Evangelism and the Pagan World click here for audio
Acts 5:26-42 English Standard Version (ESV)
26 Then the captain with the officers went and brought them, but not by force, for they were afraid of being stoned by the people.
27 And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, 28 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.” 29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. 31 God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”
33 When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. 34 But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in honor by all the people, stood up and gave orders to put the men outside for a little while. 35 And he said to them, “Men of Israel, take care what you are about to do with these men. 36 For before these days Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. 37 After him Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him. He too perished, and all who followed him were scattered. 38 So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; 39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” So they took his advice, 40 and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 41 Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. 42 And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.
At the prison where I work during the week, there are various religious meetings to accommodate all the different beliefs that prisoners attend. There are religious services for those who ascribe to Christianity with different denominations, and then you have the Buddhist religion represented; and Muslims have two services; One is called Nation of Islam, Jumah, Ramadah begins soon… Native American services for the Native Americans (Indians); then there’s Rastafarian services; and then you have one that is called PAGAN SERVICES.
Actually – biblically speaking -- only two categories - In Christ / outside of Christ
All belief systems are pagan-- if it does not line up with God’s Word. To call someone a “pagan” may seem to be harsh, and unkind….. But it is from “paganism” that we’ve been called from. A life lived separated from knowing Christ is paganistic.
We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power (in the lap) of the evil one.
In our study of Acts we have noticed how thousands of people were being saved in the beginning days of the early church. Luke the writer of Acts describes it this way in Acts 5:14 “And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women.” The words “added to the Lord” should not be passed over lightly. This was the work of God. Multitudes were “added to the Lord” not “added to a man-made organization”. They were not “added to a social club”, they were added to the Lord. This is true evangelism when God’s power is unleashed and the gospel of Christ is proclaimed with life changing results.
We saw last time how “ Evangelism is the teaching of the Gospel with the aim to persuade.” Accompanying Gospel proclamation is the unleashing of God’s power. God’s power is seen in His sovereignty. God was sovereign in using His apostles to work signs and wonders. We saw that in v.12 “many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles.” Also, God’s power is seen in the church’s unity. “they were all together”. Add to that we have the church’s purity. “None of the rest dared join them” There was this clear distinction between the believers and the unbelievers. The ruling authorities, the high priest and the party of the Sadducees were filled with jealousy over the success of the apostles. They had the apostles arrested, but an angel of the Lord came during the night and opened the prison doors. In verse 20 the angel said to the apostles, God and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life. In the face of hostility God’s power was displayed in giving the apostles delivering power to “give Life”. They stood in the temple with another opportunity to preach and “give Life” which is Christ who gives LIFE to all who believe. We pointed out last time that there are times when the angel of the Lord does not open the prison doors. Like Stephen who was stoned in Acts 7, or James the apostle who was killed in Acts 12…they did not experience delivering power, but rather they experienced “dying power” to “LIVE LIFE”. Live for God’s glory until your LIFE takes you from this life to the next life.
The apostles were delivered from the public prison by the angel and they obeyed the voice of the angel by standing in the temple teaching the people. The high priests got up in the morning and expected to find the apostles in their jail cell. They were gone, and someone came to the high priests and said, “look!, the men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people.” The power of God was displayed in the CERTAINTY of Gospel preaching. The apostles in the face of great hostility did not change their message. They were bold to proclaim the GOSPEL with Clarity and Certainty.
It is to a PAGAN World the Apostles proclaim the Gospel… A religious world, but a religious world that is pagan, anti-Christ, anti-gospel, anti-God, anti-grace.
Now we are going to pick up where we left off in v.26
1. The Apostles Reprimanded vv. 26-28
2. The Apostles Responded vv.29-32
3. Their Accusers Reacted vv.33-40
4. The Apostles Rejoiced vv.41-42
I. The Apostles Reprimanded (vv.26-28)
THE Apostles were brought before the Sanhedrin council to be Reprimanded - VV.26-28
· Notice in v.26 as to how they brought them. The captain with the officers, or the temple police were careful “not to use force”. They didn’t use clubs, shackles, and swords. They were afraid of being stoned by the people. The people held the apostles in high esteem. They saw many signs and wonders performed by the apostles, and it’s because of these apostles that all the sick people were healed. They were cautious in not using force to bring the apostles into court.
