June 22, 2010 David Balzer

Acts 5:17-42: The Dirty Dozen

“The Dirty Dozen”. Made in 1967, it’s got to be one of the best guys’ movies of all time. A star-studded cast. Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine, Telly Savalas, Donald Sutherland, Charles Bronson.

It’s about a misfit crew of military criminals – all of them either on Row or serving life sentences. They’ve been offered FREEDOM. All they have to do is agree to go on a mission. And should they return, they’ll be pardoned.

The problem is, there’s no chance of success. It’s a mission. Against unbeatable enemies.

But, under the firm control of Lee Marvin, they gel into a effective team. And, despite suffering some heavy losses, they ultimately succeed at their mission.

The Dirty Dozen. Released for a mission. With the promise of freedom for life. Against unbeatable enemies. And they win!

But as good a movie as it was, it was only a COPY. A – . Because I’m SURE they took the idea from Acts Ch 5.

Where we meet the ORIGINAL dirty dozen. The Apostles. A rag-tag group of fishermen, tax-collectors, and rejects. ALSO, released for a mission. With the promise of freedom for life. Against unbeatable enemies.

And THEY win!

And the good news for us. Is that the victory they won/ is possible TODAY. For us. Because – just like then – the power of the message/ is not in the messenger. It’s in the GOD who GIVES the message.

And HE hasn’t changed. And neither has the MESSAGE.

So let’s sit back, and watch the ORIGINAL feature of “The Dirty Dozen”.

Scene 0: Setting the Scene (12-16)

The curtain opens with the Apostles in the Temple. Teaching and healing. Doing exactly what the priests told them NOT to do in Ch 4. Back then, it was just Peter and John. But now it’s THE WHOLE GROUP. Perhaps Peter’s brought reinforcements.

It sets the scene. Explains the background to the action that’s about to unfold. It’s the sort of scene that plays while the opening credits run. The title, the stars, director, cinematographer. And so on.

Scene 1: The Dirty Dozen – Released on assignment (17-21)

But as the credits finish, the camera zooms in on another group. It doesn’t take long before THE PRIESTS notice. And they send in the guards. The Apostles are arrested and thrown into jail.

The Dirty Dozen. Behind bars. Where they belong.

It’s a mini scene. Not played out in much detail. Two verses – that’s it. Because it’s just setting things up. It’s only the start of the story. Now things really start to get interesting.

Because a special messenger is on his way. With the special task – the mission. And the “get-out-of-jail-free” card. Look at v19.

(Acts 5:19-20 NIV)  But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out. {20} “Go, stand in the temple courts,” he said, “and tell the people the full message of this new life.”

A miraculous escape. The Dirty Dozen, released on assignment.

We’re not told HOW, just that it happens. There’s no details. Because the ACTION isn’t as important as the MESSAGE that the angel delivers. “Get back out there. Right back where you were arrested! And start preaching again.

And tell the people the FULL MESSAGE. Don’t hold back. Don’t soften it around the edges. Don’t Pull your punches. Stick to your guns.”

And that’s just what they do. Barely time to go home, have a wash and a feed. Because in v21, AT DAYBREAK they’re back in the temple courts, as they’d been told, teaching the people.

Scene 2: Keystone cops (21-26)

The next scene, scene 2, could come from ANOTHER movie “The Keystone Cops”. Complete slapstick. The authorities running around all over the place. Chasing after fire engines, falling all over each other. Looking like fools.

Just showing us the unstoppable power of God, and his MESSAGE, and his MESSENGERS.

Look at the second part of v21. (The disciples arrived at daybreak). But the high priest and his mates wander in some time later, after a good night’s sleep, a cooked breakfast, and time to read the paper.

(Acts 5:21 NIV)  …When the high priest and his associates arrived, they called together the Sanhedrin–the full assembly of the elders of Israel–and sent to the jail for the apostles.

They’ve called together the whole mob. They’ve called for reinforcements TOO.

All the heavy-weights. The VIP’s. The important men of Jerusalem. They’re really going to sock it to those Jesus–followers.

And so they send for the 12.

But when the guards return, all they’ve got are sheepish looks on their faces. “We don’t know WHAT’S going on.

(Acts 5:23 NIV)  “We found the jail securely locked, with the guards standing at the doors; but when we opened them, we found no one inside.”

