By J.R. Miller
The sin of Ananias and Sapphira and the swift judgment that followed, did not check the progress of the Church. "Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number. As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter's shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by." Every one of us casts a shadow of influence on other wherever he goes.
But the bitterness of the rulers was not allayed by the judgment. They grew more and more fierce. The narrative goes on: "The high priest rose up, and all they that were with him. ... and they were filled with jealousy." The word "jealousy" gives us the key to this whole incident. The apostles were received with favor by the people. Multitudes were thronging about them with their sick, brought to be healed. It was the wonderful success of the gospel that so enraged the high priest and his party. There are some people who cannot bear to see other people succeed or to hear other people praised. Even in churches are sometimes found those who are embittered and aroused to jealousy by the prosperity of other churches. Instead of rejoicing that souls are saved, that the poor are helped, that evil spirits are cast our, that good is done--they criticize, talk bitterly, and oppose the efforts which are so manifestly of God.
A godly Christian minister put it down at the end of a year, as one of the year's lessons that he had learned to rejoice in the prosperity of others. No lesson is harder to learn, and none is more beautiful in life. We are all too apt to be jealous of those who are more honored in life and work, than ourselves.
The rulers had not yet learned that walls do not make a secure prison for Christ's friends. "They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail. But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out." There is no use trying to fight against God. He who sits in heaven laughs when rulers take counsel against His anointed.
Joseph's brothers thought they had got the boy out of the way when they had sold him as a slave--but the Lord only laughed at their plot and took him into His own hands, making a mighty man of him.
The princes chuckled when they got Daniel into the lion's den--but the laugh was turned when he came out unhurt and they themselves were cast to the hungry beasts!
There was fiendish glee in certain quarters when the three Hebrew youths were cast into a fiery furnace. Their stiff knees would be limbered now. But that laugh was turned too, before the end came.
Haman chucked when he got the gallows built for Mordecai. He would soon be rid of the old Jew who had been in his way so long. But he fell into his own trap!
The rulers crucified Jesus and sealed the stone and set a guard about His grave. But they only brought derision upon themselves; while by their act they exalted Jesus to a place of highest honor and glory.
Just so here, the rulers cast the apostles into prison, bolted the doors, and set their guard--but an angel came quietly by night, took the prisoners out, and left the keeper standing guard over an empty prison! Wicked men do not have all things their way in this world. There is a God who is just and true, who keeps His hand upon all the affairs of the earth, who takes care of His own and guards them as the apple of His eye. This is one of the most precious truths of the Bible, for the suffering and imperiled servants of God. They are absolutely safe in the hands of God!
The angel who brought the apostles out their prison had a message and a commission for them: "Go, stand in the temple courts, and tell the people the full message of this new life." The angel did not tell the apostles to flee away and hide from the rulers. That is what escaping prisoners usually do. But these men were set free, not to go away from danger--but to continue their work. Then, they were not to go and talk about their trials and hardships, to excite sympathy among the people. They were not to say a word about themselves at all--but were to declare the words of "this new life," eternal life, the way of salvation. They were not to go and speak in quiet places, away from danger--but were to stand in the temple, the most public place in all he city. They were to speak to the people--that is, to all the people, poor as well as rich, ignorant as well as learned. It is a suggestive name, by which the gospel is here called, "Life"--this Life. Jesus Christ came that we might have life and that we might have it abundantly. The apostles were prompt and eager to obey the angel's bidding. They hastened to the temple about daybreak and began to teach.
The high priest did not know what his prisoners were doing. Full of rage, he was eager to have them punished, and called a full meeting of the court, and sent officers to bring the apostles from the prison. "But the officers returned, saying: We found the jail securely locked, with the guards standing at the doors; but when we opened them, we found no one inside!" The high priest was sure of his victims. He had them safely locked in the guardhouse. It was a startling surprise when he learned that the prison was empty! There is an old Bible promise which says, "The Lord knows how to deliver the godly." There is a promise also which assures us that "God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted above that you are able; but will with the temptation make also the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it." Satan is very shrewd and cunning, and by long practice has learned to do his work well. But God is stronger and wiser than Satan--and knows how to deliver His own out of Satan's hands!
At length the apostles stood before the court and were accused of having disobeyed the command to speak no more in the name of Jesus. To this Peter answered, "We must obey God--rather than men." This should be the motto and life-principle of every one of us. This has been the martyr's motto in all Christian centuries. Bunyan, when condemned to three months imprisonment for preaching the gospel, and told that if he did not promise to abstain, he would be banished; nobly replied: "If I were out of prison again today--I would preach the gospel again tomorrow, by the help of God!" Not many of us will be called to assert the principle in such circumstances of peril; but in life's ordinary business, in its common affairs, in school, at home, at play, we shall every day have opportunities to follow conscience, to do what God commands, without being swerved from duty by what men say. It would be very fine to do some such heroic thing as the apostles did here--but it is fine in God's sight--to live faithfully and loyally in the midst of the countless little temptations of the most commonplace life!
"God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel!" Here we have the whole gospel. Jesus was the Messiah of God. He was rejected and killed by those He had come to deliver and save. But God raised Him up and exalted Him to the throne of glory. There He is not only King of kings--but also the Savior of all who will believe in Him. The two words, "repentance" and "forgiveness", are full of meaning. We are not saved merely from sin's power--but from sin itself. That is, we are pledged to give up our sin. Repentance means this. Then forgiveness means more than merely wiping out the penalty; it means also the putting away of sins themselves!