“But the high priest rose up, along with all his associates (that is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with jealousy. They laid hands on the apostles and put them in a public jail. But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the gates of the prison, and taking them out he said, ‘Go, stand and speak to the people in the temple the whole message of this Life.’ Upon hearing this, they entered into the temple about daybreak and began to teach.” (Acts 5:17-21a).
The high priest, a Sadducee, who denied the resurrection and other key tenets of the gospel, “rose up,” that is, he stood up quite literally. At the same time, he did so resolutely as he and his associates were “filled with jealousy.” The word translated jealousy can mean fervent zeal, but here it carries the punitive connotation of belligerent envy. Then again, he rose in opposition to the gospel.
Motivated by rage, and not by love for God or His Word, the Sadducees seized the apostles and put them “in a public jail.” A public prison may have been for those accused of crimes, such as civil unrest, which was certainly among the charges brought against the early Christians everywhere. It’s ironic that the religious leaders thought the joy that people had found in Christ was unrest. They weren’t rioting or burning buildings or robbing stores or breaking into homes or assaulting anyone. No, they were selling properties and giving money to the church to meet the needs of people. Instead, the authorities abused their position to impose their own biases on the new Christians. Perhaps they thought that, if the Christians would practice the same kind of violent bigotry as the Sadducees, the world would be a better place.
In an act of divine irony, God sent an angel to release the apostles, who told them to “stand and speak to the people in the temple the whole message of this Life.” So, they rose in obedience to the sovereign Lord who saved them and began to teach the message of Christ, that is, the gospel.
The gospel that the apostles taught was simple, straightforward, and clearly about Christ. They offered no steps to a happier, easier, wealthier life now. They simply proclaimed Christ, God the Son, crucified for sins and risen to redeem. They did call people to repent, but they did so without cajoling, manipulating, or deceiving anyone. Those whom the Lord appointed to eternal life were saved. They didn’t try to boost the numbers by lowering the bar.
I am greatly encouraged to see the growing numbers of young preachers who have given up on the Hollywood and Madison Avenue approaches to ministry in favor of a return to the simple exegesis and exposition of God’s Word. The road will be hard for many of them. Churches are few that want that kind of preaching anymore. The merely religious who dominate many churches won’t stand for it.
There are two great needs in our generation: to reform and revitalize sick and dying churches and to plant new churches with a healthy, biblical mindset from the beginning. Each ministry has its own distinct risks and rewards, but both are necessary. God has called and equipped some men to stand and speak in the lion’s den – to confront, rebuke, debate, and correct deep-fried, hard-boiled hypocrites in the church. God’s also called and equipped others to stand and speak in the shark tank – to reach out to drowning souls and draw them to Christ who alone can save them.
Of the twelve disciples whom Jesus called to Himself, no two were alike. God places people of different strengths just where He wants them in order to build His church. He places some people, like Simeon, Lucius, and Manaen in established churches (Acts 13:1). He sends others, like Barnabas and Saul to distant, unknown places where there are no churches at all to raise up fresh new works (Acts 13:2-3).
Bless the Lord, He still sends men into pulpits overrun with all kinds of spiritual predators and He uses them clean house and establish the centrality of Christ through the unmitigated and unapologetic preaching of the Word.
He also sends men into dark corners of cities, even in America, where people do not call upon the name of the Lord. He uses them to raise the dead and heal the sick, again, through the preaching of the uncompromised Word.
May God have His way with every one of us.