A few Sundays ago at CCCTO I shared about what the response of a disciple looks like when we study the example of the apostles in Acts 5:17-42. What follows is an attempt to summarize the main points.
In Acts 5, the apostles are performing many miraculous signs, which were not only bringing many to believe in the Lord, but also causing the Sadducees to become very jealous. In fact, this jealously got to the point where the apostles are arrested and thrown in jail. It is here where we begin to see some very distinct differences between how a disciple, a student or true follower of Christ, and those who simply “know of Christ” respond to the curve balls life throws at us.
The question that we have to ask ourselves, is how often is our natural inclination to say “maybe”, or “ok, but later” to things in life. In a world that has bombarded us with jam-packed schedules and competing priorities screaming for our attention throughout our already busy days, it is so easy to say “maybe, but later”.
As we study this passage, we learn from the example of the apostles, those called by Christ, that we aren’t to be a people who respond with hesitation, but rather with confidence in what God has already done, what He continues to do, and what He has promised. Specifically looking at verses 17-42, we see the following:
The apostles had a faith that could be seen (v.18):
The fact that the apostles were arrested meant that they stood out from the masses. Growing up in Santa Barbara, I recall living a life that was wildly different depending on who I was around, or what day of the week it was. On Sundays you could always find me seated in a pew, however my heart was elsewhere. In the world that I lived in, I blended in quite nicely, whether it was putting on the Sunday act, or doing the Monday-Friday thing in high school. However, if we look to the example of the apostles, their lives were noticeably different. Nowadays, you can be noticeably different by being a nuisance, however theirs was nothing of the sort. They were being faithful with the things that God had entrusted them with, and they were not shy about it. What was the cost? In their case, it landed them in prison. Not many of us can say that we are up against those odds, however ironically enough many of us live a life that proclaims of our worldly success as opposed to one that proclaims the victory we have in Christ.
The apostles responded with immediate obedience (v.20):
We now come across the apostles’ first opportunity to change course. However, after their miraculous escape from prison they did not waste any time in obeying what they had been commanded to do. Even more, they immediately returned to the very place where they were arrested the day before. Note that the angel of the Lord freed them in the night, and by day break, they were already back in the the temple. How many of us, if placed in their shoes, would instead “lay low” until things cooled down a bit? Let’s examine our lives to see if we have been making up excuses to put God off until later when it’s more convenient, or safer for us.
This also brings to mind the importance of listening to God, and responding in action. Often we hear Him in our lives, yet our response is to add Him to our list of things to do, instead of responding in immediate obedience. Or better yet, we may pray for Him to reveal His calling our life, only to listen with selective hearing, expecting a certain answer. Let us actively listen to Him, and respond in immediate obedience.
The apostles acted in faith, remembering and knowing God’s faithfulness (v.26):
As the apostles responded in faith by returning to the temple, they came across yet another opportunity to change course when the officers came to arrest them once again. What is more interesting however, is we see that the apostles now seem to have an opportunity to turn the tables in their own favor, yet they do not. In verse 26 we observe that the officers were cautious in arresting the apostles without violence, for they were afraid of the masses that had gathered to listen, that they would stone them. It is clear at this point that the apostles had the upper hand, and could have easily staged a revolt. However, they freely submit to the authorities. What could possess someone to willingly give in? Perhaps it was an unwavering faith, knowing how God had been faithful in times past, and knowing that He would be faithful in times to come.
We also see that the the officers were witness to the amazing things being done, but blinded by their passion they looked past and missed seeing how God was working in the lives of the apostles.
How does this apply to us? I for one say that from my life experiences, especially over the past few years, that God is indeed working and active in this world. But how often are we blinded by the notion that we may have done it under our own abilities alone, or do we try to intellectually apply reason to everything that surrounds us? Furthermore, when God delivers us from trials, we are quick to often praise Him for that, but when another trial comes our way, so quickly are we to forget how He has indeed been faithful, and we revert to our self-sufficient mode of living.
The apostles responded with assurance (v.29):
As the apostles are brought before the Council, it is interesting to note that they are not accused of escaping from the prison. We also see that the apostles have yet another chance to change course at this point, when questioned by the high priest as to why they continued to teach of Christ. However, they responded confidently that they were to serve God, and not man. In times of trouble, they found strength knowing that they were filled with the Holy Spirit (v.32), may we too cling to that assurance.
Gamaliel responded with hesitation (v.38-39):
Before Gamaliel responds, we first see that the Sadduccees desired to kill them at that very moment (v.33), however Gamaliel interjects. It is important to note who Gamaliel is. He was a Pharisee, and a teacher of the Law, and in fact was Paul’s teacher. It is clear that he was a very well educated man. What follows is a series of explanations and reasons why Gamaliel suggests that they should simply let the apostles go on their way. His main premise is that if the work they are doing is of God, then it cannot be stopped, however if it isn’t it will naturally die on its own. While this very action may have saved the lives of the apostles, we have to look at the response of Gamaliel and realize that you cannot be “half on” for God. Like a light switch toggled halfway, we must have the switch turned completely in the on position if we are going to shine a light in a dark place. It is also simply not enough to know of God, but instead to accept Him into our lives, and to allow ourselves to be changed from the inside out by Him.
At the end of the day, I highly doubt that many of us are chasing down followers of Christ, with the desire to kill them as the Sadduccees did in this example. However, how many of us, when presented with two options, play it safe and respond with hesitation in our lives to give Him our all? Sure it’s easy to give up some of the easier things, but when it comes to our careers, our futures, will we respond with the same faith and assurance we see in the apostles?
Bringing it All Together
This post is quickly becoming much longer than I had originally intended, and there’s much more I’d love to share but perhaps we can save that for a future post, or you can ask me in person.
At the end of the day, we’re very privileged to live in a time and a place where we aren’t persecuted in the same way the apostles were, however that is not an excuse for us to become complacent in our walks. Let us look to the example of the apostles during their second imprisonment and ask ourselves:
- Are we living lives of faith that can be seen?
- Do we have the same confidence in what saved us?
- Will we respond with immediate obedience?
Just as we’ve seen in this passage, there is more than one response. We’ve all seen what God has done and what He continues to do in our daily lives, but will we respond in faith with immediate obedience, or will we respond in hesitation, with our personal plans and goals at the forefront of our lives. Let us not put Him off any longer in our lives, let’s get of the fence and stop saying maybe. Let us live a life of faith with urgency that He has both called and equipped us for.