The Unstoppable Gospel — Acts 5:12-42

The intensity of the persecution against the new gospel message picks up in this section.  The Sadducees just can’t tolerate the emphasis on the resurrection of Jesus Christ and their guilt for their role in putting him to death.  We are tackling a longer narrative portion this morning – beginning at 5:12 and working through the end of the chapter – over 30 verses – that’s a record for me.  The apostles have had a taste of jail time earlier.  Here they experience a miraculous release but still have to appear before the dreaded Sanhedrin court for another grilling.  Despite additional threats and even a severe beating, they continue to persevere in their public preaching ministry.

The Proclamation of Jesus Christ is inevitably linked to Persecution in some form.  But the gospel will ultimately emerge victorious and accomplish its purpose of bringing God’s elect to saving, eternal faith.  There is no stopping the spread of the gospel.  That should be an encouragement to us this morning.

POWERFUL OPPOSITION TRIES IN VAIN TO SILENCE THE PROCLAMATION OF  JESUS CHRIST

Different Reactions to the Impact of Jesus Christ = the Proclamation of Jesus Christ and its Associated Persecution:

I.   (:12-16)  THE IMPACT OF JESUS CHRIST ON THE WATCHING WORLD:

- ATTRACTS THE ATTENTION AND FEAR OF THE WATCHING WORLD

- ADDS NEW BELIEVERS INTO THE CHURCH COMMUNITY

- APPROPRIATES OPPORTUNITIES FOR DELIVERANCE AND BLESSING

 

A.  (:12) Summary of the Powerful Impact of Jesus Christ

And at the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were taking place among the people; and they were all with one accord in Solomon’s portico.

these works of power were not being done in secret; no disputing the reality of the miracles or the connection to the power of Jesus Christ through His appointed apostles

emphasis on unity as we have seen before

Kent: It was an ideal spot for their meetings, being at the religious center of the city and providing in that vast concourse an opportunity for multitudes of interested people to learn of the church without having to commit themselves prematurely.  The performance of signs and wonders by the apostles in this public setting gave the greatest possible exposure to the Christian movement.

B.  (:13-16)  3 Different Reactions on the Watching World

1.  (:13)  Attracts their Attention and Fear

But none of the rest dared to associate with them; however, the people held them in high esteem.

Identification of “the rest” –

-          Believers other than the apostles – we have been stressing the unity of the church

-          Unbelievers — both phrases refer to “the people

Unbelievers feared associating themselves with the believers because they saw that half-hearted commitment or spiritual hypocrisy was dealt with severely.

2.  (:14)  Adds New Believers into the Church Community

And all the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to their number;

Stott: This paradoxical situation has often recurred since then.  The presence of the living God, whether manifest through preaching or miracles or both, is alarming to some and appealing to others.  Some are frightened away, while others are drawn to faith.

3.  (:15-16)  Appropriates Opportunities for Deliverance and Blessing

to such an extent that they even carried the sick out into the streets, and laid them on cots and pallets, so that when Peter came by, at least his shadow might fall on any one of them.  And also the people from the cities in the vicinity of Jerusalem were coming together, bringing people who were sick or afflicted with unclean spirits; and they were all being healed.

Tremendous healing ministry – restricted only by the presence of Peter and the apostles – healing only took place in their presence; healing each and every one – no failures, no lack of power; look how many lives were being touched – each person healed had his own network of relatives and friends – that’s how the gospel should spread so effectively – each person whose life is transformed has his own network of relatives and friends and associates (school mates, fellow workers, neighbors, etc.)

MacArthur: The streets of Jerusalem were an incredible sight. Everywhere there were beds occupied by rich and poor alike, all waiting for the apostles to move through town. The inhabitants of Jerusalem actually believed that Peter’s shadow could heal. Some ancient peoples believed that a man’s shadow carried his influence, so parents would place their children into the shadow of great men and snatch them away from the shadow of someone they disliked. The text doesn’t say that Peter’s shadow healed anyone, only that the people believed so. Their actions display a tremendous respect for Peter. Great miracles indeed occurred.

