How to Face Opposition

Acts 5:21-42        Sermon Resources     |     9 February 2020


For a second time now, the apostles find themselves at odds with the religious authorities and consequently confined to a prison cell.  Their imprisonment does not last long, however, as an angel of the Lord arrives to set them free.  And rather than lay low for a bit, they return immediately to the temple courts to continue their preaching.

On the following day the Jewish council (v.21) was convened and the apostles’ trial was set to begin but there was one major problem: although the prison doors were securely locked and the guards were in place standing at the doors (v.23), the apostles are nowhere to be found.  When it was discovered that the apostles were in the temple courts continuing their very public ministry, they were retrieved though not by force as the authorities were afraid of the people whom they supposedly ruled (v.26).

The trial begins with the high priest (v.27) reminding the apostles that they had been strictly charged not to teach in this name (v.28).  Notice he goes out of the way to avoid naming the name of Jesus choosing twice to refer to Jesus as “this name.”  The trial is conducted, and the apostles escape with their lives though not without suffering.  I want to examine these proceedings to see what they have to teach us about facing opposition ourselves.  It seems unlikely that many of us will be put on trial for preaching the name of Christ, but we will face opposition.  This is one of those quickly forgotten “promises” of Jesus that “in the world you will have tribulation (c.f. John 16:33).”  How we handle that opposition matters.


#1 Be Exceedingly Clear on What is Most Important

One thing that should be immediately obvious as we read this account is that the apostles knew what was most important to them.  The first time they stood before the council they say, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge” (Acts 4:19),  but now they are even more clear declaring, we must obey God rather than men (v.29).   They are no longer leaving it up to the council to make a right judgment, they simply declare that they must obey God even if it means disobeying men.

The apostles will soon be driven out of Jerusalem and their witness to the resurrected Christ will spread even further, but for now they had been called to preach in Jerusalem.  (Remember Jesus’ final words to them to be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth, Acts 1:8.)  This was not a matter of human discernment but divine instruction – Jesus had said preach the gospel in Jerusalem.

The thing with opposition is that we can quickly crumble.  The apostles could have reasoned that it wasn’t worth the fight with the authorities.  Many people had already been added to their numbers, many had already been healed or had unclean spirits removed from them.  Why not just move on to the next town?

It is very interesting that the same man who said we must obey God rather than men would later write a letter to the church in which he would instruct believers to “be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution (1 Peter 2:13).”  What we must conclude is that obedience to human authority has it’s limits.  Obedience given to men is not absolute.  There is such a thing as a higher calling.  Peter and the apostles knew they had a higher calling to obey God.  This higher calling does not always bring conflict with others.  For instance, the fact that the apostles were healing many in Jerusalem should have been applauded by the authorities.  They should have been delighted that suffering was being relieved but instead they were jealous (c.f. Acts 5:17).

Facing opposition gives us an opportunity to test where our priorities actually lie.  When we are challenged, we are forced to take stock of what we really believe.  Will we just adopt the values of the loudest voice in the room?  Will we just roll over at every challenge we meet? It’s not that there aren’t times for compromise.  Or times for reflection and repentance.  But for the apostles this was not one of those times.  This is why we must be exceedingly clear on the higher calling we have.

Two questions for you to consider: (1) Do you know the higher calling you have?  (2) Are you organizing your life around that higher calling?

Let me use one slightly lighthearted example.  I know that spending time together in God’s Word with my family is exceedingly important.  This is a “higher calling” more important than watching the latest show on Netflix or just wanting to “veg out.”  But it is so easy to choose those other options.

We need to follow the apostles’ example of knowing our higher calling and living out that calling!


#2 Know the Reason Why Your Priorities Are Important  

This whole confrontation with the Jewish authorities was not just a matter of the apostles “speaking their truth” in court.  It’s not as if the apostles had taken a poll amongst themselves and decided that their top priority should be preaching.  They knew what was most important because Jesus had told them what was most important.  They articulate this point in their next statement.

The apostles go right to Jesus in their explanation and it has everything to do with the resurrection, the God of our father raised Jesus, whom you killed (v.30).  The resurrection is God’s assurance (c.f. Acts 17:31) to us that Jesus is who he said he was.  Jesus has now been exalted as our Leader and Savior (v.31).   And so the apostles rightly conclude that they must (v.29) obey him.  Notice further that both repentance and forgiveness are gifts that come from God.  The apostles are witnesses to these things and more importantly so is the Holy Spirit (v.32) and so they cannot be silent.

As we process this for ourselves, we recognize that it’s not enough just to know what our priorities are, we need to know the reason for those priorities.   Where did this higher calling come from?  Why is it so important?  Do you see the connection between the calling God has given you and the gospel?  What does Jesus as your Leader and Savior have to do with your calling to be a faithful husband or wife?  With your calling to be a loving parent?  Or a good friend?  What specific priority has God given you?  And what does that have to do with the gospel?

The apostles were clear on these things.  Their priority was obedience to God even if it meant suffering at the hands of men.  They knew where their priorities came from.  They knew why they were important.


#3 Be Prepared for a Beating!

So the apostles present a persuasive case before the authorities and God completely delivers them – well, not quite!  The authorities were actually enraged and wanted to kill them (v.33) but a respected Pharisee named Gamaliel (v.34) stands up and makes a case for moderation.  He points to two other revolutionaries, Theudas (v.36) and Judas the Galilean (v.37) who separately rose up, gained a following, but died and their movement came to nothing (v.36). He concludes that if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail (v.38). There is no need to overact, this Jesus movement will die on its own if it’s just from man.   But if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God! (v.39)  Just let it play out Gamaliel says.

The authorities took his advice (v.39) but they weren’t finished with the apostles quite yet.  They beat them and charged them once again not to speak in the name of Jesus (v.40).  The apostles leave the council and rejoice that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name (v.41) and they continued teaching and preaching that Jesus is the Christ (v.42).

Facing opposition with their priorities in place and grounded in the gospel, did not prevent them from suffering.  They did gain the victory in that their ministry continued but it was costly.  They had to suffer.  As we face opposition, we are reminded that sometimes we too have to take a beating.


Discussion Questions

  1. What do you think would have been going through the apostles’ minds as the events described in this passage took place? How would you have responded if you had been there?
  2. Describe the court proceedings from the perspective of the high priest. What do you think is driving him in this situation?  What might his opinion be of the apostles?
  3. Peter and the apostles explain that their higher calling is to obey God rather then men. Why is it important to be exceedingly clear on what is most important?
  4. Can you give some examples of a higher calling you have? In what ways has this higher calling been challenged?
  5. Do you tend to focus more on the “what” of your calling or the “why” of your calling? Why is it important to know both the “what” and the “why”?
  6. How do you explain why the apostles went away rejoicing even though they were physically beaten by the council?