Sermon: The Word of the Cross, Folly or Wisdom? Acts 5:33-42

The Word of the Cross, Folly or Wisdom?

Acts 5:33-42

Introduction

Our passage today continues the account of the Apostles’ arrest and trial.  Their crime was preaching that Jesus Christ is the Messiah, that the Jewish leadership murdered Him, and that God has endorsed Jesus through the sign of the resurrection from the dead.  Remember from last week that the Apostles were arrested and placed in a public prison and then sometime during the night an Angel came and rescued them and gave them a message from God…go back to the Temple and preach the message of eternal life.  Also, remember that it was the next morning when their trial was to begin that they could not be found in the prison but were found in the Temple teaching the people that Jesus Christ is the Messiah and that only through Jesus can one be made right with God.  This teaching and the circumstances surrounding it greatly challenged the authority of the Jewish leadership…and they were greatly angered.

Primary Claim of the Text

18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

Human Condition Met By the Text

The passage is for us today as we count the cost for following Jesus Christ.  What will we do if we should encounter trials as a result of speaking the name of Christ.  We too must seek power from on high if we are to stand firm in the midst of persecution.  I’m not forecaster of the coming times but It may just be that speaking in the name of Jesus the truth of God will be viewed as criminal.  What will we do?  Here is a wonderful continuing example of normal everyday people captured by the glory of God and willing to do whatever is required to see the name of Jesus proclaimed to all the nations.

Acts 5:33-42 (ESV)
33 When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them.
34 But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in honor by all the people, stood up and gave orders to put the men outside for a little while.
35 And he said to them, “Men of Israel, take care what you are about to do with these men.
36 For before these days Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing.
37 After him Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him. He too perished, and all who followed him were scattered.
38 So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail;
39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” So they took his advice,
40 and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.
41 Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.
42 And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.

1.  The Word of the Cross is the Wisdom of God for Those Being Saved

33 When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them.
34 But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in honor by all the people, stood up and gave orders to put the men outside for a little while.
The Apostle’s words have an amazing effect on their listeners.  The words about Jesus and His death and resurrection cause differing responses.  Luke shows us this in a rather pointed way from our text today.

Let’s turn back a few pages and see the way in which the Gospel creates new life…

Acts 2:37 (ESV)
37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
Here Luke uses very similar language to describe the event immediately following Pentecost.  The people heard Peter’s sermon about Jesus being the Messiah and God’s Son.  They were confronted with their sin and the fact that they were immediately responsible for Jesus’ death.  When they heard these words of Peter…
Their reaction is deep-seated sorrow and guilt for the sin of murdering Jesus.  They are stung in the heart and cry out for mercy.
The people hear the truth about their sin and about Christ and are stung in the heart and cry out in desperation… Brothers, what shall we do?
Acts 2:38 (ESV)
38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
The result, as you remember was about 3000 souls were added to their numbers.

Here, in our text today, we have the same message preached by the same Apostle but a very different response.

2.  The Word of the Cross is Folly for Those Who are Perishing

A. Those Violently Perishing
Acts 5:29-32 (ESV)
29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.
30 The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree.
31 God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.
32 And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”

They heard the same sermon/message from Peter…
33 When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them.

Very similar language…here, literally, cut to the heart- διεπρίοντο

The people in Acts 2 were cut to the heart and God granted them repentance leading to life.  Here these Pharisees were cut to the heart and did not repent but actually the very opposite, wanted to kill the Apostles for publically exposing them and their sin.

Both groups committed the same sin, namely, crucifying Jesus, God’s Son.  Both were guilty in accomplishing this sin.  Both groups heard the same truth by the same Apostle.  One group cries out for repentance and the other cries out in murderous threats and enraged with anger.

And so it’s very clear that these words, their little mini-sermon, struck the intended target. The Gospel is like that you know. The Gospel is God’s Word of truth, and that word of truth convicts our sinful hearts; it catches us in a lie. It accuses us. The Gospel also warns us and assures us that we will be held responsible, accountable for our actions.

Here, these men are told that the very Jesus whom they put to death is exalted as Prince and Savior. That’s a terrifying thought to all those who thought they were done with Jesus – that they had heard the last of him – now they are being told that they would have to answer to this Prince, this Judge. That’s outrageous. That’s preposterous. It offends their sensibilities.

1 Corinthians 1:18-25 (ESV)
18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
19 For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?
21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.
22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom,
23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles,
24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

And that is exactly effect the gospel has on the unbeliever. The message of the crucified, risen and exalted Savior is an offense to those who do not believe. So in this way we can say that the gospel went out and it accomplished the purpose for which it is sent.

The Pharisees and Sadducees are confronted once again with the truth that they killed Jesus, God’s Son, the Messiah. Yet the amazing thing is — and undoubtedly this is the part of the message that annoyed them the most – they were told that same Jesus whom they put to death was the Prince and Savior of sinners.

So even though these were responsible for delivering up Jesus to be crucified, they could find forgiveness and salvation in Him. Verse 31 declares: God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel. So this was not bad news for the Sanhedrin; this was good news! Christ death is sufficient for all sinners –even for those who put to death the Prince of glory.

