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A Practical Commentary On Holy Scripture by Frederick Justus Knecht D.D.

[Acts 5:12–42]

THE apostles wrought many signs and wonders among the people. The sick were brought out into the streets on beds and couches, so that at least the shadow of Peter might fall upon them, and they might be cured. By the daily repetition of these prodigies, the number of believers was wonderfully increased. “Then the High Priest rising up and all they that were with him (which is the heresy of the Sadducees) were filled with envy. And they laid hands on the apostles and put them in the common prison.”

But an angel of the Lord came by night, and opening the doors of the prison led them forth, saying: “Go, and, standing, speak in the Temple to the people the words of life!” Hearing this they went into the Temple, at the dawn of day, and taught.

The chief priests were enraged when they heard that the apostles were again teaching in the Temple. They gave orders to have them immediately arrested, and put in prison. Then the apostles were again brought before the Council, and the elders said: “We commanded you that you should not teach in this Name. Behold you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine.” Peter and the apostles answered: “We ought to obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers hath raised up Jesus whom you put to death, hanging Him upon a tree. Him God hath exalted with His right hand to be Prince and Saviour, to give repentance to Israel, and remission of sins.”

When the priests and ancients heard these things they were filled with anger, and thought to put the apostles to death. But one of the Council, named Gamaliel, a doctor of the law, and respected by all the people, rising up, commanded the men to be removed for a little time. He then addressed the Council, saying: “Ye men of Israel, consider with yourselves what you are about to do with these men. If this work be of men, it will fall to nothing. But if it be of God, you are not able to destroy it, lest, perhaps, you be found to oppose God.” They agreed with Gamaliel, and calling in the apostles, they scourged them and charged them to speak no more in the Name of Jesus.

But the apostles went forth from the presence of the Council rejoicing that they were accounted worthy to suffer reproach for the Name of Jesus. They went daily to the Temple, and from house to house, teaching and preaching to the people, proclaiming everywhere the glory and power of the Crucified Saviour of the world.

Jesus is King and Lord of all the redeemed, and the Supreme Head of the Church, Militant, Suffering, and Triumphant. Jesus being our Lord and King, it follows that we ought to serve Him, do His will in all things, and follow His example.

The Primacy and Supremacy of Peter. God gave special miraculous powers to Peter, so as to distinguish him as the supreme head on earth of His Church. If the sick were brought near him—even within reach of his shadow—they were cured. There is nothing less substantial or less real than a shadow, and yet our Lord worked miracles by even the shadow of His vicar. The primacy of Peter was also signified by his being always the one to speak in the name of the other apostles.

The Indestructibility of the Church is a proof of her divine origin, or, in other words, that she is founded by God. The wise Gamaliel’s words were very true! “If this work be of men, it will come to nought: but if it be of God, you cannot overthrow it.” All human works, doctrines and contrivances pass away in time, and only those which have their foundation in the Eternal God endure. The Church of Christ has survived all persecutions, all heresies, and all the divisions of kingdoms and races, and is spreading herself continuously, in spite of antagonism and pressure from without. She is at this day, after more than nineteen hundred years of existence, as full of vigour as ever, and in a wonderful state of unity and stability. She is the pillar and ground of Christian truth, and is deeply loved by the millions who have the happiness of being her children. She has no armies to protect her; but she is overshadowed by the protection of the Most High, whose only-begotten Son founded and built her on the rock of Peter. As, then, the Church is indestructible, and as the gates of hell cannot prevail against her, she must be a divine work and institution.

How a Christian ought to regard sufferings. The apostles did not merely suffer patiently, for the sake of Jesus, but they suffered joyfully. Sufferings were a joy to them, and they esteemed ignominy an honour! That which the children of this world would look on as a misfortune, the holy apostles considered to be a happiness! And why? 1. Because faith taught them that Christ would reward their present sufferings with eternal happiness. “Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice’ sake; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” 2. Because their love of Jesus made all suffering sweet to them. As their Lord had suffered so much shame and pain for them, they were willing to suffer something for Him, in order to return love for love, and to be like their Master even in His sufferings.

Courageous performance of duty. The council first threatened the apostles, and then, when they persisted in preaching, cast them into prison, and finally scourged them. They could plainly see that they would be persecuted and punished further still, unless they refrained from preaching the Gospel, but all the same they fearlessly continued to do the work which their Lord had given them to do. They did not allow threats, or punishment, or even the fear of death to turn them from doing the will of their Divine Master.

The Liberty of the Church. By His miraculous deliverance of the apostles from prison, Almighty God showed it was His will that they should be free to preach the Gospel, and that no human power was to interfere. The Church in her threefold office is instituted by God, and is independent of all human authority; and therefore St. Peter solemnly affirmed: “We ought to obey God rather than men.” “This solemn and authoritative repudiation of obedience in face of the synagogue was”, says Reischl, “one of the most splendid episodes in the world’s history. By it the Church, on God’s authority, asserted her independence. At the same time she challenged the secular power, and opened the chapter of her long history of martyrdom.”

APPLICATION. Is Jesus King of your heart? Do you love Him above all things? Do you do His holy will in all things? Does the Spirit of Christ reign in your heart, or the spirit of worldliness, pleasure and pride? Each morning at Mass, during the priest’s communion, say: “Come, O Jesus, into my heart; reign in it, and drive from it all that is displeasing to Thee. Make it humble, pure, and holy.”








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