We checked the cell- number. Right cell! But no prisoners! THE GUARDS have got no idea either! They’re clueless!

And now it’s the PRIEST’S turn to look sheepish. V24

(Acts 5:24 NIV)  On hearing this report, the captain of the temple guard and the chief priests were puzzled, wondering what would come of this.

But before they can look too foolish, some news arrive. The Apostles are BACK in the temple courts, teaching. Doing EXACTLY what they were doing when you arrested them.

So this time, the CAPTAIN goes the fetch the prisoners. “If you want a job done PROPERLY, do it YOURSELF!”

Scene 3: The Showdown (27-40)

And when he arrives with the Dirty Dozen, the High Priest begins. V28. It’s time for Scene 3. The showdown.

(Acts 5:28 NIV)  “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,” he said. “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and ARE DETERMINED TO MAKE US GUILTY of this man’s .”

Notice it’s not just the preaching about Jesus that’s got them worried. But the fact that the Apostles are painting them in a bad light. We got a hint of that back up in v17 where it says the priests were JEALOUS of the Apostles.

They were losing the support of the people. Could feel their authority-base slipping away. And so they’re going to come down hard.

They’ve got the full weight of the elders and leaders behind him. At least 71 men in the Sanhedrin. All educated, respected, successful.

Against 12 Apostles. It looks helpless.

But this is the DIRTY DOZEN we’re talking about. Look at what Peter says. V29. He neither gives in, nor is he disrespectful and defiant.

(Acts 5:29 NIV)  “We MUST obey God rather than men!

He’s UNDER COMPULSION to obey God. He’s happy to obey man – as long as it doesn’t stand in the way of obeying God. But when the two come into conflict, he has no choice but to obey God.

And then he launches into the REASON he feels compelled. HE returns fire. V30.

(Acts 5:30-32 NIV)  The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the –whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. {31} God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel. {32} We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”

Very similar to what Peter’s said before. You Jews killed Jesus. God raised him. Exalted him as Prince and Saviour. All so he could offer repentance and forgiveness. And the gift of the Holy Spirit.

And finally, his confidence. We are WITNESSES of these things. Seen ‘em. Felt ‘em. Heard ‘em. Know ‘em. Live ‘em.

In fact we’re LIVING PROOF of the resurrection of Jesus. Because the SAME POWER that raised Jesus from the , is working in US. Making us BOLD and CLEAR. Making us the DIRTY DOZEN.

And that’s why the resurrection is so important for us TODAY. Theoretically Jesus can win our forgiveness by HIS .

But without the resurrection, Jesus is no longer relevant. He’s not a LIVING Saviour, who can pour out the Holy Spirit. A Living LORD whom we can follow and obey.

A risen Jesus is God’s declaration that Jesus has succeeded. Without that declaration, we’d always be wondering whether Jesus’ was SUFFICIENT. Whether God would actually ACCEPT it when we stood before the judgment seat.

Yet, Peter can boldly affirm that God DID raise Jesus. Declared him Prince and Saviour. A Saviour who brings forgiveness. And a Prince we must serve and obey and honour. From now until he returns.

And that’s what brings Peter and the Apostles to the point they’re now at. On trial before the Sanhedrin. The Dirty Dozen against insurmountable odds.

And for a moment, it looks like it’s all over for our heroes. Because in v33, the leaders are FURIOUS. They want to kill them on the spot.

In fact, if it wasn’t for a Pharisee called Gamaliel, they probably WOULD have been. He wanted them to think carefully about what they were doing. Follow his logic. V36

“Remember Theudas? He attracted a following. But as soon as he was killed, it all came to nothing.”

“Same with Judas (v37). He was killed. And everyone scattered”

He goes on. V38.

(Acts 5:38-39 NIV)  Therefore, 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. {39} But IF IT IS FROM GOD, YOU WILL NOT BE ABLE TO STOP THESE MEN; you will only find yourselves FIGHTING AGAINST GOD.”

It’s interesting, isn’t it. Gamaliel – full of such wisdom. As far as we know, he wasn’t a Christian, or never became one. But he recognises that if the Apostles really ARE on God’s side. Then there’s no way the leaders can stand against them.

