Acts and the Religious Leaders

The text for last Sunday’s sermon, Acts 5:12-42, found Jesus’ followers at odds once again with the religious leaders.  So I thought I would offer a little reminder that the Bible presents a very consistent message regarding the religious leaders of the day.  They were obsessed with maintaining their position and having control.  Once this became the desire of their heart, there is nothing they would not do.

Notice how Luke, the writer of Acts, portrays them in Acts 5:12-42.

  1. They were jealous (v. 17) so they put them in prison.  They were jealous because according to vv. 13-14 the people were holding them in high esteem and they were growing daily.
  2. They were afraid of the crowds (v. 26).  Their desire to maintain control is evident in how they respond to the people.  Instead of thinking “maybe all these people have a reason to like Jesus and the apostles,” they instead wonder how they can manipulate the people so that they can continue to have control.
  3. They focus on the wrong things (v. 28).  In v. 28 they focus on the fact that the apostles did not obey their commands to stop speaking the name of Jesus.  Seriously?  Hello!!! The Bible just explained that these dimwits put the apostles in a public jail.  An angel comes to let them out and the men return to teaching in the temple.  And the leaders want to talk about their teaching!!!!  For cryin’ out loud … what about the whole “angel thing” what about “how did you get out without anyone noticing?” thing? What about “what is it like to have an angel of the Lord escort you anywhere?  Were they all shiny or did they look like you and me?”  Apparently the religious leaders did not care a lick about any of that.  Why?  Because their hearts’ desire is power, position, and control.
  4. They wanted to kill them (v. 33).  The apostles challenge them (we have the Holy Spirit because we obey Jesus and you … well… you don’t), but the response is not to listen, to search the Scriptures; instead, it is rage.  When pure emotion takes the place the honest evaluation using the Scriptures, something is terribly wrong.  Here is yet another illustration of their wanting power and control more than they wanted to reevaluate their understanding of the OT.
  5. They flog them and warn them (v. 40).  After Gamaliel’s speech of reason, the leaders still have the men flogged and they still warn them!  Certainly they must be kidding.  After all, Gamaliel’s warning is that they might find themselves actually fighting against God! In other words, even in this reaction we still see their hearts’ desire coming out.  Yes, they listened to Gamaliel, but they still had to get their digs in anyway.

Not surprisingly, this is exactly how the leaders responded to Jesus (you can go back to the gospels to read about that).  They were concerned about their position, their power, and their ability to control the people.  The more they saw those things sacrificed the more hardened they became.

Will You Learn the Lesson?

Friends, there is a lesson here. Our heart’s desires, like those of the religious leaders, encourage us not to listen, not to look at evidence (in Acts, signs and wonders are taking place, people were being saved, and the message was spreading rapidly), and not to evaluate properly.  Instead, we do whatever it takes to get the desire of our heart.  Be on guard.  Search your heart, better yet, ask the Lord to search your heart (Psalm 139:23-24) and recommit your focus back to Jesus, to his teaching, and to his example.

The more we think about Jesus, the more he will become our heart’s desire.

Rob Green
Pastor Rob Green oversees Faith Biblical Counseling Ministries. A seasoned counselor, Rob also teaches others how to counsel--through FBCM's training conferences and Faith Bible Seminary's MABC program.