Friday, February 8

Can’t Fight It

17Then the high priest took action. He and all his colleagues, those who belonged to the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. 18So they arrested the apostles and put them in the city jail. 19But an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail during the night, brought them out, and said, 20"Go and stand in the temple complex, and tell the people all about this life." 21In obedience to this, they entered the temple complex at daybreak and began to teach. 

When the high priest and those who were with him arrived, they convened the Sanhedrin-- the full Senate of the sons of Israel-- and sent orders to the jail to have them brought. 22But when the temple police got there, they did not find them in the jail, so they returned and reported, 23"We found the jail securely locked, with the guards standing in front of the doors, but when we opened them, we found no one inside!" 24As the commander of the temple police and the chief priests heard these things, they were baffled about them, wondering what could come of this. 

25Someone came and reported to them, "Look! The men you put in jail are standing in the temple complex and teaching the people." 26Then the commander went with the temple police and brought them in without force, because they were afraid the people might stone them. 27After they brought them in, they had them stand before the Sanhedrin, and the high priest asked, 28"Didn't we strictly order you not to teach in this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to bring this man's blood on us!" 

29But Peter and the apostles replied, "We must obey God rather than men. 30The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had murdered by hanging Him on a tree. 31God exalted this man to His right hand as ruler and Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. 32We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him." 

33When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. 34A Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law who was respected by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered the men to be taken outside for a little while. 35He said to them, "Men of Israel, be careful about what you're going to do to these men. 36Not long ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a group of about 400 men rallied to him. He was killed, and all his partisans were dispersed and came to nothing. 37After this man, Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and attracted a following. That man also perished, and all his partisans were scattered. 38And now, I tell you, stay away from these men and leave them alone. For if this plan or this work is of men, it will be overthrown; 39but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You may even be found fighting against God." So they were persuaded by him. 40After they called in the apostles and had them flogged, they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus and released them. 41Then they went out from the presence of the Sanhedrin, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to be dishonored on behalf of the Name. 42Every day in the temple complex, and in various homes, they continued teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah. 

(Act 5:17-42 CSB)

As this section of Scripture begins, the high priest and Sadducees were “filled with jealousy,” but by the time Peter is done speaking “they were enraged and wanted to kill him.”  What did Peter say that threw them into such a rage? The Jewish leaders had been hearing this same message for weeks—that Jesus had been resurrected, that He was the Messiah, that they were responsible for His death. This was nothing new. But Peter threw in a closing zinger:

“We are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him.”

Subtext: We have the Holy Spirit. You don’t. We obey God. You don’t.

Challenging a priest’s or Pharisee’s or Sadducee’s obedience to God is not a good idea. These men’s lives were devoted to Torah observance. They made up more rules so as to build a hedge around the law, protecting themselves from even coming close to breaking one rule. Yet here is Peter, calling them disobedient. And that’s not all. He claims to have the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit was not a new idea. In the Old Testament, the Spirit was given to people, but only to specific people for specific tasks. The universal outpouring was a future promise. Now a Galilean fisherman was claiming that he and a bunch of common people permanently possessed the Spirit—and those who had devoted their entire lives to the Torah and the Temple did not. 

Peter’s comment strikes at the heart of the religious leaders’ identity. It is more than a wound to their pride (though it is that)—it is an attack to their entire worldview. 

This is the source of their rage, but it is checked by a wise and steady-headed Pharisee named Gamaliel (remember that name). His advice is to calm down and wait. Movements had arisen within Judaism before, then fizzled out. He also warns them, though, that “if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You may even be found fighting against God.”

They take Gamaliel’s advice, but not before giving some…encouragement…to the disciples to drop the issue. If the Sanhedrin had seen the disciples as they left though, bruised and bloody from being beaten, yet thanking God for that beating…they might have realized they were indeed fighting God. Which is always a losing battle.


Have you ever found yourself fighting against God? Have you ever reacted badly because your pride and/or identity was attacked? Alternately, like Peter and the disciples, have you ever met resistance to something you knew was God’s work? In what areas do you need to say I must obey God rather than people?


Lord God, we must obey you rather than people—even people in our family, work, community, and sometimes even religious leaders. Help us discern the Holy Spirit’s leading so that we might know when we must be joyfully resistant to the commands of others. Also, free us of our pride and self-made identities so that we do not find ourselves fighting against you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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Megan NessonComment