(A) Introduction (Read the reference.)

The passage deals with the Sanhedrin's attempt to silence the apostles. The Jewish Council tried imprisonment, intimidation and flogging to stop the apostles speaking in the name of Jesus. All their vindictive efforts were to no avail. I am going to study this portion of Scripture by looking at how five different groups responded to the gospel.

(B) The believers.

The first Christians conducted themselves worthy of the gospel of Christ. Phil1v27. See exposition on Christian conduct. They did not meet together behind closed doors but openly in Solomon's Colonnade. They welcomed others into the growing church. Anyone who believed and was baptised was accepted as a brother or a sister. No-one was excluded. Even the unbelievers thought well of the Jerusalem Christians. They were joyful, friendly and caring. The apostles had a good effect on others: Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed. v16.

The early church made a big impact upon the community in which it was placed. There are many parts of the world where the same can still be said. Wherever the church is vibrant, vital and growing it transforms society. In Britain most local churches are treated with supreme indifference by the neighbourhoods they serve. Some years ago we had a member whose dogs were causing a nuisance in the village. They barked incessantly. Nobody in the village thought to bring the matter to the attention of the elders of our church. We were of no significance! It was inconceivable that we might exercise authority over one of our own members!

(C) The uncommitted.

There were a large number of Jews in and around Jerusalem who did not engage with the gospel. Luke records: No-one else dared join them. v13. They admired the church but held back from making a commitment and joining the fellowship. These uninvolved sympathisers were ruled by self-interest. They realised that there would be a price to pay for falling out with the authorities and upsetting the ruling religious establishment. Tradesmen, for example, might find their businesses boycotted by some of their best customers.

There are still a lot of folk who attend church sometimes, who support some aspects of what it stands for or is trying to do, and yet who are not believers in Jesus. Over half of our small congregation are not baptised members and do not stop to communion. I can only think that the majority of sympathisers on the periphery of the church have counted the cost of following Jesus and have held back because they have too much to lose. They do not take seriously Jesus' words: What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul! Mt16v26.

(D) The Sadducees.

The Sadducees were the priestly party on the Sanhedrin. They were rationalists and did not believe in the resurrection from the dead. The Sadducees were more interested in political power and influence than religion. Under the Romans they were a ruling elite. There are four points to make about their reaction to the gospel and their relationship with the church:

    (a) They were jealous of the apostles.
    The high priests and their associates were jealous of the apostles' influence, success and popularity. What right had they to teach the people! So they arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail. v18.

    Jealousy is a highly destructive emotion. Samuel Pepys conveys something of the terrors of jealousy in his diary. On going home from work he finds his wife alone with her dancing master. He describes his reaction: Now, so deadly full of jealousy I am, that my heart and head did so cast about and fret, that I could not do any business possible, but went out to my office: and anon late home again, and ready to chide at everything; and then suddenly to bed and could hardly sleep, yet durst not say anything. Jealousy is worse than anger because it is often hidden until it takes hideous revenge upon its object. King Saul was jealous of David and hurled a javelin at him as he played the harp. Jealousy exists in families, sports clubs, schools, businesses and churches. Wherever it exists someone is eventually going to suffer. The consequences can range from mean minded gossip to character assassination; from vindictive and spiteful acts to violent assaults. Eventually the Sadducees had to release the apostles from custody but not before they had given them a good flogging!

    (b) They would not accept responsibility for their actions.
    There was one aspect of the gospel message that the priests took particular exception to: "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." v28. The Sadducees were not willing to accept that it was they who had engineered the death of Jesus. Matthew, a Jew, tells us that all the chief priests and the elders of the people came to the decision to put Jesus to death. Mt27v1. Pilate knew it was out of envy that they had handed over Jesus to him. Mt27v18. So he made an attempt to free Jesus. In the end he washed his hands of the affair and said, "I am innocent of this man's blood..... It is your responsibility!"
    All the people answered, "Let his blood be on us and on our children!" Mt26v24and25.

    There is a Jewish lobby in the U.S.A who are still unwilling to accept that it was Jews who were primarily responsible for Jesus' death. They are opposed to a film being made in America of the Crucifixion because it shows the part God's people played in putting to death God's son. This Jewish pressure group blames Pilate! After 2000 years he remains the fall guy!

