Gamaliel Acts 5:17-40
It wasnt just what he said, it was who said it. Very few of the dignitaries in that room could have stopped that lynch-mob. It took a special voice, at the right time, and a lot of courage to stand and rebuke the elders of Israel. God elevates His people to positions of leadership so He can speak through us at critical moments. There are times when even one voice speaking clearly, forcefully, respectfully, will turn the tide of a decision. In fact, looking back in history, most great decisions came because one person, or only a few, took a stand for what was right, and then persevered in that stand. In hindsight, these people are heroes, but at the time they often suffered under enormous pressure to conform, and when they didnt they were mocked, threatened and even killed. Undoubtedly most of those brave souls questioned themselves, wondering how they ended up so out of step with everyone else. Often their selfless service took place out of sight, behind closed doors, one-on-one, and came as a passionate appeal to principle. Those about to open a door that would usher in trouble were confronted with truth and a deceptive spell was broken. And sometimes that brave, lonely person was the leader, the final decision-maker, who had to take a hard unpopular stand trusting that God would intervene and defend him or her.
Our lesson today looks at just such a person. A man named Gamaliel whose faithfulness to the Word had elevated him to high position, and who, on this day, within a window of a few seconds of time, had to decide whether or not to risk it all by rebuking the entire Sanhedrin and eldership of Israel. Hes a man to whom we owe a great debt of thanks, and who models for us the godly courage each of us will need when our moment comes.
Reliving the trial
A good reputation
To understand why Gamaliel was able to turn the tide of opinion in that room we have to understand the power of a good reputation. Reputations arent built in a day. Theyre built over the course of years. They are the result of a history of good decisions, particularly selfless decisions. People watch us make choices and when we choose to do whats right, especially when we personally suffer for doing whats right, trust is built. When doing the loving, selfless thing, doing what pleases God rather than myself, becomes a pattern in my life, then people start to trust me. They feel safe with me knowing Ill do the right thing when they need me. This trust is the source of moral authority. It doesnt depend on a persons looks, gender, social status or income, it arises from what they do, how they live. Nobody can hide their character forever. Sooner or later it will show.
In one brief statement Luke tells us Gamaliel had a great reputation. He says,
a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, respected by all the people
Who was Gamaliel?
He was the grandson of the famous Rabbi Hillel who was the founder of a movement that produced a more gentle, liberal type of Pharisee. He became known as Gamaliel the Elder and was very revered in his day, and is still quoted today as one of the great rabbis. Listen to this statement about him written in the Mishnah after his death (Sota IX, 15), Since Rabban Gamaliel the Elder died there has been no more reverence for the Law, and purity and abstinence died out at the same time. (Gamaliel, in the New Bible Dictionary, J.D. Douglas ed., 1971, p451). This is the man who intervened to save the apostles lives.
God elevates His people
When a person surrenders to Jesus Christ, picks up their cross and follows Him daily, their reputation will grow, and so will their influence. And God Himself is behind this process. He wants to elevate His people into positions of influence so He can bless those they lead (Ps 18:16-50). When a godly person is elevated into a position of authority they automatically produce a righteous culture of honesty, kindness, fairness, respect, and accountability. Whether or not these are outwardly labeled as Biblical values the principles of the Bible are being put into practice and everyone benefits. An environment is established in which people grow healthy, and then they tend to treat those they lead the same way. So, justice cascades downward from person to person.
Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
This is exactly the way justice rolls.
for such a time as this.
Willing to stand alone
Sometime in a persons life, usually as a child or as a new believer, a person makes a decision whether or not to separate from the herd. It happens when the group were part of chooses to go a bad direction, and were forced to decide whether or not well go with them. This doesnt mean we dont love the people in our group, but we realize it may mean they wont love us anymore, so memories of such moments can be quite painful. But they are also essential for every person who wants to follow God. Its a form of surgery where the fear that controls us is severed and we discover well be alright if we have to live alone.
Remember were not talking here about being anti-social, were talking about boundaries, lines we refuse to cross because we love and fear God, and because we love people enough to do whats right even if they misinterpret what we do as hatred or hypocrisy. These choices are like dying, and in some situations we have to die over and over.
Willing to speak
Everyone knows people who talk too much and have grown tired of listening to their opinions. But for most people the problem isnt that they talk too much its that theyre afraid to speak up, especially in tense moments when important decisions are being made. Theres a lot going on in the back of their minds but nothing coming out of their mouth. A raging internal debate is going on in which theyre questioning their motives, their intelligence, their role, and they can usually find reasons to conclude that the right thing to do is to stay silent. But the real question each of us needs to ask ourselves in those moments is what is God asking me to say? Were wise to remain silent when Hes silent, but when a word of knowledge or wisdom comes, when the gift of faith begins to burn, when we know what the Word of God has to say about this matter then, if the Spirit is prompting us, we need to courageously speak what He gives us, when He gives it. The power of truth spoken boldly, clearly, respectfully, lovingly can lift a cloud of confusion, expose wrong motivations, protect the innocent, and reveal glorious opportunities.
Before we close, we need to stop and reflect on the enormous debt of gratitude we owe this man. By being willing to stand to his feet and speak at that critical moment Gamaliel prevented all twelve of our apostles from being stoned to death. If he hadnt, I assume the Lord would have delivered them another way, but he did. It was a terrible moment of spiritual attack, but God had a man in that room who was willing to stand
and speak, and because he was a man whose life spoke even louder than his words, everyone stopped, and the spell was broken and the devils plan defeated.
Not only should we be grateful, but we should also see him as a godly example of courage. We must realize that wherever God places us, whether family, workplace, school, friends, church, or government, we too will find ourselves elevated into positions of influence for such a time as this (Esther 4:14).
One final thought
In light of Jesus words in Mathew 25:34-40, we might wonder what the king will say to Gamaliel.
1) Have you ever had to speak up and say something when you knew people werent going to like what you had to say? What went through your mind beforehand? What happened?
2) Have you ever had to break from the herd and stand alone?