Acts 5:27-42 (AD 30)
Peter had previously told the crowd that they were responsible for the death of Jesus, albeit from a place of ignorance. Now in front of the religious leaders (the body known as the ‘Sanhedrin’, which included both Pharisees and Sadducees), he said “you killed [Jesus] by hanging him on a cross”(v.30). He further referred to Jesus as God, and said it was through Jesus that people’s sins would be forgiven, as witnessed by the Holy Spirit.
Those brazen words of murderous accusation and perceived blasphemy were only ever going to go one way for Peter. Sure enough, “[the religious leaders] were furious and wanted to put [the apostles] to death” (v.33). They would have done it, too, but for a surprising intervention by the respected priest, Gamaliel. His peculiar logic was that they couldn’t be absolutely certain that God wasn’t behind these healings by the apostles, and Peter’s accusations. If God WAS behind them and they fought against it, they’d lose. If God WASN’T behind the apostles, those men would all die along with their teachings, sooner or later, and it wouldn’t matter.
Much better to whip them all, threaten them and let them go.
Through Jesus’ ministry we had come to see the Sanhedrin as morally bankrupt, but this seems to represent an intellectual and theological bankruptcy to go with it. To summarise the logic:
Don’t fight evil, because it might not be evil. Punish it lightly though, just in case it was evil, so that you can say you did something about it.
Don’t join in with the good, because it might not be good.
Just stand out of the way and let God do his thing. Better belong to no cause than be on the losing one.
That’s not as rare an outlook as you’d think. Just today I was warning someone about a teaching that claimed Jesus is not God. The theory is that Jesus was just a guy who developed himself well, and we can save ourselves and be like him if we work hard enough. I told the lady that such a theory is more or less the opposite of what the Bible says, and she replied (in a very friendly manner) that she would rather focus on what people have in common and let God sort everything else out. She wanted to hedge her bets about the truth.
Trying to hedge your bets about the identity of Jesus is a bit like trying to hedge your bets about marriage. Like suggesting to your wife that maybe you two could be married, but you’d sleep only with a second woman, and have kids only with a third. And what if your wife objected that your suggestion went completely against the nature of marriage and the idea of commitment? Then you’d respond by saying that you liked your idea better, that other women have a lot to offer too, and that she had no right to suggest you were any less committed to your marriage than she was.
A marriage certificate does not make a functioning relationship. And belief, on its own, is not a relationship with God. It’s not even a virtue, no matter how honest that belief is.
What or who you believe in is what counts. And the previously cowardly apostles, having witnessed the physical evidence for the resurrection, were not going to let anyone stop them telling people that forgiveness of sins comes through repentance, and is accomplished by Jesus.
There is no safe ground in not having an opinion or refusing to hold a belief. There is no relationship with God by remaining proudly undecided, or in trying to redefine the grounds of that relationship.
The only safe ground is by Jesus. Get there.