Acts 5:33-42 (NRSV)
When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, respected by all the people, stood up and ordered the men to be put outside for a short time. Then he said to them, “Fellow Israelites, consider carefully what you propose to do to these men. For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him; but he was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and disappeared. After him Judas the Galilean rose up at the time of the census and got people to follow him; he also 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; because if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them—in that case you may even be found fighting against God!”
They were convinced by him, and when they had called in the apostles, they had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. As they left the council, they rejoiced that they were considered worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name. And every day in the temple and at home they did not cease to teach and proclaim Jesus as the Messiah.
The “them” in the opening sentence of this passage consisted of Peter and the other apostles, who were going about in the earliest days of the church performing miracles and preaching that Jesus is the Christ.
The leaders of the temple in Jerusalem were, in the words of Acts 5:17, “filled with jealousy,” so they had the apostles arrested, only to discover these men of Christ were preaching again the next morning in the temple. An angel had freed them from prison overnight, telling them to get back to delivering the message that gives life.
So, the temple leaders had the apostles arrested again, this time intending to kill them.
As we see in our passage today, a much cooler, wiser head prevailed. Gamaliel, as we are told, was deeply respected by his fellow leaders. By the way, one of his rabbinical students was the Apostle Paul, who at this point in the story of the church had not experienced Christ on the road to Damascus.
Gamaliel correctly understood that he and the other Jewish leaders should be centered on one important task: Seeking the will of God. He also believed God would reveal whether these apostles and others who would claim to speak for God were right in what they said.
Gamaliel was spot on. Ultimately, messages and movements opposed to God will fail. All of creation is moving toward reconciliation and reunion with God, so it’s only logical that movements opposed to God will eventually collapse, even if that process sometimes takes longer than we like.
Gamaliel’s colleagues did arrange for the apostles to receive a beating none of us would want to face today. As long as evil and good continue to grow side by side, angry, jealous men will sometimes extract the vengeance they so desperately desire.
That part of the story reminds us that doing what God asks—in the apostles’ case, preaching the Good News—may require some sacrifices.
Dear Lord, your Good News has continued to be preached for nearly 2,000 years, reaching people all around the globe. May we have the courage of the apostles, trusting that the truth of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior will always be vindicated and reign supreme at the end of time. Amen.