    In Britain and America people are not encouraged to take responsibility for their actions and admit mistakes and accidents. Insurance companies advise its customers never to admit liability. Why then should they expect claimants to be honest? They do not exactly encourage it.

    The Bible makes it quite clear - when we sin we have no-one to blame but ourselves. In the Garden of Eden Eve blamed the serpent for her disobedience; Adam went further: he blamed Eve, his helpmeet, and by implication God himself. Remember what Adam said: "The woman you put here with me - she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it." Gen3v12. Adam's excuse cut no ice with God - the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. Gen3v23.

    (c) They responded to the truth with anger.
    Peter and the other apostles did not pull their punches. They told the Sadducees: "We must obey God rather than men! The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead - whom you killed by hanging him on a tree." v29and30. This enraged the priestly party: When they heard this they were furious and wanted to put them to death.

    I am afraid that the truth is not always welcome! Some years ago a school teacher driving a minibus full of children late at night fell asleep at the wheel and sadly several fatalities resulted. Only a few days later my headmaster informed his staff that all drivers of the school minibus would have to take a test. This was a knee jerk reaction to the tragedy. It did not address the problem that resulted in the minibus accident. The accident was caused by a teacher being expected to drive a minibus after a full day's work to and from an evening function. If schools really wanted to minimise the risk of it happening again they should hire a bus from a private firm for after school events. I said that I thought it was hypocrisy to react to the tragedy by making us all take a minibus driving test. My remarks caused a lot of anger.

    It is not easy to speak out when you anticipate a hostile response. Stalin would never have come to power if he had been resolutely opposed before he had consolidated his position. Hitler would have thought twice about exterminating the Jews if hundreds had spoken out against it.

    Jesus never courted popularity with the establishment. He condemned the most influential people of his day for their hypocrisy and lack of true religion - and was crucified as a result. Christians in the media lack forthrightness. They are quick to compromise with worldly values. They sometimes seem to confuse political correctness for the one true faith. Thought for the day on the Today programme is usually bland and banal.

    (d) They ignored the evidence.
    The apostles claimed that they were witnesses to both the resurrection of Jesus and the gift of the Holy Spirit. They had experienced both and could have given the Sanhedrin information about both if they had been asked. They Sadducees didn't wish to examine the evidence or listen to the arguments. They were not going to enter into rational discussion with the apostles in the hope of arriving at the truth. The high priests had made their mind up. They had conspired to get Jesus crucified. The Sadducees could never admit they had made a mistake. They could not lose face.

    It is rare for theologians or, indeed, churchmen of differing views to arrive at the truth through rational discussion. Denominational leaders are more likely to defend their position. Men of influence and power are no more willing to lose face than the Sadducees of old. I tried to get the executive of my own Association of churches to change the wording of what is called the Affirmation of Fellowship. Each church has to sign the Affirmation of Fellowship to remain in the Association. It goes like this: 'As a church we confirm our commitment to the Doctrinal basis of fellowship with our associated churches as per the Affirmation of Faith.' So we are asked to make a commitment to Jesus and the articles of faith - a body of doctrine. This is the mistake the church in Galatia made - Jesus and ..... . I wrote and suggested that it might be better to word the Affirmation of Fellowship as follows: 'As a church we acknowledge the Doctrinal basis of fellowship with our associated churches as per the Affirmation of Faith.' The point I wish to make is this: I received no reasoned response to my letter. I may have been wrong but it was never pointed out to me why I was wrong. I was just told that the Affirmation of Fellowship had been agreed by the Pastor's Forum and it must stand.

    I have written many times in this web site that it is a scandal that Christians cannot reconcile their differences from Scripture. The leaders of different traditions have no intention of doing so. Instead they defend the indefensible. Pride keeps Christians from admitting that they might be in error.

(E) Gamaliel the Pharisee.

There are five points to make about Gamaliel:

    (a) He was honoured by all the people.
    Gamaliel was universally popular, respected and influential. He wasn't an extremist, strident or corrupt. He talked what most people considered to be good sense. The Sanhedrin would defer to Gamaliel if they could. He was the sort of person others wished to please. No-one wished to be ill thought of by Gamaliel. But where was he when Jesus was being tried before the Sanhedrin? We do not read that he intervened to save Jesus. Why didn't he make use of his influence then?

