Acts 5.17-41 living in opposition
This hub is basically a sermon. You might find it useful to have the bible passage out in front of you - I suggest something like the New International Version - to find the bible texts. The core verses you can read here, but I suggest you also look up the other couple of references on the way through.
You might not like everything I have written. You might even disagree, that's fine. Please leave comments, but if you do, be respectful of others. I do check comments and keep only the appropriate ones who encourage others, or bring something extra to the passage.
Opposition comes in different varieties.
If you like football, or any other two team sport for that matter, opposition means the other team. So opposition means a good game.
In parliament, the opposition is a good thing, because it hopefully means the ruling party will have someone who will always put the other side – in a way the opposition can be people to whom you are accountable.
To stretch a point, the reason why we are able to pick things up is because we have opposable thumbs to our fingers.
So there are times when opposition is a good thing. But there are also times when opposition seems to be a bad thing. When opposition seems to be firmly outside of God’s will. When the things that surround us are just plain going wrong, and there is nothing we can do about it.
Take for example The only survivor of a shipwreck washed up on a small, uninhabited island. He prayed feverishly for God to rescue him, and every day he scanned the horizon for help, but none seemed forthcoming. Exhausted, he eventually managed to build a little hut out of driftwood to protect him from the elements, and to store his few possessions.
But then one day, after scavenging for food, he arrived home to find his little hut in flames, the smoke rolling up to the sky. The worst had happened; everything was lost. He was stung with grief and anger. “God, how could you do this to me!” he cried.
There are some days, even weeks, in the parish when things seem to be going swimmingly. New things are happening, the good news is moving forward. Then there are other times when all I see is struggling, and misery, and sadness. People under opposition. And all I want to ask is “why”?
In the passage the apostles face opposition. In this particular case it’s from the Sanhedrin, those who were behind the death of Jesus. And what drove them was jealousy. But jealousy for what? Normally we would think of a selfish eagerness to fulfil one’s own desires, but in this case I think that their jealousy was of a different type. Saul, later to become Paul, could throw some light on this. He could be seen as a bad man, but in reality what he was doing was being zealous for God. God describes himself as jealous for Israel. The Sanhedrin opposition was jealous in this way, wanting to defend God’s honour, but in doing so were missing the point. They were opposing the very person who they were so desperate to be in line with.
The opposition we face can be all sorts. It can be the opposition to our faith from loved ones, from family, even from friends. It can be the way we feel we are fighting through life. The commonality to it all though I think is that opposition is felt because of how we see it. In a way the opposition is there because we see it as an us and them situation, a bit like a game of football, or parliament. One of us right. One will lose, one win. That bad situation will win over us. If we don’t fight, then will that loved one defeat us in our faith…worse still might we lose their love? The problem with opposition is that whichever camp you are in, you feel that you are the one who is in the right.
To put it into perspective we need to skip right to the end of the passage. Gamaliel, who was incredibly pious and a well respected jewish leader of history, and was listened to by all the people, put it like this: if it’s not of God, it will die, if it is of God, there will be no stopping it. My boys have recently been praying for good weather. Byron in particular wanted good weather to go to the skate park with Jud. He got there, it threw it down, even though Reuben had prayed. Roo wanted to know why God hadn’t stopped the rain when we asked, and I patiently had to explain that it might not have been the right thing. We can laugh, but our naïve faith often comes in this package. God do it for me…why not? But I thought you were on my side! When Joshua walked out to look at Jericho he saw an angel. Who’s side are you on, ours or theirs, he asked. God’s, was the reply. (Joshua 5.13-14)
God isn’t on any other side but his own. Which tends to mean we have to accept the tough side of faith. Opposition is as much in his will as our obedience and faith. Suffering is in his will. So in that case, it’s hard to understand that their might just not be a case of winning and losing.
So when we fight the things that life throws at us, what will we say? Are we hoping that the bad stuff won’t win? Jesus told us not to worry about tomorrow, today has enough troubles of it’s own, and besides, God will take care of tomorrow. In the parable of the sower we are warned that the cares of this world can tear us away from Jesus, choking the life out of us.
What we need to do when we find ourselves in conflict is to recognise that it is God’s conflict, not ours. Or rather we are in his will. But how do we deal with it?
