Sermon:Fearing God Not Man Acts 5:17-32

Fearing God Not Man

Acts 5:17-32

Introduction

In our text today we have the second arrest of the Apostles.  Luke informs us that this is the second phase or second attempt of the leaders in Israel to rid themselves of the Apostles and their teaching.  Again, they threaten them by commanding them to stop their teaching about Jesus, salvation, and the resurrection.

Why do the Jewish leaders so desperately long to see everything about Jesus erased from existence?  As we learned through the Gospel of Luke, the Jewish leaders had the desire to be looked up to.  They prayed long prayers and wore long robes for the purpose of notoriety.  If they could be seen as the authority when it came to religion, then they could make up the rules.  They could then enslave the people with multitudes of laws, and statutes.  By doing so, they insured their own prosperity and fame. 

Now, these Apostles come along with a new system that completely pulls the rug out from under their old way of life.  So, to maintain their authority, they must rid Jerusalem of this teaching…so, they again command the Apostles to stop.

Primary Claim of the Text

When men forbid what God has commanded or command what God has forbidden, we have but one option: We must obey God rather than men!

Human Condition Met By the Text

No matter what authorities we may have in this life, whether it is our government, parents, teachers, bosses, or any other human authority, we must realize that all true authority belongs to God and we must obey Him over all others.  Even though there may be some earthly power that seems to be the authority, always remember the true authority is always God.
This passage explains to us that when earthly power and heavenly power are in conflict, our allegiance must be to God.

Acts 5:17-32 (ESV)
17 But the high priest rose up, and all who were with him (that is, the party of the Sadducees), and filled with jealousy
18 they arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison.
19 But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said,
20 “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life.”
21 And when they heard this, they entered the temple at daybreak and began to teach.
22 But when the officers came, they did not find them in the prison, so they returned and reported,
23 “We found the prison securely locked and the guards standing at the doors, but when we opened them we found no one inside.”
24 Now when the captain of the temple and the chief priests heard these words, they were greatly perplexed about them, wondering what this would come to.
25 And someone came and told them, “Look! The men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people.”
26 Then the captain with the officers went and brought them, but not by force, for they were afraid of being stoned by the people.
27 And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them,
28 saying, “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.”
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.”

1.  Freedom in Fearing God

17 But the high priest rose up, and all who were with him (that is, the party of the Sadducees), and filled with jealousy
18 they arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison.
19 But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said,
20 “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life.”
21 And when they heard this, they entered the temple at daybreak and began to teach.
The main issue here is that the Sadducees’ authority is being severely challenged.  That is why Luke tells us that they were filled with jealousy.  The Apostles were continuing to disobey them and preached Jesus Christ, healing in His name, and it was the Apostles who were getting more and more popular with the people as the disciples were increasing greatly in and around the city.

To help curb the opinion of the people toward the Apostles, the Sadducees have them arrested publically and placed in a public prison.  It was their purpose in the arrest to make sure everyone knew they had been arrested so that public opinion would turn.  In reality, these Jewish leaders were nothing more than cheap politicians who thrive on popularity and polls.

However, God’s plan would not be spoiled.  In fact, it would be this public arrest that would come back on the Sadducees to haunt them.  What they had intended to use to humiliate the Apostles actually worked to humiliate them.  One thing that the Sadducees did not believe was the existence of angels.  They taught that one was a fool who believed that God had appointed heavenly beings as His messengers.  We must not miss the fact that it was, in fact, an angel who sprung the Apostles.  The being that the Sadducees taught didn’t exist was the very being who freed the Apostles and gave them God’s message, 20 “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life.”

As one commentator explains, This is the ultimate cosmic over rule of the Jewish leadership as the sovereign God acts to free the Apostles opening the doors of their prison. [1]    

Our sovereign God accomplishes His purposes again and again, no matter who looks to have authority, God always has ultimate authority.

Also, notice the fact that they were more concerned about what God desired and less concerned with what those Jewish rulers desired.  They are freed to do the will of God.  There is great freedom when we fear God and not man.

We must understand that the crowd saw their public arrest and now they are seeing their public teaching…20 “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life.”

Whose authority is now drawn into question?  The Sadducees of course.  Not only were they freed by an angel, whom the Sadducees denied existed, but no doubt, these free disciples were also preaching the resurrection, which they also denied.  God is having the last Word, again.

To fear God brings freedom and blessing.  The Apostles are a perfect example of a group of men who care more about what God wants than anything else.  They were driven by a deep-seated desire to please God rather than men.  They did what was right in God’s eyes regardless what or who wanted something else and they experienced freedom.  There is great freedom when we fear God.

2.  Bondage in Fearing Man

22 But when the officers came, they did not find them in the prison, so they returned and reported,
23 “We found the prison securely locked and the guards standing at the doors, but when we opened them we found no one inside.”
24 Now when the captain of the temple and the chief priests heard these words, they were greatly perplexed about them, wondering what this would come to.
25 And someone came and told them, “Look! The men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people.”
26 Then the captain with the officers went and brought them, but not by force, for they were afraid of being stoned by the people.
The Sadducees on the other hand, were not motivated by a fear of God but by the fear of man.  Their concern at this point wasn’t to do what was right but to do their own will and try their best to keep the people happy because they feared them.

The Sadducees had a preoccupation with authority and popularity.  When the people began turning to Christ and away from their laws and teaching trouble began.

Now, the all the Sanhedrin are called in to make a ruling (They represent the ruling counsel).  They would serve as the judge and jury in the case, the Sadducees vs. the Apostles.

