Acts 5:17
The success of the Christian cause had the effect which might have been anticipated; it aroused the intense hostility of the enemies of the Lord, and their bitter opposition found vent in a speedy arrest and imprisonment of the apostles (vers. 17, 18). But man's adversity was God's opportunity, and we have: -

I. DIVINE INTERPOSITION. (Ver. 19.) How vain all bolts and bars to shut out those whom God would have to enter, to shut in those whom he would have escape! The hour had come for his interposing hand, and all the contrivances of man's wrath were broken through as if they were but "the spider's most attenuated thread." We often wish for the direct interposition of God now; we often ask for it; we often wonder that it does not come, thinking that the hour for Divine manifestation must have arrived. The duty and the wisdom of true piety are

(1) to ask God to deliver in his own time and way;

(2) to expect his delivering hand at some time and in some way;

(3) to wait in patient endurance till his time has come;

(4) to recognize his gracious hand in whatever ways he may be pleased to act.

II. A DIVINE INSTRUCTION. "Go, stand and speak... all the words of this life" (ver. 20). Doubtless the apostles well understood what was the tenor of their commission. They were to speak all those words which would enlighten their fellow-citizens on the great subject of the new spiritual life which they had begun to live. They who stand now in the relation of religious teachers to the men of their own time, may take these words of the heavenly messenger as a Divine instruction to themselves. They are to "speak all the words of this life;" i.e.

(1) to explain and enforce the truth, that beneath and beyond the life which is material and temporal is the life which is spiritual and eternal;

(2) to make known the conditions on which that life is to be entered upon - repentance toward God, and faith in a crucified and risen Savior;

(3) to make clear the way by which that life is to be sustained - by "abiding in him;"

(4) to assure all disciples that "this life" is to be perpetuated in the other world.

III. THE DIVINE DEMAND. "We ought to obey God rather than man" (ver. 29). God demands our first obedience - that is the teaching of his Word; it is also the response of our own conscience. We agree, when we consider it, that God has a claim, transcendently and immeasurably superior to all others, on our allegiance. That Divine One who called us ourselves into existence; by whom we have been endowed with all our faculties; in whom "we live, and move, and have our being;" from whom we have received every single blessing we have known; who is the righteous and holy Sovereign of all souls throughout the universe of being; on whose will absolutely depends our future destiny ; - to him we owe our allegiance in such degree, that any claims man may have upon us are "as nothing, and less than nothing." There are many reasons why we should yield ourselves to his service - the example of the worthiest and the best of our kind; the excellency, dignity, exaltation of that service; the present and future advantages we gain thereby; the awful issues of disloyalty and persistent rejection, etc. But there is one thought which should weigh the most, and be of itself sufficient - " we ought to obey God." We cannot decline to do so without violating the plain teaching of our moral judgment. When we do yield ourselves to him, we put ourselves in the right and have the strong and blessed sanction of our conscience. We should hear the voice within, saying daily, hourly, in tones which will not be silenced, "You ought to obey God." - C.







Then the high priest rose up.
Christian Age.
I. THE EFFORT IN THIS CASE; by the imprisonment of the leaders of the gospel (vers. 17, 18). The whole Jewish authority was in opposition.

II. ITS VANITY.

1. Because God was on the side of the gospel (vers. 19-24).

(1)Sending His angel to release.

(2)Infusing courage. "If God be for us, who can be against us?"

2. Because the people wanted and needed the gospel (vers. 20, 21, 25-28). The rulers were fighting against the deepest requirements of the human soul. The gospel is for the people.

3. Because Christ is a Prince as well as a Saviour (vers. 29-32).

(Christian Age.)

I. THE DEVIL SOME TIMES MAKES USE OF THE BEST INSTRUMENTS FOR THE BASEST OF HIS PURPOSES. The Sadducees the best sect: the high priest the pick of his nation.