    (b) Gamaliel was a very admired teacher.
    He was the foremost Pharisee scholar in Jerusalem. Paul was one of his students. Perhaps, as a Pharisee he could afford to be rather detached from an issue that enraged the rival Sadducee party. Gamaliel was clever. I expect like most men of status he spoke with calm authority expecting to be heard. What a difference this makes. I have watched men of poise and charm getting instant attention and excellent service in restaurants, pubs and clubs. They also get made much of in schools and churches! How different was the little apostle to the Gentiles. Paul was mightily used of God's Spirit to save many people in Corinth and yet he subsequently struggled to establish his authority. He gave the Corinthian Christians the impression that he was timid! See 2Cor10v1.. We need to be careful how we judge a man or a woman.

    (c) Gamaliel was plausible.
    His comments seem so plausible - so eminently reasonable. He said, "Don't get so worked up. If this movement is of human origin - it will fail. But if it has a divine origin then there is nothing you can do about it. Let things take their course." Gamaliel still has his admirers amongst those who have no really strong convictions of their own. I can remember my old head master, Mr R.W.Elliot, telling us in an RE lesson, a subject he taught with great reluctance in the absence of an RE specialist, that Gamaliel was a man of great wisdom. He was deeply impressed by the soundness of Gamaliel's argument. We must never forget the plausibility of the serpent's advice to Eve in the Garden of Eden.

    (d) Gamaliel didn't take the apostles seriously - he was dismissive of the gospel.
    It is pretty clear that he put them into the same category as Judas the Galilean and Theudas - both nine day wonders. Gamaliel wasn't really interested in the truth. He wasn't prepared to discuss Christianity with the apostles. We do not know what his opinion of Jesus was. He gives the impression that this particular meeting of the Sanhedrin is a waste of time. The priests were getting hot under the collar about a group of uneducated, unsophisticated, religious fundamentalists from Galilee, of all places. Really there were better things for them all to do!

    I have heard Christian leaders talk like this about disputes over denominational policy. There are always Christian activists who cannot be bothered to fight their corner - they have better things to do - like winning souls. Denominations change - they move away from the truth because evangelicals have better things to do than argue over points of doctrine.

    (e) The test Gamaliel proposed was wrong.
    Gamaliel said of the ministry of the apostles, "For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail." Sadly this is not true. The Jewish leaders and many ordinary Jews rejected Jesus. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. John1v11. After 2000 years the Jews still reject Jesus. They said in his lifetime, "We do not want this man to be our king." Luke19v14. This remains their attitude.

    Error is remarkable persistent. It does not wither away as Gamaliel suggests. Error is like a weed. The bindweed and ground elder in my garden do not disappear of their own accord. It would take ruthless action to ride my garden of these two tenacious plants. I am not prepared to destroy my garden and start a fresh and so year on year I do my best to suppress the two weeds. We need to confront error in order to prevent it spreading. But we are lazy and cannot be bothered.

I must admit that I cannot stand the Gamaliels of this world. They are popular, have influence, sound so reasonable and yet what they say is wrong. They propose child protection policies according to which youth workers are not allowed to touch children. They tell us this is risky and we don't want to bring the church into disrepute. Can it be right that adults are prohibited from showing children affection or playing with them? Paedophiles should be punished for their actions but not the rest of us!

Well the intervention of Gamaliel did, in the providence of God, provide some respite for the apostles who after being beaten were released.

(F) The apostles.

The apostles were not cowed by the treatment they received. The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. v41. I think, today, we are inclined to think we should be rewarded for serving Jesus. The apostles considered it a privilege to suffer for Christ's sake. They never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ. v42.

All over the world men and women are doing just what the apostles did. They are teaching and proclaiming the gospel. Paul said truly: I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes. Rom1v16.

It is wonderful news that Jesus was God's Messiah. He came to seek and to save the lost. He was the servant king. He laid down his life for the sheep. He came to give life and that more abundantly. He promised believers eternal life. He loved me and gave himself for me and ever lives to make intercession for me.