Here’s another bit of irony Luke gives us…everyone has been called forth and are waiting for a speedy trial and a swift guilty charge, but no one can find those being tried.  They are not in the prison where they were the night before.  I can just imagine the anger and embarrassment of those Jewish rulers.

Then comes the report: 25 And someone came and told them, “Look! The men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people.”
Then Luke reports that the captain of the temple guard returns to where the Apostles are teaching and brings them in.  He was the one who was responsible for locking them up in the first place.  He must go and round them up again because they are doing just what they were commanded not to do.  Do not teach anymore in the name of Jesus.

They are basically, gently persuaded to come in for their hearing.  It’s clear that none of the events that have unfolded or will unfold come about because it is the right thing to do.  They are not arrested and commanded to be silent because it’s the right thing to do but because they, like Jesus before them, are simply bad for business and hard on the general economy of the Temple.  They are teaching in the Temple but not the normal Temple instructions, but teaching about the death burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  They are teaching that it is only through Christ and no One else can man be saved.

The Jewish leaders do what they do, the way they do it always because they are afraid of the people.  They are not driven by the fear of God but by the fear of man.

Even though the disciples, who feared God, had been arrested and placed into prison, they were freer than those on the outside who were enslaved by the fear of man.  God would, in fact, free them Himself and give them further instructions.   How quickly did they obey?  they entered the temple at daybreak and began to teach.
We see a clear contrast in this text: Apostles feared God and not man and the leaders of Israel feared man and not God…

3.  Obeying God by the Holy Spirit’s Power
27 And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them,
28 saying, “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.”
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.”

Notice the conviction of Peter and the others.  29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.  What is Peter saying?  We will not listen to you.  We will not stop teaching and we will not stop filling this city with the Good News of Jesus Christ.  You are in complete opposition to what God commanded us to do and we will not listen to you but we will listen to God.

Then, the Apostles remind the Leaders that they are men with blood on their hands…

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.
Another way in which their credibility was brought into question was when they themselves realized that to teach about the cross and the resurrection of Jesus was to point their fingers at them, because they were guilty of murdering Jesus.  All the signs and wonders and all the great teaching of the Apostles solidified their authority and greatly weakened the Jewish leaders’ authority.  Their teaching wasn’t authenticated with miracles.  Even the greatest aspect of the Apostle’s’ teaching, namely the resurrection of Jesus, pointed to the Jewish leadership because they killed Jesus.

We see another contrast here:  The religious leaders arrest the Apostles…God releases them.  They find themselves working against God.

Peter again shows them that they are not on God’s side at all as he explains that they also were the ones who killed Jesus but it was God who brought Him back to life.  Over and over again it should have been very evident that what they were doing and what God was doing was completely different and even completely opposite.

Peter shows again that this is the case as he explains how that the Holy Spirit and the Apostles are working together for the same goal…

32 And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”

God tells them to preach the message of life and the Jews tell them to be quiet.  God says preach and the Jews say that even though they commanded them to be quiet, they have filled Jerusalem with the teaching of Jesus.

4.  The Fear of Man Yesterday and Today…

The Bible is absolutely filled with examples of those who suffered from the fear of man…

1 Samuel 15:17-24 (ESV)
17 And Samuel said, “Though you are little in your own eyes, are you not the head of the tribes of Israel? The LORD anointed you king over Israel.
18 And the LORD sent you on a mission and said, ‘Go, devote to destruction the sinners, the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are consumed.’
19 Why then did you not obey the voice of the LORD? Why did you pounce on the spoil and do what was evil in the sight of the LORD?”
20 And Saul said to Samuel, “I have obeyed the voice of the LORD. I have gone on the mission on which the LORD sent me. I have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and I have devoted the Amalekites to destruction.
21 But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the best of the things devoted to destruction, to sacrifice to the LORD your God in Gilgal.”
22 And Samuel said, “Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.
23 For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has also rejected you from being king.”
24 Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the LORD and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice.

That’s just one example of many we could look to…Saul did not fear God or he would have obeyed God.  Instead who did he fear?  because I feared the people and obeyed their voice.

One more example…

John 12:37-43 (ESV)
37 Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him,
38 so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “Lord, who has believed what he heard from us, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”
39 Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said,
40 “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them.”
41 Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him.
42 Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue;
43 for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.

So, we have those bad examples from the Bible as well as our text today.

Jesus was different.  He did not fear man but rather feared God…

I want to transition from this passage into our lives today and briefly look with you at one of the greatest hindrance we have as believers in the area of consistent obedience to God and His commands and that is the fear of man.

Matthew 22:16 (ESV)
16 And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances.
Are you swayed by appearances or opinions?

What determines what you do?  Do you act based on what you perceive will make others like you or do you act based on what is in line with God?

Do you need man’s approval?

What or who controls you?

Where do you place your trust?

If the opinions of people drive your behavior you will never consistently obey God, because sometimes God’s will is not popular among people.  If you are worried about what others think of you, you will never fully obey God.

I’ve often seen the fear of man with many Pastors.  All they do is try to figure out who will be offended with each decision they make.

What drives your actions?  Peer Pressure?  Are you only a confessed Christian depending on the crowd you’re with?

Proverbs 29:25 (ESV)
25 The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is safe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

PC Refocused

 

Exhortation to Godliness

The tendency to orient our lives around the approval and opinions of others.

 

 

 

 


[1] Darrell Bock, Acts ECTC, page 238

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