I have just a few, scattered thoughts today after reading the fifth chapter of Acts.
Ananias and Sapphira (v. 1-11). Right away God made something clear to the Church. He will not allow deception to prosper. I think it was quite the ‘tone setting’ moment. A look at the different headlines, just in my lifetime, tells us not everyone has heeded the tone. The list of various scandals regarding deceptive practices by church leaders can be discouraging, except for the fact that they were discovered. Because God is still building His Church, and deception will not prosper today, anymore than it prospered then.
The Apostles jailed (v. 17-21) The miraculous signs and wonders performed by the Apostles led many more to believe in Jesus, once again landing the Apostles in jail. Funny thing about jails. They can keep us in, but they can’t keep God out. He sent in His angel who opened the jail doors and brought the Apostles out. Why? Because God was insistent that the gospel be told. “‘Go, stand in the temple courts’, He said, ‘and tell the people the full message of this new life'”. (v. 20) And that’s what they did. Nothing that man does will stop God from building His Church.
Gamaliel (v.34) He was a Pharisee, and as it turns out, a very wise man. After the great escape, the Apostles are once again brought before the Sanhedrin, and, once again, explain that they are opting to obey God rather than man. The rulers are furious and want the Apostles put to death. Enter Gamaliel, who with great wisdom ends up making one of my favorite statements in the book of Acts. He reminds the Sanhedrin of all the other men who rose up to lead a revolt, and how those men, and the revolts they attempted, came to nothing. And then he said, “Leave these men alone! Let them go! 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.” (v. 38-39) Profound, and stunningly prophetic. As you and I sit here today, carriers of the same gospel the Apostles preached, members of this beautiful Church that God began and continues to build, we are the evidence of the truth of Gamaliel’s statement. It would be nice to travel back in time for just a short moment, to whisper in this wise man’s ear, “You have no idea how right you are!”.
And they rejoice (v.41) Gamaliel’s statement persuaded the Sanhedrin to release the Apostles, with the obligatory order not to speak in the name of Jesus. By this time I can’t imagine any of the Pharisees actually thought that order would be obeyed. And the Apostles left, rejoicing. And here is what caught my attention. They weren’t rejoicing because they had been released, they rejoiced because they had suffered disgrace for the Name! They were thrilled to have been counted worthy of suffering for Him. I believe this rejoicing for suffering was a mark of the early Church. I also believe the mark has faded in the Church today, at least in the western Church. At least in my own heart.
The suffering I do as a Christian is, well, not really suffering. A few people probably roll their eyes at me, but always when I’m not looking. They may make fun of me, but never within earshot. Is it because I rarely allow myself to be in a position to suffer any more than that? Is it because I am not really proclaiming anything that actually produces anger or indignation, or at least makes people uncomfortable?
I have grown tired of all of this thinking. But rather than let me close the book and move on to lamenting the fact that I have run out of coffee (speaking of suffering), He gave me one final thought.
He is still building His Church, and I am still a part of that process. There is still time for rejoicing.