Jewish sect
that was more biblically minded than the Sadducees.
who spoke up to stop the plan to kill the Apostles,
was a Pharisee, a teacher of the Law of Moses.
In fact, Gamaliel was the teacher
who the Apostle Paul studied under
before Paul became a Christian.
What did Gamaliel say, to stop the Sanhedrin council
from ordering the death penalty for the Apostles?
Verse 35 tells us,
35 He said to them, “You men of Israel, be careful concerning these men, what you are about to do. 36 For before these days Theudas rose up, making himself out to be somebody; to whom a number of men, about four hundred, joined themselves: who was slain; and all, as many as obeyed him, were dispersed, and came to nothing. 37 After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the enrollment, and drew away some people after him. He also perished, and all, as many as obeyed him, were scattered abroad. 38 Now I tell you, withdraw from these men, and leave them alone. For if this counsel or this work is of men, it will be overthrown. 39 But if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow it, and you would be found even to be fighting against God!”
So, unlike the ungodly Sadducees,
Gamaliel had some fear of God in his heart,
and some wisdom in his head.
He argued that this Messianic Jewish movement
under the Apostles
would eventually fall apart on its own,
without the need for drastic action against them—
unless God was behind it.
And he cited examples where that had happened before:
He named 2 false teachers—false Messiahs—
who, in the recent past, had gathered followers,
only for their movements to fall apart
and collapse after a short while.
He said that would happen again, too,
with this movement the Apostles represented,
if it was just a man-made movement.
But, he told them,
if this teaching about Jesus was really from God,
then the Jewish leaders would be unable to stop it
and would find themselves
actually fighting against God.
Amazingly, they listened to him—
probably because he commanded so much respect
among the people—
but really because God was not going to allow
the Apostles to be wiped out
before they could carry out
the Great Commission
to carry the Gospel of Christ into all the earth.
We continue reading,
40 They agreed with him. Summoning the apostles, they beat them and commanded them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.
So, the Apostles escaped being executed—
which is what the Sanhedrin council
wanted to do to them—
and they were let go free.
But, first, the council had them beaten.
Under the Mosaic Law
there were jails for temporary custudy,
but no extensive prison system,
as we have today with thousands of people
serving lengthy prison sentences.
At the time when God gave the Law to Israel,
they had just left Egypt
and were traveling through the wilderness,
living in tents without permanent buildings.
A criminal could be taken into custody briefly,
but there were no facilities
for sentencing criminals to serve time in prison.
So, the punishments for crimes under the Law involved
either financial penalties
or physical punishment.
Unlike some nations today, where news reports
tell of offenders being sentenced to thousands of lashes,
God placed restrictions and limitations
on such punishment.
At Deuteronomy 25:2 it says,
2 then it shall be, if the wicked man deserves to be beaten, that the judge will cause him to lie down and be beaten in his presence, according to his guilt, with a certain number of blows. 3 Forty blows he may give him and no more,
This guaranteed humane treatment of law breakers.
We don’t know how many blows
were inflicted on the Apostles
before they were released.
But their reaction
was not what the Sanhedrin council expected.
41 They therefore departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for Jesus’ name.
It must have been fresh in the Apostles’ minds, how,
just a couple of months earlier,
they had all taken off and fled
when Jesus was arrested,
abandoning their Lord—
and Peter had three times
denied knowing him.
Now they rejoiced at the opportunity to make up for that,
standing up for Jesus in the face of persecution,
and even suffering a public beating
for teaching in Jesus’ name.
They must also have called to mind Jesus’ words
that he spoke in the Beatitudes a couple years earlier
when he gave his Sermon on the Mount.
Then Jesus had said, at Matthew 5:10,
10 Blessed are those who have been persecuted for righteousness’ sake,
for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people reproach you, persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, for my sake. 12 Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven. For that is how they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
So, the Apostles did rejoice
at having been jailed and beaten for Jesus’ name.
The Sanhedrin council had hoped to humiliate them,
but they counted it a privilege to suffer for Jesus.
