Second Sunday of Easter, April 24
Reader: “We must obey God”
Response: “rather than any human authority.”
Scripture: Acts 5:27-32
Then they brought the apostles before the high council, where the high priest confronted them. “We gave you strict orders never again to teach in this man’s name!” he said. “Instead, you have filled all Jerusalem with your teaching about him, and you want to make us responsible for his death!”
But Peter and the apostles replied, “We must obey God rather than any human authority. The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead after you killed him by hanging him on a cross. Then God put him in the place of honor at his right hand as Prince and Savior. He did this so the people of Israel would repent of their sins and be forgiven. We are witnesses of these things and so is the Holy Spirit, who is given by God to those who obey him.”
I want to back up a bit on yesterday’s discussion regarding persecution of the disciples to give a little broader context. The Jewish religious leaders held the Temple in Jerusalem in highest regard for it was the dwelling place of the Ark of the Covenant and the presence of God in the Holy of Holies. But the death and resurrection of the Messiah had changed everything. The Temple curtain was torn in two and direct access to the Father was opened to all. The earthly high priest was replaced by the heavenly High Priest, Jesus.
At Pentecost, which had already happened by this point, it became clear that a relationship with God was for everyone, not just the Jews. Not only that, the Holy Spirit filled the apostles as they spoke with the power from God. Now in the absence of Jesus, God dwelt within his believers. The new “Temple” took up residence in believer’s hearts. The Jewish leaders refused to accept this fulfillment of Scripture which the prophets had foretold.
Remember, Jesus had spent forty days after his resurrection teaching and explaining the Scriptures and teaching about his Kingdom. Now the apostles are proclaiming the message of God’s Kingdom in the power of the Holy Spirit. Adding to the frustration and anger of the Sadducees, this teaching of Jesus and miraculous acts wouldn’t go away even after they killed him! In their minds they needed to squelch this exploding movement, hence the persecution. While the persecution did eventually drive many believers out of Jerusalem, it only served to spread the gospel to other peoples and nations, exactly what Jesus foretold!
As we read yesterday, this newly forming community of followers of Jesus from various ethnic groups was a drastic change from a closed Jewish community of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Now you can understand when the high council and high priest were so angry when they confronted the apostles and their response was “we must obey God rather than human authority.” In other words, you are not the authorities in our life of faith. We don’t go through you to get to God. The bluntness of Peter and the apostles’ response was convicting and infuriating to the high council. Notice how specific each phrase is in the response. Obey God, not human authority (not you high council). God of our ancestors (apostles identify as Jews―traitors in the eyes of the high council). The God of the Torah raised the Messiah whom you killed by putting him on the cross―a place of being divinely cursed. God undid your work and put him in the place of honor at his right hand. God did it so people of Israel, you Rulers of the Jews, would repent of your sins and be forgiven. We are witnesses along with the Holy Spirit of God as to the truth of what we have said. God has undone everything you have done.
Do you see how very offensive and convicting every point in Peter and the apostles’ response was to the high priest and high council? What can we learn? The apostles’ interaction with the leadership was without hemming and hawing. It was direct, succinct, and very clear. Notice they again told the gospel story so con. Here is a model for conversations regarding the message of the Savior. He came to forgive sinners who repent. There is a lesson for our world today. It is clear the apostles’ deepest allegiance and identity was to Jesus, not to their ethnic roots, skin color, or language. The Jewish leadership was unwilling to grasp that truth as are many today.
Music: “And Can It Be that I Should Gain” fabioramsey
O heavenly Father, the Father of all wisdom, understanding, and true strength, I beseech Thee, look mercifully upon me, and send Thy Holy spirit into my breast; that when I must join to fight in the field for the glory of Thy holy Name, then I, being strengthened with the defense of Thy right hand, may manfully stand in the confession of Thy faith, and of Thy truth, and continue in the same unto the end of my life, through our Lord Jesus Christ―Amen. From Prayers Ancient and Modern, p.151