After witnessing the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira – the church was filled with Holy, reverent fear. The community of Christians gained a reputation for integrity. Everyone knew it was a serious thing to be a follower. There could be no ‘casual commitment’ among the early church. Should it be any different today?
Word spread quickly about what God had done, is doing, and will do (the Apostle’s teaching). As we noted last week – God will protect His church – not even the gates of prison or Hell will overcome it.
For the proud and self-seeking – God will humble and war against you. He will be proven Holy (Ezekiel 36:23). For the sick, needy, and believing – God will be shown as the healer, redeemer, and friend. We see the Apostles continuing to meet – in view of all - in the center of Jerusalem, “Solomon’s Colonnade/Porch.”
This was the large surrounding structure (of Herod’s temple) before entering the Court of Gentiles. It was open to all and, therefore, the primary gathering location and marketplace. It is apparent that God wanted the key leaders, priests, and Jewish people to hear the message of salvation (V. 20 “Go tell them about this new life!”– Christ our life). First – they heard it from Jesus, and now they hear it from the apostles (don’t ever say God is not long-suffering and gracious).
This was all leading up to 70 A.D. – where the wrath of God will be poured out via the Roman Army and emperor Titus. The whole temple would be leveled, and the people crushed. Yet – God gave His people – Israel – the first opportunity to be saved and join the mission. To flee from the wrath to come!
For many on the Sanhedrin – they responded just as they did for Jesus. They were ‘jealous’ and fearful. As we have noted in the past – many of these elites had become friends with Rome and benefited from the Roman system. Any kind of Jewish ‘uprising’ or Messianic talk was a threat to the Roman way of life/authority – and the system of the Sanhedrin (particularly the Sadducees).
There is much to cover in these verses, but today I want to zoom in on verses 27-42. In a beautiful stroke of irony – after the humorous escape of the Apostles – the High Priest makes an interesting remark. (v. 28), “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,” he said. “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to bring this man’s blood on us.”
You can almost hear the Sanhedrin shaking in their boots – trying to look tough – baffled at how they just escaped. “You’re not listening! You’re making us look bad. Why are you not afraid of us? Don’t you know how serious we are? (Speaking to men who were just released from ‘their’ prison by an Angel of God).
“We did not ‘murder’ Jesus – Pilate did it - we were just doing our duty. He was a heretic! You’re going to start a riot…quit trying to make us guilty!” Wait – remember when Jesus was on trial, and Pilate washed his hands of ‘this man’s blood’ and “All the people answered, “His blood is on us and on our children!” (Matthew 27:25)? Oh, if they only knew what they were saying!
You can see the (elbowing) Apostles – “That is precisely our message! You are guilty of killing Messiah Jesus. God remembers your words. You (Israel) are dead in your sin, and you must be born again! You must repent. This is the message we are telling everyone. This is the message the angel freed us to preach. The irony is…the blood of Jesus is the only thing that can make you free! Not guilty! He is God’s Passover lamb! We must obey God rather than men!”
The Apostle’s preached the blood of Jesus Christ! For - Hebrews 9:22, “Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins.” They did not shy away from the need to be washed “to bring the blood on us.” Sin does not come without the payment of blood. Beloved, you cannot have a ‘bloodless’ cross – and we Christianity is not a bloodless religion.
For the Apostles - the blood of Christ was the source of new life and salvation. For the Sanhedrin, the blood of Jesus was guilt, shame, unworthy and disgusting (2 Corinthians 2:16). They were incensed at such preaching - ready to stone the apostles on the spot for daring to say they needed to repent!
Suddenly, a voice came out from the Sanhedrin. It was Rabbi and Pharisee Gamaliel.
This was the grandson of the esteemed Rabbi Hillel, the founder of Israel’s most robust school of religion. Gamaliel was given the highest title Rabban (“our teacher”). When Gamaliel spoke – everyone listened.
Gamaliel’s words are only half true. In fact – they are a bit dismissive and sheepish. Gamaliel was really a fence sitter. He spoke as if they should wait and see if Jesus and the apostles were really from God. But what greater testimony did he need, beyond Jesus’ resurrection and the apostles’ miracles?
Gamaliel proposed the test of time, and that is an important test, but more important than the test of time is the test of eternity. Receive the blood of Christ! For TODAY is the day of salvation. The message is urgent. Delayed obedience is disobedience!
Interestingly, the Apostle Paul was in Gamaliel’s Rabbinic school and learned from him firsthand (Acts 22:3). Paul (Saul at the time) was likely a witness to this very scene and one of the many upset Pharisees!
Paul likely rolled his eyes at Gamaliel. He decided to fight against God radically. We will see later that Paul took the hard-nosed, persecuting approach – that would lead to his dramatic conversion (proving Gamaliel right in one way). One of the very Pharisees who witnessed the boldness of the Apostles would be the one used by God to expand the church most dramatically (as is God’s usual prerogative).
What changed in Paul? Well…Paul met Jesus…Paul was humbled…Paul was made aware of His sin… Paul realized that the blood of Jesus that once offended Him had become his very source of life. So much so, that his whole message was wrapped up in that ‘bloody’ event – “I claimed to know nothing among you but Christ and Him crucified!” (1 Corinthians 2:2). Colossians 1: 19-20, “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”
The apostles are then flogged – reprimanded again not to ‘preach the name’, and sent away. Many believers wouldn’t fault the Apostles if, at this point, they packed up their bags and left town… It would have been reasonable for the church to be a bit discouraged…maybe even angry at God. “You freed us from prison just to get beat up and yelled at?”
But – this is not what they did. This is not what they said. (v. 41-42), “The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.”
Remembering the words of Jesus in Matthew 5: 11-12, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven.”
The apostles, unlike Gamaliel, have their eyes on eternity. Their hearts were filled with Holy Spirit joy and gospel grace. That is the power of redeeming blood. That is the attitude of washed, purified, children of God. They continued in obedience despite the sufferings, humiliation, and threats. They did not cower to the schemes of men – instead, they doubled down. Because of the bloodshed by Jesus – the bloodshed by His people is not in vain – but becomes the power of the church.
*Show video from Voice of the Martyrs*
We do not only preach the blood of Christ – but the blood of His church. For “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church” (Tertullian). The scars are our testimony. The scars of Jesus remain a testimony in heaven (Revelation 5:6) of the cost paid for us.
The blood is our testimony. They are forever linked together as the means by how the church will overcome! (Revelation 12:11).
Testimony that God is real, He cares about your suffering, and He will not be stopped by any enemy. Beloved, look at the scars on Jesus – the ones He took for your sin. They are a sign of victory – not defeat. As is noted in Revelation 7:14, the means of purification from sin. “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”’