Believers in a number of countries face a choice between obeying God or men, the choice the apostles had to make as recorded in Acts 5:29-32. You are confronted with similar, although sometimes less obvious, choices—how will you respond?
As Peter reminds the Sanhedrin, who had arrested the apostles for preaching Jesus, you must obey God. Peter is not taking the post-modern position, that I am the only authority. Rather, he recognizes that God has ordained authority. Those authorities are to be obeyed because God ordained them, as Paul points out in Romans 13. Lest you think Paul was speaking only of good, just governments, remember what kind of ruler Nero was! Guard against the temptation to despise and speak evil of authorities. “The Apostles do not put their personal preference above the commands of duly commissioned ecclesiastical or political authority, as so many do today. . . . The apostles were confronted with a human authority that set itself against the divine Authenitcator of all authority. When men forbid what God has commanded or command what God has forbidden, we have only one option:’We must obey God rather than men’!” (Dennis E. Johnson, Let’s Study Acts, p. 59).
Yet remember that God requires that you obey him as the ultimate authority. When human authority contradicts what God says, you must obey God, as Peter had earlier reminded the Sanhedrin (Acts 4:19). When the government commands a church to stop worshiping, they must obey God. Those choices are not only long ago or in other countries. The governor of a state on the other side of the country referred to his political opponents: “Their problem is themselves. Who are they? Are they these extreme conservatives who are right-to-life, pro-assault-weapon, anti-gay? Is that who they are? Because if that’s who they are and they’re the extreme conservatives, they have no place in the state of New York, because that’s not who New Yorkers are.” Do you hear what he is saying? If you believe that human life is precious because it is made in God’s image, if you believe that applies to the weakest and most vulnerable of our culture, you are an extremist, and there is no place for you in his state.
Don’t expect obeying God rather than men to be without consequences. The Sanhedrin had the apostles flogged (too light a punishment if they were guilty, and utterly inappropriate if they were not). Gamaliel’s pragmatic advice, though ill founded, did spare the disciples from further violence at that point.
You may face pressure, not at this point of imprisonment and death, but more subtle consequences, and that dripping pressure may be difficult to resist. Be aware of what God has revealed in his Word. Consider how that applies in the particular situations in which God has called you to walk.
Is this too hard? God equips you to obey him.
Obey because God raised Jesus, Acts 5:30. The leaders of Israel had arranged for his death, not just an execution, but death on a tree, reflecting the covenant curse of Deuteronomy 21:23. God, however, had raised him up! The power of the resurrected Lord gave the apostles, and gives you, the courage to obey.
Obey, because God exalted him, Acts 5:31! As the ascended Lord, all authority has been given to him, so obey! Notice, in contrast to where man placed the Messiah, God has now placed him—in exaltation at his right hand. The purpose of the exaltation is Christ granting repentance and forgiveness of sins. Are you feeling guilty because there are areas in which you have denied the authority of your Lord? There is forgiveness!
Finally, obey through the work of the Holy Spirit. The apostles were eyewitnesses of the risen Lord. The miracles worked in his name bore witness to the Savior. Along with that is the testimony of the Holy Spirit, the one who empowered Peter and the others who had recently turned their backs on the Lord, now to rejoice in suffering for his sake. That Spirit is the gift of the Father and the Son to you. He equips you to obey him. God’s grace is seen, not only in forgiving your sin, but also in working in you, equipping you to do what you must—obey God.
We must obey God. May the Holy Spirit give you the grace to make that confession, not only with your mouth, but also in the big and small choices you make this week. They you will be a faithful witness to you ascended Lord.