Sermon title:

“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.

 

We read,

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.

We read,

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.”

 

Obedience! 

 

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.

 

They

“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.

 

And Gamaliel,

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.

 

We read,

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.

 

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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!