As you read these verses you can't help but feel the antagonism of the Sanhedrin towards the disciples. They are so angry that they want to put the Apostles to death. But why are the Sanhedrin so angry with the apostles? There are three reasons given in verse 28. Firstly, the apostles disobeyed their charge to stop teaching the people. Secondly they are angry about the spread of the message the Apostles “have filled Jerusalem with your teaching” that Jesus is Saviour and Lord. Thirdly and finally they are angry because the Apostles are “determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.”
How would you react to being put on trial on those charges? Peter doesn’t go on the defensive. He turns the tables and puts the Sanhedrin on trial. (30)The Sanhedrin want the apostles to disobey God, but they won’t. The Sanhedrin are opposed to God because God raised Jesus whom they killed to life and God has declared Jesus to be Prince, or ruler, and Saviour. In Jesus there is forgiveness if people repent and yet the Sanhedrin won’t accept him, and (32)they ignore all the evidence and the eye witnesses. In short the church is now the people of God and the apostles the leaders of God’s people. The Sanhedrin is in opposition to God.
(33)The Sanhedrin’s reaction is no surprise is it. They just want to kill the apostles. But God sovereignly intervenes again, at work even in the Sanhedrin through the actions of those who oppose him. Gamaliel speech is the key to this chapter really, especially(38-39). Other groups have come and gone, they didn’t last he says “Therefore, in the present case I advise you; leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”
Acts charts the proof that it is from God. As the gospel spreads and more and more people come to faith, in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth. Gamaliel’s words are proven true – God is at work and opposing the gospel and the church is opposing God himself.
Again we need to realize that and adjust our thinking so that we live in the light of it. God is at work in the gospel and through his church. To oppose it is to oppose God and there will only ever be one winner. The church is unrelenting, it endures even though it faces opposition from without and within. That must change our thinking, it isn’t us on the defensive it’s the world on the defensive.
As a church as we take the gospel to our community and family and friends in the run up to Christmas we are to expect both acceptance and rejection. But we can confidently hold out the gospel because God is at work, God is with us, the gospel is God’s good news he wants the world to hear and we participate in his mission. And to oppose God’s church is to oppose God.
History tells us that. Under communism in the last century the Chinese governments aim was to eradicate Christianity, yet today more Christians will meet together in church in China than in the whole of Europe. That same growth despite persecution happened in Romania and other countries that were behind the Iron Curtain. It is happening today in places where persecution continues to be the norm. To oppose the church and the gospel it holds out is to oppose God and you cannot win.
We don’t need to feel defensive, we need to pray and go trusting God, empowered by the Spirit.
And do you see the confidence these two facts bring the Apostles. God is at work through his people as they join in his mission of making Jesus known. And to oppose the gospel is to oppose God. (40-42)Even as they suffer for the gospel, they know events are not out of God’s control. In fact they count the dishonour of being flogged an honour because the stripes of their flogging echo those of their Saviour. “rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.” And they never stop teaching and proclaiming Jesus as Saviour and Lord(42). They don’t take a step back, they don’t retreat, they don’t go on the defensive. Because God is at work and is for his people and they treasure God above all else.
Isn’t that helpful. Isn’t that encouraging. Shouldn’t that change our thinking. We are not alone, the church is not on the defensive, or it should not be. God is at work through his people taking his message about Jesus to a world in need and we have the privilege of cooperating in his mission. God is with us by the Spirit and it is his powerful message about his Son that we have to share. And opposition is futile, they can do no more than he allows, because you can’t fight against God and win.