My Life Group lesson for April 17, 2016, using Lifeway's "Explore the Bible" commentary as a guide ...
It’s baseball season!
Who’s your favorite baseball team? Or if you’re not a baseball fan, what is your favorite team in any sport?
What makes a fan faithful to their team?
Today we’re going to look at the faithfulness of the early church.
Our faithfulness to Jesus Christ is more important than loyalty to any sports team, whether they’re winners or losers.
UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT
*** The early church is growing fast.
*** The apostles are healing people left and right. People are just hoping to be in Peter's shadow in the hopes of being healed. (5:15)
*** The apostles are arrested a second time by the religious leaders who are alarmed by the growing numbers of Christians. (5:17-19)
--- Their previous attempt to silence Peter and John failed.
--- This time, an angel divinely released the apostles from jail (5:19-21) and told them to keep preaching in the temple courts.
RETURNING TO THE SCENE (Acts 5:25-28)
25 Someone came and reported to them, “Look! The men you put in jail are standing in the temple complex and teaching the people.” 26 Then the commander went with the temple police and brought them in without force, because they were afraid the people might stone them. 27 After they brought them in, they had them stand before the Sanhedrin, and the high priest asked, 28 “Didn’t we strictly order you not to teach in this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to bring this man’s blood on us!”
*** Don’t keep it to yourself.
--- After being freed by an angel from prison, the Sanhedrin once again confront the apostles in the temple court.
--- The apostles were feeling very good about what God was doing. The night before, an angel had led them right through the jail cell. Who gets that chance?
--- The leaders ask nicely for the apostles to come with them because they’re actually a little afraid of the people turning on them. They know that there’s a lot of resentment toward them. Everyone knew they were corrupt. That’s why Jesus went there and assaulted the place at the beginning and end of His ministry, called it a “Den of thieves.”
--- The apostles agree to be taken peacefully. After all, no one wants violence, and the apostles are ready to see where God is leading all of this.
--- The Sanhedrin get mad at Peter. They are in denial, worried that they would be seen as responsible for the crucifixion, which they were indeed part of.
--- Remember in Matthew 27, as the leaders stirred up the crowds to choose the criminal Barrabas instead of Jesus, the people called out, “His blood be on us and on our children!”
--- They got it. Peter repeatedly calls them out for it. In chapter 2 he preaches, “Men of Israel, this man you nailed to a cross,” and “Let all the house of Israel know for certain that God hath made Him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Chapter 3, verse 15, “You put to death the Prince of life.” Chapter 4, verse 10, “Let it be known to all of you and all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ, the Nazarene whom you crucified.”
--- After the miraculous deliverance from prison, the apostles are bolder than ever, confident in the Lord’s protection, even from these armed guards.
--- Wouldn’t it be a great compliment if someone came up to us and said, “Hey, you guys at First Baptist, you’re filling Millington with teaching!”
*** Question - What motivated the religious leaders to silence the apostles? How is that motive seen in today’s world?
STANDING THEIR GROUND (Acts 5:29-32)
29 But Peter and the apostles replied, “We must obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had murdered by hanging Him on a tree. 31 God exalted this man to His right hand as ruler and Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. 32 We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him.”
*** Civil disobedience.
--- The apostles won’t even pretend to agree with the Sanhedrin to stop preaching in Jesus’ name.
--- Peter also shows boldness again by blaming Jesus’ death on the religious leaders, right in their faces, and saying that God placed Jesus at His right hand.
--- Peter confronts them with this not to accuse but so that they would repent of their sin. He offers forgiveness by Jesus.
*** Timeless truth.
--- Verse 29 can encourage us to do the godly thing in our daily lives.
--- Peter did not deny that they had deliberately disobeyed the orders of the Sanhedrin; he did, however, indicate that they were following instructions from God.
--- When your commission is from God, it trumps the commands of men.
--- No scheme of man can stop the power of God.
--- We cannot be quiet when we have the life-changing message of God.
*** Question - When is it appropriate for believers to submit to earthly authorities? When is civil disobedience appropriate?
--- Daniel displayed a classic example of civil disobedience when he continued praying to God despite a ban imposed by King Darius (Dan. 6:10). We cannot disobey lawful authority simply because we disagree or don’t like a rule. We are only justified in defiance when obedience to human authority would directly violate a command of God. This was the case when Peter and the apostles refused to obey the Sanhedrin. They respected the authority of the Sanhedrin but could not comply with their command to cease preaching the gospel.
WAITING DURING DELIBERATIONS (Acts 5:33-35,38-39)
33 When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. 34 A Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law who was respected by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered the men to be taken outside for a little while. 35 He said to them, “Men of Israel, be careful about what you’re going to do to these men. […] 38 And now, I tell you, stay away from these men and leave them alone. For if this plan or this work is of men, it will be overthrown; 39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You may even be found fighting against God.” So they were persuaded by him.
