17 But the high priest rose up, and all who were with him (that is, the party of the Sadducees), and filled with jealousy 18 they arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison. 19 But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, 20 “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life.” 21 And when they heard this, they entered the temple at daybreak and began to teach. Acts 5:17–21 (ESV)
In chapter 2, God sends words through the disciples (Acts 2:4). Peter rises and preaches: Men of Israel, hear these words (Acts 2:22). Hearing the words they were cut to the heart (Acts 2:37; Hebrews 4:12-13). In Acts 3, Peter speaks and a man is healed. Peter then preaches (Acts 3:12). An arrest follows, but the word has already done its work (Acts 4:4). When the apostles were released, the church preached, not for ease but for courage to continue to speak your [God’s] word with all boldness (Acts 4:29).
Finally, when the authorities could no longer bear the sight of the effectiveness of the word of God, they arrested the apostles. God then sends an angel to free them. Consider for a moment: God could without question have sent the angel earlier. God could have protected the apostles from trial. Instead, God sent an angel after the arrest.
The angel did not come to protect the apostles from trial, but rather to send them into the lion’s mouth with the word of God:
Speak in the temple. This is the end of their deliverance, that they employ themselves stoutly in preaching the gospel, and provoke their enemies courageously, until they die valiantly. For they were put to death at length when the hand of God ceased, after that they had finished their course; but now the Lord openeth the prison for them, that they may be at liberty to fulfill their function. That is worth the marking, because we see many men, who, after they have escaped out of persecution, do afterwards keep silence, as if they had done their duty towards God, (and were no more to be troubled;) other some, also, do escape away by denying Christ; but the Lord doth deliver his children, not to the end they may cease off from the course which they have begun, but rather that they may be the more zealous afterward. The apostles might have objected, It is better to keep silence for a time, forasmuch as we cannot speak one word without danger; we are now apprehended for one only sermon, how much more shall the fury of our enemies be inflamed hereafter, if they shall see us make no end of speaking? But because they knew that they were to live and to die to the Lord, they do not refuse to do that which the Lord commanded; so we must always mark what function the Lord enjoineth us. There will many things meet us oftentimes, which may discourage us, unless being content with the commandment of God alone, we do our duty, committing the success to him.
John Calvin, Acts, electronic ed., Calvin’s Commentaries (Albany, OR: Ages Software, 1998), Ac 5:20.
The incident reminds me of Moody’s 1891 trip home Europe aboard the Spree. Moody had recently met with a heart specialist who warned Moody against working too hard:
Clark asked how often Moody preached.
“Oh, I usually preach three times a day. On Sunday four or even five.”
“How many days a week?”
“Six, but during the last winter seven.”
“You’re a fool, sir, you’re a fool! You’re killing yourself!”
John Pollock, Moody, 242.
On board the ship, Moody considered the matter and determined that he would slow down and work less: in particularly he would dial back his planned campaign to coincide with the World’s Fair. On the third day, the weather on the Atlantic was very bad. The engine shaft broke and the ship began to sink.
During the long hours Moody wrestled in his soul. He felt seasickness no longer – the accident cured him permanently – and his mind ran clear.
He heard as it were the voice of his Lord: “Were you ready to let up, to go slow? Then I will take you to Myself. Yu are no use to Me unless you and out and out.”
“No one on earth,” Moody related, “know what I pass through as I thought that my work was finished, and that I should never again have the privilege of preaching the Gospel of the Son of God. And on that dark night, the first night of the accident, I made a vow that if God would spare my life and bring back to America,” the World’s Fair campaign should be undertaken with all the power that He would give me.”
Pollock, Moody, 244. Soon thereafter, the Candian Pacific freighter Lake Huron appeared and attempted to secure the vessels together, but the storm was such that the rope broke, “‘as if he had been cotton thread’” (Pollock, 245, quoting a passenger). The storm broke in the morning, cables were attached and Lake Huron towed the Spree to port.
It is often hard to remember, that here God does not seek our ease but rather our good and his glory. We can forget this when we read Romans 8:28. We grasp the word “good” and think that means our current ease. For verse 29 defines “good” as “to be conformed to the image of his Son”. Our Lord came:
And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Philippians 2:8 (ESV)
Here is our model. Yes, I for one, admit that my life has been one of splendid ease compared to my brothers and sisters throughout the world and throughout the ages. My trials for the Gospel have not be as severe as many (if not most). Yet I must see my present ease as an even greater motivation to work even more diligently. I (and many like me) have no excuse for failing to speak to the people all the words of this Life. May God grant us forgiveness for our past failures and strength for future work.