II.  (:17-25)  THE IMPACT OF JESUS CHRIST ON THE JEALOUS RELIGIOUS ESTABLISHMENT – ATTEMPT TO SILENCE THE MOVEMENT —

INITIAL ATTEMPT AT IMPRISONING THE APOSTLES BACKFIRES IN CONTINUED PROCLAMATION OF THE GOSPEL

A.  (:17)  Controlled by Jealousy

But the high priest rose up, along with all his associates (that is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with jealousy;

wanted to protect their privileged professional role of the religious elite;

resented the growing popularity of the apostles;

threatened by the power and efficacy of the demonstrated healing ministry;

no answer to the claims of the resurrection of Jesus Christ or the references to biblical prophecies;

at a loss to refute the bible interpretations of OT passages

Jealousy is a powerful emotion

John Hamby: Today’s text will show that the high priest and his associates were enraged with the apostles for several reasons. First, the apostles denied their doctrine. Their preaching on the resurrection of Jesus was in direct conflict with the Sadducees teaching that denied everything supernatural. Secondly, the apostles defied their authority. They had given the apostle strict instruction to cease all preaching and teaching in the name of Jesus. That the apostle continued to do so was a slap in the face to their authority. Third, the apostles denounced their spirituality. By holding them responsible for the death of Jesus they found them guilty of sin and in need of repentance. Finally, the apostles were a danger to their domination of the people. The high priest and his associates, the Sadducees were filled with jealousy as they observed the growing popularity and success of the apostles. As they watched the crowds coming to hear the apostles preach and see them working miracles grew larger. They witnessed how the people held the apostles in high honor, and at the same time felt their own influence shrinking. Something had to be done!!!

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B.  (:18)  Aggressive in Trying to Confine the Problem

and they laid hands on the apostles, and put them in a public jail.

Surprising response to a ministry of compassion and healing; they were helping people; they were standing up for righteousness; they were model citizens – who could be against them?

The problem was not what they were doing … but what they were teaching

This was their second offense; this same body, the Sanhedrin, had commanded them earlier to stop preaching in the name of Jesus; the first time you get off with a warning; the second time you expect that the hammer of judgment will fall

C.  (:19-21a)  Powerless Against the Divine Mandate to Proclaim the Person of Jesus Christ

But an angel of the Lord during the night opened the gates of the prison, and taking them out he said, ‘Go your way, stand and speak to the people in the temple the whole message of this Life.’ And upon hearing this, they entered into the temple about daybreak, and began to teach.

Angel of the Lord” – probably not a reference to Christ here – look at Acts 9 where it is indicated very clearly that Christ is involved

Didn’t just open one gate, but multiple gates – maybe they were held in multiple cells;

Lesson: God holds the keys to whatever prison may be giving you problems, may be enslaving you, may be persecuting you; He has angels sufficient to minister grace and deliverance to you – whatever the depth of your dungeon

* * * * * * * * *

Illustration: A story appeared Moody Bible Institute’s devotional magazine Today in the Word, (October, 1991, p. 18), the story of John Paton, who was a missionary in the New Hebrides Islands.
•One night hostile natives surrounded the mission station, intent on burning out the Patons and killing them.
•Paton and his wife prayed during that terror-filled night that God would deliver them.
•When daylight came they were amazed to see their attackers leave.
•A year later, the chief of the tribe was converted to Christ. Remembering what had happened, Paton asked the chief what had kept him from burning down the house and killing them. The chief replied in surprise, “Who were all those men with you there?”
•Paton knew no men were present–but the chief said he was afraid to attack because he had seen hundreds of big men in shining garments with drawn swords circling the mission station.

