27When they had brought them, they had them stand before the council. The high priest questioned them, 28saying, “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are determined to bring this man’s blood on us.” 29But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than any human authority. 30The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. 31God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 32And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.”
33When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. 34But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, respected by all the people, stood up and ordered the men to be put outside for a short time. 35Then he said to them, “Fellow Israelites,£ consider carefully what you propose to do to these men. 36For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him; but he was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and disappeared. 37After him Judas the Galilean rose up at the time of the census and got people to follow him; he also perished, and all who followed him were scattered.
38So in the present case, 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; 39but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them—in that case you may even be found fighting against God!” They were convinced by him,
40and when they had called in the apostles, they had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 41As they left the council, they rejoiced that they were considered worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name. 42And every day in the temple and at home they did not cease to teach and proclaim Jesus as the Messiah.
In vv. 12-16, we learn that the apostles were healing many people miraculously through the power of the Holy Spirit. Earlier in Acts, we saw that the healing of one man caused Peter and John to be arrested and brought before the religious leaders. They were released after being warned to not speak about Jesus anymore and threatened. We would expect the religious leaders to act stronger now that many were being healed.
The apostles were arrested and thrown into prison overnight. But during the night, an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and released them, and they kept preaching.
They were gathered again in front of the religious leaders and were reminded that they were warned about preaching about Jesus. The apostles would not back down, and they wanted to kill them, but a respected teacher, Gamaliel, reasoned with them that they should leave them alone, since if they were not part of God’s plans, they would fade away on their own, but if they were part of God’s plans, then opposing them would mean opposing God.
So they had the apostles flogged, warned them again, and released them. This flogging was not a light punishment. They would use leather whips with many tails, tipped with lead, which were designed to dig into the skin and rip as they came out. It was considered so dangerous that they were not allowed to receive 40 lashes, so most stopped at 39. After such lashings, their backs would be made raw and the scars and the pain would last for a while.
The apostles’ reaction to being mistreated for witnessing for Jesus is not something we would have expected. Instead of being enraged by the mistreatment, or frightened for their lives if they persisted, they left rejoicing. Rejoicing because God had considered them worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name of Jesus.
In many countries, including the United States, religious freedom is protected by law. It does not mean that we are absolutely free from harm when practicing our faith, since there is always a potential of harm coming from individuals or groups who do not like what we practice or preach. But it would be a rare event where the governing body would arrest and physically abuse us for our faith. If persecution did occur, our reactions probably would not be the reaction that the apostles had in this section.
How is it that the apostles were able to accept persecution because of their faith in Jesus? Jesus had taught them that they will be persecuted for their faith in Him. In Luke 6:22-23, he said, “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven”. 人の子の為に、人々があなたがたをにくむとき、また、あなたがたをじょめいし、はずかしめ、あなたがたの名をあしざまにけなすとき、あなたがたはさいわいです。その日には、喜びなさい。おどりあがって喜びなさい。天ではあなたがたのむくいは大きいからです。
Jesus had prepared His followers to expect persecution – that it was going to be a normal part of their lives if they choose to follow Him. Back then, the only way to avoid persecution was to not be a witness for Christ. But that was not going to be an option for a true believer, who has been empowered by the Holy Spirit to be a witness.
Things are a bit different and easier today in the United States. We are not likely to be arrested and whipped by the authorities for telling others about Jesus. But if that time ever comes, would we be ready to be joyful about it? With the help of the Holy Spirit, it is possible.
True joy will come from serving the Lord, regardless of whether there are any positives for us. It is a bit different than happiness, which usually comes from external circumstances.
We probably should be glad that we live in a time and place where when we act in faith, we are not going to be arrested, imprisoned and tortured. However, we should be sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s promptings in how we can be witnesses for Jesus. Is it helping someone in need with time or money? Is it witnessing to unbelieving family members, or a co-worker, or a neighbor?
It might be something we do not want to do or even dread doing. It might be something that is costly to us or even bring us persecution. But as long as we are serving the Lord, it may not bring us happiness, but it can bring us true joy.
After all, the same Holy Spirit that enabled the flogged apostles to leave rejoicing is with us today.
(the above is a summary of the message shared with us by Shun Takano during our zoom worship time on May 9th.)