It’s funny. In the Book of Luke, it’s the mainly THE PHARISEES who oppose Jesus. But in Acts, the enemy becomes the Sadducees. And the Pharisees actually STAND UP for the Apostles. On three separate occasions.

Remember, it’s the Pharisees who believe in the resurrection of the . Perhaps the arguments of the Apostles are convincing them.

And the funny thing is/ Gamaliel doesn’t realise how accurate he really is. Because, the leaders WEREN’T able to stop these men. God was fighting for them. And the gospel DID keep moving out. Even down to US.

And nothing’s changed. The gospel’s STILL unstoppable/ because God’s behind it.

So however long the odds appear to be. However outnumbered you are. However powerful the opposition. Remember Gamaliel’s sum – “If it’s from God – you will not be able to STOP these men!”

You will be no less unstoppable than the DIRTY DOZEN.

And v40 tells us that his speech convinced the leaders. So they flogged the Apostles, and released them. And so scene 3 ends.

Scene 4: The Dirty Dozen – Victorious (41-42)

But don’t go thinking that this was a “slap on the wrist”. It was probably the Jewish standard. 39 lashes. The same number that nearly KILLED Jesus.

And yet, when it was over, what do we see in Scene 4. It’s the Dirty Dozen – Victorious! V41.

(Acts 5:41-42 NIV)  The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. {42} Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ.

They’d been given the impossible mission. Released on assignment. And they hadn’t been defeated. They lived to fight another battle. Another SEQUEL.

But they didn’t just SURVIVE. They REJOICED at receiving the flogging. Were they CRAZY? Were they Masochists? Did they ENJOY pain?

No. They didn’t rejoice at the FLOGGING. They rejoiced that they had been counted WORTHY. Chosen for the special mission. Chosen to follow after Jesus. To proclaim the message of his victory. What a privilege.

Like a soldier, chosen to go into battle with his king. Part of his personal bodyguard. A terrible job. With risk, and pain. But a wonderful PRIVILEGE.

And that’s what they rejoice about.

If Jesus suffered at the hands of wicked men. And if Jesus is our LORD. And if Jesus calls us to FOLLOW after HIM. Then how can we expect anything DIFFERENT?

But don’t rejoice if you suffer for being a fool. Or are punished for breaking the law. You DESERVE it in THAT case.

But if you stand up for Jesus. Say a word in his defence. Refuse to back down in the face of opposition. Stand up for your principles, and suffer the consequences – suffer disgrace. Then REJOICE that Jesus counts you worthy to follow him.

Cassie Burnell was a student at Columbine High School. She was in the school library reading her Bible when the two young killers, Eric Harris and Dylan , burst in. According to witnesses, one of the killers pointed his gun at Cassie and asked, do you believe in God?”

(What would YOU do? Would you REJOICE that you’d been counted worthy to suffer disgrace for THE NAME?)

Cassie paused and then answered, “Yes, I believe in God.”

“Why?” the gunman asked. Cassie did not have a chance to respond; the gunman had already shot her .

As her classmate Mickie Cain told Larry King on CNN, “She completely stood up for God. When the killers asked her if there was anyone who had faith in Christ, she spoke up and they shot her for it.”

Cassie’s martyrdom was even more remarkable when you consider that just a few years ago she had dabbled in the occult, including witchcraft. She had embraced the same darkness and nihilism that drove her killers to such despicable acts.

But two years before, Cassie dedicated her life to Christ, and turned her life around. Her friend, Craig Moon, called her a “light for Christ.”

According to the Boston Globe, on the night of her , Cassie’s brother Chris found a poem Cassie had written just two days prior to her . It read:

“Now I have given up on everything else
I have found it to be the only way
To really know Christ and to experience
The mighty power that brought
Him back to life again, and to find
Out what it means to suffer and to
Die with him. So, whatever it takes
I will be one who lives in the fresh
Newness of life of those who are
Alive from the .”

That’s worth rejoicing about. Even in the face of suffering. Even in the face of . May that be OUR declaration/ as we stand with the Apostles – the Dirty Dozen, and with Cassie Burnell/

“Now I have given up on everything else
I have found it to be the only way
To really know Christ and to experience
The mighty power that brought
Him back to life again, and to find
Out what it means to suffer and to
Die with him. So, whatever it takes
I will be one who lives in the fresh
Newness of life of those who are
Alive from the .”

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