Event(s): The disciples are arrested; God sends an angel to free them; The message of the Gospel continues
Today’s Text: Acts 5:17-42
Tomorrow’s Text: Acts 6:1-15
The church was growing and the acts of the kingdom were becoming increasingly evident. Just like with the ministry and life of Jesus, the sick were being healed, demons were being cast out, the message of the Gospel was being shared and multitudes were starting to gather around. Anyone who has a heart for the things of God would celebrate these good works. But as James 3:16 reminds us, “For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind.”
Acts 5:17 “and they were filled with indignation” The Greek word used here for indignation is zēlos and means a contentious rivalry, or jealousy.
The religious leaders were jealous of the disciples. Not because they wanted what they had (that’s envy). But because they were more concerned about losing their highly esteemed positions as the religious rulers of the day (that’s jealousy).
Jealousy and envy are two terms that are often used interchangeably, but there is a difference. Jealousy has to do with positioning, whereas envy has to do with possessing. Jealousy is a fear that something or someone is going to come and scoot us out of a place we feel entitled to. Whether in a relationship, or a position at our job, or as in this case, a position of authority from which the religious leaders drew significance and great prestige, jealousy is rooted in a fear of being displaced from a position we associate with a level of security. Anytime our security is found in anything but God, we become vulnerable to this trap and risk not seeing things the way God sees them.
Acts 5:19 “but at night an angel of the LORD” The word angel means, “messenger”. Angels are literal, spiritual beings created to serve the purposes of God. Although they are very real, notice the disciples maintained a greater God-awareness than an angel-awareness. Even if God sent an angel to help them, as He did on this occasion, the disciples always saw God as the source of their relief and they only prayed to and worshipped Him as their Rescuer and Comforter.
Acts 5:20 “tell people all about this new life” This verse can also be translated to read, “the whole message of this life”. The disciples had been freed, and with that freedom came an opportunity (and a responsibility) to declare the words of life. Who was their audience? They were sent right back to the place where they had been arrested, the temple courts.
Acts 5:34 “a Pharisee named Gamaliel” As we will later learn, this was Saul’s formal teacher. The same Saul, who later became the apostle Paul (Acts 22:3). Gamaliel was not a follower of Christ, but God clearly used him to speak these words, thus sparing the lives of the apostles.
Acts 5:39 “but if it is of God, you cannot overthrow it” Both Theudas and Judas were men who had led a revolt. Historians cannot find many details about Theudas. But Judas’ revolt centered on taxation. He took the position that since God was King of Israel, only God was worthy of paying tribute to. Therefore, he refused to pay taxes to the local government and led other people to do the same. (In our day this would be the equivalent of someone evading the IRS in the name of religion. Which is clearly unbiblical as we learn from Jesus’ example in Matthew 17:24-27.)
Basically, the point Gamaliel was making was that both of these men had considerable influence while living, but that influence diminished after their deaths. He obviously believed in the sovereignty of God and knew that whatever God puts His hand to, is strong enough to last beyond the life of one person or even a group of people. But since He didn’t believe Jesus was Messiah, he really didn’t consider the disciples that big of a threat, nor did he think them worthy of the energy the religious leaders were putting into prosecuting them. If God was not truly behind the disciples, time would tell and their efforts would prove futile. But if God was behind them, the leaders should be careful, lest they find themselves fighting against God Himself.
Acts 5:40 “called for…and beat them” Obeying God over man does not always mean that we will be spared the consequences for civil disobedience. But even in persecution, we can have joy; a fruit of being filled with the Spirit.
The disciples were sent back to the temple gates. Moses was sent back to Egypt (Acts 7:35). Joseph was sent back to his family (Acts 7:14). In the same way, we shouldn’t be surprised if after experiencing great breakthrough, God sends us back to some of the places where we experienced the greatest pain. But when that happens, it’s so important that we share the message of life from a position of strength. Not the message of how horrible things were. Not the message that only highlights the depths to which we plummeted. But a message that highlights the greatness and goodness of God and what this new life looks like on the other side. This is the difference between sharing a great story and having a powerful testimony.
Sharing our testimony doesn’t mean we have to share our entire life story. Today, think of just one thing God has done in your life. How would you share it in a way that brings greater glory to what God has done? Try to narrow it down to just a few sentences and then practice sharing it with others!