· Notice in v.27 where they brought them. The council was a 70- member council made up mostly of the religious group called the Sadducees. The other religious group, the Pharisees, made up the minority number of the total 70. These two groups, Sadducees and Pharisees were different in what they believed.
Sadducees – did not believe in miracles, but the Pharisees did.
Sadducees – did not believe in angels and demons, but the Pharisees did.
Sadducees – did not believe in the resurrection, but the Pharisees did.
Sadducees – did not believe in the afterlife, but the Pharisees did.
Sadducees – were in control of the operations of the Temple in Jerusalem; and the Pharisees were overseers of the teaching in all the many local synagogues throughout Israel.
Sadducees – had more connections with the aristocrats and the political powers of Rome; their aim was to score big points with Pilate, Herod, and Roman Emperor; while the Pharisees had connections with the common people. They were the teachers, or Rabbis of the people. Their goal was to score big points with the populace, the crowds of people. They wanted the majority of people to support them.
Sadducees and Pharisees were SO DIFFERENT, yet they had one common thing - they hated Jesus! And they hated the gospel. They hated the Apostles, but they had different ideas as to how to deal with them. We’ll look at that later.
v.27 “they set them before the council” They would have them seated in the center, and this 70 member council would sit surrounding them as they questioned and interrogated them.
And the high priest questioned them. The high priest was a part of the Sanhedrin. He wasn’t a part of the 70, he would make the number 71. When they take a vote, and if there was a split in the vote, he would cast the deciding vote.
· MOVE on to v.28 why they brought them They brought up charges, and they had questions.
[We strictly charged you not to teach in this name,] We told you NOT TO SPEAK IN THIS NAME…(SEE Acts 5:17-18). We’ve been over this before, and we told you NOT to do it. Don’t teach in this name. NOTICE – they couldn’t even say the name of Jesus! His name was so distasteful to them; so offensive to them….they could not and would not say his name. The reason is this - they don’t know His name! They don’t know HIM! For if they only knew Him, and saw how wonderful, how glorious He is, and if they only knew the amazing grace that He gives to all who come in faith. If they only knew this precious Savior, this Compassionate and Merciful Redeemer, they would know how appealing and how attractive His Name truly is. They would then WELCOME teaching in His Name.
The guilty verdict: The apostles were found guilty of teaching in the name of Jesus!
[yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching] the second indictment, they were again GUILTY as CHARGED! Everybody was talking about the events of Pentecost, the healing of the lame man who for 40 years had sat at the Gate called Beautiful; the signs and wonders, the miracles, and the teaching about Christ, His death, His resurrection, His Everlasting Life that can be received for those who repent and believe in Jesus Christ. All Jerusalem was filled with the DOCTRINES from the Apostles!
[you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us]
Why did they say that? Where were these Sadducees getting this- “You intend to bring this man’s blood upon us?”
We go back to listen to Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost. Peter preached Jesus crucified, Jesus raised from the dead, and in His name is the remission of sins. There’s one more thing Peter preached - YOU CRUCIFIED AND KILLED BY THE HANDS OF LAWLESS MEN. Acts 2:23
Again in Acts 2:36 this Jesus whom you crucified
Again in Acts 3:15 you killed the Author of Life
Again in Acts 4:10 let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified
Peter says in v.29 of our text - We must obey God rather than men (v.30) The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree.
Peter did NOT change his message to suit them. They said – “you making us out to be the ones who killed this man.” Peter responds “you killed him.”
Peter was only saying what they themselves confessed when Jesus stood before Pilate.
It’s recorded in Matthew 27.
24 So when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man's blood; see to it yourselves.” 25 And all the people answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!” (Matthew 27:24-25)
They were guilty! Their children were guilty! All generations of all mankind stand guilty for His blood, His innocent, pure blood which was shed because of our sins.
NOW Peter will respond. In his response please notice how he gives a REMEDY for sin. He gives the remedy for their sin and guilt of killing the Lord Jesus.
