The In-Between Years - Part 29

Series: The In-Between Years

March 07, 2021
Brad Shockley

Episode Notes

The In-Between Years - Part 29

We left Peter and the apostles in a precarious position last week. They had spoken the words of this Life — preached the gospel — to the council of religious leaders in Jerusalem. Here’s how they responded…

33 When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them.  Acts 5:33 (ESV)

I’m not gonna lie. The situation does not look good for our guys here. This is same gang who crucified Jesus. No doubt they would have suffered the same fate or something like it if not for one rogue council member…

34 But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in honor by all the people, stood up and gave orders to put the men outside for a little while. Acts 5:34 (ESV) 

A religious leader named Gamaliel puts the brakes on. Luke records his name because he was a super-famous and popular rabbi, so much so he is attested to outside the biblical record. An ancient rabbinical writing said of him, “When Rabban Gamaliel the elder died, the glory of the law ceased and purity and abstinence died”[1]

One NT scholar explains that he…

…knew the law forwards, backwards, inside out and upside down, and taught it to all who would sit at his feet—including, as we shall see, Saul of Tarsus (see 22:3). At this stage there were two great schools of interpretation of the law, which had been pioneered by the famous teachers of the generation before the time of Jesus, Shammai and Hillel. Shammai always tended to take the hard line, politically as well as in strict legal application: one had to be zealous for the law in all possible ways, and if that meant using violence against those who broke the law or questioned it, so be it… Hillel, however, had taken a different line. What God wants is for Israel to keep his law. Since that is a matter of the heart, we don’t need to fight people to establish it. We will follow God’s law, but we will let other people do what they think is right. Live and let live.

Gamaliel was, clearly, a follower of Hillel…[2]

Even though he was a Pharisee — the group Jesus clashed with the most over matters of the Law — Gamaliel was known to show some lenience when it came to Sabbath commands, such as how far you could travel on the day of rest.[3] His wisdom is evident in what he advised…

35 And he said to them, “Men of Israel, take care what you are about to do with these men. 36 For before these days Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. 37 After him Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him. He too perished, and all who followed him were scattered. Acts 5:35–37 (ESV)

These uprisings also are mentioned outside the testimony of Scripture. In the works of Josephus, an ancient Jewish historian, these accounts are corroborated, one especially so. Judas the Galilean was a Jew who became enraged at the unjust taxation the Romans levied on his people. So he led a revolt that gained traction until the Roman army brutally quenched it.

Gamaliel continues…

38 So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; 39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” So they took his advice,  Acts 5:38–39 (ESV)

If they aren’t of God they’ll come to nothing just like Theudas and Judas. If they are, you couldn’t stop them if you tried. The Sanhedrin couldn’t argue with that. So instead of killing them, look at verse 40…

40 and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.  Acts 5:40 (ESV)

The council decides to charge them once again regarding the words of this Life; they were forbidden to speak in the name of Jesus. This isn’t the first time. Back in Acts 4:15…

15 But when they had commanded them to leave the council, they conferred with one another, 16 saying, “What shall we do with these men? For that a notable sign has been performed through them is evident to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. 17 But in order that it may spread no further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.” 18 So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, 20 for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” 21 And when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way to punish them, because of the people, for all were praising God for what had happened. 22 For the man on whom this sign of healing was performed was more than forty years old.  Acts 4:15–22 (ESV)

What makes this different is what they enforce their command with, a beating, also known as a scourging. The council’s power to carry out this punishment goes back to the OT Law…

1 “If there is a dispute between men and they come into court and the judges decide between them, acquitting the innocent and condemning the guilty, 2 then if the guilty man deserves to be beaten, the judge shall cause him to lie down and be beaten in his presence with a number of stripes in proportion to his offense. 3 Forty stripes may be given him, but not more, lest, if one should go on to beat him with more stripes than these, your brother be degraded in your sight.  Deuteronomy 25:13 (ESV)

By the time of Jesus they had limited the stripes to thirty-nine to make sure they didn’t go over forty and break the law. One Bible scholar gives us more detail:

The text does not say whether [their beating] was with the maximum of 39 stripes prescribed by Jewish law… or with fewer stripes. The lashing consisted of striking the victim’s bare skin with a tripled strip of calf’s hide. The victim received two blows to the back, then one to the chest. Thus each cycle had to be divisible by three, which explains the maximum limit of 39—one less than the 40 prescribed in Deut. 25:3.[4]

It was both physically and emotionally painful, intended to bring humiliation as well as injury. This is one of those verses we tend to skim over because the one following it — as you’ll see — is so impactful. But slow down and think about what they endured first. Stripped bare and lashed to a pole they were slowly beaten, whether one at a time or altogether I don’t know. It would have been public. The same ones who had seen them preaching in the temple at daybreak saw them suffering at the hands of the mighty council. 

Put yourself in their place. Only then can you experience the power and conviction of how they responded…

41 Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. Acts 5:41 (ESV)

Okay. Now stop and let that sink in. You’ve got to wonder. Why did they rejoice? I might understand endure. But they not only endured, they REJOICED! Now that doesn’t make sense at all. Until you realize they rejoiced first because…

Jesus rejoiced to suffer for them

The writer of Hebrews wrote this to Christians suffering terribly for following Jesus…

1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.  Hebrews 12:1–3 (ESV)

Note verse 2:

2 … for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.  Hebrews 12:2 (ESV)

The joy that was set before him? What joy? One pastor explains…

When he was in heaven and the question is, “Should you come to earth? Should you brave this? Should you make yourself mortal and vulnerable? Should you face infinite pain?” and the answer is “Yes, because of the joy,” what joy did he not have in heaven that he can only have on the far side of all that suffering? What was he looking at? You say, “He was trying to obey his Father.” Well, he already had that joy.

