At the end of chapter 4 we read how the believers shared their possessions with one another so that there were no needy persons among them. And Luke names Joseph (better known as Barnabas) who sold a field and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet so that it could be used for the benefit of others. However, at the beginning of chapter 5 we read about Ananias and Sapphira who also sold a field and they brought part of the proceeds to the apostles. However, they lied about the amount they were giving. And because they had tried to lie to the Holy Spirit, God struck them down and they died. Nevertheless, the church continued to grow: More and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number. Well, we noted last week as we looked at these things that the members of the church have to be alert at all times and to watch out for trouble. Sometimes the trouble can come from within, as it did in the case of Ananias and Sapphira who were tempted by the Devil to deceive their fellow believers. But often the trouble can come from without. And that’s the case in verses 17 to 40 of chapter 5 when, once again, the apostles are arrested for preaching the good news about Jesus Christ. Remember what Paul said in Ephesians 6 about the armour of God? We’re engaged in spiritual warfare and the Devil is constantly trying to confuse us and to distract us and to worry us and to get us to turn away from Christ and his church and to give up our faith. So, stand firm, Paul commanded. Stand firm against the Devil, whether he tries to attack the church from within or from without.
Verses 17 to 18
And so, in these verses, the attack is coming from without. The High Priest and all his associates who were members of the Sadducees were filled with jealousy and they arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail. Now, the Sadducees, you might remember, are that group who didn’t believe in the resurrection and they didn’t believe in angels — which is interesting because they want the apostles to stop preaching about the resurrection of the Lord Jesus and later an angel comes to rescue the apostles when they’re in prison. But the Sadducees didn’t believe in any of that. However, the reason they arrest the apostles now is because they were filled with jealousy. They simply didn’t like it that so many people were paying attention to the apostles and were believing in the Lord Jesus and joining the church. Some people are jealous because someone has more money than them. Or someone has a bigger house than them. Or someone has a better job than them. But others are jealous because someone is more popular or successful than them. And the High Priest and the Sadducees were jealous of the apostles because the apostles were becoming so popular among the people. So they put the apostles in prison. And presumably it was their intention to deal with the apostles in the morning.
Verses 19 to 21a
However, during the night, an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out. This is the first of three occasions when God rescued the apostles from prison. The second is in chapter 12 when Peter was chained in prison, and an angel woke him, and the chains fell off, and he went free. And then in chapter 16 we read how Paul and Silas were in prison in Philippi, when there was a great earthquake and the doors of the prison were opened. And afterwards the jailer was converted to faith in Christ. God has the power to set his people free. And on this occasion, the angel brought them out and immediately told them to resume their work of preaching God’s word. ‘Go back to the temple’, they’re told — and remember the temple, as well as being the place where sacrifices were offered, was surrounded by a large courtyard where people gathered. And the Christians used to gather there. So, go back to the temple and tell the people the full message of this new life. And it’s a message of life because it’s the message that the Lord Jesus died but rose again to resurrection life. And it’s a message of life because the message is that all who believe in the Lord Jesus will receive eternal life. And it’s a message of life because all who believe in the Lord Jesus begin a new kind of life now, in this world, because we have turned from our old way of life of sin and we are beginning a new kind of life of obedience to God with the Holy Spirit to help us. This is such an important message that nothing must prevent the apostles from preaching it and making it known. The High Priest and the Sadducees might be against them, but the people cannot cannot be saved unless someone tells them this marvellous message of life. And so, sure enough, at daybreak, they entered the temple courts, as they had been told, and began to teach the people.
Verses 21b to 26
The High Priest and his associates, the Sadducees, didn’t know anything about this. So, when they arrived they called together the Sanhedrin — that is, all the elders of Israel. It was a group of about 71 men made up of Sadducees and Pharisees and the High Priest. And it was a judicial court with the power to examine and punish those who had committed an offence. This was the same court who had examined the Lord Jesus and sent him to Pilate to be executed. And the Sanhedrin is called together now and the guards are sent to fetch the apostles from prison. But what happened? Well, in verse 22 we read that on arriving there, the officers couldn’t find them. The jail was locked securely. The guards were still standing at the doors. But when the doors were unlocked and opened, there was no one inside. How can it be? And as they were puzzling over this, someone came along and said:
Look! Those men you put in prison are standing in the temple courts and they’re teaching the people.
Wouldn’t you have loved to be there to see their reaction? They weren’t in the prison where they had been put. How did they get free? And they’re doing precisely what they were told not to do. How dare they? Well, they ordered the captain of the guard to go and get them, but look — they didn’t use any force because they were afraid of the reaction of the people. And that tells us, I think, that again there must have been a crowd of people who had gathered to listen to them. If only a handful of people were listening, it wouldn’t have worried the guards. But if it’s a substantial number of people, then of course they’d be worried about how the crowd would react.