II. The Apostles Responded vv.29-32
To experience the forgiveness of sin, to know eternal life, to be made right with God, there are certain matters that must be dealt with.
A. GOD – the Greatest Authority v.29
First of all, we must come to terms with the GREATEST AUTHORITY in existence – and that is, God. we must obey God rather than men - we know you gave us a commandment to follow. That commandment was to NOT teach in the name of Jesus. However, we have another commandment. Our Lord God commanded us “ 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” AND our Lord said, All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
WE MUST obey God rather than men. You guys push your authority around, but there is an higher authority that even YOU must obey. I’m not talking about some unknown God. He is the GOD OF OUR FATHERS (v.30)
He’s the ONE who has ALL authority! Our obedience is to HIM. When you contradict by your rules, then understand this we must obey God rather than men.
B. GOD – WHO RAISED JESUS (v.30)
The same God of our fathers is the same God who raised Jesus--- which Jesus? The one whom you killed! NOW Peter could have said something like this, “The God of our fathers raised Jesus, who was killed and was hanged on a tree.” That would have taken the sting out of the statement. Peter said, “we must obey God rather than men” so here’s the WORD from God - “The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom YOU KILLED BY HANGING HIM ON A TREE. The cross was the tree by which Jesus took our curse, took the death we deserved upon himself. This refers back to Deut. 21:23. The person who committed a sin deserving the death sentence was hanged from a tree. Jesus took our place. He was our substitute. The Innocent ONE dying for the guilty sinner.
C. GOD – EXALTED JESUS (v.31)
God exalted him at his right hand (as Leader) (as Prince) (as ruler) and Savior to
#1 gives repentance to Israel
#2 gives forgiveness of sins,
Here is the remedy - Peter gives it to them straight. Here’s the way to be accepted by God. Here’s how to have your sins forgiven…
D. God - Gives the Holy Spirit (v.32)
Peter says - WE ARE WITNESSES to these things, We did not create the message. We did not create the cross. We did not create the story about the resurrection of Christ. we are only witnesses.
SO IS the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.
Here’s how you get in on this…. Here’s how you experience repentance and forgiveness of sins…. It’s the work of the Holy Spirit.
How do we know about Jesus? How do come to know Him personally?
John 15:26 When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me,
We are given assurance of being a child of God by the witness of the Holy Spirit.
Romans 8:16 The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:
We are not assured by emotions and feelings, but by the deep work of the Holy Spirit.
We have the Trinity represented here - God is mentioned; so is Jesus, Prince and Savior,
So is the Holy Spirit – God the Father; God the Son; God the Holy Spirit.
III. Their Accusers Reacted vv. 33-40
How do these Accusing Sadducees and Pharisees react?
A. Exterminate them. (v.33) “kill them”
When they heard that, they were (enraged) cut to the heart, [cut to the quick, NASB ] and took counsel to slay them. KJV
Acts 2:37 “cut to the heart” katenugesan te kardia, literally, "severely troubled and made sorrowful."
This led to repentance.
Acts 5:33 …….action of a saw …. Saw asunder…. Led to hatred.
Acts 7:54 “cut to the heart” dieprionto tais kardias, literally, "sawn asunder mentally and thus infuriated."
They wanted to kill them, especially the Sadducees….they dominated the council…
Pharisees - they were supporters of the crowd….and at this moment the crowds were in favor of the Apostles because of all the healings that took place.
B. Tolerate them. (vv. 34-39)
Gamaliel - a Pharisee - well known, most respected teacher, highly educated, held in honor by all the people…. Stood up…. When he spoke everyone listened.
· (v.34) put the men outside for a moment --
· (v.35) Men of Israel - be careful as to what you are about to do…. You want to bring violence……that’s something you need to think through very carefully. ARE YOU SURE YOU WANT TO DO THIS? THINK IT THROUGH NOW….
· (v.36) Do you remember Theudas? He claimed to be someone of great importance and had a following of 400 men. Do you remember? He was killed….his followers dispersed and this whole thing came to nothing.
