1. Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Heavenly Father and our risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Christ is risen, He is risen, indeed, Alleluia! The message from God’s Word this 2nd Sunday of Easter is taken from the book of Acts 5:29-42, and is entitled, “We are Witnesses to These Things,” dear brothers and sisters in Christ.
2. In St. Luke’s account of the Book of Acts we learn that the apostles had been warned by the Jewish authorities not to speak in Jesus’ name. And yet they kept on preaching. But, the response of the Apostles we find here in our text in Acts 5 is, “We must obey God rather than men…”
3. It’s important for us to remember that we can sometimes do the right thing, be guilty before the law, and innocent before God. Martin Luther King Jr, whatever his flaws, was willing to take a stand against the evil of racial prejudice and oppression. He broke man’s laws, went to prison, and he was innocent before God. Many who have chosen to take a stand against the evil of abortion do, in the process, break man’s laws. And they too in doing so are innocent before God.
4. Apparently here in our text from Acts chapter 5 the Apostles wanted to do the right thing in the eyes of God over and against the law not to preach and teach about Jesus that the Jewish authorities had given to them. Something had greatly changed in them since our Lord Jesus Christ conquered sin, death and the devil when he rose from the dead. The Holy Spirit had opened the hearts and minds of the apostles to all that our Lord Jesus was sent to accomplish for our salvation. And here in Acts 5 we see that the Apostles couldn’t help but keep teaching and preaching about all that Jesus had done. The Apostle Peter’s words here before the Sanhedrin acknowledge that Jesus’ death had been a shameful one. In his speech he alludes to Deut. 21:23 which says, “Anyone who is hung on a tree is under God’s curse.” The Apostle Paul reminds us in Gal. 3:13, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.”
5. But what did God do with this Redeemer whom Israel had killed? Peter says that the God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead and that He exalted Him to His own right hand as Prince and Savior. Why has God done this? That He might give repentance and the forgiveness of sins to Israel. Peter was preaching the same message he had preached on Pentecost and since—the message he and the others had been proclaiming in the temple courts a short while before. You killed this Jesus, but God raised him from the dead. Repent of your sins! Receive God’s forgiveness, which is for all people, including you.
6. The flood of Christian disciples after the crucifixion of Jesus is a mystery. That the number of followers continued to grow despite intense opposition and brutal persecution, despite the absence of their leader, is baffling. Or, in the words of Cambridge professor C.F.D. Moule, it is a mystery that "rips a great hole in history, a hole the size and shape of the Resurrection." New Testament writers take us to the beginning glimpses of that great hole, the impact of the first Easter Sunday.
7. In the book of Acts, Luke describes a scene where the mystery of Christianity was called into the courts of the Sanhedrin. At this point in time, the high priest was filled with rage. Jesus was no longer among them, but the disciples continued to fill Jerusalem with his teaching. He had strictly charged the apostles not to teach in the name of Jesus, and yet they continued preaching to crowds and healing the sick. Multitudes were professing belief in Christ. So the high priest had the disciples all arrested. Setting them before the council, he questioned them harshly. The disciple named Peter answered exactly as he preached: "We must obey God rather than men! The God of our fathers raised Jesus… exalting 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… "
8. At his words, the council was enraged, and some of them wanted the disciples put to death. But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in honor by all the people, stood up to speak. He first instructed that the apostles be led out of the room. And he said to them, "Men of Israel, take care what you are about to do with these men" (5:35).
9. Gamaliel's words introduce a logic often overlooked; he reminded them that this had happened before. He reminded the Jewish Council to look at history. "Before these days Theudas rose up," he countered, "claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men even joined him. But he was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing." And after Theudas, Gamaliel warned, there were similar stories. "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!" (5:38,39).
10. Though the growth of the Church alone isn’t enough to conclude the truth of Christ's resurrection, it’s evidence that would be irresponsible to ignore. The apostles were aware that the message of the Cross is foolishness to some and a stumbling block to others. Yet they made choices to continue preaching despite the orders of the high priest and the often-severe persecution they faced. They changed social and religious practices that had been followed for centuries. They refused to give in; they would not be overthrown.
11. The rapid rise of Christian followers after the offensive death of their leader fails to make sense outside of the explanation the church itself offers: they were witnesses of these altogether unfathomable events. The message the disciples preached throughout the nations was true: Jesus was crucified, dead, and buried. Christ was raised and death was stopped for you and me. The apostles were witnesses of God's power, and went to their deaths proclaiming it. They chose to obey God rather than man, and found Him building a Church that would reach far beyond them. The events of the first Easter left a mysterious hole in history, a hole the size and shape of the Resurrection. And these events of our Lord Jesus’ death and resurrection the apostles preached about became the foundation of their Christian faith and our faith as well. It is a life of faith that we too have been made witnesses of. It’s a life that we hear about—and live—during this Easter season. Amen.