FOR May 9, 2010 FROM ACTS 5:27-42
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This morning we hope to conclude our study of Acts chapter five as we continue
our series of messages from this book. For the last two weeks, we have been looking at the
dramatic encounter between the Jewish religious leaders and the
apostles who have been preaching Christ against the wishes of these
we meet the apostles in verse 27, they
are standing before the Jewish council, defending their
gospel ministry to the Jews in and around Jerusalem. The lens through which
we have looked at this encounter has been focused on the faithful preaching
of the gospel by the apostles
in the midst of opposition.
We have used their courageous
example before these hostile Jews to see what we, by God’s grace, can
learn from them as we seek to speak the gospel to a culture that
is also strongly opposed to it. Two weeks ago, we saw three necessary qualities for us to be faithful to speak the
truth of the gospel in the
midst of opposition. We
said we must first walk in the Spirit and live Christ-empowered lives. Second, we must have
a firm conviction on who it is we are seeking to please and we must keep Christ and the
gospel the main message.
Last week, we examined a fourth necessary quality and that is--we must have a boldness that will not waver in the
face of opposing, false worldviews.
We saw that Paul pleaded for believers to pray for him—specifically that
he would speak the gospel boldly and clearly.
We noted that a Biblically defined boldness in speaking the
gospel is rooted in our love for Christ, our love for sinners and the
unshakable conviction that the gospel we have to share is glorious and
absolutely, unquestionably true. As we placed the apostles’ defense of their
ministry under a microscope, we noted that they possessed a relentless,
unshakable boldness in the face of these
religious leaders. Every
statement of the apostles recorded by Luke is permeated with a holy
boldness in the face of stiff opposition.
This week, we want to look at two
more qualities necessary for us to be faithful in speaking the gospel
in the face of strong opposition.
These two qualities are found in the
final three verses of this narrative, beginning with verse 40.
At this point, the apostles have
been dismissed from the council chambers and Gamaliel has persuasively
made his case for the council to not act on their
strong desire to kill the apostles.
He argues that the council should
“keep away from these men and let them alone.”
His contention was grounded in his assumption that if they
are not from God, they will fizzle out on their
own and likewise, if they are from God, there
will be no stopping them and in fact the
council might find themselves actually opposing God.
Let’s pick up Luke’s account beginning with the
last phrase of verse 39. Speaking
council it says, “…So
they took his advice, 40 and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 41
Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. 42 And every day, in the temple and from house to house,
they did not cease teaching and
preaching Jesus as the Christ.” A fifth necessary
quality to faithfully speak the gospel in the
midst of opposition is: A
radical love for Jesus that liberates you to wear persecution as a badge of honor.
Though the council listens to
Gamaliel’s advice and does not kill them, the
apostles do not escape this encounter unscathed.
They were beaten.
The method employed here is not as brutal as the
Roman scourging Jesus endured, but it was no walk in the park. It was done with a
three stranded strap of calf-hide—and the one being beaten was whipped
about the back and chest 39 times.
The point was not to kill the person—though some did die from the serious
loss of blood. The
point was to give them a thrashing so severe that it would serve as a very painful deterrent to future offenses. Paul endured this five
times from the Jews according to his own account in Second Corinthians
The Jewish leaders agree to not murder the
apostles, but they would not let them
go without a painful reminder that they didn’t like them
preaching in the name of Jesus.
It’s irrational for at least two reasons that they
would brutally whip someone who, according to what they had just heard
from Gamaliel, could possibly be sent from God.
First, if they were from God—it
would be wicked to beat those who represent him and second, if they
God and therefore unstoppable according to Gamaliel’s argument, what
purpose would a flogging serve? This was clearly not a rational act, but a way of venting at least some of the
Jewish leaders’ jealousy toward the apostles and of convincing themselves
that they were still in charge of this situation that had clearly grown
well beyond their capacity to control.
