Acts 5:27-32 Psalm 150
Revelation 1:4-8 John 20:19-31
May these words and our thoughts be acceptable to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Easter has come and gone, the disciples are testing their skills at preaching the Gospel. I remember when I first studied the Book of Acts in High School how freeing it was, how full of life it was after the events of Holy Week, Christ’s Crucifixion and all. I can imagine how for the disciples this time must have been so energising, so fulfilling. Just before the action of today’s first reading the disciples had been preaching in the Temple, telling the crowds who Jesus was and what He had done, specifically what He had done for them. The Temple priests saw this as a threat to their control of the message of God. The disciples were saying that Jesus was the Son of God, that He had been murdered by the establishment and that the people needed to listen to the disciples’ message because it was through their message that redemption was available. This caused the Jewish authorities to arrest them, forbid them from preaching, and to throw them in prison, because the disciples’ message of Jesus Christ was so successful it had filled the City.
Not to be thwarted God sent an angel to free them from prison. In the morning it must have been quite an amusing scene. The Jewish Council sent for their prisoners only to be told that they were not there (shades of the Resurrection) but were in the Temple preaching again. So they rearrested them and dressed them down. That’s where we picked-up the narrative today. The disciples got heck, but said words similar to Luther’s at the Diet of Worms “Here I stand, I can do no other”. At this point Gamaliel the revered Jewish Rabbi, the teacher of St. Paul no less, had the disciples removed from the Council Chamber and said these very wise words “I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone; because if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them – in that case you may even be found fighting against God !” The council agreed. It’s a pity Gamaliel did not speak like that at Jesus’ trial, or maybe the Crucifixion and Resurrection had instilled in him a whole lot more wisdom than he had previously had. In any event the Council brought the disciples back in, again told them not to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, had them flogged and released them. The disciples took no heed of the prohibition on them and went straight back to the Temple speaking to the crowds, and the Council was afraid to stop them !
That demonstrates a wonderful certainty of spirit in the disciples and shows how opposition crumbles in the face of God. I ask you to use that same certainty of spirit in your efforts to promote your faith. The Truth will out and nothing can stop it.
Put yourself in Peter’s place. He had followed Jesus faithfully, believing His every word, yet when the rubber hit the road he denied Jesus ! At the time he denied Him to save his own skin, but I bet you at that very instant also going through his mind was the feeling of disbelief at his own denial. While saying “I do not know the man” he was thinking “I can’t believe I’m saying this !” He did this three times though. Once you’ve transgressed, it’s easier to do it, again, and then again. He had been told by Jesus that he would deny Him. And Peter broke down in tears, in shame for his actions. He wasn’t even able to look at himself in the mirror, he was so distraught. And then Peter experienced the adrenaline rush of the Resurrection and received Jesus’ forgiveness, for all three failings.
Like it or not you are in Peter’s place. You have followed Jesus faithfully although you may not have denied Christ at a critical hour. There was not much Peter could have done to save Jesus, nor could you, but going against Jesus’ teachings is enough of a denial of Him. But you still are in Peter’s place because you have the evidence of the Resurrection and you have been forgiven. Given that, you should be out there preaching the Word of God, to all who would listen. Yes, I know, that ain’t going to happen, but you have the potential to pass on what you know, what you have experienced, what you believe and for what you hope.
It’s not a message of which to be ashamed, or deny. Because you can tell your story, your own gospel story, we all have one. Now to do that you have to know your story and how to interpret it. One of the purposes of our Bible Discussions is not to get you to memorise reams of verses and their numbers but to open up their message so we can understand what we believe. It may surprise you but many people do not know what they believe, they have a vague idea but generally haven’t spent much time thinking about it in biblical terms, and therefore about their life in terms of their faith. When you do that you can see where you have been like Adam or Eve, Abraham or Sarah, Rebecca, Jacob, Joseph (all three of them if you like) Moses, Pharaoh, David, Johnathan, Bathsheba, Abigail, Naomi, Ruth, Mary (all two hundred of them) Naman, Nabal, Nathan, Absalom, Uriah, Peter, John, Martha, Thomas, and even Jesus. You have a story to tell. First know it. Then tell it. You haven’t lived all these years to deny your own gospel story. Tell your story and it will be a song of praise to God like our Psalm today. Amen.