April 2019   
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Acts #19 (chapter 5:11-42, pt 3)
The Book of Acts
Five Essentials of Evangelism, Part 2
Acts 5:11–42
So far in our study of Acts 5:11-42 we've covered four characteristics of effective evangelism found in the early church.  In the order of their appearance, they are purity, power, persecution and persistence.  There is a fifth mark that I want us to see tonight and that is
5. Providence
The first four are in our control. We determine how pure we will be which in turn determines the power we will be given. We can stand in the face of persecution and persistently keep preaching, but there is another component that is really beyond our control, and that is this idea of providence.
What I mean by providence is God’s control of circumstances.  Ultimately, the impact of our evangelism is in the hands of God. 
To refresh our memory, Peter and the other apostles have been jailed for preaching in the name of Jesus and disobeying their orders to stop.  And when given the opportunity, they just unload on these Jewish leaders, accusing them of murdering Jesus, and then just preach the gospel, reminding them of their need to repent and be forgiven. 
And one would hope they would respond by doing just that,, but that's not what happened.
verse 33
Furious.  Some translation say "cut to the quick" or "cut to the heart".  The word describe a violent kind of mental agitation and anguish.  It actually means to saw in half. 
Now I will tell you it's one thing to use harsh, cutting words, but hardly ever would we say that someone's words just cut us in half! But that's what they say about Peter and his sermon!  They are furiously agitated to the very core of their being. 
After all, they have trheatened and arrested and jailed these men for preaching about the reusrrection of Jesus and the moment they are released from jail they go back to the very same place and preach the very same message! And now, in front of the Supreme Court of Israel, they're still doing it!
They just won't stop.  And we would expect that men with that kind of power and that kind of anger would have executed all of them on the spot and put an end to the whole thing.  So why didn't that? 
In a strange turn of events, one of their own, who is a Pharisee gets involved.  His name is Gamaliel.  He is a teacher of the law and respected by all the others. 
verse 34
So who is this guy and what's he up to?  The Sadducees were the dominating faction in the Sanhedrin.  The high priests were Sadducees.  And they were enemies, in a sense, of the Pharisees, but there were Pharisees in the Council.
In a sense, it's the same kind of setup as we have in our governing bodies with people from opposite ends of the spectrum trying to work together to get things done.
With the Sanhedrin, the Pharisees more of a relationship with the general public, but the Sadducees had the power.  They ran the temple operation and were the political collaborators with Rome.  But the Pharisees were the teachers of the people and were seen as more involved in the life of the nation.  And they were poles apart religiously and politically.  .       
Josephus, the Jewish historian, says that because of the popularity of the Pharisees, the Sadducees would not oppose them openly because they didn’t want the Pharisees to turn on them because if they did, the people would turn on them. 
Very important to the Sadducees was the people’s good will to overcome the way they were bilking the people and robbing them.  The Pharisees wanted to maintain the people’s respect, and the Sadducees wanted the Pharisees to deliver the people to them, so they had to be very careful publicly how they dealt with Pharisees.
If a Sadducee had stood up, he might have said, “Call the temple police.  Kill them all immediately.”  But it was a Pharisee who stood up, and the Sadducees are caught in a bit of a dilemma.  They want them all executed immediately, but this is a man who represents the population. 
Not only that, he’s a teacher of the law, respected by all the people.  And apparently, he is a ery eminent, exceptional man.  In fact, he is known so well that the Talmud refers to him as “Rabban Gamaliel, the elder.”  That’s a title that means master teacher and it was only given to one man and that is this man.
He is also familiar to students of the New Testament because of one student in particular of his and that is none other than Saul of Tarsus.
So he is a very powerful man.  When he stands up to talk, everybody listens.  Notice what he says:
verse 35
He knows exactly what they propose to do.  I don’t think you want to act.  Act cautiously, act wisely.  Don’t do anything rash.  Think before you act.  Use your head, not your emotions.  Calm your fears and your fury.  You don’t want to start something you can’t control.  You execute these men, and you may have a full blown revolution.  God is supreme, he thinks.  Let Him handle it.
verse 36
We don’t know who this Theudas is.  He may very well have been a Messiah wannabe.  There were a number of them around.  In fact, in ancient Israel around the time of our Lord Jesus, Israel had a quick succession of a whole lot of rebel leaders who set themselves up as deliverers and Messiahs.
