9th October 2011
The church under attack
Last time we considered the signs and wonders that authenticated the beginning of the church. We concluded by making the point that this very thing brought about a jealousy and opposition from the leaders of the Jews.
The issue at hand for today is why did the leaders object so violently and how can that benefit us here today?
Let us first of all consider the opposition:
Who were the leaders?
Luke seems to be rather condescending towards them when. he introduces them as the high priest and his associates. The high priest and his gang or cronies is what we might say today.
The high priest was supposed to be God’s representative to the people. His position was appointed by God and his role was to make relationship between God and the people possible. He could in actual fact do nothing by his own ability because before God he was no better than the people to whom he was ministering. It has always and always will be the case that all have sinned and all have fallen short of God’s perfect standard. The problem was that the high priests did not believe that. In their own estimation they were a cut above the people, they were arrogant and proud and believed themselves to be righteous in every way. They were all important and God was privileged to have them as his co-workers. Remember Jesus story of the Pharisee and the sinner in the temple! The Pharisee had no problem with claiming superiority over the repentant man at the back. That was the very mind-set of the high priest and all of his mates.
But there is more to the issue than meets the eye. As always there are a number of contributory factors. Luke simply records that they were members of an elite grouping. They were all Sadducees, what that means is that they were all theologians. They studied their theology and made dictates in line with their own particular understanding of who God is!
This is where the rubber really hits the road! Good theology is of vital importance, it is the vehicle that helps us to understand the things of God. This bible of ours is a book of theology but as we are all too well aware it can easily be misread, misinterpreted and abused! That is exactly what the high priest and his associates were guilty of and in a way it is what made them tick.
One of the main doctrines of the Sadducees was that they did not believe in the resurrection, the Holy Spirit or of angels and miracles. They had the same Hebrew scriptures which are our Old Testament and which was read and taught in the Temple and also the synagogues of Judea but yet they would not believe in all of the truths contained within. It now starts to become clear as to why they reacted as they did! They were seeing mighty miracles happening, they had previously seen similar miracles performed by Jesus whom the hated and plotted against. They could not sanction what was happening theologically and so it was in their estimation an abomination.
There is also another point to consider, they were convinced by their own hyper spirituality and so why did these things not happen for them and so they were jealous because they were not the focal point.
All of these things are a recipe for disaster and the dis aster unfolded very quickly as we have read. They acted quickly in arresting the apostles:
We often scratch our heads and wonder why there is so much opposition to our gospel and to the church and its teaching. The high priest and his friends are a perfect example as to why. The majority of people are just like them; they have their own theologies, are equally self-important and self-righteous and in the same way want to be the centre of God’s attention.
We should not be surprised that such people hate it when we speak of our own personal relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ who died for our own personal benefit. They will hate such a message. They might not in Britain arrest us and beat us simply because it is not the “done thing” here! In other lands there is no such protection.
We should always take heart and even rejoice when we are attacked for the sake of the gospel for the same reasons that the early church did: We are being counted as worthy of suffering disgrace for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ!
Opposition is cause for rejoicing rather that the depression that we often have when negativity come the way of the church. It should not come for what we have done but because of what God has done in Christ Jesus!!
How can this benefit us?
Just consider what happened simply because there was opposition. The church experienced God’s mighty hand at work! The authorities are against the church and the gospel, they might have clever ideas and negative comments but God is with His people. He promised never to leave them or forsake them. They are for a second time thrown into prison but this time one of God’s special agents is sent to the rescue, during the night he opens the door, brought them out and locked up behind them; when the jailor came the next day the prison was securely locked! Not only does God send a rescuer to them but he is also a messenger.
The message from God: “Go into the courts of the temple and declare salvation through Jesus Christ to all of the people. A reminder that whatever men might say the gospel must be preached by His people.
We would do well to take notice in a day when we are encouraged to speak in any other name than Jesus. The gospel must be preached by us to all of the people!
The apostles are obedient to God’s instruction and early in the morning go to the temple and began to teach.
The high priest and his mates call for the apostles but of course they are nowhere to be found, they are all puzzled because the prison is locked up. Until word comes to them, “they are in the temple courts teaching about Jesus!!” Fearfully they are brought to the high priest and then taken before the government. They are reminded of the previous instruction made not to speak in the name of Jesus and then accused of teaching all of Jerusalem. That is effective gospel witness! Then we see what threat the high priest appeared to be under. You are even blaming us for this man’s death. How hypocritical can they be? They were guilty; they had sat in judgement and approved of all that had happened to Jesus.
Peter along with the other apostles waste no time, he goes straight for the jugular:
• We must obey God. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God whom the high priest and his friends misrepresented!
• God raised Jesus from the dead, how painful that must have been to a people who did not believe in the resurrection.
• Jesus was dead because you killed Him on a tree, thus making Him a curse. They would have known full well the scripture that speaks of the one who died on a tree as becoming a curse!( Dt21:23) Not realising that this was God’s way of dealing with sin the innocent one becoming a curse before God on behalf of those living under the curse of sin.
• He is now exalted by God and is the Prince of heaven and the Saviour for all who will repent.
• We are witnesses of these events along with the Holy Spirit given by God to all who will obey Him.
I am not too sure what they expected but they received the full anger of the High priest, and do not forget how much authority and influence this man had but Gamaliel was there. He was the voice of reason and common sense. He was a Pharisee with good old common sense at a time of crisis. He reminded them that if this was a work of God they would not be able to prevent it but if it was not then they soon would know! That was just what they needed, an excuse to back off a little and to keep face. A good old flogging was dealt out and the apostles released with the renewed command not to speak in the name of Jesus.
That command was as good as useless. A rejoicing group of apostles left and continued with the great commission. Nothing would stop the apostles doing what their Lord had commanded.
What stops you from speaking in the name of Jesus?
The threat of pain and death would not deter the early church from fulfilling its mission. We do not seem to have the same resolve today even though it is far less dangerous for us today to stand up for Jesus.
Why is that?