March 24, 2019
Pastor Frank Bowden
I learned something this week while I was studying for today that blew my mind, and I want to share this with you because it is fascinating. Right before the start of World War II, Allied Forces were terrified of having a repeat of the mustard gas attacks that solidified World War I as one of the worst conflicts in history. Tens of thousands of people died from mustard gas exposure; it was a long, excruciating death process, and the Allied Forces wanted to develop an antidote in case this type of chemical warfare happened again.
Two doctors at Yale University, Louis Goodman and Alfred Gilman, started studying soldiers who were affected by mustard gas, and they noticed that many of them had a surprisingly low number of immune cells in their blood. These are cells that if they mutated, could go on to develop into leukemia and lymphoma.
Well, they hypothesized that if mustard gas could destroy normal white blood cells, it seemed likely that it could also destroy cancerous one. So they began to test this, and after a few successful animal trials, it was time to find a human volunteer. Now remember; this is mustard gas, and people are still really aware of what this chemical agent did in 1917, but they found a volunteer, known only as J.D., who had massive tumors in his lymph nodes. He couldn’t even fold his arms across his chest; the tumors were so large.
At 10am on August 27, 1942, J.D. was given the first injection of nitrogen mustard…the same compound used to make mustard gas. After a few treatments, the tumors started to shrink. And with each injection he became a little better. He could sleep, he could swallow, he could eat. The pain faded. This was a monumental discovery in medical history…this was the beginning of what we know today, as chemotherapy.
Here’s the catch (and many of you know this first hand). Chemotherapy not only kills the cancerous cells; it also kills healthy cells that rapidly mutate, such as those in the bone marrow, hair follicles, and the digestive tract. – which makes the side effects of chemo treatment daunting for people…anemia, infections, hair loss, severe nausea, vomiting, diarrhea.
Even though chemo is designed to save your life, it comes at great cost with its side effects. You may experience very little, or perhaps you’ll have a really, really difficult time with it. There’s no rhyme or reason to how a person will react, and because of that, many people choose not to have the treatment, essentially guaranteeing they’ll died from that cancer. Here’s something that is equally heartbreaking…
Faith in Jesus 100% saves you for eternity. -guaranteed, sealed and delivered upon death, BUT…that same saving faith in Jesus, perfectly designed and intended as the only agent that can save your soul, comes at potential extreme risk to your physical present…and what I mean by that is, as we’ve studied through Acts up to this point in chapter 5, we’re beginning to see the risk associated with being a follower of Jesus.
We’ve seen the disciples arrested, brought before the high priest, released, arrested again, miraculously freed, brought back to the council… And this theme of suffering for the Name will continue throughout the rest of the book and throughout church history. And many, many people reject Christ because they feel it’s safer to do that than to become one of his followers.
You might be asking, “Frank, what kind of follower are we talking about that carries with it this kind of risk? -because I don’t want to be that kind of follower.” I’m talking about the only kind of follower that Jesus saves us to be. There’s only one kind, the kind of disciple that we’re seeing emerge here in Acts. In fact, let me sum up today’s entire sermon in one statement that personifies the type of disciple that you and I are saved to be. Write this down in your worship guide, type it into your phone, or just take a picture of the screen. When Jesus saves you, Jesus saves you to be a dangerous and daring disciple.
That’s the standard; that’s the benchmark. -completely counter-cultural. Anything less than that is simply playing it safe, and playing it safe isn’t the mark of a disciple Jesus saves you to be. Listen to Jesus describe the expectations he has when he saves someone. He said, “Take up your cross, and die to self.” He says, “You want to be a follower of me? Narrow is the gate, and hard is the way. Oh, you want to be my disciple in the Chattahoochee Valley? Love the ones you hate, and hate the ones you love. You want to be sons and daughters of God? Eat my flesh and drink my blood. You want to claim Christ? Be hot, or be cold. Being indifferent is the road that leads to Hell.” To be a disciple of Jesus, he says to lose your life to save it.