This story sounds eerily like the story of Elisha and his servant in 2 Kings 6, when the King of Syria sends an army to capture Elisha.
•Elisha’s servant wakes up early in the morning and sees chariots and horses surrounding their home.

•He runs to Elisha and says, we’re surrounded! We’re dead!” Elisha says, oh no, we outnumber them (servant; two of us?). Elisha prays, “Lord, open his eyes!” And we learn, “Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.” (v. 17).
The point is, “If we could only see the angels. If we would only see all the chariots.”
•Maybe we would face life with more confidence in God. Confidence that God is in control.

– Mark Strauss  www.sermoncentral.com

* ** * * * * * *

Go, tell it on the mountains – not in some cave – be very public in your proclamation

Didn’t lose even one day of preaching time – started at daybreak – couldn’t wait to get back to the front line action; understood their calling and their mission

D.  (:21b-23)  Oblivious to God’s Effectual Opposition

Now when the high priest and his associates had come, they called the Council together, even all the Senate of the sons of Israel, and sent orders to the prison house for them to be brought. But the officers who came did not find them in the prison; and they returned, and reported back, saying, ‘We found the prison house locked quite securely and the guards standing at the doors; but when we had opened up, we found no one inside.’

We clearly see God’s sense of humor in this story.  The impressive courtroom is called to order; the officials cannot produce the prisoners.  They are found – not hiding out or trying to escape – but performing the very activity of preaching publicly that had landed them in jail in the first place.

Ironic that the enemy has no clue what is taking place in the warfare; they go through the motions but are powerless to accomplish their objectives

How could they find the gates “locked quite securely” when the angel had opened multiple gates?

E.  (:24)  Perplexed by Their Inability to Contain the Situation and Perplexed Regarding the Ultimate Outcome

Now when the captain of the temple guard and the chief priests heard these words, they were greatly perplexed about them as to what would come of this.

Worried for their own lives if the prisoners could not be produced.

F.  (:25)  Embarrassed and Angered by the Blatant Disregard of Their Intimidating Tactics

But someone came and reported to them, ‘Behold, the men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people!’

Their worst fears are realized

III.  (:26-32) THE IMPACT OF JESUS CHRIST ON MEN OF BIBLICAL INSIGHT AND CONVICTION (THE APOSTLES) — THE FOLLOWUP ATTEMPT AT SQUELCHING THE PROCLAMATION OF CHRIST ENDS IN SIMILAR FUTILITY

A.  (:26-28)  The Test – Low-Key Re-Arrest

Then the captain went along with the officers and proceeded to bring them back without violence (for they were afraid of the people, lest they should be stoned). And when they had brought them, they stood them before the Council. And the high priest questioned them, saying, ‘We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name, and behold, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.’

-          Had defied their authority

-          Hated the name of Jesus and what He represented – especially the emphasis on the resurrection

-          Threatened by the growing popularity of this new movement

-          Did not like the blame laid at their feet for the crucifixion of this popular Messianic figure

B.  (:29-32)  The Testimony – Clear, Confrontational, Convicting

But Peter and the apostles answered and said, ‘We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a cross. He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him.’

Same answer given as before – what consistency – Principle of obeying the Highest Authority; then Peter uses this occasion as a platform to repeat many of the same themes of his earlier messages;

Emphasis on the nation of Israel still prominent – no way that you can say that Israel is now the church; clear distinction

Distinction between those who possess the blessing of the gift of the Holy Spirit and those who do not

IV.  (:33-40) THE IMPACT OF JESUS CHRIST ON THOSE CONTROLLED BY NATURAL EMOTION AND THOSE CONTROLLED BY HUMAN REASON

A.  (:33)  Those Controlled by Natural Emotion

But when they heard this, they were cut to the quick and were intending to slay them.

