As we have been studying the book of Acts, much has been said about the work of the Holy Spirit. He was the One who the apostles were told to wait for, and His coming was what inaugurated the new church in Jerusalem in a baptism of divine power. Jesus said in John 16:13-15 “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said that He takes of Mine and will disclose it to you.”
So as we have seen, the Holy Spirit did indeed come in great power and authority, attesting to the truth of God’s word with signs and wonders and miracles. Immediately, the early church saw the result of the Holy Spirit’s power by the fact that thousands of people were saved. The Spirit of Truth convicted men’s hearts upon hearing the truth of the gospel, so that they cried out, “what shall we do?” Upon hearing the message of the apostles the men of Jerusalem’s hearts were cut to the quick with conviction of their sinful condition and they cried out in repentance and faith to be saved. That happened as a result of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and the proclamation of the truth concerning Jesus Christ and His gospel.
Now we know that the devil hates the truth. Jesus said in John 8:44 concerning the devil that “He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” So as the church is being built on the truth of the apostles through the power of the Spirit of Truth, the devil sought to sow lies among the church. To plant tares among the wheat. And we saw the evidence of that in the beginning of chapter 5 with Ananias and Sapphira. Peter accused them of a great sin, the sin of lying to the Holy Spirit. They claimed to be giving all to God, when in fact it was a lie. And Peter said it was not him they were lying to, but they were lying to the Holy Spirit. So God’s judgment fell upon them right in the church and they fell down dead as a warning to everyone, as a warning to those who would subvert the truth of God, either by doctrine or by their life. Because the truth is the foundation of the church. If Satan can shake that, if he can twist that, then it will cause the whole building to tumble.
That is why God desires purity in the church. Truth of doctrine, purity in worship, and purity in the lives of those that claim the name of Jesus. As Paul said in 2Cor. 7:1 “Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” God saved us to be holy, to be purified from the defilement of flesh and spirit, that we might complete holiness in the fear of the Lord as we walk in the world, so that we might be a testimony to the world of the power of God to transform sinners into saints. That was the testimony that the early church had in Jerusalem. And that was why the church was growing and people were being added to the church daily.
So then as a result of the purifying power of the Holy Spirit, the church is strengthened in the truth and made even more effective in evangelizing the world. But at the same time, the truth is at war with the devil’s lie. And in the remainder of chapter 5, we see this battle between truth and the lie played out in the church, through the persecution of the church. We are going to see in this chapter five consequences of truth as it is employed by this young church in evangelism.
First of all, let’s look at the authentication of the truth. Starting in vs. 12, “At the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were taking place among the people; and they were all with one accord in Solomon’s portico. But none of the rest dared to associate with them; however, the people held them in high esteem. And all the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to their number, to such an extent that they even carried the sick out into the streets and laid them on cots and pallets, so that when Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on any one of them. Also the people from the cities in the vicinity of Jerusalem were coming together, bringing people who were sick or afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all being healed.”
In order to authenticate the truth that the apostles were preaching, God granted special power to the apostles to do signs and wonders. These were uneducated, unqualified men in the eyes of the people. They were preaching a gospel that was foreign to the hearers who were steeped in Judaism. And so God verified that the word that they were preaching was from God by signs and wonders. This was particularly the distinction of an apostle. Paul said in 2Cor. 12:12 “The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles.” That was the distinction of the ministry of a true apostle. They were sent by Christ to be His representatives, to speak His gospel, and so He gave them authenticating signs.
That is what the writer of Hebrews says was the purpose of signs and wonders as well. Heb. 2:3-4 “After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will.” So God testified that the word they were speaking was from Him by miraculous signs.
Throughout all of Bible history, God authenticated the message of His prophets and apostles by signs and wonders, to signify a new era, a new revelation of His word. In Exodus, Moses was given signs and wonders to authenticate that he spoke from God. In the same way, Elijah and Elisha were given the power of signs and wonders to inaugurate the new era of the prophets. Jesus Christ went about healing and working miracles as validation of His ministry that He was sent from God and teaching the words of God. And so in the beginning of a new era, the age of the church, God gave the apostles the same ministry, the same miracle working power so that people would recognize them as being of Christ and that He might validate their gospel as the truth of God. Because the doctrine of the apostles was to be the foundation of the church. It would form the truth that would be written down as Scripture, which is the foundation that the church would be built upon. So God verified it, validated it, and authenticated it by miracles.