· (v.37) And do you recall Judas the Galilean? He rose up during the time of the census…. The taxation when the whole world was taxed… This would be when Quirinius was governor of Syria….a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the whole world be taxed. (Luke 2:1-2) Historical records indicate he tried to lead a revolt dealing with the taxes being collected. He was killed and all who followed him were scattered.
· (v.38) If it be of men it will fail…. Just stay away from these men. Leave them be.
· (v.39) If it be of God…not be able to overthrow it…go against God.. they took his advice.
Policy of tolerance - Gamaliel - I don’t think he always taught this…because he had one brilliant student who became very radical in opposing Christians, Saul of Tarsus, whom we know best as the APOSTLE PAUL.
In Acts 22:3 Paul gives his testimony - “I was educated under Gamaliel…I sat at his feet…I was his disciple…and I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and putting both men and women into prisons, (Acts 22:4) in Acts 8:1 Saul – approved of the execution, the stoning of Stephen.
I believe Gamaliel’s policy of tolerance was only a matter of convenience. The people supported the Apostles…….and having them at this time stoned to death would have led to a riot in Jerusalem.
Gamaliel - hold up… In time…what they are doing will come to nothing… let it go….
Tolerance…. That’s the religion of our day…. Do nothing.. Don’t get all ruffled up over things…
Leave them alone!
Just “let it be”
Gamaliel – was wrong! If something is NOT of GOD… you can’t say…it will eventually fizzle out..
Look at Islam… the religion of Muhaamed ….
There’s Buddhism…. Hindusim…
Gamaliel – was a good pagan….. He’s an educated pagan. He’s a highly refined and cultured pagan. He’s a persuasive pagan. He’s a man of peace, He’s not advocating violence. Let’s al just get alone….. Let TIME tell the truth of all things…. In time we will know…. We’ll know if it is successful…
They took Gamaliel’s advice…..but they had to put in their punches….they had to release their anger on them….
C. Beat them v.40
Before they released them…they charged them again NOT to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go..
IV. The Apostles Rejoiced vv. 41-42
They showed their rejoicing in two ways:
A. They were praising the Name of Jesus. V.41
They left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy…..
For them…..It was an honor to suffer for the name of Jesus….
All that live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution 2Tim. 3:12
They did not consider “retaliation” or “revenge” NO. they were filled with rejoicing…. They counted it a priviledge …..an honor to suffer of Christ.
We’ve said Saul of Tarsus was a persecutor of the church, but we’ll see in Acts that
Saul of Tarsus becomes Paul the Apostle! He meets Jesus! He is gloriously saved!
Paul knew much suffering for the cause of the name of Jesus!
Philippians 1:15-18 15 Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. 16 The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice,
B. They were Proclaiming the Name of Jesus! V.42
They did NOT let up….. they were persistent in teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.
Preaching and Teaching -- is there a difference?
Preaching is proclaiming, heralding and announcing news to people- the gospel- especially to those who haven’t heard it before. Teaching is explaining things about the gospel that people don’t understand, and instructing them on how t live in light of it.
The most helpful illustration of this comes from John Piper. He pictures a herald riding into town, shouting from high atop his horse, “Hear ye! Hear ye! The Emperor has declared an amnesty to all slaves!” That, Piper says, is preaching: proclaiming good news, announcing something that has happened, that completely changes the situation of the listeners. But he then imagines people approaching the herald with questions. What does amnesty mean? When does this announcement take effect? Does that mean I can leave my slavemaster now? Will compensation be paid to masters? And so on. At that point, Piper says, you have to start teaching: explaining the implications of the news, helping people with concepts and ideas they don’t understand, and telling people what they need to do in response, given their various situations.
This is what the church has been called to do…. This is the great work of evangelism…
To those who have not heard, to those who are hostile toward the gospel, it’s for a hostile world that Jesus died. That hostility may be open, acting out in aggressive behavior. That hostility may be very passive, non confrontive, just let it be like Gamaliel….
We must proclaim in preaching…. The King of kings has come to give life, to give freedom from their sin…You will know the truth and the truth shall set you free…
We must proclaim in teaching…what that means…. What it means to be set free by the power of Christ? What does it mean that we are saved by his blood?
May our Lord help us to be clear to proclaim the message of Christ to a pagan world.