The Wisdom of Gamaliel
by Shawn McEvoy
In the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.
I mentioned previously that I intended to read through the Book of Acts. And I've been doing it. The best part is my son decided we could make that our bedtime reading each night. Talk about fun!
The other night we happened across the passage at the end of chapter five where the Pharisees are getting really tired of these disciples going around teaching and healing and collecting followers. People are bringing their sick into the streets in hopes that Peter's shadow might just fall upon them. Can't have that going on, now.
So it comes about that our heroes are summoned in, and about to face some serious flogging. At this point, a very respected Pharisee on the Sanhedrin requests that the disciples be sent out so he may address his brethren. His name is Gamaliel, and he proceeds to caution the Jews about how they deal with the Christian "threat." He cites two other recent examples of men who rose up, said some pleasant things, and led some people away, only to have their movements dwindle and die. Why did that happen? Obviously, reasons Gamaliel, they were human, and their quests were not of God.
He goes on to say that these followers of Jesus will go the same way... or maybe they won't. And if they don't, then anything the Sanhedrin would devise against them would fail anyway, because it would mean the movement was from God.
What an amazing way to look back on over 2,000 years of history since then. And sure enough, when I re-read this passage the other night, I remembered how our Western Civilization professor in college basically made the same statement Gamaliel did when he was explaining the historical spread of Christianity and the rise of the Church. He cited movement after movement that were "of men," and of which we no longer speak to this day. But Christianity? It remains alive, precious, self-sustaining, and powerful.
A few things that stand out about this story:
- What's to worry about? We sure do still fret about things these days. No, I wouldn't dare suggest that everything we get up in arms about is actually a movement from above. Highly doubtful. But ultimately, the lesson is still the same - He's the one in control. His will be done.
- As much as Gamaliel is the hero of this brief passage, it's still with the Christians, not the Council, where we can most relate. Why is this important? These Christians, our early brethren, were the ones who couldn't shut up about the good news, not the ones who were looking for things to rail against.
- Our "religion" is one that is not of men. It is not a fad. It does not change. It has lasted. It will last until Christ returns.
- Even with Gameliel's words ringing true, they didn't prevent the disciples from persecution. They were brought back into the room, and flogged. So their circumstances didn't really change much.
- Even after a flogging, the disciples went their way grateful to have suffered as Christ suffered, and for His sake.
- Even after being warned not to spread the gospel anymore, the disciples couldn't and wouldn't stop.
And don't forget...
Even a Pharisee can have a brilliant insight once in a while, thank goodness.
Intersecting Faith & Life: Think about other things that have happened in the world just since you have been born: fads, movements, cults, and so on. Then consider everything Christianity has outlasted, and will outlast. You and I serve a God who is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. What difference does that make in your life today?