The state sponsored Reformed Church in the Netherlands had fallen on bad times. Open unbelief was tolerated. In the years following 1834 a group of “Seceders” began organizing for worship. But the state began enforcing a Napoleonic code which prohibited the assembly of more than 20 unauthorized people for worship. The faithful began meeting in the countryside and in barns. “The large barn of Jochem Van der Wege was filled to the rafters.” Dr. Cornelius Van der Meulen, one of the Seceder leaders, “stood on the farm wagon which served as pulpit. The service was just begun when two armed officers of the law approached the minister and said: ‘In the name of the king of the Netherlands we forbid your preaching to these people and command you to leave this place.’ Whereupon the preacher made answer: ‘You have done your duty in the name of the king of the Netherlands but now in the name of the King of kings, I tell you that I am under orders to preach the gospel to these people.’ Three times that day he preached, and, at the close of each service, deacons stood at the door to receive the offerings. The fines aggregated two hundred sixty guildens and the collections amounted to approximately the same.” (Jacob Van der Mulen, Hollanders, p. 24). Similar stories could be told of the Covenanters in Scotland, Huguenots in France, or believes in some African (and other) countries meeting for worship today. What do you do when you are pressured by men to disobey God? Look at Acts 5:29–32.
You must obey God! God has ordained authority. Earlier the Sanhedrin had commanded Peter and John not to speak in the name of Jesus, Acts 4:18–19. Apostolic preaching had disturbed the Sanhedrin enough that they arrested the apostles. 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. Those in authority have a responsibility to use their authority and office, not arbitrarily or harshly, but to serve, ultimately God and because they are serving him, those who are subject to them. “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 Authenticator 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).
God requires absolute obedience of you. 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. It is not only the government that may put pressure on you. Medical institutions, schools, business, may all put pressure on you to do things that require you to disobey God. How do you respond? 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. “The apostles… found cause for joy in the thought that God had counted them worthy to suffer this disgrace for the sake of Jesus’ name. It was insignificant, to be sure, when compared with with the shame and anguish that He had endured: but, as far as it went, it was a participation in His sufferings, such as He had warned them to expect. As for the Sanhedrin’s repeated ban on speaking in the name of Jesus, they paid no more attention to it than they had done before, but continued daily, in the temple court and in their own homes, to proclaim Jesus as the Messiah.” (F. F. Bruce, The Book of Acts, p. 126)
Obey, because God requires you to be a faithful witness. Obey because God raised Jesus. Once again Peter points his finger at those guilty of the murder of the Messiah, verse 30, see 2:23, 36; 3:15; 4:10. 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 Christ as Prince and Savior, 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! Obeying God rather than men may mean suffering. It meant being beaten for the apostles. Soon, it would cost some of them their lives. Obedience may be costly. But the apostles knew that they were serving the exalted King of kings. Christ is on the throne. And ultimately he sets all things right. Don’t expect to be treated differently than you Lord. You share in his sufferings, but you will also share in his triumph. Ultimately that happens in the new heavens and earth, however much or little you see results in the present age in which you live.
Obey because God equips you with 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. Are you questioning whether you have the strength and courage to obey? The Spirit equips you to obey. 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.