Acts 5:33-39
George Santayana is generally credited with the original statement that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” The idea is that when we fail to understand the patterns of past failures, we will make the same mistakes again. In response to this idea, Mark Twain retorted that “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” His point was that even though there are unique elements to every story, there are clear and glaring similarities. One of the things that is the same throughout history is that human agendas eventually come to nothing, either because they are defeated by others, or because they are swallowed by time. In Acts 5, we see the religious elites of Jerusalem once again confronting the apostles and attempting to silence them. At a tipping point for the Sanhedrin, as they are ready to kill the apostles, Gamaliel reminds them, “If this plan or this work is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them.”

Gamaliel pointed to a couple other instances where someone rose up, gathered followers, was killed, and the movement dissipated. He had certainly been involved in the meetings which led to killing Jesus and knew the reports of the resurrection. He must have sensed that there was more at play than just a human plan because he warned his fellow leaders about potentially being found fighting against God. I don’t know if Gamaliel ever became a follower of Jesus, but he did show some true wisdom in this passage and gave us some truth worth remembering. It does not matter how powerful, charismatic, or brilliant the human leader; they will eventually die, and the movement they start will pass into the hands of others. Even if it carries on, the purposes and priorities will shift. Without exception, human-led movements die out or lose their pure form when the human leader goes away. However, when God is leading a movement, there is nothing any human can do to stop it.

I frequently hear a sad refrain about this country. Many fear that the America “of the people, by the people, and for the people” is dying. In point of fact, this is true. Like every great civilization that has come before, this nation has ceased to be what it started out as and will eventually crumble and fail. Perhaps not in my lifetime, but if the Lord tarries, it will happen. It is the fate of all human endeavors. Yet we are investing in a kingdom that has outlasted every other, and which will never fail because it is “of God, for God, and by God.” The wisdom of Gamaliel serves us still today. Human history is full of people and things that have failed. But when God wrote His-story, it never failed. Take heart, all who follow Jesus. His-story lasts.

by Ben Urban, Pastor of Student Ministries

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