Verses 27 to 28
The apostles are brought in. And, since there were about 71 people in the Sanhedrin, you can image how imposing it must have been. I’m on the Union Commission and delegations from congregations appear before it to seek permission to call a new minister. And the Commission is also a large group. And the delegates often say how nervous they get, having to talk in front of so many people. Of course, the Commission is largely friendly and supportive, but the Sanhedrin is not at all friendly. And so the High Priest begins:
We gave you strict orders not to teach in the Lord’s name. But you’ve filled Jerusalem with your teaching.
In other words: How dare you ignore us! You’ve done the very opposite of what we said. And then he added:
And you’re determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.
In other words: You’re blaming us for the Lord’s death. Now, the High Priest doesn’t say anything about the Lord’s resurrection, which they were also preaching. Or his ascension to heaven. And he doesn’t seem interested in whether anything of what the apostles were preaching about the Lord Jesus was true. They just don’t want the apostles to say anything to anyone about the Lord Jesus.
Verses 29 to 32
The problem is the Lord Jesus commanded the apostles to go into all the world as his witnesses. And so, Peter and the other apostles replied:
We must obey God rather than men!
Now, we need to be careful here. Ordinarily, it’s our duty to obey those in authority over us. Paul in Ephesians tells us that children should obey their parents. And he tells us that slaves are should obey their masters — in today’s terms, employees are to respect their employers and to do what they’re asked to do. The writer to the Hebrews tells us to obey our church leaders, because they’re keeping watch over our souls. And Paul in Romans 13 tells us to be submit to the governing authorities — and whoever resists the governing authorities resists what God has appointed. Therefore, ordinarily, we should obey those in authority over us because God has placed them over us. And it’s important to stress that because from time to time I’ve met Christians who believe that because they’re citizens of Christ’s kingdom, they can ignore the governing authorities. Because they’re under grace, they feel no obligation to obeying the law of the land. Because they a Christian, no one can tell them what they should and should not do. And so it’s important to note that what we have here in Acts 5 is a special case. What the High Priest had commanded was in conflict with what God has commanded. And therefore, it was their duty to obey God and to disobey the Sanhedrin. Ordinarily, we’re to obey those in authority over us. But in this case, they had to disobey. And so, Peter continued in verse 30:
The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead….
Peter mentions ‘the God of our fathers’ to show that what he’s teaching is not a new religion, but it’s the fulfilment of what the Old Testament saints believed. He goes on to say:
whom you killed by hanging him on a tree….
Peter takes another opportunity to remind them of their sin — they did kill the Lord Jesus. But, of course, if only they too would repent and believe, there would be forgiveness for them. No sin is too sinful that it cannot be forgiven through faith and repentance. And then notice that Peters says they killed the Lord Jesus by hanging him on a tree. He refers to a tree and not to the cross — and so perhaps he’s referring to Deuteronomy 21:23 where Moses said that anyone who is hanged on a tree is cursed by God. The Lord Jesus took the curse we deserve for our sins, that we might receive the blessing he deserved for his perfect obedience. And though cursed by God, nevertheless, Peter goes on to say, God afterwards raised him from the dead and exalted him to heaven as Prince and Saviour. As our Prince, he has the power and the authority to call us into his kingdom and when he calls us, he enables us to turn from our sins in repentance and he gives to us the forgiveness of all our sins. So, he’s our Prince who summons us and he’s our Saviour who delivers us from God’s wrath and curse which is what we really deserve. And as the Prince and Saviour over all, he’s able to guard his church from all her enemies, and he’s able to make the church grow. And that’s what he’s doing here. He’s going to deliver his apostles from their enemies. And he’s going to ensure that his church continues to grow. And the High Priest and the Sanhedrin will not be able to stop them.
Verses 33 to 40
And so, let me be brief. The Sanhedrin are furious. Their first reaction is to kill the apostles. But there’s a Pharisee called Gamaliel — Paul, when he was still known as Saul, was taught by him. And he stood up and advised them to wait and see what happens. He reminds them that from time to time, leaders rise up and cause a fuss, but then they come to nothing. So, let’s wait and see what happens in this case. And so, though he’s a Pharisee who were despised by the Sadducees, nevertheless his speech persuades them. And they agree to do nothing. And that, of course, is how so many people respond when they hear the message of Jesus Christ. Some react angrily, of course. They are offended by the message of the cross and they think we’re foolish for believing in the resurrection. But so many others who hear simply decide to do nothing. They don’t investigate the claims of Christ any further. They don’t decide to look into these things in more detail. They don’t repent or believe. They simply do nothing. But in this case, doing nothing was a good outcome for the apostles, because it meant they were freed and could continue their work of preaching the good news of Jesus Christ. And many who heard them didn’t do nothing, but they turned from their sins and they turned with faith to the Saviour.