Go, Stand … Speak
"But the High Priest rose up and all who were with him, that is, the party of the Sadducees, and filled with jealousy they arrested the apostles and put them in the common prison. But at night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out and said, "Go, stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life." (Acts 5.17-20 RSV)
Luke tells us nothing about the angel; his appearance or how he obtained entrance to the prison without the help of the prison guards. He does not announce his name or even where he had come from. Presumably he looked like a man and the apostles were clear that this was an angel speaking to them, God's messenger and he had to be obeyed.
This was the first time that the Apostles left prison without the knowledge of the Jewish authorities so they were not used to this kind of experience. It was very important at this point in the history of the Church that the Apostles should return to the young community. Perhaps it is not fair to make strong comparisons with the church in later years ‑ ten, fifty or several hundred years further on. In any event, the fact was that everyone, and most importantly the priests, knew that these disciples of Jesus had been put in prison under guard and many must have realised that this was a very wonderful miracle.
The angel had given specific instructions but how did these men feel about obeying their commands? They were wanted men and it was for this kind of preaching that they had been placed in custody. In chapter 2 we read of Peter's preaching at Pentecost. In chapter 3 we are told of the healing of the crippled man that resulted in the first visit to prison. In chapter 4 we have the description of Peter and John before the Sanhedrin, about the threats and the court's release of the two apostles. In chapter 6 we have a picture of the Christian community ‑ the nice side and the not so nice.
Meanwhile, the hope of the priests that putting their leader to death would put an end to this Galilean movement, was fast evaporating ‑ so was their patience. It was becoming clear to them that the apostles could influence the people much more effectively that they could ‑ and these were supposed to be unlettered men, of whom the Jewish priesthood was jealous. They put them in jail overnight so that their influence was at least temporarily halted, intending to give judgment of them in the morning. Perhaps one of their number in the Sanhedrin would come up with a solution to their problem by morning. Already the captain of the Temple guard had been to the jail and found it securely locked but empty. It was then that someone came hurriedly from the Temple and announced that the 'prisoners' were in the Temple preaching …again. It was a bigger 'let down' than if they had left them alone to speak to the people, without being put under lock and key. The messenger from the Temple spoke something of a riddle "The men you put in prison are standing in the Temple and teaching the people" Those twelve men were in the Temple because they had received instructions from heaven to go there ‑ stand there ‑ and speak the word of 'life' ‑ life which they were experiencing all day and every day. But it was a brave act, for they knew full well that sooner or later the priests would come and someone might get hurt for defying them. God did not always protect from suffering. If they had not seen their resurrected Lord they could never have withstood the Jewish authorities. The appearance of the heavenly messenger to give them release against guarded and locked doors had increased their courage and their conviction that what they were do was God's will. They, like Paul later, could do all things through Christ that strengthened them.
The angel had said 'Go'. Some of us have heard men in high position say that to us, and we knew we had to obey. As a driver stands at traffic lights and sees the green signal appear, he (or she) knows that they must obey or a driver behind will hoot them threateningly. But for sinful, obstinate human beings, obedience can be very difficult indeed. Disobedience, hidden by all kinds of excuses, is one of the biggest single factors in preventing Christians receiving the blessing that God wants to give. Like David, we need God to search our hearts so that we are certain that no command from heaven has been left disobeyed.
In following Jesus, we need to know where we should go and what we should do. The message to the Apostles was brief and to the point. 'Go… stand … speak'. They knew where to go and what to do. Not every step of the way of the apostles as recorded by Luke in 'Acts' was clearly defined. It took Paul a little while to by-pass old haunts in Asia Minor so that he could go, stand and speak in the market places and synagogues of Europe.
Out of these experiences, the early Church learned that when they had a problem and were uncertain as what to do, they prayed together. It was an example for the whole Christian church to follow down the centuries till today. Those who have followed it, to them God has given the answer and His people have received the blessing. Sometimes, we are not expected to 'go' at all but to 'stand' firm.
A British army once won a decisive battle against tremendous odds because a relatively few men stood their ground, unmoved. In our own day, there is a great need to stand fast against the odds. The Christian faith is under tremendous strain from those who would oppose and destroy it. Science, philosophy and social welfare are the world's words of 'this life'. In themselves they need not disturb the Christian's faith. When the Christian church holds firmly to the New Testament Gospel, there is a strong love for the Creator's handiwork. It recognises that Paul argued from a great philosophy for life and the Bible strongly urges Christians to do 'good works'. But none of these things is the mainspring of 'this life'. That lies in the words of Peter to the rulers and elders following their arrest after healing the crippled man, "….there is no other name given among men that we should be saved, except in Jesus Christ."(Acts 4.14). We need to stand firm on the 'rock of ages; on the work of Jesus upon which he built His Church ‑ on the firm teachings of the apostle in the New Testament and allow nothing of the modern social, scientific gospel to move us from it.
The message of the angel was "speak to the people all the words of this life". It has always been the human goal that people might find 'eternal life'. In earlier days, life was sought through religious philosophy and good works. In more recent times philosophy and technology have given hope that quality and length of life might be considerably improved. But any human panacea from the wise of this world to improve life, in its very nature must be limited because of the lack of power and knowledge. It needs someone outside the human race to provide these. Jesus claims to have what is necessary to provide eternal life in an unimaginably wonderful environment. He claimed while here to be the 'resurrection and the life' and 'the way, the truth and the life'.
These were the words of life that the angels told the Apostle to speak. No matter how much world leaders promise improvement, it may make temporary progress in some respects, but fail to give permanent results. Jesus alone can seriously claim to co-ordinate all aspects of life, morally and spiritually as well as physically and materially. Above all this, only Jesus can give life to the vast majority of humanity that have ever lived on the Earth and who are now dead. This is the message and the first apostles laid their lives on the line to preach it because they had seen the resurrected Lord. That is why they went so boldly and so assuredly into the Jewish and Roman societies to give a message that none could gainsay.
They succeeded but the Devil averted the thrust of the message of the Church by tempting many later Christian to adopt a worldly life style. Much of the power of the Church was dissipated in disobedience through lack of faith. In more recent centuries there has been a return to a spiritually strong message, but there is no Bible promise that there would be world-wide conversion until Christ establishes His Kingdom in the Earth. That does not stop close and obedient followers of Christ from doing what He commanded and what the apostles did as they set us an example.
It is a great privilege to be the mouthpiece of God. Letting the light of Christ shine from our lives brings the blessing of obedience in God's Word.
A radiant life is one of peace and progress in walking with Christ.