Gamaliel's Counsel

“So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” So they took his advice, and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.” (Acts 5:38–40, ESV)

I like this Gamaliel guy — and I like him in spite of the fact that he was a Pharisee. No, he did not display the same deference to Christ as did Nicodemus, and no, he did not display sympathy towards the Christian movement. Yet, he defused a volatile situation by counseling the Jews to act practicably, and that is why I like him. He honored God by reminding the people of a useful truth: since God does what he wants, there is no harm in letting this movement play itself out.

If every person alive today acted with the same objectivity as did Gamaliel, that is, to relax their prejudices and let the empirical speak, the existence of God and the necessity of the Gospel would become apparent. What is empirical? God has revealed himself to all human-kind, to believers and unbelievers alike, as the Omnipotent Creator. And how about us humans? We are God’s fallen creatures, and we reveal ourselves through sin. When we analyze these two revelations and then project ahead to the things which must result, we arrive at the Gospel.

First, a holy God requires a perfect sacrifice for sin. Second, therefore, without intercession, we are lost. Third, Jesus was the only perfect man. Fourth, Jesus is, therefore, the only acceptable sacrifice for sin. Each individual’s eternal destiny (and much of the world’s sanity) relies on our response, not to some vague ideas of holiness or goodness, but to the logic (the Logos) of God, which is the person of Jesus Christ.

Consider the crowd that was threatening the apostles. On some level, they must have believed that they were serving God. After all, this sect was new, and it was threatening to supplant their embedded religion! And wasn’t theirs the best religion possible — the one that God himself had sanctioned? Therefore, they acted congruently toward those members of the Way. But while congruency might have worked against hypocrisy, it added nothing good to their action, and since an unregenerated people have no true vision, it is no wonder that the apostles stepped into a cultural firestorm. Blessed be Gamaliel. He saved the moment by giving truth its chance. You can, too. Just give pause, and be the Gamaliel of your own heart.

I challenge my unbelieving readers to give God the same courtesy that Gamaliel gave him. Strip away all the encumbrances of your upbringing, your training and your acumen. Then go sit with God—and you two stare at each other for a while. If you go into that meeting having dispatched your preconceived notions, you will come out changed.

I challenge my believing readers to do the same. Our believers’ needs are different, of course, because we have already approached God for salvation and have been made into new persons. But we still have issues. Although we are forever free from sin’s condemnation, we are not free from the effects that it might have on other people — and especially upon those who are just waiting for us to trip up! Does this mean that sin, the worst stuff on earth, can ever dim God’s truth, the best and the brightest star? Hardly. But if we are acting as the lens for any observers of God, we could dim his light. This is why we too need to sit across from God, stripped of all encumbrances, and see how we can become the clearest glass possible.

Since God knows what is best for both the saved and the unsaved, I too say, “… for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them…”

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