II. PERSECUTION MUST BE RECKONED AS THE COST OF CHRISTIAN COURAGE. The age of martyrdom not yet closed.

III. GOD'S DELIVERANCES OF HIS CHOSEN OFTEN APPEAR LIKE MIRACULOUS INTERVENTIONS OF HIS OWN HAND (Psalm 91:11, 12).

IV. THE TRUE PURPOSE OF EVERY CHRISTIAN CAREER is to "go stand and speak to the people all the words of this life: by testimony or works."

V. THE DEVIL'S MINIONS ARE USUALLY THE EARLIEST TO BECOME FRIGHTENED WHEN THE FIGHT REALLY BEGINS.

VI. WHAT SATAN FEARS MOST IS GOOD DOCTRINAL TEACHING (ver. 28).

VII. THE GRAND PRINCIPLE OF THE GOSPEL IS UNQUALIFIED OBEDIENCE TO GOD.

VIII. THE ENTIRE GOSPEL IS CONTAINED IN THE STORY OF CHRIST'S HUMILIATION AND EXALTATION.

IX. THE LIMIT OF HUMAN RESPONSIBILITY IS FOUND IN STATING THE TRUTH AND LIVING UP TO IT.

(C. S. Robinson, D. D.)

In considering the lessons to be drawn from this history we see —

I. HOW GOD OVERRULES OPPOSITION FOR THE GOOD OF HIS CHURCH. It seemed indeed a dark hour for the cause of Christ when the apostles were shut up in the common prison, and left, apparently, in the power of their bitterest enemies. They were now beginning to realise the truth of their Lord's words: "They shall lay their hands on you, and persecute you," etc. But they had no reason for despondency, for in that same prediction was also the promise of help: "And it shall turn to you for a testimony." In the faith of this they waited on the Lord. Nor did they wait in vain. It was a triumphant answer to the teaching of the Sadducees, who denied the existence of angels, and it was also calculated to instruct and elevate the faith of the Church. Nor was the lesson lost. As mercies granted make us bold to ask for more, so, we may believe, this deliverance was remembered on a subsequent occasion, when the disciples met together to pray for the release of Peter. But more especially was this event blessed to the apostles themselves. The angel who delivered them said, "Go, stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life." Their trial and deliverance, after all, increased their qualifications to preach. Satan defeated himself. So it has ever been in the experience of God's faithful ministers. Many a sore trial or dark night of sorrow has fitted them to proclaim more clearly and positively the words of life. The apostles in prison, Paul in Nero's dungeon, and John Bunyan in Bedford jail, are events which show how God can make the trials and persecutions of His servants advance His glory and turn to them "for a testimony." We cannot but admire the prompt and faithful obedience of the apostles. To stand in that public place and teach in the name of Jesus was to expose themselves again to danger and death. Carnal prudence might say, "You are now delivered; hide yourselves until this storm of indignation has swept by." But no; these were men who thought more of Christ than of their personal safety.

II. RATIONALISM CONFOUNDED. The high priest and his council slept undisturbed by the visits of angels. On the morrow they were to pass sentence, But instead of their anticipated triumph came their discomfiture. Evil is never so near its defeat as when it seems to be in the hour of its triumph. The morrow came; the high priest, his council and the Sanhedrin were assembled, and officers were sent to bring in the prisoners. The officers return, with their faces proclaiming their amazement, saying, "The prison truly found we shut with all safety," etc. (ver. 23). Here was something that confounded all their plans and put a new phase on the matter before them. Just when rationalism thought to put down the supernatural, lo! it appears in a new manifestation before them. The perplexity of the council is further increased when one came saying, "Behold, the men whom ye put into prison are standing in the temple, and teaching the people." When men escape from prison it is to hide themselves, but these prisoners go at once to repeat their offence. It was this conduct, as much as the strangeness of their deliverance, that impressed the senate. Then, as often since, men were made to see that there is a hidden spiritual force about the gospel which cannot be accounted for, save on the ground that the life of Christ is in it.