At the very least, they
wanted the apostles to know they
were not happy and that any further preaching in Jesus’ name might
carry the price tag of a back and chest that would for days burn like
fact, every time the apostles moved the
wrong way, they would for weeks be reminded of the
cost of following Jesus. This
pain would be with them for awhile and the
scars they received at this beating would mark them
The apostles’ response to the beating was not at all consistent with what
would have been expected--especially in that culture.
The Ancient Near East, like most eastern cultures today, was a shame-based
means that one of the worst things a person could experience in that
culture was to be shamed. And
there were few things you could do to a man that would have more raw
shaming power than having them stand or lie face down in a posture of submission, while beating him like a dumb
had a de-humanizing effect that would have been a powerful deterrent in that culture.
The normal person would have felt unspeakably ashamed.
Yet, the apostles react more
like they have had a medal pinned on, than being subjected to a painful
and powerfully shaming punishment. Verse 41 says, “Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer
dishonor for the name.” That’s exactly backwards
from how the religious leaders wanted them to react.
This punishment was specifically applied to degrade their sense of worth, but they
instead see it as something that ascribed worth to them.
What was it that allowed them
to respond so differently than what was normal?
Let’s look at two reasons from the
Scriptures why these apostles reacted so differently to this beating
than others would have.
The New Testament repeatedly teaches this truth that we see here so powerfully
exemplified in these apostles.
you are persecuted for the sake of Christ, it is a blessing because you receive
assurance of your external godliness and the eternal hope of heaven. This is the godliness that others
see outwardly in you. The reason this is
so affirming is because the reason you are being beaten is because you
are manifesting Christ clearly and those who hate Christ will persecute you.
This vindication of a believer’s godliness and the
assurance of eternal heaven is spelled out in several New Testament texts about persecution.
First, let’s look at one of the
promises the apostles heard from Jesus in Matthew
5:12 where he tells them that in the
face of persecution they should: “rejoice
and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Do you hear both of
those elements of external godliness and eternal assurance in that promise?
First, Jesus points to the fact
that there is an eternal reward to come from being persecuted that will,
by a thousand fold, make up for whatever pain they endured. Second, he affirms
their godliness by assuring them
that persecution places them firmly in the
same class as the honored prophets who came before them—“for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” When
you are persecuted for standing up for Jesus, that places you in some pretty select company—the
Old Testament prophets who were pillars of devotion to God.
To anyone who loves God and who has looked up to these
prophets of God, to be placed in their company would be a tremendous
We see these
same two blessings that come from persecution in Second Thessalonians chapter one.
Paul is writing to these believers
in chapter 1:4 and following, “4 Therefore
we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness
and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring.
5 This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God,
that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God,
for which you are also suffering.” There he connects the Thessalonians’ willingness
to suffer persecution as evidence of their godliness.
That’s what he means when he says that their
willingness is “evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God,
for which you are suffering.”
Their willingness to suffer for Christ was the
outward evidence or godliness that clearly displayed that they belonged
to God. For
the eternal part of their
assurance, move to verse six where Paul continues, “ 6 since indeed God considers it just to repay
with affliction those who afflict you, 7 and
to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels” Again,
the hope of heavenly relief is promised when Jesus comes back at his
return—which they assumed would be soon.
We see these two blessings of persecution in First Peter chapter four as
writes in verse 13, “But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings,
that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.” There’s the
eternal dimension—rejoice now in your persecutions so that you may also rejoice when Jesus comes back. Next is the
temporal blessing of godliness. Verse 14 continues, “If you are insulted for
the name of Christ, you are blessed,
because the Spirit of glory and of God
rests upon you.”
Being insulted for Christ is a blessing because these insults come from those
who are offended by your godly character that can only be explained by the presence of the Holy Spirit.
We see the
promise of spending eternity with God connected with suffering in many places in the
New Testament. Hebrews
10:34 is another one.
The author says to these Hebrew
believers, “32 But recall
the former days when, after you
were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, 33 sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners
with those so treated. 34 For
you had compassion on those in prison, and you
joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you
yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.” What enabled these
believers to stand in front of their burning houses with joyful acceptance
was the fact that they had awaiting them in heaven something much better than the things of this earth. The apostles knew all
of that—Jesus had taught them this and so for them—persecution
meant infinitely more than a raw back, it meant assurance that they
were living for God and from that—assurance like what Paul says in Romans 8:18.
