The In-Between Years - Part 26

Series: The In-Between Years

February 07, 2021
Brad Shockley

Episode Notes

The In-Between Years — Part 26

Last week we left Peter and the other apostles in prison. They had prayed for boldness in proclaiming a risen Jesus, and God granted their request as they courageously did just that in Solomon’s portico, a section of the temple in Jerusalem reserved for the rabbis’ teaching. The religious leaders were so upset they threw them in jail. 

I was thinking this morning how they prayed what some call a scary prayer. They are prayers God might answer in a way you don’t care for. Like, “God, give me patience.” But they were up for it. That’s what I love about the early church. 

BTW, never tell God never.

Okay. So they are locked away that night and something miraculous and otherworldly happens…

19 But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, 20 “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life.”  Acts 5:19–20 (ESV)

This in and of itself is something. Few can say they were rescued by an angel, let alone had an angel deliver a word directly to them. Angels are at work behind the scenes for sure, doing things we are unaware of, but to actually get to see one and talk with one. Wow. This will happen again.

The dispatching of an angel in this case is in one sense unsurprising. This is the baby church — peculiar time. These are the apostles, particularly Peter. You might expect God to call out the big guns.

But it’s also a little curious in that the angel brought them out and commanded them to stand and speak in the temple with God knowing they would be arrested again and brought before the council. They would have had to speak before them anyway. If they were going to end up before the council that next morning and then released, why the angel?

These are the kind of questions I like to ask and try to answer. The ones that hide and peek out at you. I’ve been blessed in doing so. But there’s a danger in this that I’ll be the only one blessed. May not be a big deal to you even though it is to me. Like the guy who spent an hour at a mens breakfast describing with glee and wonder how God had worked in his life while I sat there and thought this guy was crazy.

Okay, so let’s humor me and try and figure why send the angel?

I’m just guessing here, but maybe one reason was they needed encouragement. If there’s any place you are going to get down, discouraged, or disheartened, it’s in prison, especially when it’s for doing the right thing. You are isolated. You are at the mercy of the authorities who unjustly put you there. This happened a lot to the early Christians, Christians throughout history, and even our brothers and sisters to this day. This is why the author of Hebrews wrote something we use to support prison ministries in general (which is great) but was originally directed towards believers jailed for their faith…

3 Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.  Hebrews 13:3 (ESV)

This reminds me of someone Luke wrote about in his first volume, his companion to Acts, someone who knew this full well. His name was John, John The Baptist to be exact. He was the prophet sent by God to prepare the way of the Lord, the coming of the long-awaited Messiah.

15 As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ, 16 John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.  Luke 3:14–16 (ESV)

29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!  John 1:29 (ESV)

The Messiah is greater than me,” John said, “so much so I’m, not worth to tie his shoes. And “Jesus is the Messiah.”

So John went about doing exactly what he’d been called to do. Preach righteousness, repentance, and point people to the Messiah, to Jesus, the one who would save them from their sins. It landed him in jail…

18 John used many such warnings as he announced the Good News to the people. 19 John also publicly criticized Herod Antipas, the ruler of Galilee, for marrying Herodias, his brother’s wife, and for many other wrongs he had done. 20 So Herod put John in prison, adding this sin to his many others.  Luke 3:18–20 (NLT)

Shockingly, in Herod’s prison John experienced a crisis of faith. Behind bars John heard about all the incredible things Jesus did, but in chains he wondered if the man from Nazareth was the true Messiah after all…

18 The disciples of John reported all these things to him. And John, 19 calling two of his disciples to him, sent them to the Lord, saying, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” 20 And when the men had come to him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to you, saying, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?’ ”  Luke 7:18–20 (ESV)

What? The same man who said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!”  Now has doubts about him being the real deal? You can’t blame him. He might have thought, “If Jesus were the Messiah, wouldn’t he have protected him from this?”Remember how I told you the Bible gives it to us honest, warts and all? 

We have to resist the temptation to make Bible characters Jedi. They had weaknesses, they had doubts, they even got depressed, just like the rest of us

Maybe in prison that night Peter and the apostles were tempted to waver, to doubt, or get discouraged. They saw miracles and healings and the people respond to the good news of a risen Jesus in big numbers. This was a movement! And then clank went the prison doors behind them. They were at the mercy of the same ones who had crucified Jesus. Would God had brought them so far to just let it all end there?