III. THE ENEMIES OF THE GOSPEL MADE TO FEAR AND RESPECT THOSE WHO ARE FEARLESS IN PROCLAIMING IT. The high priest and his council have now heard where their former prisoners are, but how were they to arrest them? A short hour before they deemed it enough to send the ordinary officers to drag them to their tribunal. But now (ver. 26) they were compelled to show special consideration to the apostles, and the latter are set before the Sanhedrin with something of honour and deference. The meeting is most significant: it presents one of those striking contrasts between the old and the new which history now and then furnishes. On one side are men of this world, who have no aims or hopes beyond the grave — men of policy and self-interest, controlled in their actions by "fear of the people"; on the other side, men who are living for eternity, and who through the risen Christ have seen the glorified life beyond the grave — men whose conduct is shaped only by the fear of God. The issue between them is the struggle of the ages; they represent the parties of to-day. Which side are you on?

(S. J. Niccolls, D. D.)

I. THE APOSTLES IN PRISON. The high priest and the Sadducees "were filled with jealousy."

1. Because of the popularity and success of the apostles (ver. 12-16). The rapid growth of the Church was a threat to them. It presented to them the uneasy suggestion of some day being called to account for having crucified the Head of the Church (ver. 28).

2. Because the apostles were still giving, with great power, their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus (Acts 4:33). They were tolling the knell of the Sadducees as a sect.

3. The apostles represented the vital energy of this new sect. If they only could be silenced, the propagating power of the new faith would be gone.

II. THE APOSTLES RELEASED. Observe —

1. Its manners By an angel in such a way that the prison guards were unaware of their going (ver. 23).

2. Its suggestions.(1) As to the power of God. Men had incarcerated His followers, but He took them out of their prison as easily as we take a fly out of the meshes of a cobweb.(2) As to the vigilant care of God. Not a sparrow falls to the ground without His knowledge. It was not in His design to leave the apostles at the mercy of the Sanhedrin in this time of the genesis of His Church. By miraculously delivering them first, He would warn the rulers not to proceed too far.(3) As to the ministry of angels. For illustrative instances, take the succouring of Elisha under the juniper tree (1 Kings 19:5-7); the invisible celestial host round about Elisha at Dotham (2 Kings 6:16, 17); the delivery of Peter from prison (Acts 12:1-11), etc. For the scriptural teachings relative to the mission of angels with regard to God's servants refer them to Psalm 14:7; Hebrews 1:14. But just here a caution is needed. Generally speaking, it is true that the Lord delivers those who fear and trust in Him, but it is not always so. He brought the apostles out of prison, but he suffered Stephen to be stoned. He delivered Peter, but He permitted James to be slain with the sword. There are circumstances where death is worth more than life. Whether He delivers or permits one to suffer, God acts towards His servants in the best, the wisest, and the tenderest way.

III. THE APOSTLES IN THE TEMPLE. Note —

1. That the apostles were not allowed to flee, they were released that they might return to the thick of the fray.

2. That with the release of the prisoners the mission of the angel ceased. They were to speak the words of eternal life. It is not by the eloquence of angels, but by the often faltering testimony of men, that the world is to be won to Christ.

3. That the apostles were to speak "all the words," not a part merely — to speak without fear and favour — to speak just as freely as though no Sanhedrin or prisons or crosses were in existence.

4. That they must have spoken that morning with peculiar power. The circumstances suggest that they could not have done otherwise.

IV. THE APOSTLES ON TRIAL. Before they were brought to trial, the Sanhedrin "were much perplexed," and were particularly concerned as to " whereunto this would grow." They were in dread of miracles and of the influence of miracles. In the midst of their perplexity, the astounding information was brought that their late prisoners were doing openly what the Sanhedrin had forbidden them to do. But on account of the manifest favour of the people toward the apostles, the officers brought them without violence, fearing to be stoned if, in any way, they roughly treated them. When brought before the council the apostles —

1. Were reminded of the prohibition which they had just been disregarding — a prohibition which the apostles, at the time, intimated that they must disregard.

2. Were accused now of trying to bring "this man's blood" upon them. This man's blood, however, they had invoked upon themselves (Matthew 27:25).

