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Acts 5:17-5:41
Key Verse: 5:20

In the previous passage we saw Satan’s attack inside the church, seeking to destroy the purity and holiness of the early Christian community. God protected the church and preserved the Christian fellowship. Fear of God spread in and through the church. (A prominent servant of God described the fear of God in this: “The fear of God is what is left of the storm when you have a safe place to watch right in the middle of it.” God wants us to hope in his love with an earnest, profound sense of his awesome power.) Satan’s assault is unceasing. In today’s passage it is again evident through the persecution by the Jewish authorities who put the apostles in the jail. But God was with the apostles and miraculously brought them out. He gave them a clear direction to deliver his message to the people. Their obedience was outstanding; they were uncompromising and victorious. They were even happy to suffer disgrace for Jesus. May God speak to us.

Look at verse 17. “Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy.” They were the ones who handed Jesus over to Pilate to be crucified (5:28). It was also out of their jealousy (envy) (Mt 27:18; Mk 15:10). So they were fundamentally wrong. What did they do? Look at verse 18. “They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail.” Those who were in the public jail were to await trial the next day. What would be expected from such a situation? Certainly, nothing! But what happened? Look at verse 19. “But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out.” In Acts an angel of the Lord appears 6 times, here to the Apostles, to Philip (8:26), to Cornelius (10:3), to Peter (12:7), to Herod (12:23), and to St. Paul (27:23). This is the first time. It is a supernatural act. The Bible is full of supernatural events. During the night, definitely while all were sleeping, the angel opened the doors of the jail. We don’t know how he opened it, for later the officers found the jail still securely locked. Anyway, to God human locking is of no use. The angel brought the apostles out of the jail, for they were not to be in the jail and stay there silently for even one day. He said, “Go, stand in the temple courts and tell the people…” This is God’s clear direction to the apostles given through the angel. They were to be in their mission field of the temple courts telling God’s message to the people.

In Acts 1:8 Jesus gave the apostles a clear direction to be his witnesses with a promise of God: “But you will receive the power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Then the apostles fully obeyed this direction to be the witnesses of Jesus’ death and resurrection (1:22; 2:34, 3:15). Now it is the second time in Acts a clear direction is given to the apostles: “Go, stand in the temple courts and tell the people the full message of this new life.” This direction is quite opposite to the direction that the Jewish authority of the Sanhedrin had given the apostles, to not speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus (4:18). Of course, Peter and John did not follow the direction given by the Sanhedrin. Rather the apostles and their own people as well spoke the word of God boldly in obedience to God (4:19,31). Now God’s direction for them became clearer. The direction to tell God’s message to the people is to be carried out in any human situations. Even when the apostles were put in prison, God let them be brought out and gave them this direction. Here we see the urgency and priority of this direction over any human conditions, whether favourable or unfavourable.

The direction is to “tell the people the full message of this new life.” In ESV, “speak to the people all the words of this Life.” Here “this new life” or “this Life” contains the meaning of the absolute fullness of life, that is, eternal life. In this world nothing is related to the eternal life. All things, whether new policies, political or economical, are related only to our transitory life on earth. We must know this. Peter could follow Jesus continually, because he found the words of eternal life in Jesus (Jn 6:68). Now he and the apostles were given this direction anew to tell the people the words of this Life/ new life/ eternal life. That’s why this direction is so urgent and demands priority and superiority over any human situation. This is the reason Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:3, “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance.” He also said to his spiritual son and successor to Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:2, “Preach the Word: be prepared in season and out of season.”

How did the apostles respond to this direction? Look at verse 21a. “At daybreak they entered the temple courts, as they had been told, and began to teach the people.” Their obedience was willing and immediate. The angel did not say, “Go to the temple at daybreak.” But the apostles knew what the direction meant and obeyed the direction wholeheartedly. It is also surprising that people were coming to the temple courts at daybreak. It showed how thirsty they were. What a beautiful scene it is that from daybreak the teachers of the words of the new life and listeners were there in the temple courts! We are reminded of Jesus’ teaching the people in the temple courts at dawn, “At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them” (Jn 8:2).

While this beautiful work of God was going on, what happened with the high priest and his associates? Look at verse 21b. “When the high priest and his associates arrived, they called together the Sanhedrin—the full assembly of the elders of Israel—and sent to the jail for the apostles.” What a contrast between what the apostles did and what the religious leaders did at daybreak! These are written in the same one verse. While the apostles were teaching the people in obedience to God, the religious authorities called the whole meeting for their evil scheme. On arriving at the jail, the officers did not find them there. So they went back and reported, “We found the jail securely locked, with the guards standing at the doors; but when we opened them, we found no one inside.” On hearing this report, the captain of the temple guard and the chief priests were puzzled, wondering what would come of this. It must have been like a nightmare to them and they expected something awful would happen to them.

