sermon: Boldness in a World of Unbelief (Acts 4:1-22)

Boldness in a World of Unbelief

Acts 4:1-22

Introduction

In Acts 2 the church experiences the receiving of dynamic power as the Holy Spirit is poured out.  In Acts 3, she experiences incomprehensible growth as three thousand souls are cut to the heart and repent.  We further see in Acts 3 the event, the healing of the lame man which is the proof that the Apostles are carrying out the ministry of Jesus, especially as Peter stands with the lame man and offers up many infallible proofs that it was not he or John who healed this man, but Jesus Christ, Himself.

Now, the honeymoon is over, so to speak, and it’s time to come down off the cloud and enter into real life, as it were.  Trouble is brewing and it shows itself in resistance and persecution.

Jesus had already warned His followers that they will experience hatred toward them and persecution from those within the religious community.  Notice Jesus’ logic…

John 15:18-21 (ESV)
18 “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.
19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.
20 Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.
21 But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.

What will happen to the church when it experiences resistance and persecution? 

There is a pattern that you can trace through the Book of Acts, especially the earlier chapters.  The pattern goes something like this.  Everything is going well and then a trial takes place.  The Apostles often deliberate/pray then they decide what the right thing to do is based on God’s Word/leading of the Spirit.  They do it and God blesses.

This pattern is how all churches should operate and how every individual Christian should live.  We will have trials and opposition, that’s a given.  What’s important is how we respond when they come our way.

Look for the opposition that is encountered here in today’s text and then look for how the Apostles respond and then see what God does…

Primary Claim of the Text

The world hates Jesus because He is not of this world.

Human Condition Met By the Text

We have a need to be bold in a world of unbelievers.  What do we do when we experience resistance concerning our Christian faith?  In our world, Christians will experience trouble.  What will we do when it happens to us?  This passage shows us the Apostles in action.  It shows us their response to threats and persecution.  They don’t back down or water down the message one bit but instead, stand firm for their Lord.  I pray in our lives we too stand firm when we meet resistance to the Gospel message.

Acts 4:1-22 (ESV)
1 And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them,
2 greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.
3 And they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening.
4 But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand.
5 On the next day their rulers and elders and scribes gathered together in Jerusalem,
6 with Annas the high priest and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family.
7 And when they had set them in the midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?”
8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders,
9 if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed,
10 let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well.
11 This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone.
12 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
13 Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.
14 But seeing the man who was healed standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition.
15 But when they had commanded them to leave the council, they conferred with one another,
16 saying, “What shall we do with these men? For that a notable sign has been performed through them is evident to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it.
17 But in order that it may spread no further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.”
18 So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.
19 But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge,
20 for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”
21 And when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way to punish them, because of the people, for all were praising God for what had happened.
22 For the man on whom this sign of healing was performed was more than forty years old.

1. The Conquest of Gospel Preaching

1 And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them,
2 greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.
3 And they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening.
4 But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand.
Immediately, there were those who opposed Peter and John.  Even in the midst of the Good News gaining momentum there were those who greatly opposed the message of the Gospel.

The Temple Guard is like the sheriff whose job was to maintain the peace and maintain acceptable Jewish orthodox teaching.  He was in charge of a police force made up of armed Levites whose job it was to maintain the Temple and disrupt any disturbances.  It was this same force that joined with the Romans to arrest Jesus not more than 2-3 months ago.  Luke also mentions the Sadducees who were the ruling council of the Temple and over proper teaching in and around the Temple.

It’s interesting just how quickly word travels.  This man has just been healed and Peter has just offered an explanation in the form of a Gospel Sermon as to what was going on and what the people needed to do, namely repent.

All who were in charge of the Temple were greatly annoyed.

The focus of their aggravation was the fact that these two men, Peter and John were preaching a message different to the accepted beliefs of the Jews.  The Jews taught a works salvation; the Apostles were purporting salvation by grace.  We must always keep in mind the two don’t mix.  They are such polar opposites, that for someone who believes that salvation comes through works, to even think there is salvation through free grace in Christ is extremely offensive.  Their house of cards will quickly come down in light of free grace.

Not only were the Apostles teaching that salvation is only through Jesus but they were also teaching about the resurrection, something the Sadducees adamantly opposed.

Notice what happened… the Apostles preached and then are arrested.  But as one commentator put it, the Gospel was not arrested.  It is in seed form as the Apostles planted it, then some how during the night, as it were, it sprouts and begins to grow…

4 But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand.
There is always a running joke about preachers and numbers.  When asked how many do you have in attendance, most every preacher will estimate and answer with the highest possible figure.  Here, Luke reports that the number has now grown to 5000 people.  Probably this includes the 3000 from Pentecost and even though it specifically states men, it probably means everyone.  Still, 2000 people believed.  Peter’s second sermon and we are up to about 5000 people.  While Peter and John are put in jail the Word of God begins to grow in the hearts of those who heard.  There is also another pattern.  During times of persecution, the Gospel accomplished greater victories than in times of peace.  Perhaps, the people see that what these guys were saying is extremely relevant especially if they are risking their lives to preach it.