V. THE APOSTLES' ANSWER.

1. It was bold. It laid down the principle, "We must obey God rather than men." That was like the reply of that heroic trio (Daniel 3:16, 17). So Socrates at Athens, "I honour and love you, but I shall obey God rather than you."

2. It was faithful. In reciting the facts that impelled them to speak in spite of the prohibition of the Sanhedrin, Peter again pressed home the guilt of the rulers before whom he stood. God had raised up Jesus, whom they slew, and exalted Him with His right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour.

3. It was suggestive of mercy. Peter pointed out that God had exalted Jesus "to give repentance to Israel, and remission of sins." In this was an answer to the charge that the apostles were endeavouring to bring the blood of "this man" upon them. They were — but for their redemption! Peter's address is short, but it contains the substance of the gospel. To the rulers as well as to the people in the temple, the apostles were enabled to speak "all the words of this life."

4. It gave the reason why they must speak. They were "witnesses of these things." They were chosen of Christ to speak. They were not alone in their witness. The Holy Spirit witnessed with them, and through them, and through others — thus Divinely confirming their testimony. And here was a hint to the rulers. If they would not accept the witness of the apostles, they should accept the higher witness of the Spirit.

(M. G. Hazard.)

I. THE APOSTLES IMPRISONED AND RELEASED.

1. Put in prison (Acts 4:1; Acts 13:45; Acts 17:5; Luke 21:12).

2. Led out of prison (Acts 12:7; Acts 16:26; Hebrews 1:14).

3. Teaching in the temple.

(1)The command given (Matthew 10:27; John 6:68; Acts 20:20).

(2)The command obeyed (Proverbs 28:1; Isaiah 8:13; Matthew 10:28).

4. Sent by the council.

(1)The sending.

(2)The report (Psalm 124:7; Psalm 91:3; Ezekiel 34:22).

(3)The perplexity (Isaiah 9:7; Daniel 2:44; Mark 4:32).

5. Lessons: Faithful witnesses for Christ —

(1)May count upon exciting the jealousy of those who are the enemies of Christ.

(2)May count upon some kind of hostile interference by the enemies of Christ.

(3)May count upon the ministries of angels in their behalf.

(4)May count upon God's being alive to any dangers they may incur by witnessing for Christ.

(5)May count upon God's delivering them when it is best for His cause that they should be delivered.

(6)Are called upon to speak to the people all the words of this life.

(7)Still cause the enemies of Christ to be perplexed with the question as to whereunto this gospel is to grow.

II. THE APOSTLES ON TRIAL.

1. The apostles brought (Matthew 14:5; 1 Peter 2:13).

2. The apostles examined.

(1)The reminder (Acts 4:18; Daniel 6:12; Daniel 3:10).

(2)The accusation.(a) Ye have filled Jerusalem with your teaching. "Ye shall be My witnesses... in Jerusalem" (Acts 1:8). " Shall go forth... the word of the Lord from Jerusalem" (Isaiah 2:3). "The earth shall be filled with knowledge... of the Lord" (Habakkuk 2:14).(b) "And intend to bring this Man's blood upon us " (Matthew 27:25; Acts 2:1.36, 3:14).

3. Lessons: If the disciples of Christ are faithful —

(1)They will secure the respect and favour of the people.

(2)They will find that deliverance from one trouble will not secure them from further trial.

(3)They may some times be compelled to disobey the mandates of the authorities.

(4)They will yet fill the world with their teaching.

(5)They will bring the blood of Christ upon all men, either for their redemption or for their condemnation.

III. THE APOSTLES' ANSWER.

1. The declaration. "We must obey God rather than men" (chap. Acts 4:19; Daniel 3:18; Daniel 6:10).

2. The reason for the declaration.(1) The facts.

(a)"The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew" (Acts 2:24; Acts 3:26; 1 Corinthians 15:13).