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present
time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed
That speaks of the glory that
will be made manifest when the sons of God will be revealed in heaven,
but the point is still the
is—the persecutions of today can be endured with joy when your eyes
are on the glories of heaven we will enjoy in Christ.
So the first reason the
apostles can rejoice after being beaten is because their persecution
gave them an assurance of their
external godliness and their eternal hope in heaven.
History tells us that these promises
we have seen in these texts have been a blessing that has strengthened
countless saints over the past two millennia to patiently endure—with
joy—persecution for the sake of Christ. Think about this question and apply it to yourself.
If you were physically beaten or fired from your job or otherwise
ostracized for speaking the gospel or in some other way standing up
for Christ, would you find joy in the fact that your persecution is
an indication that you are a genuinely godly person and that you have a future in heaven with Jesus? Would those two truths
bring joy to you in the context of persecution—a joy that eclipsed the
pain of your suffering? Would
you be able to rejoice after being beaten for Christ because that treatment brings assurance that you are outwardly
manifesting the godliness of Christ and will be with him in heaven eternally?
For the healthy believer, two of their deepest heart cries is first—to honor
Christ with a godly life that can seen by others and which can only be explained supernaturally and second—to live
with Jesus in heaven forever. Doesn’t
your heart cry out at times, “Am I a truly
godly person or am I just a phony—a play actor?
Do I really love Jesus or do I serve him
only because that is the way I was raised or because I haven’t tried anything else?”
Don’t you in moments of weak faith wonder if when you die you will go to
has those moments and experiencing
persecution for Christ provides the believer with a powerful opportunity for assurance in the midst of those plaguing
doubts. Persecution carries powerful blessings for the believer.
God uses a believer’s willingness to suffer persecution with joy to answer those questions
in powerful ways. Persecution
can bring a level of assurance that cannot perhaps be experienced any other
is true—I do love Jesus more than my job or my relationships or my comfort—God HAS done a real work of grace in
my life—PRAISE GOD and these scars I bear (whether internal or external) are proof!”
If those effects of persecution do not seem to you to be powerful blessings,
something is not right, because that is precisely the way the
apostles viewed them and enabled them
to respond with joy to something that should have brought them shame.
part of what enabled the apostles to rejoice after having been flogged
is in the last phrase of verse 41.
That is—“they suffered dishonor for the name.” The apostles rejoice after this beating because they
were suffering “for the name.”
In other words, their
rejoicing is motivated by the fact that they
were suffering for an exalted cause—the name.
The Name or Person of Christ was to them
so vaunted, so revered, so cherished that to suffer for him was a privilege and an honor.
You hear veterans from past wars say that part of what motivated them
to face possible suffering and even death was—love for their country—they
were honored to serve the country they loved.
The love you have for whatever it is you are suffering for is a powerful
motivator and believers have as their highest, most radically sacrificial love--Jesus Christ—his name, his gospel,
his kingdom. Mother’s—who
we honor today—suffer countless hardships for their children and (in their best moments anyway) consider them well
worth it because of their love for their children.
For the devout believer—what they honor above all else is Jesus—that makes
it an honor to suffer for him. This
isn’t only because the apostles loved Jesus as a Savior and friend,
was also because they understood that when they
suffered as his servants, they were—through their suffering--being very
closely identified with Jesus. We
read before in First Peter 4:13, “Rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings…” Do
you hear how closely you are identified with Christ—they are HIS sufferings.
Suffering for Christ was a great
honor for the apostles because they had seen him suffer and they
knew that they were suffering only because what they
were doing so closely identified them with Jesus.
The Jewish leaders were ultimately beating Christ when they
beat these apostles and the apostles knew that.
That gets at what Paul means in Colossians 1:24. He writes, “24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your
sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church,” That verse has puzzled
many because they wonder how Paul could be saying that Jesus’ sufferings
on the cross were in some way inadequate and must be made complete by
the sufferings of his people.
