Tom: In this, Our Understanding the Scriptures segment, we are in the Book of Acts:5:34: “Then stood there up one in the council, a Pharisee, named Gamaliel, a doctor of the law, had in reputation among all the people, and commanded to put the apostles forth a little space; And said unto them, Ye men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what ye intend to do as touching these men.”
Dave: Yeah, so Gamaliel, he wants to have a private word—“Hey get these guys out of here so we can discuss this,” you know.
Tom: Well, they wanted to slay them.
Dave: Right, they were going to kill them and Gamaliel only is going to save their lives, at least he has some sound advice. He says, “You had better be careful what you do,” and then he goes on and he says, “Before these days rose up Theudas, boasting himself to be somebody; to whom a number of men, about four hundred, joined themselves: who was slain; and all, as many as obeyed him, were scattered, and brought to naught.” And then he goes on: “After this man rose up Judas of Galilee in the days of taxing, and drew away much people after him: he also perished; and all, even as many as obeyed him, were dispersed. And now I say unto you, Refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to naught: But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God.”
Tom: Was he fence-riding there, Dave?
Dave: I would say so. It sounds good, but it isn’t. You know, it’s like saying, “Well, I don’t know whether this new doctrine that’s being introduced is right or wrong. But, you know, if it builds a big church, then I guess it’s okay; if it kind of fizzles, then I guess it’s not right.”
Tom: So it’s pragmatism?
Dave: Yeah, but even not the best kind, you know. So, I must come to a conclusion myself. You know, Paul writes to the Corinthians, Let the prophet speak, two or three by chorus, let the others judge. We call this Search the Scriptures Daily; the Bereans searched the Scriptures. Now, why doesn’t Gamaliel suggest: “Hey, guys, let’s search this out from the Scriptures, what do the Scriptures say? They claim that this Jesus is the Savior and that we crucified Him in fulfillment of prophecies that said He would be rejected by His people. You go back to Isaiah 53, and so forth, and now, well, maybe they say they have seen Him alive, maybe we had better look into this a little more thoroughly.”
No, he says, “If it turns out to be a success, then it’s okay; if it doesn’t, if they end up in disaster, then I guess it wasn’t of God.”
Tom: So, no sense of truth here, no sense of being concerned that they were doing things according to the Scriptures.
Dave: The only thing we can commend him for is he’s not hasty in condemning them, you know. I don’t know what his hidden motives were. Maybe he was a kind man who wanted to, you know, help them out. And maybe he was thinking, Well, it fizzles, then we don’t have to kill them, it just fizzled, you know. I don’t know, I get the impression that he was rather kind hearted.
Tom: But it didn’t last long.
Dave: No, not the best advice: “And to him, they agreed. When they had called the apostles and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. And they, that is, the apostles, departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name....”
Wow! I don’t know how many Christians would look at it that way today. You know, we have talked of Christian psychology from time to time in the past: every little problem—“Oh, I was rejected. Well, I’ve got to go to a psychologist or I’ve got to have a psychologist prescribe some drugs, you know, Zoloft, Paxil, or whatever, and get me a pick-up.” No, these men are facing stiff opposition, but this is what Christ said, you know, John 15, He said, “If you were of the world, the world will love its own, but because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore, the world hateth you. The servant isn’t greater than his Lord, if they are going to crucify me, what do you think they will do to you if you are true to me?”
So, they are rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name. Tom, maybe—I don’t want to draw any rash conclusions—but would that mean that we don’t suffer very much because we are not worthy to suffer for the name of Christ? And what would that mean? Well, maybe it’s because we are not willing, maybe it’s because we want a different kind of Christianity. We don’t want to deny ourselves, take up the cross and follow Christ, but we want to be popular, and this is the kind of Christianity that is being presented. And when I see the kind of Christianity that we have and some of the seeker-friendly churches, and so forth…. It’s all based on an appeal to what human beings like and what we think is successful, and if you can draw a huge crowd, then you are a success.
But here are the men who were the real success, and they are isolated; they are hated and persecuted. Maybe we need to get back to the Bible, and if we would stand true to the Word of God, maybe we wouldn’t find it so popular. Maybe we would find that true Christians are few and far between. That’s what Jesus said, isn’t it? When His disciples asked Him, Are there many who are saved? Jesus said, “Strive to enter in at the strait gate for strait is the gate and narrow is the way that leads to life, few there are that find it; and broad is the road that leads to destruction, many there be which go therein thereat.”
Tom: And Dave, that doesn’t mean that we are trying to set up some kind of exclusive club here that only a few could get in. It’s open to anyone and everyone, but the criteria is God’s criteria of what is a Christian and how he or she is supposed to go about his or her life.
Dave: I love this last verse. Now, they have just been threatened. They are going to kill them: “You guys keep this up, we’re going to kill you.” Reminds me of the former Muslim from Egypt, you remember, in New Jersey—what was it, two or three months ago? He was on a chat room discussing Christ and the Qur’an and Muhammad with Muslims—it was a Muslim chat room—and they threatened him. They said, “If you keep this up, we are going to kill you.” He kept it up. I think maybe he could have been more careful about who he let in his house, but we don’t know exactly how it came about.
Tom: Well, one thought was that there had been some false converts just to get in.
Dave: That could be, that could be, yeah. Anyway, they came and got him and they killed him and his wife and two daughters. But that is the threat to the apostles: “We’re going to kill you if you keep this up.”
So, I love this last verse that closes the chapter, verse 42: “And daily in the temple…”—Wow! they’re not in the catacombs now; they are not doing this secretly— “Daily in the temple and in every house…” They are going door to door, apparently, and of course they are meeting at homes—they don’t have a church building to meet in. “They ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.”
I guess, Tom, we could challenge some pastors or preachers of whatever, are you really teaching and preaching Jesus Christ, or is this revised Jesus, or a kind of a modernized Jesus?
Tom: Somebody acceptable to everybody.
Dave: Yes, made over a bit, so that he doesn’t offend people and that you can be popular by preaching him. I remember, we were in Hamilton, New Zealand, and they had kind of an ecumenical week. The whole week was Christians and Muslims getting to know one another, and the Muslims were lying— “Oh,” they said, “there is more in the Qur’an about Jesus than there is about Muhammad.” Well, that’s not true, but anyway, the Christians never asked: “Who is this Jesus?” Isa? He’s not God. He’s not the Son of God. He didn’t die for our sins; someone died in his place, you know, he was taken alive to heaven. So, what Jesus is being preached out there? Is it really the Jesus of the Bible? Well, they “ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ,” and Paul said, “I am determined to know nothing among you except Christ and Him crucified.” Maybe we need to get back to that.