1) Opposition has obstacles in the way. Sometimes they are physical obstacles. The apostles had doors of prisons, that the angel opened. For us it might be health problems that threaten to imprison us. Perhaps financial obstacles. Perhaps addictions. Sometimes they are spiritual obstacles, such as difficulty in believing that we can ask God for even the smallest of things. Or that we are heald in the grip of some fear or other, or sadness, or part of our life that we haven’t handed over to God. Sometimes they are relationship obstacles, personal issues. People who don’t understand, or hurt us unknowingly.
Angels open doors. God opens doors for us when we pray, and live in his will.
2) Not to run away, we are called to a task, witness. How glorious to testify that God has brought us through
Of course, when the obstacle has been removed, the opposition might remain. And it would be all too tempting to run away. To throw in the towel. I wonder how many of us would have happily walked out of a jail that we had been miraculously released from, only to walk back straight into the lions mouth, disobeying the command to not do what we had been imprisoned for in the first place. I’d have run, but the apostles didn’t. Why? Because, as they say, they are filled with God’s spirit, and called as witnesses, and must do what they are called to do. No matter the cost, because after all, it’s in God’s will. They didn’t just run. And their were consequences to that.
We are called to a task too. We are called to be witnesses when we face opposition. A friend of mine, who recently died of cancer, I remember him saying to us all once that if you are experiencing opposition then you aren’t working hard enough for the gospel. I’m not overly sure I agree with him…I don’t go looking for trouble! But then Jesus did say if the world hated him, then it would also hate his disciples. And we are his disciples. Be sure, if you are living for Jesus then testing times will come. We pray, don’t we, lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. There is a more accurate understanding of that phrase: when we come to the time of trial, give us the strength to get through it. We don’t seek it, but it is inevitable. We are called to a task, and unless we run once the obstacle is removed, the opposition may well persist. And when it does we may find ourselves in a similar predicament. But what for the apostles did this bring about? A chance to witness. It gave them a platform to witness for God.
3) To rejoice that we have shared in Christ’s sufferings.
There is a wonderfully mistaken saying that Christians believe that life is a bed of roses, I think I have said it before. Roses however have thorns. It would be a truly crazy person to look with masochistic tendencies to seek pain a suffering in their life. But it is a strange fact that when we have persevered through suffering we might be able to rejoice!
The apostles did just that. Having been given a lashing similar to that of Christ they rejoiced. Why? Because in doing so they had shared along in the sufferings of Christ (Lk 6.22). They had shared his ordeal. In some ways they had entered into his death along with Christ. And to enter into the death of Christ is also to enter into his life. So the suffering they received was proof that they would also inherit eternal life through faith in Christ. They felt honoured to have been chosen by God to suffer!
Do we do that? Do we look at our sufferings in that crazy upside down world of God to realise that the opposition we face, no matter what it’s form, is proof certain that when we are living through it in Christ then we are living into his resurrection? As I write this I find myself challenged. How many times have I just felt sorry for myself? When my plans have failed yet again. When I feel unjustly treated, do I recognise God’s hand in it? Don’t I just complain? Yes it hurts. I can’t believe that the apostles withstood the 39 stripes, the Romans discovered that you could lash someone with a cat of 9 tails, with jagged stones in them designed to tear open the flesh, 39 times before they died – without a single whimper. It would have hurt. But complain? No. They could see suffering with spiritual eyes. (1 Peter 1.6)
So if you are struggling with opposition of some force or other, or facing the next struggle, or whatever, remember that in the opposition or suffering, God isn’t taking sides. It is all in his will. He will remove the obstacles when we pray, but don’t do a runner because we are called to continue to witness to the one who put his spirit within us. And rejoice in our sufferings, because they are proof that we have a promised resurrection life. In which case, even opposition can be good, for God gives only good gifts. Perhaps we could learn to thank God for even those times? 1 Thesalonians 5.18 Give thanks no matter what happens. God wants you to thank him because you believe in Christ Jesus.
Back to the man who lost his shack on the desert Island.
Early the next day, however, he was awakened by the sound of a ship that was approaching the island. It had come to rescue him.
“How did you know I was here?” asked the weary man of his rescuers.
“We saw your smoke signal,” they replied.
(story from Youth Specialities Hot Illustrations)
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