Fighting Against God

April 16, 2023 Speaker: Ray Lorthioir Series: Sermons 2023

Passage: Acts 5:29–42

Sermon 4-16-23

Pastor Ray Lorthioir

Trinity Lutheran Church

W. Hempstead, NY

Based on the First Lesson for the Second Sunday of Easter, Acts 5:29-42


Fighting Against God

So that we can get some context for the events recorded in our first lesson this morning, we’re going to back up a little in the fifth chapter of Acts. So that you know, the events we’re dealing with take place within weeks or months of the Day of Pentecost 33A.D.

Just before today’s first lesson, we read in Acts 5:12-16, “12 The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon's Colonnade. 13 No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people. 14 Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number. 15 As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter's shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. 16 Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed.” This sounds very much like the ministry Jesus Himself performed while on earth. Lord Holy Spirit used these events to establish the church at the beginning.

But soon there was a problem — and not for the first time. We read in Acts 5:17, “Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy.” Jealousy is a great sin. It’s actually the sin of coveting — wishing to possess what God has appointed for our neighbor. 

These men were jealous on several accounts. First, as leaders, they were jealous that Jesus’ Apostles were exercising leadership over God’s people. Second, as learned, schooled men, they were jealous that God appeared to be using these unlearned, unschooled men from Galilee as His agents, and not them.Third, there were the miracles. Sadducees didn’t believe in miracles. They didn’t believe in angels, spirits and the resurrection of the dead. Yet, here were these Apostles performing undeniable miracles that supported what they were preaching — namely Jesus of Nazareth resurrected from the dead.

So if you’re powerful, what do you do to people who make you jealous? Acts 5:18, “They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail.” 

Now, just so the Sadducees should know that there are angels, we read in Acts 5:19-21, “19 But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out. 20 ‘Go, stand in the temple courts,’ he said, ‘and tell the people the full message of this new life.’ 21 At daybreak they entered the temple courts, as they had been told, and began to teach the people.”

We then read in Acts 5:21-24, “21 When the high priest and his associates arrived, they called together the Sanhedrin — the full assembly of the elders of Israel — and sent to the jail for the apostles. 22 But on arriving at the jail, the officers did not find them there. So they went back and reported, 23 ‘We found the jail securely locked, with the guards standing at the doors; but when we opened them, we found no one inside.’ 24 On hearing this report, the captain of the temple guard and the chief priests were puzzled, wondering what would come of this.” The word translated “puzzled” can also have the sense of what we mean by “clueless.” Being Sadducees, the worldview of the chief priests did not allow for jails from which at the direction of angels solid flesh and bone prisoners could escape by apparently walking right through solid walls, bars and active guards.

If the Sadducees had had any sense, they would have let their puzzling take a new turn. They could have given thought to the miraculous, and that Yahweh is the author of the miraculous. They could have believed Moses and the Prophets that angels exist. But, when you’ve devoted your entire life to denying the possibility of such things, it takes a radical conversion of the heart to make a switch.

Acts 5:25-26, “25 Then someone came and said, ‘Look! The men you put in jail are standing in the temple courts teaching the people.’ 26 At that, the captain went with his officers and brought the apostles. They did not use force, because they feared that the people would stone them.” There’s nothing like popularity with the people to make the FBI wary of arresting popular people using their usual force. So notice, that the very same fear that the Jewish leadership had about arresting Jesus they also had with arresting His Apostles. They were afraid of being stoned. And such an outcome would have been justified. For, they were the blasphemers.

Acts 5:27-28, “27 Having brought the apostles, they made them appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. 28 ‘We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,’ he said. ‘Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man's blood.’” Well, they were guilty of Jesus’ blood, even if they didn’t think so. And, if the guilt they were proudly wearing had sunk into their consciences, they could have repented. But proud guilt will never repent.

This was now the second time the Apostles had appeared before the Sanhedrin. At their first appearance they had said to the Sanhedrin in Acts 4:19-20, “19. . . ‘Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God's sight to obey you rather than God. 20 For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.’” And so now at the second hearing they said something similar. Acts 5:29, “. . . ‘We must obey God rather than men!’”

