The Apostles on Trial Again
Open Your Bible
Acts 5:12-42, Deuteronomy 21:22-23, John 6:66-69
I’m currently reading a biography of a controversial man named John C. Frémont, who was hired by the U.S. government to cross the Rocky Mountains and survey California. Part of the book takes place at the beginning of the Mexican-American War in the 1840s. At the time, newspapers and letters traveled by boat from Washington, D.C., and settlers would often get news six months or more after an event happened! And yet, they had to act given their most recent information. During the Mexican-American War, Frémont and others working for the government were making life-and-country-altering decisions based on information from months prior. If they were wrong about President James K. Polk’s wishes, they could be fired at best. If they were right, they could be heroes.
In Acts 5, Gamaliel the Pharisee encountered a similar situation with the Sanhedrin, the high Jewish court. The Jewish leaders had yet again imprisoned the apostles for preaching the gospel. The apostles were no longer the frightened men who ran when Jesus was captured. Instead, they were risking their lives, regular imprisonment, and beatings to tell the world about the Messiah. They knew what they had seen, claiming “we are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him” (Acts 5:32).
The Sanhedrin persisted, and the revered Gamaliel stepped in. He warned the leaders, who felt their power threatened by these upstart and unstoppable apostles, that they didn’t know what they didn’t know. He said, “For if this plan or this work is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them.” (vv.38–39).
If the Sanhedrin were right, the apostles would likely be killed. But if they were wrong, if the apostles were telling the truth about Jesus, then they might be “found fighting against God” (v.39).
French philosopher Blaise Pascal offered a similar argument in the seventeenth century. His famous wager posited that either God exists or he doesn’t. If people don’t believe in God and they were right, then they would lose little. But if they didn’t believe in God and they were wrong, they would lose everything. He said, “Belief is a wise wager. Granted that faith cannot be proved, what harm will come to you if you gamble on its truth and it proves false? If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation, that He exists.”
I find myself often spinning into doubt, playing the same game as the Sanhedrin. What does it cost to follow Jesus? Do I tight-fist my own power, idols, and control? But I know, because of the work of the Holy Spirit, the gift of faith lives in me. The same gift that propelled the apostles to preach, day after day, no matter what it cost, is mine! And so I pray today for less doubt, for less self-reliance, for more faith; and I hope I will have the same strength as the apostles, who “every day in the temple, and in various homes, they continued teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah” (v.42).