The Rev. Paul J Cain, Jr.
Acts 5:12, 17-32
God Rather than Men
Second Sunday of Easter, 07 April 2013
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
About the Cover: Just as the grave was no barrier to our Lord’s resurrection, so the bars of a prison cell were no barrier to the messengers of His victory. The high priest and company locked up the apostles in a vain attempt to stop the spread of the Good News. The Lord’s angel opened the doors and sent them out to continue announcing “to the people all the words of this Life” (Acts 5:20).
On this Second Sunday of Easter, the Resurrection of Jesus from death is fresh in our minds. We continue to rejoice and sing and give thanks to God for His unconditional love through the supreme sacrifice of His Son for our sins. The sermon text shows us that the Easter season is about setting priorities, holding on to that which is of first importance, according to last week’s Epistle, 1 Corinthians 15.
Acts 5:29 says it this way: "We must obey God rather than men.” Peter and the other apostles expressed their faith even under threatening circumstances as they appeared before the Sanhedrin, the same body that condemned Jesus, the full assembly of the elders of Israel. The apostles witnessed to these high officials that Christ died so that we could live eternally with Him.
As witnesses to the truth, we also are entrusted with the Gospel message. The proclamation of that message is the work of the church and her people. Through good stewardship of the gifts the Lord gives, personally and to the church, the Gospel message is proclaimed: “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."
Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon's Portico.
The book of Acts is wonderful reading for the Easter season. Read the whole book for yourself at home as a short story. The Lord’s work doesn’t end with His crucifixion, death, Resurrection, or even Ascension! These uneducated fishermen, etc. have undergone a remarkable change. They were hiding behind closed doors no longer. They were in and near the temple preaching Jesus and healing in His name.
But the high priest rose up, and all who were with him (that is, the party of the Sadducees), and filled with jealousy they arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison.
Arrested! It wasn’t the first time. After Peter and John healed a lame beggar in chapter 3, they faced the Sanhedrin for the first time in chapter 4. Peter preached Christ to them: “This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. Jesus’ Resurrection made all the difference! No longer did they fear the Jewish leaders. They were unafraid of arrest. They were warned not to preach in Jesus’ name. They answered, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge.” Later our text from chapter 5 continues this very conversation. They continued preaching. That led to the second arrest you already heard about.
But the high priest rose up, and all who were with him (that is, the party of the Sadducees), and filled with jealousy they arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison. But. You knew the “but” was coming! But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, "Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life." And when they heard this, they entered the temple at daybreak and began to teach.
Nothing can hinder the proclamation of the word of God, not human law, persecution, or threatened execution. Persecution to the point of death still exists today.
Aberra Wata worked with Christian youth in the southern part of Ethiopia during the time of Communist rule (1974-1991). He reported the following story [a] to fellow missionary (John Cumbers):
Word came from the commandant that the Party leaders had studied my report about the work among the Christian young people. The authorities decided I had to be executed because of my "treasonous" words.
"The only way you can overturn this sentence," said the commandant, "is for you to deny that you are one of the believers."
What could I say? I told the commandant, "If they execute me, I will be immediately with the Lord."
The commandant replied, "That's what I expected you to say."
As I awaited execution in prison, my Savior gave me songs to sing I had never heard before. He turned me into a composer. [My fellow prisoners and I] reveled in the joys of praise to our God. The guards kept trying to silence us, but with the threat of execution hanging over us, why should we keep quiet? Seven men [believed] Christ in that prison, and we all sang together.
One particular guard took delight in mocking us, yelling at us, and insulting us. He would put filthy words to the tunes we sang. One night he patted his revolver and promised, "Tomorrow morning at this time you won't be in the land of the living."
Just after midnight that evening a tremendous storm burst on the town and the prison. Huge hailstones fell, wrecking several roofs, including the one where the insulting guard was sleeping. He became terrified, pulled out his revolver, and shot at random into the darkness, using up all the bullets he had promised would finish us off the next day.