Down through history, these words of the Apostles have been the fighting words of all who would resist corrupt authority. And, in our time nothing has changed. So this would be a good text for a political sermon aimed against the authorities who are commanding us to accept, believe and celebrate ungodly, idolatrous things. But, I’m choosing not go in that direction this week. We have time.

Instead, I want you to note what kind of a fight the Apostles were challenging the leadership to. It was a war of words — “we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

From the very opening act of Creation, this world and everything in it has been about words. It’s the Word of the universe’s Creator against every contrary word from every one of His disobedient and rebellious creatures — including us. At the end of everything, only Yahweh’s Word will prevail. But until then, He has permitted all kinds of false, unbelieving words to have their say. Therefore, all those whom Yahweh has called to His truth must be prepared to endure a war of words throughout this life on account of that Truth.

So, to the corrupt authorities, the Apostles proclaimed these true words: Acts 5:30-32, “30 ‘The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead — whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. 31 God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel. 32 We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.’”

This is a small compact creedal statement about the work of the suffering and victorious Messiah. And although it’s a Word of God’s most gracious intention toward the human race — including those who crucified Jesus — yet, to those imprisoned by stubborn unbelief, it’s simultaneously a Word of deep accusation. You leaders erred when you condemned Jesus to death. But you erred even more severely when you turned Jesus over to the Romans so that He was crucified — hung on a tree to die. For as is written in the Law, Deuteronomy 21:23, “. . . anyone who is hung on a tree is under God's curse.” But, the cosmic extent of your folly and sin has been revealed to you by Yahweh when He resurrected from the dead this Jesus whom you pronounced cursed by God, and seated Jesus at His right hand as Prince.

Now, there was actually great hope in what the Apostles preached to the Sanhedrin. For, by crucifying Jesus, the leadership unintentionally had made repentance and forgiveness of sins available to all Israel through Jesus’ atoning sacrifice for sin. That same repentance and forgiveness of sins was even available to the leadership for the sin of crucifying the Son of God — that is, if only they had repented and believed in Jesus.

To the Sanhedrin, the Apostles proclaimed themselves reliable witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection. For as we saw Peter say last week in Acts 10:41, “‘He [the resurrected Jesus] was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen — by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.’” Of course, none of the Sanhedrin were given the privilege of seeing Jesus resurrected. Like everyone else, they would have to rely on the testimony of the Apostles.

But, the Apostles said that it wasn’t just their testimony that the Sanhedrin could rely on. There is also the testimony of Yahweh, the Holy Spirit. Lord Holy Spirit is a witness to Jesus’ resurrection. And anyone who has been given the Holy Spirit comes to the obedience of faith that Jesus of Nazareth is in fact the Holy Messiah. To this day, no one can come out of unbelief to obedient faith in Jesus unless Lord Holy Spirit makes the testimony of the Apostles alive in their hearts.

From this little credal statement it’s very clear that Yahweh offered the Sanhedrin the opportunity to repent of their folly and receive forgiveness of their sins through Messiah Jesus. God’s grace was offered to them, clearly, succinctly and urgently. But what was the result? We read in Acts 5:33, “When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death.” This is the power of unbelief. And as we said last week, unbelief in God and in His Messiah is violent at the root. Unbelief wants God dead. And since that’s impossible, Unbelief settles on wanting dead any true servant of Yahweh who speaks of Yahweh.

That’s happened to us right here. One day, Pastor Steve was doing some door to door evangelism work with door hangers. An orthodox man came out, read the material, and waited for Pastor Steve to walk back past his house to the church. On the sidewalk in front of his house, this man threatened to “destroy” Pastor Steve (whatever that meant) if he ever returned.

Now, in our first lesson today, we saw that the Apostles were saved from death that day by a famous, wise old rabbi named Gamaliel — who is famous to this day and was the teacher of St. Paul. Gamaliel counseled the Sanhedrin with words that are preserved in the book of Acts because they were prophetic, whether Gamaliel knew it or not. Gamaliel said in Acts 5:38-39, “38. . . ‘Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. 39 But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.’”

