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Christian Reflections: Why Did Gamaliel, the Elder, Not Follow Jesus Christ?
Such an incident is recorded in Acts in the Bible: Around A.D. 35, under the Holy Spirit’s guidance, the apostles of the Lord Jesus preached His salvation everywhere. At that time, through those apostles the Lord performed many signs and wonders, and thus there were more and more people who believed in and returned to the Lord. Seeing this, the rulers, the scribes, and the high priest bore a grudge against the apostles, and so they sent people to arrest them and were trying to murder them. At this time, there was a person called Gamaliel, who stood up and said, “And now I say to you, Refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nothing: But if it be of God, you cannot overthrow it; lest haply you be found even to fight against God” (Acts 5:38–39). Gamaliel said these words to exhort the rulers, the scribes, and the high priest not to act blindly. He said to them that, what came from God shall increase, what came from man shall decrease, and that if what the apostles did came from God but they blindly resisted and condemned them, then they would probably become people who attacked God. The council listened to him, and did not murder the apostles but let them go.
Gamaliel was a Pharisee, and a prestigious teacher of the law in the council. At that time, the Pharisees and the upper echelons of the religious world were frenziedly resisting and condemning the Lord Jesus. Under such a circumstance, Gamaliel being able to say these words really was commendable. At least from this we can see that he was a reasonable man, because when he couldn’t see through God’s work, he didn’t sin with his mouth, nor did he carelessly judge or resist God. What is regretful, however, is that he never made strides in further seeking or investigating, and never listened to the Lord’s gospel to see whether the Lord Jesus was the arrival of the Messiah. Instead, he was always waiting and seeing, and clinging to the law and verses he was familiar with in the temple, but didn’t follow the Lord Jesus, with the result that he didn’t attain the Lord’s salvation in the end.
At this point, I remember a passage I read on a gospel website recently, “The work of the Holy Spirit changes from day to day, rising higher with each step; the revelation of tomorrow is even higher than today’s, step by step climbing ever higher. Such is the work by which God perfects man. If man cannot keep pace, then he may be left behind at any time. If man does not have an obedient heart, then he cannot follow to the end. … If you submit only to work and words that are simple, and are incapable of accepting any of a deeper intensity, then you are one who keeps to old ways and cannot keep pace with the work of the Holy Spirit. The work done by God differs from period to period. If you show great obedience in one phase, yet in the next phase show less or none at all, then God shall desert you. If you keep pace with God as He ascends this step, then you must continue to keep pace when He ascends the next. Only then are you one who is obedient to the Holy Spirit” (“Those Who Obey God With a True Heart Shall Surely Be Gained by God”).
From these words we can know that God’s work is always moving forward and never stops. God requires all those who believe in Him to obey God’s new words and work and follow closely in the footsteps of the Lamb at every step, and He also requires that no matter how God does, they should investigate with a seeking heart and follow God. It is because only in this way can they be gained by God. Just as Revelation says, “These are they which follow the Lamb wherever He goes” (Revelation 14:4). However, though Gamaliel had a devout heart, possessed some rationality, and didn’t speak sinfully or resist God when he couldn’t see through God’s work, yet he just observed the old laws and decrees in the temple, neither knew that God’s work is always moving forward, nor sought or investigated God’s latest work. So, no matter how good his humanity was, no matter how much knowledge of the Bible he possessed, or no matter how detailed his explanation of the laws and decrees was, because he, all the time, neither opposed nor actively sought God’s latest work, but instead was neutral and waited and saw, in the end he missed the perfect time to follow and know the Lord. This is also what all of us Christians should be vigilant with.
Now we are in the last days, and the prophecies of the Lord’s return have been fulfilled one after the other. All brothers and sisters who sincerely believe in the Lord are watching and waiting, and are ready to welcome the Lord’s return. We all remember the Lord Jesus once said, “I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth: for He shall not speak of Himself; but whatever He shall hear, that shall He speak: and He will show you things to come” (John 16:12–13). “He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Revelation 2–3). From the Lord’s words we can see that when the Lord returns, He will express more words to water us, will reveal all mysteries, and will tell us all of the truths that we need. But no one knows when or where the Lord will speak to us, because God’s work is at odds with people’s conceptions. Every time that God appears to work, it is always beyond what we imagined and is something that we cannot fathom by using our heads. Just as God’s words say, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, said Jehovah. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8–9).
Through summarizing Gamaliel’s strong and weak points, we understand that if we want to welcome the Lord’s return, we not only should possess reason, but most importantly, we should have clear and sober minds, actively seek the truth, pay close attention to the movements of the Holy Spirit’s work. In addition, no matter what work God does or no matter how little it fits our notions and imaginings, we should actively seek and investigate. If it really is God’s work, we should accept, obey, and follow it without making any excuses or setting any conditions. Just as the Lord, “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. … Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:6, 8). “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you: For every one that asks receives; and he that seeks finds; and to him that knocks it shall be opened” (Matthew 7:7–8). The original disciples of the Lord Jesus, such as Peter, John, and Nathanael were just like this. Though at that time, the Pharisees and the religious leaders did their utmost to make up rumors, slander, and judge the Lord Jesus, those disciples did not follow the crowd, much less did they make careless judgment. Instead, they remained clear-headed, had a truth-seeking heart, actively studied the Lord’s work, listened to the Lord’s words, thus recognized that the Lord Jesus was the coming Messiah, and finally obtained the Lord’s salvation.
Then, when we hear someone bearing witness to the Holy Spirit’s utterances and the gospel of the Lord’s return for us, what kind of attitude should we have toward it? Should we make strides in actively seeking and investigating like Peter and Nathanael, or should we just passively wait and see and finally miss God’s salvation like Gamaliel? This is a question that each of us who are desperately longing for the Lord Jesus’ return should think deeply about.
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