One by one the roofs were taken off the commandant's house and the offices of the chief judge, the administrator, and his deputy. The prisoners in cells three, four, and five got a soaking from the rain too. We were in cell one and were kept dry. There were a lot of wet and unhappy people in Yavello that night.
At nine o'clock the next morning, while expecting the cruel guard to fulfill his promise to shoot us, we observed a remarkable sight. That same guard was pushed into our cell, without his uniform, by the commandant, who was whipping him with his belt. Other people in the background were yelling, "We told this man to leave the believers alone, but he refused, and so God has sent this terrible punishment on the town and prison. He deserves to be given some of his own medicine."
After some time the guard was released and given back his uniform. He told us, "I know that the Lord was with you. I know the way I should have treated you, but Satan persuaded me otherwise. Please forgive me." We did, and several more men [believed] in Christ in the prison.
When we left the apostles, they had been released from prison by an angel of the Lord so that they may teach again at the temple.
Now when the high priest came, and those who were with him, they called together the council and all the senate of Israel and sent to the prison to have them brought. But when the officers came, they did not find them in the prison, so they returned and reported, "We found the prison securely locked and the guards standing at the doors, but when we opened them we found no one inside." Now when the captain of the temple and the chief priests heard these words, they were greatly perplexed about them, wondering what this would come to. 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.
“The people.” “The chief priests.” Have you noticed a difference here? Both are Jews. Both had very different reactions to Jesus. The people greeted the Lord on Palm Sunday. They were thrilled at the cleansing of the temple-lower prices for them. The chief priests, the leadership of the Jews, sought to get rid of Jesus, but didn’t want to do it during the Passover celebration because of His popularity. Because of Judas and the dark of night, they had motive, means, and opportunity.
The illegal night trial and early morning “official” judgment allowed them to bring Jesus before Pilate at 6 a.m. The people that called to Jesus, “Hosanna. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel” wouldn’t have known about the late night arrest, trial, and execution sentence. It was the leaders, not the whole people who called for Jesus’ blood to be on them and on their children. The people were unaware. When they did learn what was going on, it was too late. They could only line the street of Jesus journey to the cross and weep.
The people were receptive to the message of Jesus. Who else could be part of the 3,000 baptized on Pentecost? The leaders still feared the people. Peter and the apostles were popular. The leaders feared that the people would stone them if they took action against the apostles. Explaining this simple contrast between the leaders and the people among the Jews would do much to end the cries of “anti-Semitism” that have recently been in the news.
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."
We also must obey God rather than men. We ought to examine the First and Fourth Commandments.
You shall have no other gods. What does this mean? We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things. A god is that to which we look for all good things. With that Lutheran definition, we can see many today with gods of sex, money, power, fame, and possessions, and some with literal false gods like the world religions of Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc. and American born cults, too. You shall have no other gods before my face—in my face. No mixing. No buffet-style religion with a little from this and a little from that. Don’t fold, roll, spindle, or otherwise mutilate how the Lord has revealed Himself in His word.
Honor your father and your mother. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not anger our parents and other authorities, but honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them. Romans 13 speaks about the divinely ordained duties of governments and citizens. We are to render unto Caesar except when we are commanded to break God’s law. When is that? It could be today. It could be tomorrow. How much has the culture and country around you changed since you were your childrens’ age? How much has it changed since you were the age of your grandchildren? Christians need to be in the Word and keep up with current events to know that! Christian citizenship carries responsibility. Ultimately, we return to Acts 5:29: We must obey God rather than men!
By faith, you confess the Resurrection of Christ. The Holy Spirit within your hearts has called, gathered, and enlightened you, and as you continue to be in the Word and receive His gifts, He keeps you in the holy Christian faith. You may not face persecution and arrest here yet, your faith and values are under attack. You have many opportunities to witness to Christ, killed by hanging on a tree, raised from the dead, and exalted to God’s right hand so that He might give you repentance and forgiveness of sins!
Alleluia! He is Risen! He is Risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.