To this day Jewish leaders find themselves fighting against God concerning Jesus of Nazareth. For people from all nations — even Israel — continue to be converted to Messiah Jesus by God the Holy Spirit. People from all nations continue to find their way into the Kingdom of God, Messiah’s true church. And no one is able to stop it, even monsters like Stalin and Mao Tse Tung. It is as Gamaliel prophesied.

But, just in case the whole thing wasn’t from God, we read in Acts 5:40, “. . . They [the Sanhedrin] called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.”

By this point it should have been rather plain to the Sanhedrin that the activity of the Apostles was from God. First of all, the empty tomb was there to confront the Sanhedrin with the fact that their plan to stamp out Jesus had utterly failed. 

Second, by this point in the book of Acts more than five thousand men — never mind their families — had put their faith in the resurrected Jesus because of the Apostles’ preaching. We read in Acts 4:4, “But many who heard the message believed, and the number of men grew to about five thousand.” And in Acts 5:14, “. . . more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number.” 

Third, there were the notable miracles. It had all begun with the healing of a man over forty years old who had been crippled from birth and was a well known beggar at the temple gates. For this notable miracle, the Apostles had been warned a first time not to preach in Jesus’ Name. But the miracles kept on coming as we read in Acts 5:12-16 at the beginning of the sermon. 

But as we also read, instead of producing amazement, praise to God, repentance from unbelief and faith in Messiah Jesus among the Sanhedrin, the miracles only produced jealousy. All this confirmed what Jesus had taught in the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus — Luke 16:31, “. . . ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’” 

Jesus’ words show us the tremendous significance of the testimony about Messiah that Yahweh had placed in Moses and the Prophets. Anyone who can read will find Jesus all over the place in Moses and the Prophets. But though they will read about Jesus, actually seeing Him in Moses and the Prophets is only possible by the testimony of Yahweh, the Holy Spirit, working in the heart of the reader. Only Lord Holy Spirit can bring the reader to faith that Jesus is the one being spoken of in Moses and the Prophets.

Now, one of the big questions of the Christian faith is why Yahweh does not grant His Holy Spirit to all hearts so that all may believe and be saved. Scripture simply does not tell us why. And employing human reason and philosophical speculation to solve the problem only results in denying in one way or another what Scripture plainly teaches — namely, Ephesians 2:8-9, “8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.” These words mean that everyone who is saved from God’s wrath can only be saved by God Himself through the atonement for sin made by His Messiah, and in no other way. Without mistake, this is the most excellent good news of the Gospel. And it’s not to be compromised in any way by any attempt to solve by human reason the question of why everyone is not saved. The bible simply doesn’t give us the answer to that question. And so we need to leave the question alone.

Therefore, the reason Yahweh does not send His Holy Spirit upon all so that all may be saved remains a great mystery. However, the reason all need to be saved in the first place is clearly proclaimed in Scripture. All have rebelled against their Creator. All have failed to be committed to their Creator with all their heart, soul, mind and spirit. All have failed to be committed to their Creator in the same way He is committed with perfect righteousness to us. Consequently, Yahweh is perfectly justified in permanently sending away from Him all who hate Him and don’t want Him as their Creator God. The Kingdom of God is no concentration camp where those who despise Yahweh are forced to live with Him forever. Yahweh grants all those who hate Him a place of their own where forever they will never again have to deal with Him and His perfect righteousness.

But just as clearly, Scripture proclaims the grace of God in Jesus Christ. Again as Peter said in Acts 5:30-32, “30 ‘The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead — whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. 31 God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel. 32 We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.’” In the war of words, these words are very great. They are the definitive Word of God. They are the hope of the world. Anyone caught up in rebellion against Yahweh’s righteousness can be delivered from their rebellion, no matter what the nature of that rebellion may be — even being a self-righteous Pharisee. Yahweh’s grace is very great. It even causes us lifelong rebels to halt in our tracks and bow the knee to His mercy in Jesus Christ. Blessed are all those who are called by Yahweh’s Holy Spirit to the truth proclaimed by Moses, the Prophets and the Apostles — namely, Jesus. Amen.

All Bible quotes are from the NIV. 

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