Uncommon attitude: Devotional Commentary for August 8-14
This is the Word of God. May the Spirit of Truth give us wisdom and insight to receive what has been conveyed through His Word by His Inspiration.
5:34 But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the Law, respected by all the people, stood up in the Council and gave orders to put the men outside for a short time.
Once again, the authorities arrested the Disciples in an effort: to stop the public exaltation of Jesus Christ as the risen Lord, to disrupt the spread of the Gospel, to curb the miraculous blessings of healing and the influx of new converts joining the church. The Council had reached a point where a decision must be made because earlier arrests, punishments, threats, and conditional releases did not seem to deter the dedication of the Disciples from teaching and healing in the Name of Jesus Christ.
After observing the deliberations of the Sanhedrin concerning the fate of the Disciples in custody, Gamaliel, a leading member of the high Council of the Sanhedrin, a prominent Pharisee, and a highly esteemed theologian stood up and addressed the Council on how the assembly should proceed with the case at hand. He asked to have the Apostles removed from the Council chambers temporarily so members of the assembly could talk privately.
35And he said to them, "Men of Israel, take care what you propose to do with these men.
36"For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a group of about four hundred men joined up with him. But he was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing.
37"After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census and drew away some people after him; he too perished, and all those who followed him were scattered.
38"So in the present case, I say to you, stay away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or action is of men, it will be overthrown;
39but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God."
Once the Apostles were removed from the assembly hall, Gamaliel addressed his colleagues directly and with candor. He cautioned them to carefully examine the ramifications of an ill-considered hasty action against the Apostles. Gamaliel might have wondered if executing the Disciples would not endear them more to the people and make them martyrs instead. He actually voiced his caution with a spiritually sound rationale, arguing that the conditions pertaining to the undesirable behavior of the Disciples might not need any deterrence or corrective action by the Council.
To make his point, Gamaliel recounted the exploits of two popular figures, Theudas and Judas of Galilee, who gained an enormous following among the people. Despite their best efforts, both insurrections failed and the movements collapsed respectively. Neither of them had any legitimacy. They were both killed. Their followers perished and their dreams were quashed.
Exhorting his colleagues to carefully review failed efforts of other popular insurrectionists, Gamaliel advised the Council to adopt a laissez-faire policy toward the Apostles. He strongly recommended that they should be left alone so that they may stand-or-fall on their own merits.
If their conduct and actions were inspired by their own impulses, then they would fail just like the other insurrectionists. But if the actions of the Apostles were motivated, initiated, and directed by God, then putting the Apostles to death would accomplish nothing. Nothing or no one could stop God. No one or nothing can prevail against God. No one or nothing can change what God had determined in His sovereign counsel. Gamaliel warned the Sanhedrin that if the Council continued on its present course, the assembly might find itself fighting against God and resisting His Will contrary to the Scriptures.
5:40 They took his advice; and after calling the Apostles in, they flogged them and ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and then released them.
The Council agreed in principle with Gamaliel and heeded his advice. But the assembly could not turn the Apostles loose without any retribution for their contempt. The Council let the Apostles go after brutally flogging them for opting to obey Jesus' supreme mandate: The Great Commission. They punished them for their faithfulness, a character hardly culpable. Then they repeated earlier injunctions, ordering the Apostles to stop speaking about Jesus or doing anything in His Name.
41So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name.
42And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.
The Apostles responded to the ill-treatment they suffered with a remarkably uncommon attitude. They rejoiced in the punishment that was meted out to them for their allegiance to God the Almighty and His Son Jesus Christ. They considered the abuse as privilege for the sake of Christ.
Perhaps they were inspired by what Jesus taught them in His Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you, lie, and say all kinds of evil things about you because of me. Rejoice and be glad because you have a great reward in heaven! The prophets who lived before you were persecuted in these ways."
Without any hesitation, the Apostles returned to what they were doing, teaching and preaching that Jesus is the Messiah. They stayed their course and continued to serve God, having been convinced that it is more correct and more righteous to obey God than to listen to the empty words of fallible men.
They continued to preach the Gospel of the risen Lord and to speak about Jesus directly in the shadows of the Temple courtyard and in houses throughout the region as they were welcomed by the people. They carried forward the message of salvation in Jesus Christ right in the city and the region where they suffered shame for His Name sake. They did all this in spite of the Sanhedrin who tried to curb the fire of the Holy Spirit in them.
Their convictions were so strong that these men no longer feared the Jewish Council which also put Jesus to death. The fire of the Holy Spirit burning within their hearts allowed no rest, no retreat, and no compromise. Ultimately, Gamaliel’s advice held true. Neither the Jewish Council nor any other authority or force of creation could stop what God had determined in His sovereign counsel.
As we have been noting all along, following the coming of the promised Holy Spirit and the subsequent flurry of courageous proclamations of the Gospel, the friction between Christians and the vanguards of Judaism intensified. Members of the Sanhedrin upped their persecution of the Disciples of Jesus Christ. But the Apostles persisted in their faithful service to the Lord in spite of multiple arrests, punishments, threats, warnings, and conditional releases from jail.
Since Pentecost, the courageous proclamations of the Gospel and miracles of healing had been unstoppable. The Apostles pressed on with their ministry in the Name of Jesus Christ and the Power of the Holy Spirit. Yet the religious leadership in Jerusalem mounted its resistance in earnest. But little did they know that one of their ranks was appointed to serve God's Purpose.
Gamaliel rose to the occasion and found himself speaking for the Apostles. He stood to voice his opposition to the will of the majority. When he spoke, the voice of reason prevailed and checked the hasty impulses of the vengeful enemies of Jesus Christ the Messiah.
God spoke to the Council through one of their own. This highly esteemed sage showed the Council that any hostile insistence against God and His servants is bound to vanish into the void. God has His messenger even among the wicked. The truth was clearly spoken and the servants of God were preserved. The wicked were kept in check.
The Apostles left the Council with lacerated and bleeding backs. But they overflowed with joy because they partook in Jesus' sufering. They honored Jesus through the dishonor they suffered for His sake.
They continued to spread the Gospel and exalted the Name of Jesus in the Temple courtyard and from house to house in the region. They praised God. They serve God. They prayed to God. They lived for God in spite of the open attack from their enemies. They looked to God for everything.
They left the battle to God and dedicated themselves to the vocation with which they were called. The Disciples were able to rejoice in suffering because the Joy of Christ remained in them and made their joy full as He promised. Their life sets the example for us. Their compelling testimony encourages us to rejoice in persecution for the sake of Christ and persist in faithful service to God.