However, it was a limited dispensation. As we go on to the latter parts of the book of Acts, there is a fading away of the ministry of miracles. Here in chapter 5, multitudes are being healed. All were being healed. But by the end of Acts, physical healing is no longer the means by which the Holy Spirit authenticates the gospel. The scriptures which have been written by that time are the means that the Spirit authenticates teachers. We don’t always see everyone healed in the latter parts of Acts. We don’t see everyone delivered from prison in the latter parts of Acts. But rather we see apostles dying for the faith, imprisoned and left there to die by the hands of their persecutors. We see people get sick and not always healed. And so it is a special dispensation, a special gift that was given to the apostles and a few other select ministers of their ilk, for the purpose of authenticating the truth of their message for a limited time and a specific purpose.
But even today, though we may not have the power given to the apostles to heal or do miracles, yet the greatest miracle of all is still in full effect as a means of authenticating the truth of our doctrine. And that is the miracle of a transformed life. The conversion of a lost sinner into a child of God is the greatest miracle of all, and one that mere physical healing could only allude to. God is the same, yesterday, today and forever. He still has the power to heal. And God still heals. But do not be deceived, there are no more apostles. We saw earlier that apostles had to be witnesses of the teaching of Christ and His resurrection. So do not be deceived by those false prophets that claim to have the gift of healing, or worse yet, that say you can be healed of any disease if you just have enough faith. Jesus and the apostles raised dead people to life, who had no faith whatsoever. God does the healing, not men. So today, we validate the truth of preachers by the scriptures, not by claims of signs and wonders.
Secondly, we see the attack on the truth. As I said earlier, Satan hates the truth. And in this case, he makes a frontal attack. He works through the religious establishment, the high priest and the Council, who are jealous of the apostle’s power and results and the fact that the entire city was galvanized by their message. And their envy provokes their attack on the truth – they have the apostles arrested and put in jail.
The religious establishment was offended at the truth. The gospel is by design offensive, and so self righteous people will be offended when you tell them that they are sinners. So they locked the Apostles up, to try to shut up the truth. But the truth will not be silenced. God sent an angel to let them out. It’s ironic that God sent an angel to let the apostles out of the prison. The high priests and the Council were comprised of Sadducees, who did not believe in the resurrection, nor a spirit, nor an angel. So God sent an angel, so that the apostles could continue preaching the resurrection. It’s also ironic that the attack was meant to stop miracles from occurring, and in fact it caused another miracle. Satan’s attack backfired. It produced a miracle that could not be denied.
In the morning, the gates were still locked, the guards were still at the door, but the apostles were not there. When they could not find them, some one came and told them that the apostles were right back in the temple preaching again. “Then the captain went along with the officers and proceeded to bring them back without violence (for they were afraid of the people, that they might be stoned).” Satan can attack the church, but as Christ said, the gates of hell will not prevail against it. God can use even that which is hateful for His good, to further the truth.
Thirdly, we see the affirmation of the truth. It’s very interesting to me that when the angel set them free he gave them a divine charge; “Go, stand and speak to the people in the temple the whole message of this Life.” The apostles were a living demonstration of the principle that Jesus taught in John 8:32 “and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”
It’s also interesting that when they received that charge, they did not hesitate. They did not put it off for a more convenient day. But they started preaching in the temple at daybreak. Wow! And here I was thinking that 8am was too early for Sunday mornings. Perhaps we need to start earlier. But seriously, the apostles recognized the urgency of the message. What opportunities to witness are lost because we fail to realize the urgency of the gospel message to a dying world.
But when they are brought back to the court of the Council, this is where the apostles have a chance to change their message. But they do not. If anything, the power of God to rescue them from prison has emboldened them even more to affirm the message that they have been preaching is the truth, and they cannot change it, and they cannot stop doing it. They say that they had to obey God rather than men. Whether it is accepted or not, whether it is even legal or not, will not impact their message.
Peter had already indicted the leaders for killing Jesus in chapter 4:10. Now he even more boldly affirms that Jesus had been raised from the dead by God, and exalted into heaven. This to men who did not believe in a resurrection.