2.  The Rejected Cornerstone

5 On the next day their rulers and elders and scribes gathered together in Jerusalem,
6 with Annas the high priest and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family.
7 And when they had set them in the midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?”
8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders,
9 if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed,
10 let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well.
11 This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone.
12 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
Same Names…

Do you remember those names?  A few months ago, they were behind the crucifixion of Jesus.  Now, Peter and John are arrested for preaching Jesus Christ and salvation.  Do you think Peter and John were afraid?  Do you think they thought that perhaps they might meet the same fate as their Lord?  Notice the difference in Peter.  Back a few months ago, he denied even knowing Jesus, now he stands boldly to proclaim the resurrection from the dead to those who killed Jesus and who do not believe in the resurrection at all.

Hard Hearts…

Please notice the hard hearts of these religious leaders.  They were not rejoicing with this healed man.  They were not celebrating because he could now walk.  They were cold and unloving toward him.  You see, works religion is only concerned with self and not with others.  If I have to maintain a certain level of good works to stay saved, that’s all I’m concerned with.  I’m not going to love others as I should.

You may even see this at times in true believers, or even in yourself.  If you find yourself not loving others like you should, it may very well be that you are trying very hard to stay saved and you have no compassion toward others.  There just isn’t time to love and care for others if you just barely can maintain your own salvation.

Peter’s Boldness…

So, where did this change take place?  What is different with Peter?

8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them.  There were two major factors fueling the Apostle’s boldness to proclaim the Gospel, even in the face of resistance and persecution: First, as is mentioned here, the indwelling Holy Spirit.  If someone is walking in the Spirit or filled with the Spirit, they will be bold evangelists.  Second, they had been with the risen Lord.  They saw Him die and they saw Him for forty days after the resurrection, teaching them everything they would need to know.

Crucified by them and raised by God…

As with Peter’s first sermon, he makes sure that they know that they are God’s enemies.  They murdered God’s only Son, the Author of Life.  God raised Him from the dead.  They killed Him, God resurrected Him.  They are showing themselves to be God’s enemies.

They rejected the stone and God has made Jesus the cornerstone…

11 This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone.
Peter quotes from Psalm 118:22.

The Psalm continues by saying that the building being built is the Lord’s doing.  Peter, in a very clear and direct way is giving more proof that they are working against God.  In their building of works religion, they have rejected the stone who is Jesus.  He is not useful at all in their building plans.  When they unroll the blueprints, there is nothing that even resembles Jesus in their structure.  God however, is going to tear theirs down.  His building has Jesus as the most important stone in the entire structure, the Cornerstone.  In God’s plan to restore all things, Jesus is the most crucial part.  He is vital to God’s structure.  Again, what they reject God adores and prizes.

So vital is this Cornerstone to God’s plan to redeem all people, Peter explains,

12 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
Everyone who comes to God will come to Him through Jesus Christ.

3.  The Freedom of Speech

13 Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.
14 But seeing the man who was healed standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition.
15 But when they had commanded them to leave the council, they conferred with one another,
16 saying, “What shall we do with these men? For that a notable sign has been performed through them is evident to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it.
17 But in order that it may spread no further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.”
18 So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.
19 But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge,
20 for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”
21 And when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way to punish them, because of the people, for all were praising God for what had happened.
22 For the man on whom this sign of healing was performed was more than forty years old.

Peter and John remind these Jewish leaders of Jesus.  They had been trained by Him and handle the Scriptures in a similar manner.  Peter and John are bold to proclaim the truth as Jesus was.  In these ways and, I’m sure others, they recognized that these men had been with Jesus.

Like Jesus, public opinion was on the side of the Apostles.  These leaders were also unable to escape the fact that the lame man was standing beside them all by himself.  They didn’t really care about this man and I’m sure for them, his standing there was unfortunate.

In the end, Peter and John were not going to stop speaking about Jesus.  Regardless what the authorities said or did.

This is a good lesson for us, when the authorities command us to go against the Word of God, we must obey God rather than men.  He is our authority not some law passed by man.  In a well ordered society, they both should be in line with each other.  It seems in ours, God’s law and man’s law is getting farther apart.

No matter what the level of resistance is, we will experience it.

Primary Claim of the Text

The world hates Jesus and His followers because we are not of this world.

Human Condition Met By the Text

 

 

 

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