(b)"Him did God exalt... to give repentance to Israel" (chap. Acts 2:33; Philippians 2:9; Matthew 1:21).(2) Their relation to the facts. "We are witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Ghost" (Luke 24:48; Acts 1:8; Hebrews 2:4).

3. Lessons:(1) The fundamental rule for Christians, "We must obey God rather than men."(2) Christians should obey God rather than men.

(a)Because of that which Jesus has done to purchase their perfect obedience.

(b)Because of the exaltation of the One whom they serve.

(c)Because they are witnesses for Christ, their witness being effective in proportion to their fidelity to God.

(S. S. Times.)

I. THE APOSTLES' ARREST AND IMPRISONMENT. The new attack was occasioned by the things described in vers. 12-16. Note —

1. The feeling of the persecutors — "Indignation."

2. Their conduct. They laid hands upon the apostles and put them into the common prison, of all places the most revolting and disreputable. Thus, as ever, bigotry shows the weakness of its opinion and the malignity of its aims, by substituting force for argument, might for right.

II. THEIR DELIVERANCE AND COMMISSION.

1. Their deliverance. On the former occasion they were released by the timid and apprehensive policy of their oppressors; here by a direct messenger from heaven. Prison walls, iron gates, massive chains are nothing to an angel.

2. Their commission.(1) Its subject. "The words of this life." The gospel is a record of "words" that generate, nurture, develop, and perfect the true life of humanity.(2) Its sphere — "the temple," the most public place, when the greatest numbers could be reached.(3) Its expedition. They set themselves to work at once "early in the morning."

3. This deliverance and commission had a twofold effect upon their enemies.(1) It confounded them with disappointment. The wicked work in the dark, and Providence makes them the victims of their own plots.(2) It filled them with apprehension. "They doubted whereunto this would grow." Well might they fear.

III. THEIR ARRAIGNMENT AND DEFENCE.

1. Their arraignment (ver. 28). The language expresses —

(1)Their mortification at the disregard of their authority.

(2)An assumed contempt for Christ.

(3)Their reluctant testimony to the progress of Christianity.

(4)The foreboding of a terrible retribution.To "bring blood on the head" is a Hebrew idiom for having to answer for the death of another. They had cried, "His blood be upon us," now they deprecated that as the direst of judgments.

2. Their defence (vers. 29-32). We have here —

(1)One of the grandest of principles (ver. 29).

(2)One of the most wonderful of facts. "The God of our fathers raised up Jesus."

(3)One of the most appalling of crimes. "Whom ye slew," etc.

(4)One of the most glorious of communications (ver. 31). Here observe —

(a)That Christ is exalted to the highest dignity — "the right hand of God."

(b)That He is so exalted for the sublimest functions — "to be a Prince and a Saviour."

(c)That in these functions He has to communicate to the world the greatest of blessings — repentance and forgiveness.(5) The most exalted of missions (ver. 32). They were fellow-workers with the great Spirit Himself.

(6)The most intense exasperation (ver. 33).

(D. Thomas, D. D.)

I. THE CONFLICT OF FORCE.

1. On the side of the persecutors (vers. 17, 18).

2. On the side of the persecuted (vers. 19, 21).

II. THE CONFLICT OF ARGUMENT.

1. The Sanhedrin (ver. 21).

2. The apostles (vers. 29,32).

III. THE CONFLICT OF POLICY.

1. The violent party (ver. 33).

2. The moderate party (vers. 34-42).Lessons:

1. Man's extremity is God's opportunity.

2. The moral cowardice of bravado. The Sanhedrin put the apostles in prison, but dared not ask how they got out.

3. "We ought to obey God rather than men."

4. The inefficacy of force to crush the truth.

(J. Bennett, D. D.)

1. (vers. 17, 18). There all evil power ends. The policy may admit of great variety in detail, but it is all summed up in that poor sentence. How differently it might have read remembering the dignity and culture of the Sanhedrim — "Let us instantly dare them to controversy, and in the hearing of all the people put silence to their doctrine." No; their only resource was physical force. It is the same thing in all ages. No man can answer the truth; he can only lay hands on the truth-teller.

