The Apostles Arrested and Freed
But the high priest rose up, and all who were with him (that is, the party of the Sadducees), and filled with jealousy they arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison. But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, "Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life." And when they heard this, they entered the temple at daybreak and began to teach.
Now when the high priest came, and those who were with him, they called together the council and all the senate of the people of Israel and sent to the prison to have them brought. But when the officers came, they did not find them in the prison, so they returned and reported, "We found the prison securely locked and the guards standing at the doors, but when we opened them we found no one inside." Now when the captain of the temple and the chief priests heard these words, they were greatly perplexed about them, wondering what this would come to. And someone came and told them, "Look! The men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people." Then the captain with the officers went and brought them, but not by force, for they were afraid of being stoned by the people.
And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, saying, "We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man's blood upon us." But Peter and the apostles answered, "We must obey God rather than men.
The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to 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."
When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in honor by all the people, stood up and gave orders to put the men outside for a little while. And he said to them, "Men of Israel, take care what you are about to do with these men. For before these days Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. After him Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him. He too perished, and all who followed him were scattered. So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!" So they took his advice, and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.
At the beginning of his message on this passage, our pastor Mark Davis asked, “Have you ever been arrested?” My pulse went up, my breathing got shallow, and I was seconds from a cold sweat. “No!” thought I. “Never!” Now, don’t get me wrong. There have been a few times when maybe I should have been, but just the thought of being locked up does its deterrent work on this generally law-abiding citizen. (Speed limits are not just suggestions, right?)
For the folks in the New Testament church, arrest was a common and dangerous reality. Accompanied by beatings, stonings and civic expulsion, arrest was an ever-present threat for Christians and often only a short-term formality preceding execution.
But why? Being a Christian wasn’t against the law. There was no Roman rule that said following Jesus was illegal. That bit of legislation wouldn’t come about for several decades. Yet the first followers of The Way often found themselves on the wrong side of the dungeon door, usually because of the ire they had caused the religious establishment in town. They were imprisoned because they kept telling everyone who would listen that Jesus was alive and that he was The Messiah.
So there they sat. Imprisoned for preaching the Gospel, the apostles were in a seemingly silenced, hopeless predicament. And you know what happened? An angel showed up in the middle of the night and set them free. I wonder if they thought they were dreaming. Maybe they were so scared they thought they had hallucinated their release. But the punch line of the account is that the angel didn’t just “turn them loose,” but also gave them instructions. “Go and stand in the temple, and speak to the people all the words of this Life.”
What? They had been arrested for preaching, freed by a direct miracle of God Almighty, walked past sleeping guards, and then told to go back to the center of town…and preach some more! But this time the audience would be different. They would wind up preaching the Gospel to the very leaders who had attacked them in the first place. They were beaten, roughed up for good measure, and then released.
How did they respond? It’s remarkable. They offered praise to God because they had been counted worthy of suffering for Christ. “And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.”
And that’s the way with the followers of Jesus, isn’t it? God is building His church in and through His faithful servants. God’s Kingdom will prevail, empowered and emboldened by the same Holy Spirit that empowered Peter and the others. Who will you tell today?