But instead of hearing this good news, humbling their hearts, and putting their faith in Jesus, they heard the good news, hardened their hearts (hatred), and sought to kill the messengers of Jesus. Yet, in spite of their hatred and rage, the point is clear. The Gospel did its work.[1]

B. Those Peacefully Perishing

35 And he said to them, “Men of Israel, take care what you are about to do with these men.
36 For before these days Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing.
37 After him Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him. He too perished, and all who followed him were scattered.
38 So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail;
39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” So they took his advice,
Gamaliel,
has what seems to be at least on the surface sound advice.  Let’s be careful here and not do anything too drastic.

Notice his logic…

Example #1-

36 For before these days Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing.
Example #2-

37 After him Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him. He too perished, and all who followed him were scattered.
His thinking goes something like this: We have killed their Leader, this would-be Messiah named Jesus.  With them now without their Leader, this whole thing will probably fizzle out in a few months or so. 

The flaw, however, in their thinking is that Jesus is dead and gone.  The Gospel is that this crucified Savior is alive and well, seated at the right hand of God and everyone will someday give an account for their actions, including us and including these Jews who plotted and carried out the murder of Jesus.

On the surface, Gamaliel’s advice may seem wise, but we must not be fooled by his approach.  His approach is one that gives no concern to objective truth, the issues that the Apostles brought up were not considered.  The way to test whether a movement is from God or not isn’t to wait and see what happens to those followers but to try their teaching by placing it alongside the Scriptures.  After all, this man is called a teacher of the Law.

There is no objective observation. The Gospel is completely dismissed with anger and pride. On the other hand there are those people who are quite respectful and tolerant who appear on the surface to be silent believers, but the reality is they no more believe than the most violent aggressor. Satan is very subtle and he really doesn’t care what kind of an unbeliever you are as long as you reject Christ and His gospel.[2]

There is no mention of the Gospel message they just heard from Peter.  The truth that they crucified Jesus did not affect them in the least.  Their concern was to maintain their power in the Temple not to consider the truth presented by the Apostles.  Their minds were made up already, this message is folly to them and not even worthy of their consideration.

We must never test the truth of God by taking a Let’s-wait-and–see approach.  There are religious movements around today that are just as old as Christianity, some even older.  Whether something continues or not is not the criteria for whether it is from God or not.

We must actively dig into the Word of God and examine it for ourselves.
Luke has told us that this guy was, a teacher of the law.  He was an expert in the Scriptures.  He was a Bible academic.  He was the Bible Answer Man.  The best he came up with is…Let’s wait and see what happens?  They should have been pouring over their Bibles, checking the OT with the Words of Christ and the Apostles to see if what they were saying was true or not.

Truth of Jesus Christ is the dividing line.  Truth is what should be our goal.

Gameliel and the others were unconverted.  It makes absolutely not difference if one is adamantly opposed to the Gospel or if one very kindly rejects it.   Regardless of their method of rejection, the message of the cross was folly…Paul tells us that the reason this was the case is that they were perishing.

Salvation is of the Lord.  Every human being enters this life in the perishing category.  We are dead in sin.  When God moves as He did so mightily at Pentecost, the result is that about 3000 souls were taken from the perishing category and placed in the being saved category and the result was they were cut to the heart, understood their guilt, and repented.

3. Zeal for the Name of Christ

40 and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.
41 Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.
42 And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.
The Apostles were then severely beaten by the Jews…39 lashes each.  And then charged not to speak anymore in the name of Jesus.  We learned last week from Peter that they were compelled by God to speak in the name of Jesus the wonderful words of eternal life.  Peter tells these Jews that the Apostles must obey God rather than man.

Again the plans of the Leaders are frustrated.  What they intended for dishonor, namely the beating, only proved to be counted as honor by the Apostles…
41 Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.
Don’t speak anymore in the name…counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.  Isn’t it amazing how the sovereignty of God works?  People rage and plot in vain and God is in the heavens laughing.  God’s will is always the predominate force in the universe.  His decree will always triumph.
So, the Apostles continued to obey God with boldness…
Luke 12:4-5 (ESV)
4 “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do.
5 But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!

They went right back to doing what the earthly authorities commanded them not to do.  But remember, they were also, command by a higher authority to continue to preach the good news with all boldness in and around the Temple.

They truly were taken captive by the glory of God and were filled with zeal for their Savior Jesus Christ…we must obey God rather than men was their battle cry.

Before we close today, I want us to go very quickly behind the scenes of this account.  We have not been introduced to the Saul of Tarsus yet but I do believe through something Paul says later that he was probably there that day when the Apostles couldn’t be found because of the angel.  He probably saw them stand boldly before the Jews.  He probably saw them beaten.  He may have very well been one who was calling for their death as well…

Acts 22:3-5 (ESV)
3 “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as all of you are this day.
4 I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women,
5 as the high priest and the whole council of elders can bear me witness. From them I received letters to the brothers, and I journeyed toward Damascus to take those also who were there and bring them in bonds to Jerusalem to be punished.

It may very well be that in God’s providence there was a young Jewish Pharisee in training who saw the strong resolve and zeal of the Apostles.  Perhaps this was one event God used in Paul’s life to even save him…the most feared enemy of the church.
Even when God’s people are persecuted, He is working a thousand other wonderful things for His glory.
There is a message of hope for our society.  It isn’t a message of politics or social organizations.  It’s a message of the power of God and the wisdom of God…it is the message of the cross, power and wisdom for those being saved.


[1] Gamaliel’s Advice: Wise or Worldly? Acts 5: 33-42 by Rev. Keith Davis

[2] Gamaliel’s Advice: Wise or Worldly? Acts 5: 33-42 by Rev. Keith Davis

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