Maybe they needed a special dose of encouragement. So God sent an angel to release them because it fit into his plans at that time and for that occasion. We’ll learn later God is always with us but he doesn’t always deliver us. That he doesn’t protect us from going to prison, and he doesn’t always get us out, but he’s always with us in the midst of it. John The Baptist didn’t leave that prison alive.

So one reason the angel was sent was maybe to encourage the apostles in a time of doubt. That possibility encourages me.

Another reason may have been to show the council that God really had his hand on these people. You’ll see later on how one fellow picked up on that.

We’ve been learning a lot about the unseen realm of angels and whatnot on Wednesdays. The angel mentioned here was a lower order of heavenly beings that served as God’s messengers. Angel literally means messenger.

Which brings me to another one of those obscure questions probably no one else has asked or even cares to but peeks out at me, begging to be answered.

God obviously sent the angel to release Peter and the apostles from prison with a message: “go stand in the temple and preach.” But what I wonder, was the angel quoting God when he said “all the words of this Life”? Or was that the messenger’s own choice of words? Did God give him the gist and let him say it the way he wanted? And if God did, did the angel call the movement the early church was a part of this Life? 

The way it’s phrased makes me think he did. The way he said it was as if “this Life” was something an angel could understand, something a heavenly being could have a deep affection for, but not experience firsthand. Now some of you may be shaking your heads right now. I could be wrong, probably am, but I do know angels feel that way about the good news of the gospel. Peter writes…

10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, 11 inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. 12 It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.  1 Peter 1:10–12 (ESV)

The word picture there is of someone leaning over into a barrel trying to see what’s at the bottom. Angels long to look into salvation because, as far as we can tell, it was never offered to them. The sins of those heavenly beings who rebelled against God were not dealt with on the cross. It was just for us mortals. And that made the ones like this angel, this messenger who stayed true, all the more fascinated and intrigued that God the Son would not only become one of us but would take our place on the cross, suffering and dying for our rebellion.

I felt kind of good about myself when I realized CH Spurgeon, that Prince of Preachers from a time past, picked up on this a bit I his message on Acts 5:20…

The angel of the Lord opened the prison door and set free the preachers, but might not be a preacher himself. He might give the ministers their charge, but he had no charge to preach himself. Surely the angel who brought them out of prison was quite able to have gone and proclaimed the gospel, and so he might have brought many out of their prison spiritually. But no; it must not be. His commission permits him to say to the apostles, “Go and speak to the people,” but it does not permit him to join in their testimony.

I think that almost with reluctance the angel of the Lord returned to his Master, and left the chosen men to go upon their blessed errand. As our Lord took not on him the nature of angels for man’s redemption, so neither doth he employ the agency of angels for man’s conversion. I feel glad that, in the preaching of the everlasting gospel, angels are not our competitors, at this present time at any rate. “Unto the angels hath he not put in subjection the world to come, whereof we speak.” They are ministering spirits, but they have not received the Holy Spirit anointing them to the ministry of Christ.

So, yeah, I felt kind of good Spurgeon and I were on the same page, and then I remembered the old saying “Even a blind pig finds an acorn every now and then.” I think it was probably more of blind pig finding an acorn thing. But, hey, I found one!

So here’s an angel that’s been around since the beginning of time. He remembered what it was like when God made it all and saw it all and it was good. He probably got to see Eden. He probably watched as mankind was created. Witnessed our rebellion. Was tempted to rebel himself when some higher order angels decided they wanted to be gods themselves. Yet he didn’t. He remained faithful. Then for thousands and thousands of years he observed mankind, watching how we acted, how we lived.

And then, suddenly, there was his boss walking the earth as a man. He watched Jesus’ own reject and crucify him. Saw him come back from the dead in power and glory. Saw him commission those first disciples and go back to where they came from (they being both the angel and Jesus). Saw the church’s birth and growth. Saw those snapshots of what life was like among God’s children under the new covenant (Luke just wrote about them after the fact). It all fascinated him. He longed to learn all he could.

With all that ancient knowledge and experience and wisdom he called what those early Christ-followers were a part of This Life, or you could even say The Life. Surely an angel’s words mean something more so than somebody else’s. That’s why it grabs me.

I think you are stretching it, pastor. 

I may be. Let’s say he did quote God. What if God called him into the throne room and said, “Tell them to speak to the people all the words of this life.” God called it that. Isn’t that even more interesting?

Regardless of whether I’m right or not, I think it’s telling that the angel called what the early church was experiencing This Life. It was as if he was saying there’s life, and then there’s This Life, The Life. My translation of the Bible picks up on that and even capitalizes Life.

