There are people who, if you did not know, would think they are believers in the Lord Jesus because of what they say. They are sensible and make sense. They are knowledgeable and share knowledge. They have this cunning knack of saying the right things at the right time. Gamaliel was such a man … deeply religious, deeply knowledgeable, although history tells us his view and grasp of Old Testament Law was rather lenient compared to other Jewish Religious Teachers. Maybe this is why he raised his voice with authority in chapter 5:36-39 (especially verses 38-39). What He said made sense. It was logical. It was insightful … and without knowing it, he inadvertently assisted the Christian Church to overcome its first major hurdle. Join me as we read on:
Ac 5:40 His speech persuaded them. They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 41 The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. 42 Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ.
1) The Sanhedrin were persuaded by Gamaliel. This exposes the tension between the Pharisees and Sadducees theologically and perhaps more, both parties doubled their own theological position as to whether Jesus and His Gospel were from God or not. It is possible that theological cracks were appearing because we know some of the members of the Sanhedrin became followers of Jesus. Two examples are …
Jn 3:1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2 He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God.”
(b) Joseph of Arimathea.
Lk 23:50 Now there was a man named Joseph, a member of the Council, a good and upright man, 51 who had not consented to their decision and action. He came from the Judean town of Arimathea and he was waiting for the kingdom of God. 52 Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body. 53 Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen cloth and placed it in a tomb cut in the rock, one in which no one had yet been laid.
Others followed. What Gamaliel said made good sense … but what the apostles said (the Gospel) made better sense. The difference between the two were the New Birth. Once the New Birth is enjoyed, knowledge of Biblical facts grows into wisdom. This is why from the simplest (the least educated) to the most clever (the most educated), when hearing the Gospel and the Spirit grants grace, faith is exercised. You see, the most sensible news is the Gospel … it is indeed Good News.
2) The Sanhedrin could not be seen to be weak! They were the spiritual leaders. Even though the Romans were the de facto leaders, the people looked to the Sanhedrin for political leadership because everything in Judaism was tied up to their religious law. This being said, they recalled the apostles and did three things.
(1) They flogged them. This was most likely the 40 lashes minus 1 (39) based upon
Dt 25:2 If the guilty man deserves to be beaten, the judge shall make him lie down and have him flogged in his presence with the number of lashes his crime deserves, 3 but he must not give him more than forty lashes. If he is flogged more than that, your brother will be degraded in your eyes.
The Sanhedrin or the officials from the local synagogue could administer such whippings if it was determined that the Jewish Law was violated. The whip was made out of calfskin, used on the upper body. One third was administered on the breast whilst the other two thirds on the back. The offender stood in a bowed position with the punisher on a stone. “As the blows were given so a recital of admonitory and consolatory verses from Scripture were recited.” (www.jweishvirtuallibrary.org).
(2) They issued another warning. Once again they were instructed not to speak in the name of Jesus anymore. This was more like a court imposing an injunction upon a person not to do something. In the apostles case it was a permanent injunction. In modern times, when someone disobeys an injunction from the court they are guilty of contempt. The force of the verse is lost in translation as the word “ordered” does not appear to be as severe as it ought.
(3) They were sent on their way. “Let them go” means they were released from being “arrested”. They were now free to go. These were our fore-father of the faith. As Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were to the Hebrews, the apostles are to the Christian Church. Why did they endure such persecution? Because they believed in God’s Rescue Plan with all their hearts. They were prepared to die for the faith. Are you? Am I?
3) The apostles obeyed God fully.
(1) There was rejoicing. Why were they rejoicing? Because they had been … counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. Suffering disgrace refers to them being flogged. They were a public spectacle. But note … the reason for them being flogged was Jesus. They preached the Gospel and they were forbidden to do so but they declared their preaching obedience to God! Understand these apostles … they clearly understood what Jesus went through for them. He set the example and before He did He told them they too would suffer for the Gospel. It’s all about standing for the Name … of Jesus. They rejoiced because their suffering was for their Eternal King. It was their pleasure. Would you follow them … would I … or would we run, hide or be a Judas?
(2) When disobeying your leaders is approved by God. The Sanhedrin ordered an injunction upon them not to teach about Jesus (in His Name) and they defied them because God told them to preach and they did. Fighting, killing or other evil deeds are forbidden … but preaching the Gospel is right, even when banned! Would you?
(3) No place and no time where out of bounds for them to preach the Gospel. Read verse 42 … under the Sanhedrin’s noses; amongst every Jew … everyone heard. O how we need such boldness. When we have it the world will be revolutionized as crowds flock to be saved.
Gracious Father, grant Your Church such Gospel boldness. Amen.