And the authorities had hoped to deter them
from their public preaching,
but we read in the next Verse,
42 Every day, in the temple and at home, they never stopped teaching and preaching Jesus, the Christ.
And that’s what happened, over and over again,
in the history of the Christian Church.
Persecution has not stopped the Church,
but rather has led to further growth
in numbers and in strength.
And we should expect persecution,
as the end of this world draws close.
When the disciples asked Jesus for the sign
of his coming and the end of the world,
he told them what to look for,
and then he added at Mark 13:9,
“When these things begin to happen, watch out! You will be handed over to the local councils and beaten in the synagogues. You will stand trial before governors and kings because you are my followers. But this will be your opportunity to tell them about me.
So, just as Peter and the other Apostles
used their arrests and trials as opportunities
to give the Gospel message,
we, too, can use opposition and persecution
as opportunities to witness for Christ.
Notice, though, that when Peter
confronted the authorities with their sins,
they “were cut to the heart”
and determined to kill the Apostles.
But just days earlier when he confronted the crowds,
on the day of Pentecost, with their sins,
they, too, “were cut to the heart”
but they repented and were baptized.
Different expressions are used in Greek
but the individuals in both groups
“were cut to the heart”—strongly affected
by Peter’s words.
What Peter said didn’t go ‘in one ear and out the other.’
His words really reached them,
and convicted them of what they had done.
But their reactions were completely different.
We, today, should keep that in mind:
that our sharing the Gospel message
with its call to repentance,
will lead some to repent and receive Christ,
but will lead others to hate us—
depending on their hearts.
And, when this whole world around us today
rejects God and the Bible and the Gospel message,
we will have a situation much like that
before the Flood of Noah’s day,
where we read at Genesis 6:5
Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great upon the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was altogether evil all the time.
Today’s world is increasingly becoming like that—
full of wickedness,
with people’s hearts inclined toward evil.
An unrepentant world will face the fiery destruction
that will accompany the Return of Christ.
And Peter talked about that, too.
Years after he confronted
those wicked authorities in Jerusalem,
Peter wrote his 2nd Letter to believers,
where he foretold the fiery destruction
of this wicked world.
Beginning at 2nd Peter 2:4, he wrote,
4 For if God didn’t spare angels when they sinned, but cast them down to Tartarus, and committed them to pits of darkness, to be reserved for judgment; 5 and didn’t spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah with seven others, a preacher of righteousness, when he brought a flood on the world of the ungodly; 6 and turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, condemned them to destruction, having made them an example to those who would live ungodly; 7 and delivered righteous Lot, who was very distressed by the lustful life of the wicked 8 (for that righteous man dwelling among them, was tormented in his righteous soul from day to day with seeing and hearing lawless deeds): 9 the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptation and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment.
Yes, just as God executed judgment in the ancient past,
he will execute judgment on the modern world.
And he will, at that time, make a separation
between his faithful people
and those whose hearts and lives are wicked.
The Rapture of God’s people to heaven,
followed by the destruction of this modern world
will come by surprise.
Everything will look just as it does now,
so people will be taken by surprise
when that day comes.
At Matthew 24:37 our Lord Jesus said,
37As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 40Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. 41Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.
Christ’s surprise coming will bring
a sudden separation.
Those who belong to him
will be whisked up to heaven to be with the Lord.
We may be standing right next to an unbeliever,
when we are taken and the other left.
We may be standing right before those
who ridicule and oppose Bible-believing Christians
when that day comes.
They may be in the midst of making trouble
for those who obey God,
rather than obeying them.
They may be plotting destruction
for Bible-believing Christians,
as that Jerusalem council was plotting
to destroy the Apostles.
But the Apostle Paul wrote about
what will happen at that time.
At 2nd Thessalonians 1:6, he wrote
6God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you 7and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. 8He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might 10on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed.
We have believed,
and we look forward to that time when
“the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels.”
Until that time, we will continue
to obey God rather than men.
And we will preach Christ crucified, risen,
and coming again. Come, Lord Jesus!