2. But having looked at the darkness, let us see if it be all darkness (vers. 18, 19). So the affairs of men are not bounded by what we can see, and measure, and add up. There are invisible agencies over which we have no control. All the stars fight for God, all the angels of heaven assist the good man. They have always identified themselves with Christian effort. They were with Christ in all the crises of His life; and now they were with Christ's servants in theirs. Men can shut us up; angels can deliver us. Men can do the destructive work upon our persons and ministry, whether in the pulpit, in the home, or in business; but God can do the constructive work, and set up again what has been shattered by violence. To know this is power, emancipation. The great difficulty is to realise the invisible. Lord, increase our faith! Give us those inward, all-piercing eyes that see angels everywhere, as the prophet saw them when the hosts of Samaria encamped round about him.

3. "And when they heard that they entered into the temple early and taught." The apostles were always prepared, never better at one time than at another. They could preach early in the morning; they could study in prison; they could face the highest men in the nation; they could answer questions extemporaneously and completely; they could heal the sick and teach inquirers at once. Are we in the apostolic succession? Have we not to go to books of reference? But the Christian professor ought never to have to go away in order to find a word for his Master. The Church is losing power by not living in the atmosphere of Christian thought, service, love. The apostles received their commissions from the angels; but had a little child said, "There are some poor people in the temple who want to hear about Jesus," the apostles would have accepted the call instantly. How can we teach Jesus if we do not know Him? But if He be our heart's delight and supreme love, then we shall always be prepared in the best sense to speak for Him, not artistically and in a literary sense, but with that all-piercing power that touches every man to the core.

4. No angel had called upon the Sanhedrin during the night. So they came in the morning to go about their day's work. But the prisoners were not forthcoming. Think of a whole court being put hors de combat. God is always making fools of those who oppose Him. The officers return. Hear their statement (ver. 23). This is an aspect of the terrible power of God. He lets things remain just as they are, to all human appearance, but sucks the life out of them. He leaves prisons great shells. God can work so secretly, so completely. Circumstances have been your prison, and bewilderment, and prejudice, but an angel has come in the night-time and delivered you.

5. What a message was that of verse 25! Your expostulation has come to nothing. God has not touched a key in the girdle of the prison keeper, but He has used His own. The men were brought before the senate, and they said, "We ought to obey God." This was their strength. Not "We had a vision, and were compelled to this act, otherwise we would have remained in prison and come." Be gentle with some men. Peter denied his Master, and some of us would have expelled him for ever from the Church. But Jesus recovered him, and here he is, a hero. Have any of us slipped? There is no reason why we should slip for ever. Give a man an opportunity of getting up again. Those who heard Peter were cut to the heart, and took counsel to slay him. I would we had more such preaching. Whether it is the knife is too short or blunt, or the hand too cowardly, we never get down into the heart.

6. There was one wise man in the council — Gamaliel. He called them to common sense. He told them of two men of marvellous pretensions who subsided into oblivion, and his argument was, "Give the men time." Time is the enemy of the bad — the friend of the good. If this be a nine-days' wonder, do not let us be angry on the fourth day: five days more will show us what it is made of. He prevailed, and the council compounded with the occasion by simply beating the men they intended to slay.

7. When the apostles were dismissed, what think you they said? "No more of this; we cannot endure being trampled on. We have done enough, now we will resume our ordinary tasks." Nay, read verse 41. Their wounds were medals. You could never have had a sentence like this from a mere artist. No literary man could have hit upon this expression. Have you ever suffered shame? Did they obey the prohibition? No: daily in the temple and in every house they ceased not to preach, teaching Jesus Christ. There was a new tone in their voices. Peter's suffering developed that womanly element without which a man can never be complete in any great ministry. What examples we have to follow! We see from their history the worst that can be done to us. "Fear not them that kill the body."

8. This history shows us whence true power comes. The power that bears affliction comes not out of our own hearts, but from heaven.

(J. Parker, D. D.)

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