Could Be Said Of Us?
As we did last week, we will be reading
from the book of Acts for several more weeks. Because of that, I encourage you to join me
in reading the entire book through. It really wont take very long to do - its
only about 30 pages long. But I believe reading it will give you a better sense of the key
points of the entire story as well as a better understanding of the setting of each of the
passages well read in worship over the course of the next month or so.
a sermon based on Acts 5:27-32
by Rev. Randy Quinn
One of the first things youll realize is that while this book is officially
called "the Acts of the Apostles," it really is a record of the work of the Holy
Spirit in and through and among the Apostles. In fact, some scholars have suggested that
the name of the book should really be "the Acts of the Holy Spirit". 
Since you havent had time to read the entire book yet, let me give you a brief
review of what has happened leading up to our passage for today. In one sentence, what has
happened is that the "disciples" have become "apostles."
For those of you who havent thought about it much, a disciple is a student.
Disciples learn from their master or their teacher. An apostle is a messenger. Apostles
tell others about the message they have received. The disciples who had gathered together
after Jesus was raised, received power from the Holy Spirit and became apostles.
But the priests and the Sadducees were "annoyed" with them, so they arrested
Peter and John (Acts 4:1-3). Unlike the night that Jesus was arrested, however, Peter and
John boldly stood before the council and proclaimed their message. They were no longer
disciples. They were apostles. Their boldness - along with the stories of the miracles
they had performed - disturbed the religious leaders; but there were no grounds for
further punishment, so Peter and John were sent away with a warning.
But they persisted in their activities and are arrested again, only this time they are
imprisoned. After an angel frees them they are found in the temple still proclaiming their
message about Jesus (5:19, 25). Once again they are arrested and brought before the
religious leaders. Our text today begins where they are brought before the council - also
known as "the Sanhedrin."
Before we go further, let me tell you what Ive been able to learn about the
Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin traces its roots to Moses (Numbers 11:16) and was comprised of 70
or 72 elders of the tribes of Israel. For the most part, the Sanhedrin dealt with issues
of the community - much like a city council might today.
When Rome occupied the region, however, some roles were changed. First of all, the
Romans limited the jurisdiction of the Sanhedrin to religious matters. So it became a
forum for discussion in which decisions didnt much matter since they had no
authority to enforce them. The result was a lively and ongoing debate among the leading
thinkers of the day, a debate that attracted people from a variety of perspectives, most
notably the Pharisees and the Sadducees.
But perhaps a more important change was the fact that the High Priest - who functioned
as the president of the Sanhedrin - was appointed by Rome. The result of that political
appointment was a High Priest who often had more of a vested interest in maintaining
political stability than in sorting out religious truth. So when Jesus was brought before
the council, the High Priest insisted that Jesus be put to death - not based on religious
disagreements, but rather based on political concerns (Lk 23:1-5).
Now its Peter and John who are before the council. The High Priest is still
concerned with maintaining a political balance with Rome. And in many ways, the argument
that Peter makes cuts to the core of the dilemma for the Sanhedrin. He never mentions
Rome; in fact, he doesnt even infer there might be a rebellion. Instead of
responding to what is obviously the High Priests primary concern, he turns the
discussion toward the legitimate realm of the Sanhedrin by casting the issue as a
theological one rather than a political one.  And in so doing, Peter makes them
realize that for him the answers to the questions do have import and impact.
What you believe about God makes a difference in the way you live.
Peter believed that God had raised Jesus from the dead. As an Apostle, he was being
sent to tell the whole world the good news that in Christ we can find forgiveness of our
sins and life eternal. And because he knew his calling was from God, Peter was willing to
defy the religious leaders of his day.
In a subtle way, his comments seem to be an indictment against the members of the
Sanhedrin who sort out truth but are unwilling to change the way they live in response to
Perhaps youve known people like that, too. I know I have. They ask questions as
if they are really interested in learning or finding the truth, but its clear they
are only looking for a point upon which they can disagree and argue. Its as if they
are more interested in generating heat than light.
Curiously, the most powerful argument before the Sanhedrin that day is made by one of
its own members, Gamaliel. His speech seems to shed light where there had only been
darkness. While Gamaliels speech isnt in our text today, Id like to read
it for you anyway:
Then he said to them, "Fellow Israelites, consider carefully what you propose to
do to these men. For 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. After 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.
[By the way, unlike Jesus both Theudas and Judas tried to raise up armies to defeat the
So 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; but if it is of
God, you will not be able to overthrow them--in that case you may even be found fighting
against God!" Acts 5:35-39
Its as if Gamaliel can sense the sacredness of Peters calling. He may not
agree with it, but he also knows it would be inappropriate to prevent him from following
it. Ive often wondered where Gamaliel was during the "trial" of Jesus. Was
he absent that day or had he come to realize the error of their previous judgment?
Regardless of what he thought of Jesus, Gamaliel sees Peter as a man whose integrity is
intact. He is not only presenting a theological argument for the Sanhedrin to consider, he
is also courageously living his life in response to his understanding of truth.
Would that he could say the same for all the Sanhedrin. Would that we could say the
same for all the Church today. Would that it could be said of each of us here this
morning. What a powerful testimony that would be, that we lived our lives in a way that
directly reflected our beliefs. People may not agree with us in all aspects of our faith,
but they would certainly admire our courage to live out our faith.
Much like Ive heard people say about other groups - such as the Jehovahs
Witnesses who faithfully go door to door with their message or the Mormons who send their
young people on two-year missions.
When people look at our church, I wonder what they see. Do they see a people who
faithfully, courageously, boldly live their faith? Or do they see a people who say one
thing and do another? Do they see a people who know they have a sacred calling? Or do they
see a people who gather for socializing? Do they see a people who reach out in love and
compassion? Or do they see a people who maintain a clean building?
Would Gamaliel look at us and say, "God is at work here and no one can stop
it"? Or would he say, "See, God wasnt at work and its beginning to
I dont know. I do know that the answer to those questions is in your hands as
much as mine. Each of us and all of us are called to be apostles. We are called to be like
Peter and proclaim our faith in word as well as in deed.
My personal hope is that people will see in me a man of integrity who says what he
believes, who believes what he says, and shows it in the way he lives. I hope you have a
similar goal in your life. Lets do whats right in all we do. Amen.
Willimon, p 8.
2 It has been argued that the questions posed to
Jesus about his royal nature were politically motivated and that his response was heard in
political terms as well (Lk 22:67-70). Peter
makes no reference to Jesus as Messiah in his argument, keeping the political terminology
out of the discussion.