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Standing before the Supreme Court

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Acts 5:12–42

Jesus calls us all to proclaim the gospel to our world. Obedience to that call will bring opposition; but as we persist in proclaiming Christ, we find it is not only our duty but also our joy. The apostles offer testimony to that principle.


As we sail into Acts chapter 5, we are going to find that the next twenty-four hours include a lot of drama. And that is because thousands of people throughout Jerusalem are defecting from Judaism and openly professing their faith in the resurrection of that Carpenter, whom they claim is their resurrected Messiah.

We read about the amazing progress in the church in verse 12: “Many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles.” And this is all in public view, for the Bible says here, “They were all together in Solomon’s Portico.” That was an area along the east side of the temple enclosure with columns supporting a roof that provided shade. Jesus had taught in this same place (see John 10:23-30).

Now after the sudden death of two hypocrites, Ananias and Sapphira, we are told in verse 13 that many people do not dare “join them.” They are not about to go to church there, where there is a holy standard of living and evidently a holy God living among them.

Yet verse 14 says, “More than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women.” Isn’t that ironic? Yes, accountability to holy living and the worship of our holy God is going to keep people away; but at the same time, it also acts like a magnet, drawing others to the truth they intuitively know in their hearts.

The apostles are not watering down the truth to drive the numbers up. They are not interested in building a crowd; they are involved in building a church. And there is a vast difference between a religious crowd and a true church.

Now to add to the drama here in Jerusalem, imagine all the signs and wonders taking place from the hands of the apostles. Peter in particular is referenced here, and we are told that many who were sick were carried out into the streets so that, at least, Peter’s shadow might fall upon them—if you can imagine that! During this transitional period between the old covenant and the new covenant, the message preached by the apostles is wonderfully validated by miracles only God could perform through these men.

Verse 16 says people were coming from the towns around Jerusalem, “bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed.” It was not a matter of how great their faith was; it was a matter of who God is. And as God gave His apostles special power, He reinforced their preaching, in the name of the risen Savior.

Now the high priest and the religious leaders were supposed to be guardians of the law, but the truth is, they were only interested in guarding their careers and their following. Look at verses 17-18:

The high priest rose up, and all who were with him (that is, the party of the Sadducees), and filled with jealousy they arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison.

Don’t miss their motive: they are losing their popularity. With every new convert to Jesus Christ, they are watching their power over the people slipping away. So, they have the twelve apostles thrown into jail. Maybe that will settle things down.

But that is hardly the case because “during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out” (verse 19). Then verse 21 says they “entered the temple at daybreak and began to teach.”  

I must tell you, God has a sense of humor here. The high priest and the Sadducees did not believe in miracles or the existence of angels. So, what does God do? He sends an angel to open the prison doors miraculously!

Well, that morning, as the Sanhedrin gathers again, somebody tells them the apostles are not in prison; they are preaching in the temple! So, the apostles are quickly arrested again and brought before this court of seventy religious leaders.

The high priest speaks to them in verse 28:

“We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man's blood upon us.”

He brings two charges against them. First, he says they are disobeying the command to stop preaching about Jesus. And that is true; indeed, it seems everybody knows about Jesus now.

The second charge is this: “You intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” In other words, “You are trying to pin the crucifixion of Jesus on us. You’re making us look bad.”

What hypocrites! Earlier, at their urging, the crowd had called for the death of Jesus, saying these very words, “His blood be on us” (Matthew 27:20, 25), meaning they were taking responsibility for His death.

Now with those charges given, Peter, the current apostolic spokesman (that role will later shift to the apostle Paul) says, “We must obey God rather than men” (verse 29). Yes, they have disobeyed the Sanhedrin because the court demanded disobedience to God. And whenever you have to make a choice, you obey God rather than man.

Peter then answers the second charge:

“The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior.” (verses 30-31)

Peter effectively says—with quite a bit of bravery—“Don’t sit there and try to tell us you had nothing to do with the death of Jesus. We all know what you did. We know what Herod and Pilate did. And we know what the mob did under your approval. You have blood on your hands.”

But listen, beloved, Peter does not stop there. He declares that the death of Christ—and His resurrection—was part of God’s plan!

He says in verse 31 that Jesus, as Savior, can “give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.” His blood on the cross can wash away the blood on their hands! Peter is issuing the Supreme Court an invitation. Believe in Jesus, and He will forgive your sins—even the sin of conspiring to kill Him.

The Sanhedrin just sort of explodes in response: “When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them” (verse 33). They are not interested in invitations; they want executions!

Now at this point, a respected member of the Sanhedrin speaks up in verse 34. He dismisses the apostles to another room so the court can settle down and talk it over. His name is Gamaliel, and he is a member of the Pharisee section of the Sanhedrin.

His wise advice frankly rings true to this day—verse 35: “Take care what you are about to do with these men.” Gamaliel then reminds them of two men in recent history who had gathered followers and led revolts, only to be killed and have their movements disappear.

Gamaliel then applies his history lesson:

“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!” (verses 38-39)

The council takes his advice and releases the apostles, but, verse 40 tells us, only after beating them and charging them again to remain silent.

Well, how do the apostles respond? Do they sue the Sanhedrin? Demand a public apology? Turn their followers into activists and yell louder? No. Here is the example we still need to this day:

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 [Messiah] is Jesus. (verses 41-42)

And notice where they are preaching—not only “from house to house,” but in the temple again as well!

Gamaliel was right. Two thousand years later, the Sadducees and the Pharisees and the Sanhedrin are gone. But the church is alive and well. Why? Because the church is indeed the work of God.

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