*** Gamaliel the lenient.
--- The leaders don’t repent. Instead they get so mad they want to kill the apostles.
--- God then provides help from an unlikely source.
--- One of the most famous rabbis of his time, Gamaliel was Paul’s teacher (Acts 22:3) and probably a grandson of Rabbi Hillel, the leader of one of the two great schools of Jewish legal interpretation. In contrast to the school of Shammai, Gamaliel and the school of Hillel were known for their lenient interpretation of the law.
--- Is it any coincidence that “Gamaliel” sounds a lot like “Galadriel,” the strict but kind elf leader used by J.R.R. Tolkien in “Lord of the Rings?” (No? Just me?)
--- Luke mentioned the respect Gamaliel had among the Jewish population.
--- Gamaliel was a smart man and a voice of reason. He knew that you don’t fight God.
--- Gamaliel intervened and counseled caution before executing the apostles. He reminded them of previous popular leaders who gathered large crowds but were killed and their followers dispersed.
--- He advised to let events play out, and that without God it would fail and with God it could not be stopped.
--- The apostles were popular with the people. The Christian population now numbered in the thousands, and even many who had not believed had a favorable opinion of the miraculous healings they performed.
--- God used various methods to protect His servants in these early days of church history. He sometimes miraculously sent angels to aid them, and at other times He directed events through actors like Gamaliel who accomplished their release. God uses many different methods today in sovereignly protecting His people and directing events according to His will.
*** Question - How has God directed others around you to protect or guide your life according to His will?
REJOICING FOR THE OPPORTUNITY (Acts 5:40-42)
40 After they called in the apostles and had them flogged, they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus and released them. 41 Then they went out from the presence of the Sanhedrin, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to be dishonored on behalf of the Name. 42 Every day in the temple complex, and in various homes, they continued teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.
*** “Forty less one.”
--- Gamaliel’s advice prevailed.
--- The leaders took caution, not really wanting to kill the apostles and this was an acceptable way out.
--- The apostles were flogged, warned to preach no longer in Jesus’ name, and released.
--- We shouldn’t shrug off their beating. This would have been bloody and brutal.
The apostles probably each received 39 blows with a whip made of strands of calf leather.
One-third of the blows would be delivered to the chest and two-thirds to the back while they were in a kneeling position.
The practice was based on Deuteronomy 25:3 that allowed 40 stripes for certain crimes. Exceeding 40 stripes was forbidden, and so it became customary to inflict one less than 40 in case of a miscount. The punishment became known as the “forty less one.”
Paul would later say in 2 Corinthians 11:24 that he had endured five of these beatings.
*** Thank you sir may I have another.
--- After their beating the apostles rejoiced in the privilege of suffering for the cause of Christ.
--- They had been imprisoned and threatened, but this was the first recorded instance of physical punishment.
--- These same apostles fled for fear of this kind of punishment when Jesus was arrested, tried, and crucified. Now they welcomed the opportunity to suffer for Jesus.
--- The apostles ignored the warnings of the religious leaders and continued to boldly declare the gospel (vv. 34-42).
--- What happened? Chapter 6, verse 1 tells us that “in those days, when the number of disciples was multiplied.” So the church kept growing, even now with the threat of physical punishment.
--- God has not promised the sky is always blue with flowers along our path. God has not promised sun without rain, joy without sorrow, peace without pain. But God has promised strength, rest, grace and love.
*** Question - How can opposition to the gospel produce encouragement and courage in believers? How does opposition and persecution provide a platform for the gospel to be shared and lived?
We all value faithfulness.
We celebrate 50th anniversaries of couples remaining faithful throughout their lives.
We love players who choose to stay with our favorite teams. (See: Kobe Bryant)
We appreciate employees who work for their company despite other offers.
Throughout history, many Christians have remained faithful to Christ even as they faced intense pressure to compromise their faith. Christians today continue to risk their freedom and lives in many parts of the world.
A lot of Christians get excited that persecution may increase, because it means Jesus could be coming back sooner than later!
In this session, we saw how persecution against the apostles for proclaiming the name of Jesus became intense. The anger and jealousy among the religious leaders was so great that they resorted to beating the apostles and seeking their deaths. In spite of this, the apostles were faithful to the proclamation of the gospel message.
*** Pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ who are currently facing persecution, severe punishment, or even death for their faith.
*** Proverbs 28:1 says that “the righteous are as bold as a lion.” Pressure can bring out the best in those who are striving to be holy!
*** The apostles were beaten for proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ. We must be willing to count the cost of our obedience to the mission of God.
*** There will be opposition to the proclamation of the gospel. But remember that when someone tries to stomp out the fire, the embers usually shoot out and spread the fire. God is more powerful than the culture’s threats.