The words Peter uses to describe this exalted Jesus is a Prince and a Savior. We should all be familiar with the meaning of Savior, but the word Prince bears further scrutiny. It means “a pioneer, one who leads the way, an originator.” Jesus is the pioneer of life. He was the first born of the dead. But He was also the pioneer who leads us in the walk of faith, walking in the Spirit, walking according to the Word of God. Hebrews 2:10 calls Jesus the Pioneer, or the Author of our salvation. Our salvation is not an ending point, it is the birth point. It is not a parking lot, but a launching pad as we follow in the footsteps of Christ. In Heb. 12:2 Jesus is called the author, the Prince of our faith. In other words, He leads us into paths which test our faith and cause it to grow, to lead us into righteousness for His name sake. He leads us into maturity in our faith.
Also notice that Peter’s affirmation of the truth speaks of the need of repentance which God has granted to those that submit to the Lordship of Christ. And that repentance brings about the forgiveness of sins. Faith and repentance, are the keystones of salvation. But be sure of something, while faith is believing in the knowledge of the truth, repentance is acting on that knowledge in obedience by turning from sin. Vs. 32, “And we are witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him.” They are witnesses of the truth, the Holy Spirit is a witness to the truth, and He is given to those who are obedient to the truth that they might be a witness. The witness is we once walked according to the lusts of the flesh, now we walk according to the truth of the Spirit.
Eph 2:1 “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.” But then contrast that with the walk of faith in vs. 8 “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” Faith is always yoked with obedience.
Fourthly, we see as the consequence of preaching the truth some avoiding the truth. The temple and the Council was controlled by the Sadducees, but the Pharisees were respected and honored by the people. And there is a Pharisee there present in the Council who is so widely respected that he is able to affect their decision and preserve the leaders position with the people. Gamaliel was the foremost teacher of the Pharisee. And by the way, he was Paul’s teacher.
But though his counsel was accepted, it was not wise. On the surface, his advice sounds good. But when examined it reveals that he had rejected Jesus as the Messiah, but had lumped him along with the false Messiahs. He also assumed that if something fails then it is not of God, or conversely, if something succeeds, then it is of God. That is man’s wisdom. It is not the wisdom of God. From their perspective, Jesus had failed because He had been crucified. From their perspective, Christianity would fail, because it was dispersed in the coming persecution. Mark Twain once said in a bit of wisdom, that a lie runs around the world while the truth is still putting on it’s shoes. False religion does not lack for disciples and missionaries and evangelists. False teachers often have successful enterprises called churches. But worldly success is no indication of the truth of the gospel.
But the most foolish advice given by Gamaliel was to do nothing. To take a wait and see attitude. To try to remain neutral. And this is exactly the devil’s strategy used to keep so many people on their way to hell. Satan urges them to find a neutral position with God, neither too involved in Christianity, or too much against it. Accept the likeable parts, but don’t adhere to the sticky parts, in effect, avoid making a real commitment. And that is a damnable attitude. Jesus said in Matt. 12:30 “He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me scatters.” One day every man or woman will give an account of what they did with Jesus. And they that will not bow the knee now, will bow their knee then, but it will be too late for their salvation. They will mourn when they see Him who they had pierced.
Gamaliel was a very smart man. He knew the Scriptures back and forth. He was very well respected as a religious leader. He had a great audience of admirers. And yet his counsel was to avoid the truth, and so he condemned his soul and theirs to hell by his wisdom. Beware of religious leaders who sound convincing, and yet their doctrine is not backed up by sound doctrine based on the whole counsel of God, or as the angel said, the whole message of this life. For whoever rejects the truth is dead even while he yet lives.
One final effect of the truth was the apostles continuing to announce the truth. Rather than the persecution shutting the apostles up, it caused them to be even more bold in preaching the gospel. Peter’s message so angered the Council that they were cut to the quick, and wanted to kill them. But God used the foolishness of Gamaliel to cause the Council to let the apostles go free. However, not without scourging them. In vs. 40 we read that they flogged the apostles and told them not to preach any more in His name and they released them.