Then someone came and said, “Look! The men you put in jail are standing in the temple courts teaching the people.” On hearing this, their hearts must have sunk with their eyes popping out, wondering what was really going. At that, the captain went with his officers. This time the captain did not just send his officers. He had to go with them and brought the apostles. They did not use force, because they feared that the people would stone them. The captain and the temple guard were full of fear, although they caught and brought the apostles. The apostles were made to appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. This was the second time for the apostles to stand before the Sanhedrin and be questioned by the high priest. At first, the high priest asked, “By what power or what name did you do this?” But this time they did not hear any question although they stood there to be questioned. The high priest said, “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name. Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.” He just described what they had commanded and what the apostles had done. No clear question was spoken. He probably did not know what kind of question he had to ask. Shortage of questions! Perhaps his question, not spoken but implied, was “Why did you this?” Assuming his question, Peter and the other apostles replied, “We must obey God rather than men! The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead—whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Saviour that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel. We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.” It seemed that the apostles at the seats of trial were in control, not the high priest at the judge’s seat.

Most certainly, what the apostles said in reply to the high priest was the full message of the new life that the apostles had taught the people in the temple courts in obedience to God’s direction through the angel. They had given this full message to the Sanhedrin when they were standing before them to be tried at the first time. This was their consistent message both to the ordinary people and to the people of authorities in Acts so far, Jesus’ death and resurrection and exaltation: “Therefore let all Israel be assured this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (2:36); “You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead” (3:15); “It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed” (4:10).

Look at verses 30-32 again. “God raised Jesus from the dead—whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree.” First of the full message of the new life is “you crucified”, “you killed”, “you crucified, “you killed.” Crucifying and killing innocent God’s Son Jesus was the act of sinful mankind. This was the result of extreme hatred toward God. Deuteronomy 21:22 says, “…anyone who is hung on a tree is under God’s curse.” St. Paul quoted this and said in Galatians 3:13, “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” Sinful men killed Jesus by hanging him on a tree and attempted to get rid of him completely as if he were a cursed one, although in fact he was God’s beloved and delighted Son. So the old prophet Isaiah said, “he was cut off from the land of the living” (Isa 53:8). Sinful mankind did all kinds of evil things to him to the point of killing him by hanging him on a tree. But God raised him from the dead. This is a marvelous thing in human eyes. Psalm 118:22-23 says, “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.” Then Jesus quoted these words after telling the parable of the tenants in Mt 21:42; Mk 12:10). And this prophecy was fulfilled through Jesus’ death and resurrection. Then what is marvelous? Yes, God’s power of raising Jesus from the dead was awesome and marvelous. But what is truly marvelous is that when God raised Jesus from the dead, man’s greatest crime toward God turned out to be God’s solution to man’s sin problem. When God raised Jesus from the dead, man’s worst act of killing God’s Son Jesus by hanging him on a tree turned out to be God’s marvelous act of taking away man’s sin. Jesus was killed as the sin offering, the atoning sacrifice for man’s sin. God laid all our sins upon him and let him be cursed. He became a curse for us so that we might be redeemed from the curse of eternal condemnation and live as his children with the hope of eternal life (Gal 3:13,14). God’s raising Jesus from the dead is the complete victory over sin and Satan as well as all evil power.

Sinful men lowered him to the lowest degree. But God exalted him to the highest decree to his own right hand as Prince and Saviour. No one but he is Prince (in human term, guaranteed to be King), God’s anointed and no one but he is Saviour through his humiliation and God’s exaltation. So no one but he can give repentance and forgiveness of sin to Israel, to those who come to him and put their faith in him. This is the gospel, the good news, the full message of this new life. The apostles finally said, “We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”

Later on Peter said in 1 Peter 2:24, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness.” In his grace of forgiveness given through his death on the cross, we strive to die to our sins fighting against our sinful nature. And positively we live for righteousness, teaching and telling the full message of the new life in obedience to God like the apostles. We must know that unrepentant and unforgiven sinners still hate Jesus extremely to kill him again, though that’s impossible. They don’t want to hear the name Jesus. We should not be surprised to see the hostility of the world toward Jesus and his people. We cannot just expect the kind act of the people in the world. Knowing this spiritual realty God wants us to stand firm in Jesus, our Prince and Saviour, and live for righteousness.

Look at verse 33. “When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death.” They remained unrepentant and wanted to kill the apostles who testified to Jesus, his death and resurrection. Then God protected the apostles through a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honoured by all the people. He stood up in the Sanhedrin and spoke about the past incidents of Theudas and Judas who had gathered the people in revolt for a time being and was finally gone with their followers dispersed. In light of this he advised the Sanhedrin to let the apostles go, saying, “For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”

His speech persuaded them. Then the Jewish authorities called the apostles in and had them flogged. Flogging is forty lashes minus one. It was a severe Jewish punishment. In this way the authorities showed their evilness continually. Then they ordered the apostles not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.

Look at verse 41. “The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.” The apostles were not sorrowful or bitter at all. They rejoiced. For them suffering for Christ was the privilege. Most probably they remembered Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven” (Mt 5:11,12) Later on Peter encouraged the early Christians under fiery persecution, “But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:13).

Look at verse 42. “Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ.” They were impossible-to-stop-people in the world.

Thank God for the direction, “Go, stand in the temple courts and tell the people the full message of this new life.” Thank God for the full message of the new life, God raising Jesus from the dead, that revealed God’s marvelous grace. May the full message of the new life be alive in us and may we tell the full message of this new life with priority participating in God’s heart, overcoming the hostility of the world.

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