Some time back, I was reading a report from a group called The Bible League. They’re a group that sends Bibles to countries that are introducing people to Jesus so quickly that they don’t have the ability to supply them all with Bibles. So they ask for outside help. Apart from letters of help, they also send out reports to fill us in on what’s happening in some of these countries where being a Christian is unheard of. One month, I read a report, about a man from India, named Raji. Raji had been talking to everyone who he came into contact with about Jesus. He also studied the Bible with them, began a worship service, and baptized some to Christianity.
Then one day, a group of angry men grabbed Raji and took him to a local Hindu temple, where they threw him at the base of an idol, put his hand on the idol’s foot, and threatened him that if he didn’t stop converting people and talking about Jesus, they would cut off his hand! Think about that for a moment…they threatened to cut off his hand if he didn’t stop spreading news about Jesus! Wow, that’s a little vicious, don’t you think?
Now let me take your attention back for a moment to about 1900 and some odd years ago: Jesus was preaching about life after this life to everyone whom He came into contact with. The church officials didn’t like it, so eventually, they had him killed. They persecuted Him, lied about Him, and convinced the Romans that He should be killed for the safety of mankind. 3 days later, Jesus was raised from the dead, preached a little more, then went up to Heaven to be with His Father, on His right hand as Savior to all. But before He left, He commanded His apostles to finish the message, as it’s written at the end of Mark’s gospel, Jesus said, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.”
So the Apostles traveled everywhere to preach this good news which they’d learned to know, and witnessed themselves first hand (no pun intended). They walked around everywhere, preaching this good news to everyone that they witnessed to. Well, the church officials didn’t like them preaching this stuff either, just as they didn’t with Jesus. In fact, they weren’t just preaching about this new life, but also that the church officials (Sadducees) had something to do with Jesus’ death!
So the Sadducees had the apostles arrested and gave them strict orders not to preach in the name of Jesus anymore. But Peter asked them sarcastically, “Is it right in God’s sight to listen to you instead of God?” Then after more insults and threats, the council had no other choice but to let them go.
But the apostles couldn’t stop there – they were witnesses to this new life! They saw what they did to their Lord, and that Jesus rose from the dead! They couldn’t (and wouldn’t) stop telling everyone just because somebody – some human – told them to. They were witnesses! So they prayed to God for boldness in their preaching – anything to help keep them from stopping or from listening to what the officials charged them from doing. For in Acts 5:27-32,it says that, “After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness.”
Next, the church officials became enraged with jealousy, so they arrested the apostles again. This time, they put them into jail to keep them from saying anything to anyone else until they could try them before the council. But that night, the angel of the Lord came to them and freed them from jail. Then He commanded them, “Go, stand in the temple and tell the people the whole message about this life.” So they hung around until daybreak, then entered the temple, and began preaching again.
That morning, when the officials noticed that they were gone, they sent their police to look for them and bring them back to the council. This time, they asked (just to make sure that they heard them the first time), “Didn’t we give you strict orders not to preach in the name of this man anymore?” Which brings us to our core verses: Peter said, “We must obey God rather than any human authority. The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.”
First of all, did you notice that they didn’t even say Jesus…they said “this man’s name.” They didn’t even want to acknowledge Him.
Second, the officials didn’t ask anything about how they escaped from jail? Some sources mention that it was so the guards didn’t get into trouble, others suggest that it was because they were so focused on the fact that the apostles were still preaching this message about Jesus and the resurrection, along with blaming them with Jesus’ death.
The officials gave them strict orders to stop their preaching! But they didn’t. Instead, they said that they must listen to God instead of them. But they were talking to the high priests! They are working for God too, right? Who are these “uneducated men” to say that God told them to preach this message that includes mocking and accusing the high priests? Nowadays, that would be called defamation…one can get sued big-time for that. But they didn’t care. See, they knew something that others didn’t know. Why? Because it was being covered up by these “officials”. They knew the truth because they were witnesses to it! They saw what happened with their own eyes, and heard with their own ears. And they were commanded by God Himself to spread it among the nations to all so that they too may be saved and become witnesses to the truth! They couldn’t listen to what these people said, even if they were high priests…because they knew the truth!
