The Wisdom of Gamaliel

As the resurrected Christ appears to the apostles after the crucifixion, their lives are transformed. They move from hiding cowardly in dark rooms to proclaiming boldly in the streets and synagogues of Jerusalem the good news of salvation. They become so forceful in their preaching and teachings, and so popular with the crowds, that the rulers of the synagogue and the Roman officials are threatened by the changes represented. The officials look for opportunities to shut them down. Repeatedly they are jailed and beaten. During one imprisonment, told in the fifth chapter of Acts, angels free them and Peter leads a group to the synagogue again to teach about the risen Christ. The officials panic and a mob scene is formed.

Then rises the wise rabbi Gamaliel. The crowd calms down as he asks Peter and his fellow preachers to give the officials a little time to themselves. As Peter leaves, Gamaliel looks at his fellow rulers and tells them to wait and listen. Speaking about change, this new teaching among them, Gamaliel says, “If this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them – in that case you may even be found fighting against God!” (Acts 5:38-39)

In the face of his whole world changing and being taken away from him, Gamaliel has the wisdom to wait and watch. His words are calming for the crowd and they still seem calming today. Whatever change is presenting itself may be a change I need to make or it may be one I need to resist. Life is full of hard decisions and the voices we hear aren’t always clear. Sometimes we’re guilty of going with the last opinion we’ve heard and floating around from idea to idea. Sometimes we’re just so stubborn and headstrong that we keep doing what we’ve always done and get mired down further in senseless ideologies. Each day a change is introduced in our system and it’s hard to know which ones will be good and which ones might destroy us.

Every generation is supplanted by the next one. Our ways are replaced by new ways. It’s natural to be frightened. Not everything new is good. Experiments often prove that the old ways weren’t all that bad. But where would we be if all change were resisted? How do we know which to embrace, which to fight? When should we be open and when should we say enough is enough?

Gamaliel reminds his listeners, and us too, that we’re not the only ones determining the shape of history. God is at work more than we are. If something is not from God, eventually it fizzles out. If something is from God, it has a way of working out. When we tell each other, “If God wants it to happen, it will happen”, we’re often tapping into some pretty old wisdom.

Be encouraged to embrace the newer, fresher ideas in life. Or at least resist the urge to dismiss them as ruinous new developments. God is working his purpose out as time goes by. The Holy Spirit and goodness are stronger than the evil in the world. Goodness will eventually win out. We can trust that age-old wisdom. Sometimes we’re so busy fighting off perceived evils that we never see the good emerging around us. If something you fear is of human origin, it won’t last long and it will surely fail. If something you fear is of God, it is going to be proven as good in time. Sometimes as we resist new developments, we’re actually fighting against God.

What new thing might be calling out for your consideration? The Holy Spirit blows where it wills. Trust changes as part of God’s will for our world.



Yours faithfully,

Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.