Year C First Sunday after Easter : Acts 5:27-32
Jesus had died, risen , and ascended. The church had grown and added 3,000 disciples on the day of Pentecost. The apostles were preaching boldly and healing people.
We know from verse 13 that they were highly regarded but people were scared of joining them because of persecution from the Sanhedrin. The ruling Jewish religious council.
In Chapter 4 we have a record of the first time the Sanhedrin had captured Peter and John and threatened them not to speak about Jesus. Peter and John had refused to do this. Read 4:19f.
The believers used to meet in part of the Temple and people continued to be healed and exorcised. Then the Sanhedrin imprisons all of the apostles who are miraculously led out of prison and they continue to preach the good news of Jesus!
Two soldiers at the frontline were lying under their blankets, looking up at the stars, unable to sleep because of exploding shells. 'What made you volunteer?' said Jack to his comrade.
'Well,' replies Tom, ' I have no wife or children, and I love the excitement of war, so I joined up. What made you volunteer?'
'It's like this,' replied Jack, 'I've got a wife and children and we love the peace of our home. That is why I joined.'
There is all the difference in the world between these two in their motivation. One is a dare-devil who risks his life because he has nothing to lose. The other is a hero who risks his life because he has something that is so precious it is not only worth living for. But it is worth dying for.
This passage is about the triumph of God over the will of men.
Earlier in verse 16 we read how God has power over sickness and evil spirits. We then have the power of God that sets the apostles free.
Note that when the apostles are set free they are not told to hide, or run away. They are told to stand in the Temple courts and tell the people the full message of this new life, verse 20. The apostles obeyed this.
The freeing of the apostles is like an enacted parable of this new life that they are to proclaim. The new life that Jesus gives releases us from the prison of sin freeing us to obey God and live for him.
I wonder if there is anything that anyone here has in their life today that they need to be set free from. A sin, or an oppression. Bring it to God and he will set you free. Free to obey him and live for him.
In 403 A.D. John Chrysostom was Bishop of Constantine. He attacked sinful behaviour in high places and was summoned before the Roman Emperor Arcadius who threatened him with banishment. John replied, 'You cannot banish me, for the world is my Father's house.'
'Then I can slay you.' exclaimed the angry Emperor.
'No you can't, for my life is hid with Christ in God.'
'Your treasures will be confiscated then.'
'Sir, that cannot be. My treasures are in heaven, and my heart is there too.'
'But I will drive you from men and you will have no friends left.'
'That you cannot do either sir. For I have a friend in heaven who has said, "I will never leave you or forsake you".'
Once we are united with Christ we are seated with him in heaven. Everything else assumes a different perspective. And we have a God who can set us free.
Peter's sermon, from verse 29 shows the power of God that defeats the will of man.
Firstly because Peter says that they will obey God rather than man. This gives Christians permission to go against a ruler or government where what they are doing is contrary to the will of God. For example, stopping people from sharing the gospel, or murder or discriminating. But we have to be very wary about this because elsewhere, in Romans 13:1 we are instructed to submit to the governing authorities. So we must be sure that what we are making objecting to is definitely contrary to God's will, and that civil disobedience is the only means of dealing with this.
Secondly Peter's sermon shows the power of God because Peter tells the account of Jesus death at the hands of these men, and his subsequent exaltation by God, that is to say his resurrection and ascension. This also shows the vindication of Jesus, whom they had condemned.
This leads to Jesus being able to give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel. By the Holy Spirit Jesus enables people to make a new start with God. By repentance, making a U-turn, a change of direction ( mind ). By turning to Jesus we can enjoy the benefits of his death and resurrection, forgiveness of our sins. God wiping the slate clean.
Not only were the disciples witnesses of this but so is God the Holy Spirit who God has given to those who obey him, says Peter in verse 32. This would have been fresh in Peter's mind as he recalled the Day of Pentecost that we read of in Chapter 2.
Peter's speech begins with him saying that they would obey God rather than man, and ends with the affirmation that God gives his Holy Spirit to those who obey him. God the Father gives his Holy Spirit to every follower of Jesus.. Before promising the Holy Spirit to his followers the night before his crucifixion Jesus said, ( John 14:15 ) 'If you love me you will obey what I command.'
The obedience of the disciples contrasts with the actions of the Sanhedrin who, in verse 33 were so angry that they wanted to kill the apostles. Something forbidden by the law that they claimed to hold so dear.
However, Gamaliel dissuaded them from murder, suggesting that if this movement was not from God it would soon die out.
Read verse 40-42. Samuel Rutherford, who was imprisoned for his faith said, "Whenever I find myself in the cellar of affliction, I always look about for the wine."
The persecution of the apostles led to rejoicing. They considered it a privilege to suffer for Jesus. Each one of them would have received 39 lashes on the back from a leather thonged whip with sharp items at the end. Yet still they rejoiced. There was a solidarity as they suffered for Jesus who had also suffered, even death on a cross.
The persecution of the disciples led to them continuing to teach and witness about Jesus.
Today where the church is persecuted it often thrives rather than diminishes. For example in China. This shows the power of God. I am not really aware of anything that you might call persecution that stops people from coming to church in this country. Instead I think the devil uses other, more subtle methods especially in the Western world.
These include the culture of the day that says that you don't need to go to church to be a Christian. This is allied to the lack of commitment to anything that doesn't seem to offer immediate, tangible rewards, but calls for service. This is linked to materialism, encouraging people to put wealth and possessions before their worship and witness. Also unbelieving spouses and family.
God offers us the power to be set free from these things. Yes, this will result in conflict and suffering but we have a victorious, resurrection faith.
A thirteen-year old Indian girl was travelling from her village to another. On the road a Buddhist priest asked her, 'Child, I think that you are a Christian. Is it because your father is a Christian that you have become one ?'
She replied, 'No, a Christian teacher came to our house and preached. I thought about it again and again. Then from my own experience I knew that Christ was the Saviour. That is why I became a Christian.'
The priest was angry and imprisoned her in a dark room, giving her no food or water. he was amazed to hear her singing with great gladness. After four days he went to see her. She was not singing any more but speaking quietly to someone with her eyes closed. The priest tried to understand what she was saying. this is what he heard : 'O Lord, I thank you that I have received the privilege of suffering for you. Lord open the eyes of this priest. Open the eyes his heart o see the light.'
The man broke down and cried. He fell at her feet and accepted her words as that of a Guru. he told everyone that he saw about the wonderful strength of the girl. Not only that, but he wanted that wonderful strength for himself.
God will give us everything that we need to free us to live for him in the power of his Holy Spirit. But we have to want it, and be prepared to pay the price. The price is worth it because, as the two soldiers discovered, we have something so precious it is worth dying for.