When Doing Good Does Not End Well — Acts 5:12-32
A young person was drowning off a beach in South Florida. The lifeguard sprang into action and at the risk of his own life swam out into the surf and pulled the near-victim to safety. This event made news all around the nation. Why? This type of rescue is played out every summer at the beaches and pools across the land. Why did it make headlines for several days after the fact? Well, the day after the heroic event the lifeguard was fired. It seems that he went out of his zone of responsibility when he saved the swimmer. How in the world could such a good thing end so poorly? The fact of the matter is this type of thing happens more than we would want to admit. Often when it does news of it hits the public, outrage follows. However, sometimes nothing follows.
This is the story of Acts 5:12-32. Take a moment and read the passage, as you do look for the good that didn’t end well. Once again the apostles are in trouble with the Jewish religious leaders in Jerusalem. Also as you read see if you can think of any contemporary events that parallel this story.
Putting the story into the context of the rest of the chapter, it is not all that surprising that Ananias and Sapphira lying to God did not end well. However after that the activities turned once again to the more positive side. “The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people.” (v.12) The end result of this was the church continued to openly and boldly meet (v.12b).
However there was a dark cloud on the horizon and many in Jerusalem saw it coming. Luke writes, “No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people” (v.13); while at the same time the church continued to grow as “more and more men and women believed in the Lord” (v.14).
Things in the Jerusalem church were moving. As a matter of fact the power of God was so visibly evident that “people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by impure spirits, and all of them were healed” (vv.15-16).
With all this good going on what foreboding storm lay just beyond the horizon, a storm that would soon rip into the church? And why, in the midst of all this good was bad about to come crashing in?
The storm is summed up in a single word: jealousy (v.17). The religious leaders were bitten by the green-eyed monster. Perhaps it was the popularity, maybe it was the undeniable power of God that they had probably never experienced. Whatever it was all the good that the apostles were doing ended in a not so good event: “They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail.” (v.18)
That answers two questions but leaves a third: Why would God allow such a thing to happen when the church was obedient to Him, reaching many with the good news of salvation in the name of Jesus? Perhaps the answer to this often asked question is found in the rest of the chapter. There are two events that precipitated from the activity of the apostles.
First “during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out. ‘Go, stand in the temple courts,’ he said, ‘and tell the people all about this new life.’” (vv.19-20). God was not done with miracles. Those arrested were well secured in the public jail. This jail was guarded by professionals. Yet without any effort God released them. Then God commands an odd thing when He told them to go back to the arena of the enemy and take up where they had left off, to do what had gotten them arrested in the first place. What a testimony of God’s power and what it means to follow the Lord at all cost.
God still releases people from prison and still tells them to go and tell how they gained their freedom. But the message is not of being paroled but pardoned. It is not the story of being released from the county lockup but from the chains of sin and eternal death. All who have believed have been released to go and tell.
The second event that came as a result of good ending in not so good was the apostles once again had a chance to stand before the high Jewish court, the Sanhedrin (v.27). What an opportunity to share the truth of Christ with those who so desperately need to hear and receive the Savior. Listen to Peter: “The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead -whom you killed by hanging him on a cross. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins. We are witnesses of these things” (vv.30-32). Bear in mind that this is the same group that told Peter to stop doing what he had just done. And, once again the apostle replied, “We must obey God rather than man!” (v.29)
So, as a result of bad things coming in the midst of a whole lot of good, Christ was once again glorified. But isn’t that what bad things happening in the life of God’s people is all about? Maybe it is time the comfortable church came to realize that God’s greatest work is seen in our most dire of times. Maybe it is time to stop whining and complaining about Christians being maligned and marginally mistreated and start standing and sharing that no matter what happens life with Christ is worth it all and that life in Christ is offered to all.