 “After the death of Herod, 4 B.C.,” Josephus says, “there were 10,000 disorders in Judea.  It was full of robberies, and whenever the several companies of the rebels could light upon anyone to lead them, he was created king immediately.”
They were just making rebel leaders into Messiahs and running off with little revolutions.  So Gamaliel reminds them of one led by a man named Theudas, and it went nowhere. 
Then he says
verse 37
In other words, these things have a way of kind of resolving.  This has been tried before, and it came to nothing. 
verse 38
That’s human wisdom, and it’s really stupid because not everything that succeeds is from God, right?  The principle needs some thought.  The first half is true.  Occasionally, things kind of resolve themselves.  So slow down, let things kind of take care of themselves. 
The second half is not necessarily true, not everything that succeeds is from God.  What he should have said, as a teacher of the Law, let’s open the Old Testament and see if this man Jesus and this message is true to the Scripture.  That would have been real wisdom.
If we look at Scripture and we see that He matches Scripture, then we know that He is our Messiah.  You don’t want to say that anything that’s religious that succeeds is from God.  Is Islam from God?  Is Hinduism from God?  Is Confucianism from God?  Is Buddhism from God?  Is Mormonism from God?  Roman Catholic Church true representation of God? 
The fact that something succeeds doesn’t mean it’s from God.  It’s kind of interesting to me to think that the wisest men in Israel couldn’t get this right.  Go to the Book and compare Jesus with the revelation that we spend every day studying.  If they’d have done that, they would have known that beginning at Moses and the prophets and in all the holy writings, the writers all spoke of Him.  They could have started in Isaiah 53 maybe.
You can’t judge anything by success.  So it was a very noble man who has the power to stop things with a kind of simplistic idea.  He sort of popped up out of nowhere.  Right guy with the right influence and because He had the right influence, even his bad idea seemed like a good one. 
If you’re in the right position, people buy anything you say.  So
verse 40
Apparently they still had some anger issues they needed to work out!  They couldn’t just not do anything, so they beat them and once again ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and then released them.”
Now, are you starting to get a sense of providence here?  Who is this guy?  He’s doing something purely on his own human terms.  He pops up in the middle of this meeting that could have ended in the death of all the apostles.  He belongs to the kingdom of darkness.  He makes a silly, unqualified, simplistic statement about reality that doesn’t bear out truthfully; and yet God uses this man acting on his own to keep the opportunity to preach the gospel alive.  So they flogged them, ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus and released them. 
And how did the apostles respond?
verse 41-42
Providence allowed them to continue to do this, and I submit to you that God has His purposes in every era, in every age, in every country, in every time and place.  We can have the purity and we can have the power and we do.  We can face the persecution and we can be persistent, but the end of it all is determined by divine providence.  We can’t create a revival.  We can’t create an explosion of the gospel.
They weren’t as well-trained as we are.  They didn’t have any more power than we do.  It was the Holy Spirit.  We have the truth written down that they had received verbally.  They didn’t, in a sense, have any more than we do, but providence had ordered the explosion of the church in that time.  If you study church history, you know there are times like that.  Providence ordered the Reformation.  You can ask what happened from 500 to 1500 when you have 1,000 years of darkness, and then explosion of the light of the Reformation. It’s the purpose of God in His providence. 
God was not ready to shut down the preaching of the gospel in Jerusalem.  The church was not complete in Jerusalem, and so you read this in chapter 6, verse 1, “Now at this time while the disciples were increasing - ” meaning in number “ - while the disciples were increasing in number.” 
Go down to verse 7, “The word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith.” God providentially kept the gospel going.  They were released.  They kept preaching.  They kept preaching until God was satisfied that the church had been begun. 
Then in chapter 7, they killed Stephen.  Then in chapter 8, wholesale persecution explodes.  On the day that Stephen was killed, Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death.  On that day, a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea, Samaria, except the apostles.
The apostles, of course, began to be martyred, but the end of it all really is determined by divine providence.  What a wonderful reality it is to know that!   We have access to the purity and the power.  We face the persecution.  We are persistent in the persecution, but divine providence determines our access, our opportunity and the extent of the reach.  That’s in God’s hands.  I’m happy to leave that to Him, aren’t you?  So we don’t panic about results, do we?  We are just to be faithful about the proclamation. 
Let’s pray.
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