St. John's & Zion Lutheran Churches

We Must Obey God Rather Than People!

Sermon on Acts 5:12, 17-32

Text: The apostles performed many signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade.
17 Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. 18 They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail. 19 But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out. 20 “Go, stand in the temple courts,” he said, “and tell the people all about this new life.”
21 At daybreak they entered the temple courts, as they had been told, and began to teach the people.
When the high priest and his associates arrived, they called together the Sanhedrin – the full assembly of the elders of Israel – and sent to the jail for the apostles. 22 But on arriving at the jail, the officers did not find them there. So they went back and reported, 23 “We found the jail securely locked, with the guards standing at the doors; but when we opened them, we found no one inside.” 24 On hearing this report, the captain of the temple guard and the chief priests were at a loss, wondering what this might lead to.
25 Then someone came and said, “Look! The men you put in jail are standing in the temple courts teaching the people.” 26 At that, the captain went with his officers and brought the apostles. They did not use force, because they feared that the people would stone them.
27 The apostles were brought in and made to appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. 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 make us guilty of this man’s blood.”
29 Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than human beings! 30 The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead – whom you killed by hanging him on a cross. 31 God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins. 32 We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”

The book of Acts is a history of the early Christian Church from the ascension of Jesus through the missionary journeys of Paul. The first five chapters especially focus on the work of the apostles in Jerusalem. We note the many miracles that God allowed the apostles to perform. There is even a reference to people being healed when Peter’s shadow passed over them. God caused the number of believers to increase daily. However, all of this popularity did not sit well with the Jewish authorities. After Peter and John healed a man who was crippled from birth, they were arrested and put on trial before the Sanhedrin. They were no longer to speak in the name of Jesus. Peter and John refused to obey. They were released from custody. Now, in the fifth chapter, the apostles were again arrested and ordered not to speak about Jesus. This morning, we are going to look at this portion of Scriptures using Peter’s words as our theme: WE MUST OBEY GOD RATHER THAN PEOPLE! We note that 1. People Want To Suppress The Easter Message. 2. Christians Obey God’s Command To Tell The Full Easter Message.

The Jewish officials had arrested the apostles and put them in jail. No doubt they thought that they had the apostles safely locked away and could expect no more trouble from them. However, we read in verse 19, “During the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out.” They were free to carry on the work of teaching others. The next morning the Sanhedrin sent to the jail for the apostles. They received this report: “We found the jail securely locked, with the guards standing at the doors; but when we opened them, we found no one inside.” (Verse 23) The leaders were puzzled as to what had happened. Is it possible that they even thought of Jesus and his disappearance? They thought that they had Jesus safely out of the way when they had him crucified and even posted a guard at the tomb to make sure that nothing suspicious went on. However, Jesus had disappeared, or so they thought. Now these followers of Jesus had disappeared from a locked jail, with guards keeping watch. Perhaps they did not make the connection, but it is an interesting parallel.

As the Jewish leaders were puzzling over this, another report reached their ears: “Look! The men you put in jail are standing in the temple courts teaching the people.” (Verse 25) The disciples were not cowering behind locked doors any longer. They boldly proclaimed Jesus to others. Now the Jewish leaders sent the captain and his officers to ask the apostles to appear before them. They were not arrested this time, but came having been summoned by the government, which was God’s representative, even though wrong about Jesus.

When they stood before the Sanhedrin, the high priest said to them, “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name. Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.” (Verse 28) You can almost hear the shock in the high priest’s voice, that they would dare to disobey a direct command from the Sanhedrin. The apostles had been told, very clearly, that they were not to speak any more about Jesus.

It is at this point that Peter makes his statement, which has been chosen as the theme for our sermon, “We must obey God rather than human beings!” (Verse 29) Ordinarily, they would have obeyed the government, because they are God’s representatives here on earth. However, when they told the apostles not to speak about Jesus anymore, they had to disobey. Jesus said, very clearly, that they were to be his witnesses to all the world, beginning with Jerusalem.

