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Jesus Creed

JerusTem.jpgThe question to ask when we read the Book of Acts is not so much “What do we learn about mission?” but “What is God doing in God’s mission?” The second question’s answer leads to an answer for the first question. Perhaps no passage is clearer in this regard than Acts 5:33-46:

5:33 Now when they heard this, they became furious and wanted to execute them. 5:34 But a Pharisee whose name was Gamaliel, a teacher of the law who was respected by all the people, stood up in the council and ordered the men to be put outside for a short time. 5:35 Then he said to the council, “Men of Israel, pay close attention to what you are about to do to these men. 5:36 For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men joined him. He was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and nothing came of it. 5:37 After him Judas the Galilean arose in the days of the census, and incited people to follow him in revolt. He too was killed, and all who followed him were scattered. 5:38 So in this case I say to you, stay away from these men and leave them alone, because if this plan or this undertaking originates with people, it will come to nothing, 5:39 but if it is from God, you will not be able to stop them, or you may even be found fighting against God.” He convinced them, 5:40 and they summoned the apostles and had them beaten. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus and released them. 5:41 So they left the council rejoicing because they had been considered worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name. 5:42 And every day both in the temple courts and from house to house, they did not stop teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus was the Christ.

(By the way, I pulled over to the NetBible because I can’t find a code-free text at BibleGateway.com.)


The story is a good one: folks want to kill the apostles for their testimony, but a gentle, wise and moderate-voiced Pharisee, Gamaliel (Rabban Gamaliel I, or Gamaliel the Elder) stands up and cautions them about their hot-headed violence — just the sort of hot-headedness that the (soon to appear) apostle Paul would have been involved in his pre-conversion days. 

Irony dominates this scene, but it is an irony that bounces between the apparent acts of the mighty and the divinely-led acts of the little ones, the apostles and the church. Gamaliel’s words are much truer than he knows: “5:38 So in this case I say to you, stay away from these men and leave them alone, because if this plan or this undertaking originates with people, it will come to nothing, 5:39 but if it is from God, you will not be able to stop them, or you may even be found fighting against God.”

The acts of the apostles, because they derive from God, will succeed. The irony is that their fighting against the apostles is seen by Gamaliel as possibly fighting against God; and it is.

The act of God again: Yes, they are told by the authorities to knock it off and shut up, but they go about their merry business of gospeling because that is what God’s mission is all about.
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