Story 41 – Opposition Comes
Based on Acts chapter 5 verse 17 to Acts chapter 6 verse 7
After Jesus had gone back to heaven, and sent the Holy Spirit, the apostles performed many miracles and the name of Jesus spread throughout Jerusalem. The Jewish leaders looked on with jealous eyes, determined to do away with the apostles, as they’d done away with Jesus before them.
In one swift move, all the apostles were arrested and put in jail – ready to be tried, condemned and punished to satisfy the hatred of the leaders. But God was still in control and, in the middle of the night, He sent an angel to them, who opened the gates of the jail and brought them all out. ‘Now go,’ the angel told them, ‘and stand in the Temple area and tell the people the full message of this new life!’ And so, at daybreak, just as they’d been told, the apostles entered the Temple area and, choosing to obey God rather than the Jewish leaders, they taught the people about Jesus.
However, without knowing what’d gone on, the leaders gathered to judge the apostles. At their request, Temple guards were sent to the jail to collect the apostles and bring them to the court. When they got there, they found the jail doors firmly locked with the guards standing in place, but the jail was empty! ‘How can this be?’ they thought, and ran back to the council to tell them.
As the leaders listened, beginning to wonder where it would all end, someone arrived hot foot from the Temple with the news that the men they’d arrested and put in jail the previous day were all now in the Temple area teaching the people.
At this, the captain of the Temple guard hurried off with his men to re-arrest the apostles – being very careful not to use any violence for fear that the people would stone his guards if they treated the apostles roughly. Having managed to persuade the apostles to come with them, they quickly took them to the waiting council who were still furious at the way Peter and John had disobeyed their command not to talk about Jesus when they’d been arrested before. (P)
‘Didn’t we tell you?’ the high priest demanded as the apostles arrived. ‘Didn’t we tell you that you must never again teach in this name?’ (He hated even to say the name ‘Jesus’.) ‘But instead of obeying us,’ he continued, ‘you’ve filled the whole city with your teaching and are determined to make US responsible for this man’s death!’
Rather than trying to save their own skins, Peter and the apostles spoke once again about Jesus. ‘We must obey God, not men,’ they replied. ‘The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead after you’d killed Him by crucifying Him on a wooden cross. Then, God raised Him even higher – to the place of highest honour at His own right hand side. He did this so that the people of Israel would have an opportunity to turn away from their sins and turn to God, so that their sins would be forgiven. We are witnesses of these things, as is the Holy Spirit whom God gives to those who obey Him.’
This was all the high council needed. Furious at what they’d heard, they decided to kill them all. However, God was still in control, and one member of the council, a Pharisee named Gamaliel who was very popular with the people, saw that more might be going on than they’d realised. Standing up to say his piece, Gamaliel ordered that the apostles be put outside the council so they could discuss the situation in private.
‘Men of Israel,’ he began as he addressed the leaders, ‘be careful about what you’re planning for these men! If you remember, some time ago there was that fellow called Theudas who pretended to be someone of great importance. Four hundred men joined him, but then he was killed, his followers went their separate ways and the whole thing came to nothing. And after that there was Judas of Galilee. He too got some people to follow him, but when he was killed, all his followers were also scattered!’
‘So listen, this is my advice to you all, leave these men alone! If they’re teaching and doing all these things merely on their own, then it will soon come to nothing. But if it’s from God, then you won’t be able to stop them and you may even find yourselves fighting against God!’ (PAUSE)
Gamaliel’s argument convinced the council and they accepted his advice. So, calling the apostles back, the council had them whipped – leaving their backs striped and bloody. And then, after warning them to never speak in the name of that Man again – they let them go. (P)
You’d have thought that after such a beating the apostles wouldn’t want to talk about Jesus again in case they were beaten some more or something worse happened! But while He’d been with them, Jesus Himself had warned them that they would suffer – and yet even in their suffering they would find God’s blessing! And so, instead of running away, feeling scared and not wanting to talk about Jesus, the apostles left the council absolutely overflowing with joy that God had considered them worthy of suffering for Jesus.
And why did they feel so glad and joyful about the situation? Because of Jesus! He’d told them to rejoice when He’d said, ‘God blesses you when you’re mocked and persecuted and lied about because you’re my followers. Be glad and joyful when this happens! Because a great reward awaits you in heaven.’ So the apostles rejoiced that God had given them the honour of suffering for the name of Jesus. And instead of being quiet and not talking about Him any more, they obeyed God and every day taught about Jesus in the Temple and from house to house, telling everyone: ‘The Messiah you’re looking for – is Jesus.’ (PAUSE)
Thanks to God’s blessing, the church was growing rapidly. But as it grew, there were rumblings of discontent! And Satan, the enemy of God’s people, showed that he was still at work, trying to destroy the new church with yet another attack. But this time, it was a much more subtle attack than the physical violence the apostles had faced before. This was an attack of distraction.
You see, Satan wanted to dull the sharp edge of the apostles’ effectiveness and he was going to try and do this by taking something good that the disciples were doing and causing them to concentrate on that good thing at the expense of the best thing, the thing that Jesus had actually called them to do, which was teaching people about Him!
If you remember, lots of gifts were being brought to the feet of the apostles to distribute to those in the church who had need – a really good thing. And, there was a lot of need! The apostles had taken charge of the distribution of these gifts. But this took time and effort; time and effort the apostles should’ve been using to tell more people about Jesus and for concentrating on prayer. And, as they tried to juggle all these responsibilities, things started to go wrong as one group of widows felt they were being overlooked in favour of another group.
There was a genuine danger of the early church splitting apart as the Greek-speaking group felt left out. That was exactly what Satan wanted – to see the early church broken apart and ineffective. But the Lord was still in control, looking after His church and helping the apostles realise what was happening and what needed to be done. And so a meeting of all believers was called!
‘Our job as apostles is to spend time preaching and teaching, not organising the distribution of food,’ they said. ‘So, to overcome this problem, we’d like you to choose seven men from amongst yourselves, men who are well respected, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom. These men will be put in charge of the fair distribution of food so that we can spend our time in prayer and in preaching and teaching.’
This idea pleased everyone and they chose seven men who were from the group who felt left out – showing the love and solidarity that the rest of the church felt for the hurting group. These men, all with Greek names, were presented to the apostles by the whole assembly. The apostles prayed for them and laid their hands on them as a sign that God had called them to this important work.
So once again, the plans of Satan were thwarted and, instead of seeing the church become ineffective and torn apart, the church became stronger and the message of Jesus continued to spread in ever widening circles!