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. 35And he said to them, “Men of Israel, take care what you are about to do with these men. 36For 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. 37After 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. 38So 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; 39but 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, 40and 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. 41Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. 42And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus. -Acts 5:34-42
The apostles remained in Jerusalem for some time after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Before Jesus ascended into heaven, he gave the disciples a plan: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). The disciples took that plan seriously and began work in Jerusalem. Within weeks the number of believers swelled to over 5,000 (Acts 4:4).
The Jewish authorities were livid. They had arranged Jesus’ crucifixion in order to stop his message from spreading and in order to scatter his band of followers. That evil ploy didn’t work. Now there were more believers than ever, and in their preaching the apostles routinely laid the responsibility of Jesus’ crucifixion on the Jewish leadership.
So the leadership had the apostles arrested, but the Sanhedrin (the supreme court of the Jews) could not agree on how to handle the growing church. Council member Gamaliel, a famous rabbi, gave excellent advice: “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; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!”
Grudgingly following Gamaliel’s advice, the council brought the apostles out, had them beaten, and charged them NOT to speak in the name of Jesus. Then they let them go.
And what was the reaction of the apostles? “Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.”
The apostles, beaten bloody for preaching about Christ, left the council rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name of Christ! Oh, how we could use that same spirit! Why were they rejoicing? Their imprisonment and beatings were testimony to the fact that the Gospel was working. They had the full attention of the entire city. Jesus had earlier warned, “I come not to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34). Wherever the Gospel is effectively preached, two results follow. Some hear and believe. Wicked men hear and get angry and go about trying to stop it. The disciples took their mistreatment as a sure sign that the Gospel was working. Like a plow turning up the soil, and all the bugs and worms are exposed to the light so that they furiously scramble and run, so the Gospel exposes the hearts of men, and the wicked scramble in fury as they are exposed to the light.
“ As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, 11 so is my Word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:10,11).
So when you share the Gospel and someone reacts badly, or when you receive ridicule, rejoice with the apostles that you were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name of Christ! And know that the Gospel is still powerful and effective, and it will not return without having God’s desired effect.
God give us the spirit of the first apostles, who rejoiced in their wounds that they were counted worthy to suffer for the name of Christ. Help us not to be afraid of opposition or rejection, knowing that your powerful word will not return to you empty, but will accomplish what you desire. Amen.