“‘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.’ But when they heard this, they were cut to the quick and intended to kill them” (Acts 5:30-33).
With the incisive precision of a skilled surgeon, Peter presented to the Jewish High Council the pure essence of the gospel of grace: “This Jesus, whom you crucified, God raised and exalted with Him to grant repentance and forgiveness to His people.” This gospel of the purity and power of God in Christ is the compelling reason “we must obey God rather than men.”
The gospel truly is good news, the best news there is, to those to whom God grants the grace to repent and believe. It strikes joy in the hearts of the redeemed and moves them to sing and write and speak prolifically of the majesty and mystery of God’s saving grace. Christians gather often together expressly to study and discuss the implications of God’s marvelous grace to save in order to worship Him and obey Him even more.
Luke described the Council’s reaction to Peter’s testimony succinctly: “But when they heard this, they were cut to the quick.” Sounds similar to crowd’s reaction to Peter’s gospel presentation at Pentecost: “Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart” (Acts 2:37). Luke used two distinct words, though. Whereas the crowd was “pierced,” the Council was “cut through” (literally, “sawn asunder”).
The difference appears in the groups’ responses. The crowd at Pentecost asked, “Brethren, what shall we do” (to be saved)? The gospel humbled them and they hungered for more of Christ’s grace. Hungering and thirsting for righteousness is universal among the truly born again. Their own depravity arrests them and Christ’s glory captivates them. The regenerate sense a growing yearning to know Christ more, to be like Him, and to have fellowship with Him and His church.
In contrast, the Council “intended to kill them.” The jealousy that drove them to try to stop the apostles’ preaching in Jesus’ name, enflamed into a murderous rage. Their intent should come as no surprise, though. Jesus told the Pharisees, “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. 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” (Jn. 8:44).
Today, we hear people claim to be tolerant and open-minded as they laugh about, wish for, and delight in the idea of killing people who love the Lord Jesus. Such is the unregenerate mind. Disregard for God in general and hatred for Christ in particular bear the fruit of desiring injury to Christ’s church. Even within congregations, the merely religious love their sins, leaving little room in their hearts for Christ. The hate the grace of God because they hate the God of grace.
The present animosity toward Christ and His church is nothing new, though. The American church has enjoyed quite an extended respite, but the window of peace is quickly closing. The upcoming generation living in and around the once so-called “Bible Belt” often have little or no gospel exposure. Public schools and universities are devoid of any shadow of the Christian foundation of this nation. The greatness of any nation has never stood, and never will stand, on purely economic wealth. The greatness of a people is seen in their love for God and for other people.
To be sure, God is not without His witnesses. He is reserving for Himself many who have not bowed their knees and compromised with the world – faithful saints who make much of Christ. May God bless His servants today who obey the Lord no matter the cost.