But what’s the big deal? Jesus died for our sins so that we can all live, right? He died and rose after 3 days…what’s the urgency? Why do we need to tell anyone at all?
Notice, if you will, after Pilate washed his hands clean from the responsibility of Jesus’ death, Matthew 27:25 says, “the people as a whole answered, ‘His blood be upon us and on our children!’” His blood be upon us and our children…
These people were doomed to die! They sealed their own fate without even realizing it! They thought they were condemning this Jesus character, when in fact, they were condemning their selves! So what better people to preach the truth of repentance, and salvation to, than to people who are doomed? And when you look at the fact that these were God’s people, how much more doomed were we gentiles?! And if all we have to do to be saved is to accept Jesus, then what do we have to lose? Plus, there’s the fact that Jesus said if we acknowledge Him before man, then at the time of our judgment, He will acknowledge us as a witness before God.
Wow! Double bonus!
So let me get this straight…we are doomed to die…Israel sealed their fate, along with ours. But in order to be saved, all I have to do is accept Jesus into my life, acknowledge him before others as a witness, and He will be my witness and vouch for me in front of God!?! WOW!
But wait a minute…I wasn’t there when all this happened. How can I be a witness? I mean, a witness is somebody who can testify in court that they saw and heard everything that happened…that was almost 2000 years ago…I’ve only been on this earth for 28 years. But ahhh…that’s where the Holy Spirit comes in. For Acts 5:32 says, “We are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.” So if we obey God, then we’ll receive this Holy Spirit, who was a witness to what happened, and since it dwells within us, we too become witnesses. (“Oh wow! I’ve got to go tell somebody about this!!!”) See?
Let me give you an example of a witness who wasn’t around during the time of Jesus…Martin Luther. In 1517, the church was selling forgiveness with a thing called purgatory. But Luther couldn’t believe that God would make you purchase your salvation, and he was right. Once he discovered this, he wrote up 95 complaints, and tacked them to the church door, which served as a sort of community bulletin board. He was soon taken to court, whereas the Pope himself issued a law condemning Luther’s views, and Luther burned it. In 1521, the council ordered Luther to stop publishing his findings, but legend has it that Luther stated, “Here I stand. I can do no other…God help me. Amen.” After that, Luther was excommunicated and his writings were banned. But it didn’t end there, for word got out beforehand and spread like fire on oil, exploding into a huge reformation across the nations!
We are witnesses of the Good news, for we have the Holy Spirit within us, and the scripture says that, “The Holy Spirit is also a witness, whom God has given to all who obey Him.
Jesus told His Apostles to preach among all the nations, baptizing those who believe and they will be saved. An angel of the Lord confirmed this calling (should any doubt arise): “Go now and preach in the temple (where everybody who talks about religious topics hangs out), to everyone about this new life.” The Apostles recruited and assigned more people to spread out and preach to a wider range of ground (the tree theory).
I (Pastor Andy G.) have been called and ordered to preach the Good News to all because the witness (Holy Spirit) dwells within me, which makes me a witness. We are humans. And just like Luther, when humans witness the truth, we must get the truth out to the world that knows all but truth. God has commanded us to go; men have commanded us to stop; who will you obey?
Raji didn’t stop. When the men put his hand on the foot of the idol and threatened to cut it off if he didn’t stop talking about Jesus, Raji responded, “Whether I have one hand, or two, or now hands at all, I cannot stop talking about God. He has blessed me all my life, and even if I die now, I will not disown Him.” On that day, Raji’s persecutors walked away. Raji continued to preach, and the opposition continued. But he chose who he would obey.
Jesus said in Luke 21:12, “…they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By standing firm, you will gain life.”
As witnesses of Christ, we, too, must boldly proclaim Him to all with full acknowledgement and devotion, while keeping our focus completely on the Lord.
God tells us to go…men tell us to stop……….who will you obey?