“Now when the high priest and his associates came, they called the Council together, even all the Senate of the sons of Israel, and sent orders to the prison house for them to be brought. But the officers who came did not find them in the prison; and they returned and reported back, saying, ‘We found the prison house locked quite securely and the guards standing at the doors; but when we had opened up, we found no one inside.’ Now when the captain of the temple guard and the chief priests heard these words, they were greatly perplexed about them as to what would come of this. But someone came and reported to them, ‘The men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people!’ 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).
“When they had brought them, they stood them before the Council. The high priest questioned them, saying, ‘We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name, and yet, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.’ But Peter and the apostles answered, ‘We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a cross. He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him.’” (Acts 5:21b-32).
The Council was mortified to find the Christians openly proclaiming Christ in the temple, directly violating the Council’s instructions. Yet, the Sadducees feared the people, who were captivated with the boldness and eloquence of the men who preached the name of Jesus. They presented Jesus as the Christ of God with reason, common sense, and Scripture. They made no convoluted arguments. They offered no tricks of wordplay. They simply presented the facts of Jesus’ life and works, concluding that God had demonstrated that Jesus is God the Son and the Redeemer.
The gospel was so offensive they had to shut down the nascent church at all costs. The gospel threatened their position in society as leaders of the people in Israel. His glorious grace to save unconditionally even the vilest sinner endangered their very way of life. If people could be saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, they’d no longer need to make sacrifices to God for their sins. The priests lived on the people’s offerings because that’s the way God designed their whole religious and social structure. Gospel grace rendered the whole sacrificial system obsolete.
At the root of the Sadducees’ hatred for the church, however, was the Person of Christ Himself. They hated Him while He was alive and they hated Him still. The fact that He freed people from their demons and diseases or the fact that He forgave them their sins made no difference. They hated Him without a cause.
Hatred doesn’t need a reason. It exists for itself. It serves itself. It satisfies itself. Anything that stands in the way of self warrants hatred. Hatred wants to destroy anyone and anything that gets in the way of self.
What would compel the apostles to defy such monstrous hatred? Why cause strife? The simplest answer would be to go back to what they were doing before Jesus began all the troubles in the first place. If they’d just left well enough alone, Stephen would never have been stoned. Persecution would never have started. Countless lives would have been spared. Yet, when the high priest brought accusation against them – “We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name, and yet, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us” – they only replied, “We must obey God rather than men.”
The word translated “must” (KJV: “ought”) shows a moral obligation or necessity based on divine appointment. It comes from a root word meaning to knit or bind. The apostles’ defense was that they were bound to obey God. They weren’t teaching and preaching simply because they felt like it, but because they were constrained by the Spirit to do it.
The God-bound life exasperates those who don’t love the Lord Jesus. They cannot comprehend the love Christians feel toward their Savior. The desire to gather with other imperfect believers and sing songs of hope and trust and joy and thanks and praise to Jesus baffles the unregenerate mind. To see people read and study and listen to talks about the same Book week after week irritates unbelievers irremediably.
For the redeemed by grace, the God-bound life is the most liberating, soul-satisfying life imaginable. The joy of walking in fellowship with Christ and making much of Him is a source of indescribable delight. Forsaking sin is no loss It’s deliverance. Gathering with Christ’s church is no hardship. It’s communion. Singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs is no drudgery. It’s a celebration. Rereading and rehearsing the Bible is no burden. It’s a comfort.
May the church today stand and obey, bound to Christ by grace.