The Jewish leaders may have been the first to try to suppress the Easter message, though they are hardly the last. Men throughout the ages, even governments, have sought to suppress the message of Christ’s resurrection and what it means for us. In the early Christian church, the Roman government tried to get rid of Christianity. In Dr. Luther’s day, the princes that did not agree with what he was speaking, that a man is saved only through what Christ has done, through no merits of your own, branded Dr. Luther a heretic, so that anyone who saw him would be within their rights to kill him. Many Christians lost their lives in communist Russia, especially while Joseph Stalin was their leader. There are still places in our world where the fullness of the Easter message is not allowed. In countries that are predominantly Muslim, Christianity cannot be spread nor even spoken of.

Suppression of the Easter message is not confined to world governments. You will find people, claiming even to be Bible scholars, who will say that the Easter story is a myth. ‘After all, everyone knows that, when you die, that is the end of it. Perhaps, Jesus really wasn’t dead, but only in a slight coma and the coolness of the tomb woke him.’ Yet, as Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 15:14, “if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” Denying that the resurrection took place means that you are lost forever. Others will say that Jesus did everything necessary for your salvation. All you need to do is to ask Jesus to come into your life. While this sounds good at first, when you look at it critically, you see that you are still called upon to do something for your salvation. You have to make the decision. Scriptures tell us that we cannot make the first step in coming to faith.

In addition, we face pressure to keep our faith silent. There are classrooms where Christian values are looked down on, while things that are contrary to the Bible are not only accepted, but also promoted. This includes things like evolution, situation ethics, homosexuality and the like. Supposedly tolerant, open-minded people can be very vindictive in the face of an uncompromising Christian confession. If you speak up for Christian standards and beliefs, you may be called “narrow-minded,” “bigoted,” or at least “old-fashioned.” There may come a time when we are not allowed to say what the Bible says. Should that happen, then we, as the apostles of old must say, “We must obey God rather than men.”

This means, as Christians, we will want to tell all people the full Easter message. This is exactly what the angel told the apostles to do that night they were led from the jail. We read in verse 20, “Go, stand in the temple courts and tell the people all about this new life.” Note that they were to share the full message, not just parts, not just those sections that people like to hear and make them feel good. Peter obeyed this command before the Sanhedrin. He said in verse 30, “The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead – whom you killed by hanging him on a cross.” Peter did not hesitate to speak the Law to them when he reminded them of the fact that they had been instrumental in putting Jesus to death.

However, Peter does not just nail them with the Law. He, also, spoke the Gospel as he witnessed to the fact that God raised Jesus from the dead. These people, being experts in the Old Testament, had to know that Peter was calling Jesus the promised Messiah. Peter spoke both Law and Gospel, which is the full message of Easter.

The message that we are called on to proclaim is the exact same. Before Jesus ascended into heaven, he sent his Church into all the world with the instructions to teach “everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19) You and I are also to teach everything Jesus has commanded. This means that we are also called to teach the Law in clearest tones. We do not want to soft pedal the demand of God, which is absolute perfection in our thoughts, words and actions. We are to clearly proclaim the consequence of these sins, which is, an eternity of punishment in hell. We want to tell this message to all people. This message is not just for those people who annoy us or that we do not know. We proclaim the Law even to those who are close to us, if they are going against God’s will for their lives. We are even to proclaim this message to what may be our toughest audience, and that is the person that stares back at us from the mirror. I, too, need to be reminded of sin and its consequences, lest I think that in some way or another, I am exempt.

However, as Peter’s words remind us, that is not the full extent of the message. We have the privilege of sharing the Gospel. We can tell others that, what God demanded of us, Jesus did in full. He lived a perfect life for us. He died an innocent death for us to pay for all of our sins. He also rose victoriously from the grave, thereby assuring us that our sins have been completely forgiven, that all of his promises will come true and that one day, if we should die before the end of time, we will rise from the dead. It was just one week ago that we gathered to celebrate the wondrous news that Jesus rose from the dead. However, that message is not just for one day out of the year. It is a fact that we celebrate every day of our lives. It is a fact that we share with others, when we have opportunity. As Christians, out of love for God, we want to proclaim the whole Easter message.

Yes, there will continue to be people who will oppose the Easter message. They will call you foolish for believing such things. They will think you strange for the way that you act because of the Easter message. Do not be surprised at this. People have reacted this way to the Easter message for centuries. In spite of this, we know what we believe. We know it to be true. Empowered by this Easter message and kept by God’s grace, we can go forward and share what we have learned. God help us to be faithful witnesses of the whole Easter message. Amen.