Have you ever been caught in a situation in which two different authority figures gave you two very different sets of instructions? In that scenario, what did you choose to do? Perhaps it was an easy choice, but maybe your decision carried consequences which were unpleasant.
In our reading today, the apostles faced opposing commands. In Acts 5:19-20, as he freed them from prison, the angel of the Lord commanded the apostles to preach Christ. In Acts 5:28 and 5:40, the apostles were strictly instructed by the Jewish council not to speak about Jesus. (This followed a previous charge to keep silent about Christ in Acts 4:18.) These instructions were directly opposed to each other. How would the apostles choose what to do?
We learn that there really was no dilemma for them: they got to the temple at daybreak in order to continue preaching (Acts 5:21). There was no delay, no concern over the consequences they might face for disobeying the Jewish authority. They knew that prison was a very real possibility as well as physical persecution. In fact, their testimony made the Jewish leaders so angry they wanted to kill the apostles (Acts 5:33). What made the choice to continue in the path of faithfulness easy for the disciples? They determined that it was more important to obey God than man (Acts 5:32), for God was their supreme authority, over even the religious and political leaders of their day.
The same is true for us in the twenty-first century. We must all decide whom we will follow, whom we will obey on a daily basis. When faced with an unethical business practice, will we buck the system and model Christ in the workplace? Even in challenging circumstances, will we remain faithful in our relationships? Will we cower when an opportunity to share our faith arises, or speak with boldness? If our faithfulness to Christ results in challenges, may our eyes be so fixed on Jesus that we can respond as the apostles did, and rejoice to be “counted worthy to suffer dishonor” for Jesus’ name (Acts 5:41).
Acts 5:17-42 (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.
Now when the high priest came, and those who were with him, they called together the council, all the senate of the people of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought. 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.”
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.