That’s not at all what Paul is saying.
The sufferings of Christ’s church could never redeem anyone and Jesus’ death
on the cross was completely
sufficient to save anyone who believes on Jesus.
It isn’t the redemptive sufferings of Jesus the church is sharing with him.
Paul is alluding to the
Jewish understanding that the Messiah will suffer first bodily and then
a second time through his people before the final judgment of God. We see this affirmed
in several places in the New Testament.
In Romans 8:17 Paul writes, “17
and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him
in order that we may also be glorified with him.”
We must suffer WITH him in order that we may also be glorified with him. This is why in Acts
9:4 Jesus asks Saul of Tarsus as he was ravaging the church, “...Saul, Saul why are you persecuting me?” Part
of Christ’s role is to suffer through his church, which means that to persecute the
church is to persecute Christ and if you love Jesus like the apostles
did, then to be so closely identified with Christ that you receive
beatings, that is a cause for rejoicing!
Do we have this extraordinary love
for Christ? Is
the depth of my love for Jesus such that I yearn to be identified with
him so completely that if I were to suffer his beatings, that would bring joy to my heart?
Does that describe the depth of
love we have for Jesus? A
fifth necessary quality for speaking of Christ in the midst of opposition
is to have this kind of love for Jesus—a love that is so deep and so extreme that anything that will assure me
that I reflect his godliness; anything that assures me of my future place in heaven with him is a cause for celebration—not
love for him that is so radical that anything that will identify me with him will bring me joy—even if the
cause for that identification is experiencing great physical or emotional pain.
A final necessary quality to speak
the name of Christ in the
midst of opposition is a
faith that looks to God for deliverance.
These apostles knew that Jesus had called them
to preach and they knew they
would be persecuted for that. Their
Master had warned them about this many times.
They also knew that Jesus through the
Spirit would give them words to speak in their
defense—he had promised them that and they
had just experienced his faithfulness to that promise. These “unlearned fishermen” had completely silenced these
Jewish leaders. They
discovered to their great frustration that they
were just as impotent to win an argument with the apostles as they
had been with Jesus. But
the apostles also knew that Jesus would deliver them
just as God had so many times delivered Jesus before it was his time to die.
They knew that they were invincible
until it was their time to die because Jesus would deliver them
and they received a miraculous deliverance from death here. As we have seen, the
Jewish leaders badly wanted to kill them.
But God used Gamaliel to speak on their
behalf and dissuade these infuriated Jews from acting on their
it hadn’t have been Gamaliel, then God would have delivered them
through someone else.
We know God delivered them from
this situation because in verse 42 Luke concludes this account with “And
ever day, in the temple and from house to house,
they did not cease teaching a preaching
Jesus as the Christ.” I think Luke wants
us to notice that after they were beaten, not only were the apostles
preaching in the open air in the
temple grounds as before, they were also sharing the
good news house to house. This
is the first time Luke mentions this.
That means that the beating they received only made the
apostles more zealous to share the good news.
They broadened their gospel ministry
venue to include evangelistic house calls. The beating by the Jewish leaders only released
more oxygen into the already blazing inferno of Holy Spirit-ignited,
apostolic zeal. They
knew God would deliver them if they
were arrested again. And
when it was time for them to die for Jesus, then they could exemplify with their martyrdom the truth of Psalm 63:3—“Your steadfast love is better than life.”
As we come to the
end of chapter five and the powerful example these
apostles leave us in what is necessary to speak boldly for Christ amid opposition—how do we compare with their
walked in the Spirit and had Christ-empowered lives.
They were firmly convinced of who they
had been sent to please. They
kept Christ and the gospel the
main message. They
had a boldness that was unwavering in the face of false worldviews. They had a radical
love for Jesus that enabled them to wear persecution as a badge of honor
and they steadfastly believed God would deliver them
from all danger. Do
you see this grace of holy boldness in your life?
May God impart to each one of us individually and our church corporately
these necessary qualities so that we may, by his grace speak effectively
and often of Christ in the midst of opposition.