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Monday, March 26, 2012

Trust and Obey

Trust and Obey

"And someone came and told them, - Look! The men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people. - Then the captain with the officers went and brought them, but not by force, for they were afraid of being stoned by the people. And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, saying, - We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us. - But Peter and the apostles answered, - We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him." Acts 5:25-32 (ESV)

The Jewish leaders were greatly perplexed (thoroughly nonplussed, completely at a loss) regarding Peter and the apostles. A mysterious, miraculous prison break and the support of the community made these preachers a genuine threat to the powerful and wealthy foundation enjoyed by the religious rules. What could they do? They felt they had to walk a thin tightrope between quashing the rebellious preaching and angering the sympathetic mob.

The high priest's security force politely escorted the apostles back to the council and charged them with violating their ruling ("Do not preach about Jesus") and slander ("You accuse us of wrongfully executing Jesus.")

Peter's response reveals the very core, the foundation, of the gospel of Jesus Christ:

  • Jesus was killed at the hands of Jewish leaders.
  • God raised Jesus back to life.
  • God exalted Jesus as Leader and Savior.
  • God gives repentance and forgiveness of sins.
  • God gives His Holy Spirit to those who obey Him.

For Peter, this gospel formed the foundation of his obedience to God. Peter obeyed the urging of the Holy Spirit when he spoke truth and exalted Christ, despite the threat of death.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? What issues divide Christians from other groups? Do you consider some issues to be centered on the gospel and some not? What issues are deal-breakers for you? What issues seem to be regretfully ignored by Christians?

OBEY: peitharcheo (to be persuaded by a ruler, to submit to authority, to conform to advice); from peitho (to convince, pacify or conciliate; to assent to, or rely upon) and archo (to be first in political rank or power)

Obedience is not blind. Peter's reference to obey is from a word that implies confidence and trust in God's power and goodness.

Paul used the same word to encourage believers to trust earthly rulers:

"Be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people." Titus 3:1-2 (ESV)

Paul urged obedience to rulers and customs which encourage good works.

It was at this point that the Jewish leaders and the apostles fell into conflict. In the minds of the rulers, it would be good for Jesus to be ignored and forgotten. It would allow Jerusalem to have a measure of peace, untroubled by devisive religious differences. Leaving Jesus buried in a tomb would allow Jerusalem to forget that Jewish leaders had killed him.

For the apostles, ignoring Jesus would be bad: the ultimate, damning disobedience toward God.

The Jewish leaders were enraged by Peter's last words. Peter claim of being an eyewitness of the murder of Jesus, God's exaltation of Jesus as Leader and Savior, and the power and authority given to Jesus to give repentance and forgiveness of sins...the words were a serious threat to the leaders. Peter further declared that he and the apostles possessed the very Spirit of God, given only to those who obey God (fully persuaded, submitted, convinced and dependent upon), implying that the religious leaders did not possess the Spirit of God.

This accusation enraged the leaders to murderous anger.

Why were they angry? They believed Jesus to be a mere man. They believed the apostles to be rebellious idiots. What power did the apostles hold over the Jewish leaders that threatened them?

Public support for the apostles probably was the earthly power the apostles held over the Jewish leaders. The community would likely riot if the apostles were publicly punished.

However, public opinion is easily influenced. Jesus was wildly popular as He entered Jerusalem. Less than a week later crowds of people cheered His murder.

The apostles held a power greater than that of popular support: spiritual influence. The Jewish leaders recognized a spiritual force in Peter and the apostles, a force that moved them to speak boldly despite threats of violence against them. The apostles declared that their focus was on God as Most Supreme.

This spiritual dependence and trust in God threatened the Jewish leaders even more than the fickle popularity from people. If allegience to God trumped obedience to human power and wisdom, the Jewish leaders feared loss of wealth and control over others.

This fear drove them to protect themselves with violent anger.

The only Jew in the group who kept his temper and allowed his mind to keep pace with his faith was Gamaliel, a Pharisee in the council, a teacher and well-known elder of Israel:

"Men of Israel, take care what you are about to do with these men. For before these days Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. After him Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him. He too perished, and all who followed him were scattered. So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!" Acts 5:35-39 (ESV)

OPPOSING GOD: theomachos (an opponent of deity); from theos (a deity or magistrate) and machomai (to war, to quarrel or dispute)

Gamaliel was not convinced that Peter and the apostles were rebels. His doubt moved him to urge the council toward restraint.

In Gamaliel's mind, death and oppression were indications that God has acted to squash rebellion against proper human authority. He felt confident that the Jewish leaders were established by God, and any attempt to usurp that authority would be crushed by God. Gamaliel expected God to bring about the death and dispersion of rebels without involving direct action on the part of the "proper" Jewish leadership.

The essential core of Gamaliel's argument reveals his faith:

God exists and his sovereign over humans. God is more powerful and wiser than humans. Humans ought not think they should or can usurp His authority. God is able to work out His plans through the actions of humans.

Gamaliel's faith tempers his mind, allowing him to maintain self-control, and he does not consider the apostles to be an immediate threat, either to the council or to the honor of God.

Gamaliel trusts God to work this out, and his trust controls his mind and emotions.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? What issues are you facing with a feeling of doubt, dread or anger? How could basic trust in God give comfort and peace in those issues? Can you imagine an argument similar to that of Gamaliel's that you could offer that would temper your fear and anger?

Image provided by Quinn Dombrowski, www.quinndombrowski.com, Creative Commons License.