The Bible passage can be read here.
Irving Berlin was one of the most successful song writers of the 20th century. He wrote many popular songs including ‘White Christmas’ the best-selling single of all time. He was incredibly rich, he enjoyed a long and happy marriage, he lived to 101, was honoured by four US Presidents and had countless awards but he spent the last few years of his life striving for one more hit song. It shows the futility of seeking to be defined by the opinions of others – it never satisfies. The apostles on the other hand had one simple aim – to please God. I suppose that begs the question; who are we trying to please?
I’m sure the words of the chief priest were meant as a condemnation;
“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 make us guilty of this man’s blood.”
For the apostles these words must have been a great encouragement. Imagine someone saying we had filled Talbot Green with the teaching of Jesus! When they are given the chance to speak, Peter grabs it with both hands. There is no pleading for mercy or attempts at compromise, he made it clear, when given the choice of obeying God (Jesus) or the high priest and his associates, there would only ever be one winner. For Peter it was that simple.
If Peter had left things there, I’m sure we would understand but that would have missed another chance to share the full message of new life. His themes were familiar; you killed him, God raised him, we are witnesses, he is exalted and now gives repentance, forgiveness and the Holy Spirit. It was a very short message, perhaps he knew time would be limited because most of his hearers would become angry, but it was powerful. Some may say it was a pointless exercise, after all, what was Peter hoping to achieve? The Sanhedrin (the Jewish ruling council) were not what you would call a receptive audience. The apostles were taken outside so that the discussions could continue but someone in the room must have told the story of what happened next – someone was listening.
Gamaliel was a famous teacher and is known outside the Bible. His intervention, though helpful for the apostles, is only half right. If something is of God no one will stop it but there are plenty of things of human origin that rumble on for hundreds even thousands of years. Not everything that has longevity is of God. Some traditions have maintained that Gamaliel has a secret believer and was deliberately trying to free the apostles but as we have said before; we will never know. What we do know is that the idea of ‘wait and see’ is deeply flawed. The evidence was there, Jesus had been raised, there were miracles right in front of them but instead of repenting of their sin, they were jealous and were persuaded to wait in case God was really in it.
The apostles were only released after a flogging. This was probably 39 lashes – it wasn’t really a let off. People sometime died as a result of these beatings. The apostles however rejoiced and counted it a privilege to suffer for the Name of Jesus.
As we bring our songs of love today
Do you hear a sound more glorious?
Like the mighty roar of ocean waves
Many witnesses surround us
It’s a harmony of costly praise
From the lips of those who suffer
Of sighs and tears and martyrs’ prayers
Until this age is over. (How Long – Graham Kendrick)