Acts 5:27-42

When they had brought them, they had them stand before the council. The high priest questioned them, saying, “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are determined to bring this man’s blood on us.”

But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than any human authority. The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.” When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them.

But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, respected by all the people, stood up and ordered the men to be put outside for a short time. Then he said to them, “Fellow Israelites, consider carefully what you propose to do to these men. For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him; but he was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and disappeared. After him Judas the Galilean rose up at the time of the census and got people to follow him; he also perished, and all who followed him were scattered. So in the present case, I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone; because if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them—in that case you may even be found fighting against God!”

They were convinced by him, and when they had called in the apostles, they had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. As they left the council, they rejoiced that they were considered worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name. And every day in the temple and at home they did not cease to teach and proclaim Jesus as the Messiah. Acts 5:27-42

In the 5th chapter of Acts, Peter and the other apostles are in the temple courtyard helping people. Acts tells us that people are being healed and many are coming to faith in Jesus. In other words, they are doing things that make the religious leaders jealous. And angry. So the chief priest orders all of the apostles arrested and thrown into jail. But, in the night, an angel of the Lord unlocked the prison doors and the apostles head right back to do what they had gotten in trouble for doing. And once again, they were rounded up and brought before the authorities. That is where the verses for today pick up the story.

Peter tells the high priest why they are doing what they are doing – and in that, Peter tells us as well. “We must obey God rather than any human authority. The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things.”

That right there is a pretty good job description for a disciple of Jesus. And it just might get us into trouble once in awhile. As citizens we have a duty and an obligation to follow the laws of the land. But when following the laws of the land would run counter to God’s higher authority in our lives, we are free to resist the laws of the land. And to suffer the consequences of our resistance.

The trouble is, who is to say what laws are to be followed and what laws are to be resisted? I’m reminded of an attempt here in Houston to shut down the outdoor feeding stations where lots of congregations brought food to homeless people. Congregations vocally resisted and were willing to break whatever new rules were put in place. The city leaders changed their minds. Other Christians might have felt differently. In the end, we all have to make up our own minds about such matters.

But seldom are we put in the position where our resistance to the authorities might end up in our deaths – unlike Peter and the others. The religious leaders were so angry they wanted to kill them right then and there. But then came the voice of Gamaliel. He urged caution. If what they were doing was not of God, it would fail. If it was of God, no one could stop it. Gamaliel’s argument won the day. Good for Peter and the others and good for us.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, jealousy is a dangerous emotion for us. So is cowardice. Give us the courage to risk the consequences of standing up for what we believe is right and the humility to admit when we are wrong. Thank you for the brave witness of Peter and all those who have gone before us. Those who persevered in the face of all the forces of evil. You are always the highest authority in our lives. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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