Extremely passionate; quick to react; shoot first and then ask questions

B.  (:34-40)  Those Controlled by Human Reason or Religious Tradition

But a certain 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. And he said to them, ‘Men of Israel, take care what you propose to do with these men. For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody; and a group of about four hundred men joined up with him. And he was slain; and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. 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. And so in the present case, I say to you, stay away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or action should be of men, it will be overthrown; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God.’ And they took his advice; and after calling the apostles in, they flogged them and ordered them to speak no more in the name of Jesus, and then released them.

Pharisee giving some cautionary council to the Saduccees

Gamaliel an impressive figure – like an Ivy League professor; Apostle Paul sat under his teaching; how did he sum up the benefit??  Worthless to him – some real holes and blind spots in his counsel –  but correct on the central point: It is futile to try to fight against God; God is unstoppable

Cites 2 historical examples to support his point

Mark Strauss: When I teach the book of Acts at Bethel I treat this verse as almost the theme verse of Acts. (Amazing, On the lips of an unbeliever!)
The theme of Acts is the unstoppable Gospel. The steamroller of the Gospel.
•Nothing can stop it: Persecution can’t; prison can’t; shipwreck can’t; snakebite can’t. Not even murder can.
•That is the greatest proof of all that God is in this movement. Because God is unstoppable.
•Do you have big problems? God’s bigger.

If they wanted to make sure they were not actually fighting against God, they needed to give more diligence to investigate the truthfulness of the claims of the apostles; check out their message; seek wisdom from God – but they were not interested in the truth

In sports you call certain teams, a team of destiny … because despite the adversity or the challenge, they are unstoppable –  maybe Auburn is that team this year – behind 24-0 – somehow they rally to win – Boise State may have thought they were that team – but their own placekicker stopped them … God is unstoppable!  That is the message for today

Stott: Gamaliel thus sketched their histories in parallel.  Both men appeared, advanced claims and won a following.  But then each was killed, all his followers were scattered, and his movement faded away.

Kent: The soundness of Gamaliel’s advice may be questioned.  It is, of course, true that ultimately God’s program will emerge victorious, and human schemes will perish.  It is also true that many times hasty action is foolish because it is taken before all the facts are known.  Nevertheless, one cannot always judge from short-term results whether an enterprise is God’s work or not, and we may not have time enough to wait for the final issue.  The measure is not the pragmatic one of apparent success, but its conformity to the revealed will of God.  Present temporary failures (or successes) may not be final.

Neutrality to the gospel is never an option – If you do not fully embrace Christ you stand in opposition to His command to repent and believe and follow Him.  You can’t sit on the fence and just watch how the game of life plays out.

V.  (:41-42) THE IMPACT OF JESUS CHRIST ON THE GOSPEL PROCLAIMERS (THE APOSTLES) — THE PRIVILEGE OF PROCLAIMING CHRIST MOTIVATES JOYFUL PERSEVERANCE IN PROCLAMATION

A.  (:41)  The Impact on Their Attitude – Joyful in Suffering

So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name.

sharing in the fellowship of suffering

authenticity – they were the same people in front of the Sanhedrin as they were in the privacy of their homes as they were in the public forum of the temple

a little different Thanksgiving celebration than what we experienced this past week

B.  (:42)  The Impact on Their Activity – Persevering in Proclamation

And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.

Both in public discourse and in private tutelage

No watering down of the message

No softening of the impact

No diversion from the essentials

CONCLUSION:

There is no stopping the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Many powerful leaders in the past have attempted to squash Christianity – none have succeeded.  The only question is whether the gospel message will be effective in your heart to draw you to saving faith.  Will it prove to be an aroma of life that gives you life or a stench of death that confirms you in your path of sin and rebellion.  You cannot sit on the fence.  You must respond with either faith or unbelief.

For believers, we must persevere in our mission of proclaiming Christ to the world.  We know that God is unstoppable.  We know that the proclamation of the gospel cannot be silenced.  We know that God will be victorious in the end.  Will we participate in the joy of sharing the sufferings of Christ and being identified with Him?

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