We’re going to study the end of Acts 5 today and look at a couple of things a dangerous and daring disciple knows and how this impacts his or her faith in the everyday.
A Dangerous and Daring Disciple Knows…
I. The Message Will Be Divisive
33 When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. 34 But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law who was respected by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered the men to be taken outside for a little while. 35 He said to them, “Men of Israel, be careful about what you’re about to do to these men.
Okay, it feels like we just walked into the middle of something, so let me refresh your memories. The apostles have been dragged before the Sanhedrin—again. Peter said some stuff that really made these leaders mad in the verses just before this, namely, 1) They were, in fact, responsible for Jesus’ execution; 2) There is salvation and forgiveness available if they’re interested; 3) The Holy Spirit is present and affirming the reality that Jesus is the Son of God.
Before we look at their response, think about what this organization must have been like…You have the highest Jewish authorities assembled who are suppose to be a legislative-like body where the law is considered and reflected upon. It would be similar to if you combined our Congress with our Supreme Court. But rather than being calm and rational, these men are so furious and enraged, they wanted to murder them right in the very halls they were standing in. The word used for enraged here is a very strong word, meaning their hearts were torn in two.
But what had these men done to encourage this kind of wrath? Were they murderers? Had they embezzled funds from the Jewish authorities in some way? Were they calling on people to form a militia? What had they done? What law had they broken that was so egregious that the Sanhedrin determined they should probably just be put to death?
We’re seeing just how divisive this Gospel message can be. -that the very mention of Jesus brings a tone of violence into the hearts and minds of the Sanhedrin. They were only doing what they’ve been forbidden to do: Teaching and preaching salvation in no other name but the name of Jesus. See, Christianity is an intolerant religion. -intolerant to other gods, intolerant to any other way of salvation but faith alone in Jesus Christ. It is exclusive, and because of that, this Gospel is divisive.
Have you noticed when you’re around a group of people and the mood is getting very heated and teetering on the edge of being aggressive, there seems to always be that one person who is all calm, cool, and collected? That’s verse 34, when we’re introduced to the Pharisee, Gamaliel. He isn’t just any old Pharisee…Gamaliel is a pretty big name. You can read about him in other historical sources. He has a reputation of being a person of honor and wisdom. He has celebrity status…and when this guy speaks, the people listen.
Many scholars believe Gamaliel is the head of the Sanhedrin, which is why he is the one who speaks up and orders the apostles to be taken outside so these religious leaders can have a private meeting. He sees what’s about to happen, and in an effort to keep some semblance of peace, he gives a pretty stern warning when he says, “Men of Israel, be careful what you’re about to do to these men. You’re about to cross a line you can’t come back from. Maybe you should think a second before you do anything that makes us all look really stupid.”
Ravi Zacharius said, “Any time you make a truth claim, you mean something contrary to it is false. Truth excludes it’s opposite.” When you start to boldly live out your faith in front of your family, in front of your friends, in front of your co-workers or classmates or neighbors, don’t be shocked when they give you the cold shoulder, talk about you behind your back or to your face. Don’t be shocked if you feel left on an island. 1 John 3:13 prepares us for that by telling us, “Don’t be surprised if the world hates you.” As you stand firm on the truth found in Scripture, it is going to rub others the wrong way who have a different worldview.
A dangerous and daring disciple knows the message they live for and speak of is divisive.
And they also know, that…
II. The Message Can’t Be Stopped
36 Some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a group of about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, and all his followers were dispersed and came to nothing. 37 After this man, Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and attracted a following. He also perished, and all his followers were scattered. 38 So in the present case, I tell you, stay away from these men and leave them alone. For if this plan or this work is of human origin, it will fail; 39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You may even be found fighting against God.” They were persuaded by him. 40 After they called in the apostles and had them flogged, they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus and released them.
