Government, God, & Gamaliel

Acts 5:33-42 When they heard this, they were furious and plotted to kill them. Then one in the council stood up, a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in respect by all the people, and commanded them to put the apostles outside for a little while. And he said to them: “Men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what you intend to do regarding these men. For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody. A number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was slain, and all who obeyed him were scattered and came to nothing. After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census, and drew away many people after him. He also perished, and all who obeyed him were dispersed. And now I say to you, keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this work is of men, it will come to nothing; but if it is of God, you cannot overthrow it–lest you even be found to fight against God.” And they agreed with him, and when they had called for the apostles and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name. And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.


Prior to this scene, the apostles had escaped from prison and been preaching in the temple. Once again they were not following the direct orders given them to stop preaching in Jesus name. Instead of showing remorse, they informed the high priest that they (the apostles) should obey God rather than men.

I can see how this might make the government officials angry. I mean, they make they rules, they enforce the rules, and here come these men who they can’t contain in their prison, refuse to stop teaching the doctrine they don’t want spread, and then have the nerve to tell them it’s more important that they obey God than them.

Yep, angry officials. Furious officials. Jesus himself wasn’t half this confrontational and look what the government officials did to Him.

The apostles have it coming to them, right?

Wrong.

Enter a man named Gamaliel. A very educated man respected by all the people. Gamaliel says, “Get them (the apostles) out of here for a minute while we chat.”

Once the apostles are removed from the room he tells them about two men who claimed to be some bodies. He talks about their followers. And he talks about their falls.

As I read this I thought, why is he rambling on? These men they are trying to hold in captivity now are filled with the Holy Spirit. They are about the Kings business. The business He called them to before He ascended.

But then Gamaliel gets to the heart of the matter in verses 38 and 39. “And now I say to you, keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this work is of men, it will come to nothing; but if it is of God, you cannot overthrow it–lest you even be found to fight against God.”

There it is. What I want to talk about today. Do you see it? There is something very clear there for both religious and non-religious persons. A warning and an encouragement. Do you see it?

Since Gamaliel is talking to government officials trying to stop the spread of Christianity, let me start with what I’m going to refer to as non-religious persons.

First, Gamaliel tells them to stay away from the apostles and leave them alone. Separate yourselves from these men. You do not want to be near them at this time. Why?

Two things could potentially happen to these men’s endeavors.

1. If this plan or work is of man, it will amount to nothing and will go away on it’s own. It will fail miserably and at no doing of yours. Separate yourself from this and let it take it’s own course.

OR

2. If this plan or work is of God, then nothing you do will even slow it down let alone stop it. Not only that, but do you really want to take the risk that you are working AGAINST God? Can you fight God and win?

So, because of who Gamaliel was, the officials agreed with him. The called the apostles back in, beat them, warned them yet again not to teach in Jesus’ name, and let them go free.

Why wouldn’t they? Gamaliel had just spelled things out for them. No matter which way things went, their lack of response would be twice as effective as any response. Either these men would fail on their own or there was nothing the officials could do to stop God. Regardless of which would happen, the officials had no reason to waste time or resources on the situation.

Non-religious people reading…today I’m addressing you through Gamaliel. Why waste your time fighting the inevitable? Those of us who claim to be Christians doing those evangelical things that drive you bonkers will either fail on our own OR if we’re truly doing God’s will He will prevail regardless of anything you do to stop us. So, it is in your best interest to not waste your time and resources trying to stop us. J

Now, let’s look at this as Christian people. Gamaliel was very educated in the law. He had been Paul’s teacher. He was a Pharisee in this council that was plotting to kill the apostles. Gamaliel’s advice to the council saved the lives of the apostles in this situation. I will not stand judge over Gamaliel’s motivation in this situation. I have read several opinions over whether Gamaliel was a ‘secret Christian’ or not. I’ll leave that distinction to God, but I know that God used Gamaliel in this situation.

Remember, prior to the verses I pulled for today the apostles keep teaching, preaching, healing, and serving regardless of the rules and consequences the government keeps placing on them. Even when they are locked in prison for breaking the laws, God sends an angel to set them free so that they can go teach in the temple which is where they are found.

When confronted with their “insubordination”, Peter claims that it is better for them to obey God than government. And the government cries out for their blood.

But one voice says, “You don’t want to do this. They’ll fail on their own without leaving any blood on your hands. And if they don’t, then it’s really God and you didn’t stand a chance anyways.”

Ok, Carrie, how many times and ways are you going to say this? Until we get it.

What does this mean for Christian people?

1. You better make sure when you’re doing something in God’s name that He’s the one who told you to do it. If not, you’re doing it in man’s name and you’re going to fail. Miserably. The government, satan, no one else will need to try and stop you. You are already set up for failure. 2 Peter 1:10 Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble.

2. If God has called you do it…you have no excuse NOT to do it. If it is of God, nothing can overthrow it. NOTHING. You better keep on keeping on.

Sometimes we get it in our head that nothing we do for Christ can make a difference. There are too many people in our society, in our government, in our family, in our community, just too many people in general trying to shut Christians up.

Folks, if God’s in it, NO ONE can overthrow it! A prison wall can’t hold it in. A fiery furnace can’t incinerate it. A lion can’t eat it. A sword can’t kill it. And death can’t stop it.

Christian people, we can’t back down. It’s what non-Christian people want, even what they expect. They believe that if they tell us to stop preaching Jesus, and threaten us with punishment that we will simply stop talking because it’s the “right” thing to do. However, Peter and the other apostles’ words are the “right” thing to do. “We ought to obey God rather than men.” Acts 5:29

It doesn’t matter what non-Christian people say or do as we evangelize as long as what we do is of God. If God is of it, it will not be overthrown. So why should we back down?

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