The only possible joy he could have been looking at that he wouldn’t have had unless he went through suffering was us. He thought of redeeming us. He thought of saving us. He thought of loving us.[5]

That’s the Jesus they followed. That’s the Jesus they knew. A savior that found irresistible joy in suffering for those who would follow him.

Imagine what it would have been like as a Jew getting to walk with that kind of leader, to be a part of his company. Peter and the apostles who were there, like all Jews at that time, thought the Messiah would overthrow the Roman government and set up his kingdom right then, restoring his people to their proper place as God’s chosen. They were’t wrong, it’s just that their timing was off.

The Messiah would do those things, the second time around. The first time, though, he came not to rule but serve, not to overthrow but give his life as a ransom for many, not to display his glory and might but suffer and be humiliated. They didn’t know that yet when he hung upon a Roman cross. They thought it was all over. Jesus must not have been who he seemed to be.

That is, until he came back from the dead. He really was the Messiah, God’s son. He really was their hero, but a hero unlike any hero known before or after. A hero able to live the life they should have lived by fulfilling the whole of God’s law. A hero willing to lay down his glory, a hero willing to be cursed so others wouldn’t have to be, a hero willing to suffer in someone’s place. A hero willing to die the death they should have died by hanging on a cross. A hero so powerful he overcame death.

Now you want to be like your hero. Like I wanted to be Spiderman when I was six-years-old. I wanted to put on his suit and go take out bad guys. I wanted to be like him. I wanted to do what he did. 

In a way, suffering for Christ’s sake is like putting on your Spidey suit and fighting crime, but it’s not fantasy; It’s real. It’s not glorious but humbling. It’s the way you live like the hero of all heroes, Jesus.

This is why many who profess Christ fall away, revealing they really never knew him. When the suffering comes, when the humiliation comes, they don’t rejoice, they run. These are the ones Jesus referred to in his parable of the four soils…

13 And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away.  Luke 8:13 (ESV) 

Peter and the apostles rejoiced at their suffering not only because Jesus rejoiced to suffer for them, but also because…

They had been given the honor to suffer for Jesus

Jesus said…

22 “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! 23 Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.  Luke 6:22–23 (ESV) 

And Peter said…

13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.  1 Peter 4:13–14 (ESV)

And Paul said…

8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,  Philippians 3:810 (ESV)

One commentator wrote:

The apostles have an amazing reaction. Their backs and chests raw and bloody from the terrible beating, instead of being bedridden and filled with sorrow, they leave “rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.” Nothing could show their spiritual depth more than this. The actual goal of flogging was not pain but shame, to disgrace the person and change their behavior accordingly. It had the opposite effect here. They considered this a “participation in his sufferings” (Phil 3:10) and were thrilled at the privilege. Persecution was a great honor because they were sharing in a new level of his messianic work (Luke 6:22–23). To the unbelievers they suffered dishonor, but the opposite was actually true because God deemed them “worthy” to suffer this shame on behalf of Christ.[6]

Conclusion: I can’t help but ask myself if I’d rejoice to suffer for Jesus. I’m not going pretend I have a solid answer. I’d like to think I would. But see I’ve come up in a culture and country where true suffering for faith isn’t really known. Not like what we see here. What we will see throughout Acts. What we’ve seen throughout history. And even what we see in a large part of the world today.

It’s hard for me to imagine being arrested and beaten just for speaking the words of this Life. But many will say, it’s coming! It won’t be long. It starts with making you wear a mask and then before you know it the antichrist is knocking at your door. I might be a little facetious there. Sorry.

Seriously. Suffering and being persecuted for our faith is on the minds of many Christians in our nation right now. Recent events have intensified that. And there’s been a pushback among our tribe to make America a God-honoring nation again. To keep our rights and freedoms in regards to religion safe. I get that. I truly do. I want that. I do. But I look at what we see here (and all of the NT) and it makes me step back from that a bit…

41 Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.  Acts 5:41 (ESV)

I may be wrong on this but is it possible that these efforts to guard our freedoms as Christians that we think honor God may actually from his perspective be us saying to him we aren’t willing to suffer dishonor for his name? That we are above that. That scares me.

I probably need to stop there. 

How did this effect their ministry effectiveness? Surely it shit it down, right?

42 And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.  Acts 5:42 (ESV)

Somehow they were able to not miss a beat even in the midst of such a hostile environment, one that gets even more so in just a bit.

Last thing. You know I’m not going to end a message without giving you opportunity to do something about it. See, I’ve just spoken the words of this Life. I’ve just shared with you how Jesus, our hero, our leader and savior, rejoiced to suffer for you. How he came to live the life you should have lived and died the death you should have died.

I want you to know he offers that to you like a gift. You receive that gift by taking him up on his offer through faith…

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

[1] Chilton, B. (1992). Gamaliel (Person). In D. N. Freedman (Ed.), The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (Vol. 2, p. 904). New York: Doubleday.

[2] Wright, T. (2008). Acts for Everyone, Part 1: Chapters 1-12 (pp. 94–95). London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 2091). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[5] Keller, T. J. (2013). The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive, 2012-2013. New York: Redeemer Presbyterian Church.

[6] Osborne, G. R. (2019). Acts: Verse by Verse (p. 117). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

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