Gamaliel is a wise man and he’s trying to choose his words wisely so that it doesn’t look like he’s coming to the defense of the apostles, but also so that whatever action the Sanhedrin takes, they aren’t undermining the law that they stand for. He’s walking a tightrope, and he’s having to use some political savvy to navigate this minefield he’s in. What he says is interesting. He gives a couple of examples from history that everybody would have understood at the time.
He mentions this guy named Theudas who shows up. A lot of people got excited, started following him. Then he gets killed, and after some time, all of those followers went away. Then another guy, Judas the Galilean, comes on the scene. He gets a lot of people fired up, gathers a following, but he’s killed and same thing; after some time, all of those followers go away. And Gamaliel argues that, if this Jesus is a fake, he’s already been killed. Let’s just wait around, and eventually these disciples will lose their motivation and will scatter just like the others. No harm, no foul. No need in trying to kill a dead horse.
But what he says next, I believe, truly shows why this man was so revered and respected. He employs some big picture reasoning when he says, “If this plan or this work is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to overthrow them.” Even though he seems a bit skeptical here, he’s at least willing to acknowledge that their God MIGHT be behind all of this.
I’m not sure if he actually believes that, but he allows that maybe, just maybe, God is doing something here, and if that’s the case, it would be futile to think you could stop something God was doing. He’s thinking about the God that led Moses, and Joshua, and the Judges, and David… Gamaliel says more here than he probably ever realized…that when God is doing something, you can fight against it all you want, but you aren’t stopping it. Quit fighting against God. You aren’t going to beat him.
Verse 40 says, “They were persuaded by him. 40 After they called in the apostles and had them flogged, they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus and released them.” Now if you’re reading this for the first time, I understand if you’re a bit confused, because the first part of this passage says that his speech persuaded them. Then immediately after that, they flogged them! It’s okay to say, “That’s weird! Generally, if I’m persuaded, I wouldn’t think there would be any flogging, at all.”
This shows just how enraged they were. If this is what “persuaded” looked like, imagine what they wanted to do to them! Can I just level with you for a second? These apostles took a beating. I know there are some tough men in the room this morning that can take a punch. This was not that kind of beating. A flogging would have been thirty-nine lashes with whips braided with bone, iron balls, and sometimes shards of metal designed to tear your flesh all the way to the bone. We’re talking severe blood loss and body trauma, excruciating pain. It wasn’t uncommon for men to die from this.
Since they couldn’t kill them, they hoped that a beating like this would stop them and scare them off. Do you know who might be in the crowd and maybe instigating this flogging? Saul…who we know is a principal student of Gamaliel and who not long after this oversees the stoning of Stephen. -who probably said, “Forget this ‘wait and see’ nonsense. Let’s just beat them into submission. They were trying to stop something that was completely unstoppable.
True story about U.S. General George S. Patton. He also tried to stop something unstoppable and failed, but he gave it a good effort. Patton was a lieutenant colonel in 1935 when a volcanic eruption on Hawaii’s big island threatened the community of Hilo. In an attempt to the save the town, Patton was ordered to conduct an operation to bomb the fissure that the lava was flowing out from.
This sounds like a Hollywood movie, but it’s real. He dropped twenty, 600- pound demolition bombs into the lava source, none of which stopped the flow. Scientists say there’s no way to stop the flow of lava. At over 2,000 degrees, you’re not going to cool it down. Iceland tried pumping (get this) 1.5 billion gallons of ice-cold seawater onto one of their lava flows with no success. And even though it flows like syrup, it is more dense than cement. So anything you put in front of it, it’s just going to bulldoze it out of the way. There’s literally no stopping it once it starts moving.
And Gamaliel was right. If God was really behind this “Jesus movement”, then it doesn’t matter if they killed these apostles or not. You’re not stopping that ball once God kicks it down the hill. The sense here is that God is in control, 100% control, of everything. You cannot stop Him, nor does he need us to do his work for him.