In that day like ours people were going about the daily grind. They had families and bills and jobs. They worried about the same things we do. And they found ways to cope with stress, unwind, have fun just like we do. And just like us, there was a general way of life most folks followed. It looked different on the outside sometimes, but on the inside it was the same. 

How many of you have ever looked at the life someone else was living and thought, “Man, they are really enjoying the good life.” And you wanted that? That’s why so many want to come to America. All over the world people see us as living the good life and they want in. Like today, some had it way better than others. Some folks lived a life of ease and luxury that others dreamed of. They lived the good life.

But by calling it The Life, the angel communicated  that even the best life this world has to offer, doesn’t compare. He wanted in on that even, but it wasn’t for him. I think he would have given up all his glory and power to be a part of it.

Here’s the crazy thing. The Life, what those early Christians experienced, was anything but a life of ease and comfort. It made you poorer, not richer. It got you into trouble. It even got you killed. How can The Life be better than the good life if that’s the way it is?

Those living The Life knew a secret. They weren’t just following a code of ethics or embracing a set of ideals.  They weren’t just practicing a belief system. The life that they lived was bound up in the source of life itself…

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men.  John 1:1–4 (ESV)

The Life is living in and by and through the One who invented life. The One who holds all things together. This is why Peter, in his sermon before the council of religious leaders in Acts 3 said…

15 and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses.  Acts 3:15 (ESV)

Living life in and by and through the Author of Life is so different, so radical, so out of the ordinary you have to reclassify what living is. It’s not just life, it’s The Life. Any other life, even the good life, isn’t life at all. The great secret of Christianity is that The Life is bound up in a person, not a philosophy or creed or religion. That’s why Jesus said of himself…

6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.  John 14:6 (ESV)

Conclusion: CS Lewis, in his book Mere Christianity, writes…

But what man, in his natural condition, has not got, is Spiritual life—the higher and different sort of life that exists in God. We use the same word life for both: but if you thought that both must therefore be the same sort of thing, that would be like thinking that the ‘greatness’ of space and the ‘greatness’ of God were the same sort of greatness. In reality, the difference between Biological life and Spiritual life is so important that I am going to give them two distinct names. The Biological sort which comes to us through Nature, and which (like everything else in Nature) is always tending to run down and decay so that it can only be kept up by incessant subsidies from Nature in the form of air, water, food, etc., is Bios. The Spiritual life which is in God from all eternity, and which made the whole natural universe, is Zoe. Bios has, to be sure, a certain shadowy or symbolic resemblance to Zoe: but only the sort of resemblance there is between a photo and a place, or a statue and a man. A man who changed from having Bios to having Zoe would have gone through as big a change as a statue which changed from being a carved stone to being a real man.

And that is precisely what Christianity is about.

Imagine if statues all over the world suddenly came to life and began walking around. We’d go bonkers. That’s what it’s like coming from just plain old life to The Life, Lewis says. That’s exactly why the gospel turns the world on its ear. And that’s exactly what the early church did. That’s what the angel saw. 

I don’t know about you, but when I look at the church these days (and I’m including myself in this), I don’t see too much Zoe. It seems like we are more about Bios. Christianity has become so institutionalized, so denominationalized, so politicized, so normalized it’s become a life but not The Life.

As we continue our journey through the book of Acts, let’s pray that we would be so full of Zoe, so devoted to the Author life, that people would look at us and see such a difference they would start calling Christianity The Life and want to be a part of it.

You know, in a way the angel’s words to Peter and the apostle is a job description for pastors. Go stand behind the pulpit and speak to the people all the words of this life. Blows my mind that that’s what God called me to do. That’s what I’m doing right now. Back to Lewis once more…

Christ is the Son of God. If we share in this kind of life we also shall be sons of God. We shall love the Father as He does and the Holy Ghost will arise in us. He came to this world and became a man in order to spread to other men the kind of life He has… Every Christian is to become a little Christ. The whole purpose of becoming a Christian is simply nothing else.

We’ll leave Peter and the apostles in prison another week. But here’s a question before we close. Which life are you living? Bios (just living and breathing) or Zoe (in relationship with the author of life)? Do you want to keep living just plain old life or would you want to get in on The Life. Here’s the thing about The Life. It’s not just about the here and now. The Life is so powerful, so full of truth and light, it spans this world to the next. In other words, it’s eternal… 

16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.  John 3:16–17 (ESV)

The author of life invites you to take him up on his offer to become one of his sons or daughters to become a little Christ and it’s open to anyone…

13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”  Romans 10:13 (ESV)

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