But notice in vs. 41 the apostles response to that flogging. “So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name.” Wow. I wish that could be said of me when I am reviled for the message that I preach. I must confess that it is often not rejoicing that comes out of my mouth when I am attacked. I wonder how you would measure up? I think the problem for most of us is that we might recognize the apostles’ flogging as persecution, but when trials come against us, we often fail to recognize it as such. We respond as if it were only flesh and blood. We fail to recognize that Satan is the instigator behind many attacks perpetrated through flesh and blood. But instead of recognizing it as demonic, we see a coworker, or a relative, or a friend or a neighbor. And we forget that we wrestle not against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers that work through the flesh of fallen men and women.
Someone once said, that the purpose of life is to glorify God as we go through trials which build character as we are obedient to the truth. Therefore we should rejoice in persecution or in trials. James said “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
I must confess that if I would have been there with the apostles I would have rejoiced when I was released from prison by the angel. That would have been pretty cool and validated my sense of self worth. But I would have had a hard time understanding why I had to undergo flogging. And let me tell you, flogging is not like getting a spanking when you were a kid. Flogging is being stripped of your clothes and being beaten with a bull whip until your back and legs are ripped to shreds. And they rejoiced that they were considered worthy to suffer in such a way for Christ. That alone was a testimony to the world, to see these men who had been beaten to a pulp come out of there praising God for it.
Persecution and threats and whippings did not make the Apostles quit, but it only served to make them even more bold. They were witnessing daily, preaching daily in the temple and from house to house. They used every opportunity to announce the good news of Jesus Christ. DL Moody once said, “the more we use the means and opportunities that we have, the more will our ability and our opportunities be increased.”
Listen, when we come to know the truth, and learn obedience to the truth from the things we suffer, even as Christ did, then we will not be quitters. The apostles weren’t quitters. Everyone of these men save John would eventually die as a martyr for the truth. Some of them would be burned alive. Some would be hung on a cross upside down. Some would be cast from the roof of the temple and stoned. Some would be beheaded. Almost all of them would be imprisoned and beaten many times. But the truth would make them free indeed. Paul spent a large part of his ministry in chains, and yet the word was unchained. The written words of Paul have had more impact than he could ever have had by simply preaching from town to town. God’s ways are not our ways. God has chosen the weak things to confound the mighty.
It’s amazing to me that God did not use angels as the soul ministers of His gospel. I mean why does He deign to use men? Why not just give the ministry of the gospel to His tried and true angels? They have immense power. They are not weak in flesh as we are. Certainly the world would pay attention to an angel speaking from a chariot of fire. But God in His wisdom has chosen man. He chose man to be the way that Christ would come into the world, to be born as a man and suffer as a man. He chose the lowliest of people, fishermen from Galilee, uneducated, rough men, to be His apostles, to carry the message of His gospel throughout the world. Why?
Because men can support their message by their experience and angels cannot. We were depraved, lost sinners when God redeemed us and changed us. We were weak in the flesh and now we have been made alive in the Spirit. We had no interest in God, now we are children of God and do His will. We have a living testimony that angels can never have. Because angels are not redeemed, angels are not converted. But we are. And so we must begin to praise Jesus by our words and our life, while we still are in this life, that we might serve to bring others to Christ.
God used men, not angels to spread the gospel. He may have used angels to release the apostles, but he uses men to preach the gospel. Jesus did not take the form of an angel to perform redemption, but He took the form of a man. In order that redeemed, transformed man should be the utility by which God transforms the world. It is a ministry committed to committed men and women. We too are sinners, but saved by grace and transformed into saints. God has chosen you to be His instrument for bringing the gospel to the world. That God should use man to be such a sacred testament to His power to save must be a blow to satanic pride. The use of feeble men brings glory to God in a way that angels could never do.
1Cor. 6:19 tells us, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.” This is the announcement of the truth of Christ’s gospel. Your life glorifies God. You are not your own, but you are bought with a price. Your life is not your own. You are the temple of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth. Now then, hear the charge of the angel of God to you today, “Go, stand boldly and speak to the people all the words of this life.” The people of this world are perishing for a lack of knowledge. We have the truth, and God has sent us to proclaim it to the world. I urge you to not neglect this great commission that God has entrusted you with. “Go, stand boldly and speak to the people all the words of this life.”