So can we just pause for second and relish in the fact that us meeting here at Calvary, in this building on this morning in 2019, is a continuation of the exact scenario laid out before us in the text? We are part of this same movement of God. The message today is as divisive as it was then. The message is as unstoppable today as it was then, and it’s because of those truths, we get to this last point that the messenger won’t shut up. Listen to how these men left Gamaliel and the rest of the Sanhedrin…
III. The Messenger Won’t Shut Up
41 Then they went out from the presence of the Sanhedrin, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to be treated shamefully on behalf of the Name. 42 Every day in the temple, and in various homes, they continued teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.
For the second verse in a row, Luke really lays a head scratcher on us here. I’ve never been flogged; I’m not even going to pretend that I understand what that fully feels like, but if I were to be flogged, praising and rejoicing just doesn’t immediately come to my mind of ways I would respond. Yet the apostles’ response shows us these guys were legit. They were into this. They fully believed this mattered more than their own lives, their own comfort, their own well-being.
There’s a question we have to asked here. Something happened in between verses 39 and 40. What prepared these men,to take that kind of beating? What enables a man to endure that level of torture and humiliation and still be able to say, “Great is the Lord, and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom!”?
When Jesus radically, fully, and miraculously saves you, the overflowing joy of salvation and the power of the Holy Spirit allows you to boldly face whatever man may try to do to shut you up. But did they stop? -Not for a second. The impression left here in verse 42 is that they taught everywhere, every day. They taught large groups, small groups, public groups, private groups. They taught any and all who would listen. They did not stop at all! ‘talk about daring! Their backs haven’t even begun to heal, and they were right back at it…for God’s glory, and their good.
So let’s take a hard look in the mirror for the last few seconds this morning. How would you measure up? If I brought out a measuring tape that identified what kind of dangerous and daring disciple you currently are, what would it say if we took it toes to nose?
Here are some very practical, easy to judge marks of a dangerous and daring disciple…
A Dangerous and Daring Disciple is Defined by…
- What you flee from
Each day you’re faced with decisions to sin or not to sin, and sometimes the smartest (and for us men in the room, the most manly) decision you can make is to turn tail and run away. Think back to Genesis 39 when Joseph runs away from Potiphar’s wife. 2 Timothy 2:22 tells us to flee the evil desires of youth. Fleeing is not a sign of weakness. When your personal holiness is on the line, you do whatever it takes to get out of that situation.
2. What you follow after
What are you pursuing? What are you running to? Jesus is the only thing that will fully satisfy the desires of your heart. Are you wholeheartedly pursuing Jesus?
3. What you fight for
Are you fighting for the things that Christ fought for, or are you fighting over things that, in eternity, won’t even matter?
4. What you hold on to
What are you refusing to let go of that allows Satan a foothold into your life? Is it your job? Your money? Your stuff? Your kids? Your addiction? Your pride? Your power? What are you holding on to that makes you vulnerable to Satan?
Today, I realize my need for a savior. I put my trust in Jesus as Lord of my life for the first time.
– Pray for me to let go of __ that is keeping me from being a Gospel-sharing disciple of Jesus.
+ This week I will have at least 1 gospel conversation with someone I know.
- What is one belief or conviction you are willing to go to jail for? What would your friends or family think if that happened?
- What does Matt 5:44, 6:24, 7:13-14, and 10:39 say about faith? Can you really have a “safe faith”?
- How do you explain why God sometimes delivers you from hardships, but at other times He allows you to go through them?
- Describe a recent event when you had to choose between God and man (Acts 5:29). What did you do and why?
- Boldness is an expression of what you value. What does your current boldness say you value most?
- Where in the Chattahoochee Valley can you be a dangerous and daring disciple? Think about places you avoid or usually “play it safe”.
- Pray for untethered boldness in personal evangelism this week for God’s glory and for your joy.