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"Holly Boldness"

MESSAGE FOR APRIL 25, 2010 FROM ACTS 5:27-42

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Read:  Acts 5:27-42

 

          The distinctive feature from the text in Acts we heard a few moments ago is this confrontation between the apostles and the Jewish leaders who are violently opposed to the gospel.  This morning, from that text we want to learn some crucial truths about how to respond to people who are opposed to the gospel.  Although Luke intends most of these accounts to be descriptive and not prescriptive, many of the truths in these historical stories do provide us with very profitable examples of how to minister and live in the church and in this fallen world.  That’s the case with our text this morning when we meet the apostles standing before the hostile Jewish leaders who are trying to stop them from preaching the gospel.  The way the apostles respond to this opposition to the gospel is a powerful example we would do well to follow.  This is crucial for us today because, as the news reminds us every week, the world is becoming more and more openly hostile to the gospel and the things of Christ.  Because that’s increasingly our context and because we are called to be faithful witnesses in the midst of this increasingly hostile world, we must know these truths exemplified by the apostles in how to respond to opposition to Christ and the gospel.  The Jewish authorities exemplify this world’s opposition to the gospel as we see in verse 28.  They say to the apostles, “We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in his name, and yet, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.

          Notice from that verse three ways the Jewish leaders exemplify the world’s opposition to the gospel.  First, the world seeks to use their authority to silence the church.  The Jewish leaders had authority because they were the formal political structure within Judaism and they sought to silence the apostles by using their power to silence them.  The same thing is increasingly happening in our culture.  The courts and the legislatures on local, state and national levels are increasingly and illegitimately using their power to try to silence the church.  We saw this just last week when a U.S. District judge declared the National Day of Prayer unconstitutional.  Because the roots of the National Day of Prayer are thoroughly Christian, this is obviously a swipe at the church. The lessons this text teaches us could scarcely be more relevant.

          A second way the Jewish leaders exemplify the world’s opposition to the gospel is—the world particularly opposes the name of Christ.  The Jewish leaders were especially allergic to the apostolic teaching in the name of Jesus Christ.  That remains true.  If you are preaching a message of ethical enhancement or moral improvement, the world will not oppose you.  If you speak about love and forgiveness and mercy in the abstract, you’ll get a pass, but once you mention the name of Christ—his life, death and resurrection—then the battle lines are drawn!  The reason is because it’s Christ who the world hates because the one behind the world system, empowering it and motivating it is Satan and Christ defeated him on the cross.  We must never forget when we are dealing with people who oppose Christ and the gospel that “…we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”  The spiritual forces of darkness hate Christ and they hate nothing more than the gospel because the gospel is the darkness-dispelling tool God uses to purge their kingdom of lost humans created in God’s image and they will tirelessly oppose any threat to their kingdom.

          A final way the Jewish leaders exemplify the world’s opposition to the gospel is because the world hates to be reminded of their sin.  Notice the Jewish leaders were especially troubled by the fact that the apostles’ preaching reminded them that the blood of Jesus was on their hands.  You intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.”  They didn’t like being reminded of the stubborn fact that they had killed the Messiah.  The world likewise hates to be reminded of the sins they have committed that put Jesus on the cross.  One reason is because with a knowledge of sin can come the forgiveness offered by the gospel and the dark spiritual powers of this world will always oppose that.  I can’t predict the future, but in past 20 years we have certainly seen seismic shifts away from genuine religious tolerance in our culture. Unless God moves powerfully to reverse this trend, the time is soon coming when open organized opposition to the gospel will be the rule.  Because of this current and future opposition, it’s important that Christ’s church know how to respond to it and the apostles masterfully demonstrate that in chapter five.

          Beyond organized opposition, at some level—every unsaved person is in some way opposed to Jesus and the gospel.  The hostility in many cases may not open and vehement, but its there.  The example of the apostles is also very helpful in those cases.  I find several qualities necessary for us to be faithful when we are met with opposition to Christ that flow out of the example the apostles here in this text.  We will cover three this morning and the first quality comes from the larger context of the book, but it’s assumed in this text and that is—We must walk in the Spirit and live Christ-empowered lives.  This isn’t specifically mentioned in this text for this morning, but the first four and a half chapters teach it loud and clear.  The apostles’ lives and ministry provide a context from which they shared the gospel and we must not skip over that. 

This is absolutely indispensible because if you do not love Christ and are not walking with him, then any sermon on speaking the truth to those who oppose you will seem completely irrelevant to you because frankly, you probably don’t think much about speaking the gospel.  If you are unfaithful now, there is little chance that you will be faithful if open hostility to the gospel breaks out.  If that describes you then the implicit message from this text for you is—repent and live faithfully because, for among other reasons, if open and organized opposition is leveled at the gospel, there is no good reason to believe you not will deny Christ for the sake of your own safety.  And denying Christ is not something that is eternally healthy.  If we are doing that now in times of comparatively low level opposition, it is naïve to think that will change when the opposition increases.

          The opening chapters of Acts tell us that the apostles’ devotion to Christ and their Spirit empowered lives and ministries provided a credibility to them that gave them a context from which to speak the truth.  They, unlike most of us, achieved that credibility very quickly by performing signs and wonders.  Miraculously healing someone has a way of making you instantly credible—especially in a culture with no real medical establishment.  The miraculous nature of their ministry very clearly and quickly established them as credible witnesses.  Unless you are gifted in signs and wonders, you will have to build credibility in other ways—God will give you favor through the integrity of your life and/or your loving, thoughtful demeanor and lifestyle.  If a person knows that you love them, that provides a context from which you can share.  It does not guarantee they will not oppose you, but it does give you credibility. Though there are notable exceptions, in our culture you often have to earn the right to share the gospel with someone.  The first quality necessary for us to be faithful in the midst of opposition is--we must walk in the Spirit and live Christ-empowered lives. 

The rest of the qualities come right from this text in chapter five we heard earlier.  Next is—We must have a firm conviction on who it is we are seeking to please.  As the apostles interacted with the Jewish leaders, they were faced with a clear choice.  They could either submit to the leaders’ prohibition to preach in Jesus’ name and please them or, they could violate the prohibition of the Jewish leaders and please Christ who commissioned them to preach.  It was no contest for them.  Their loyalties clearly lay with Jesus.  That’s at the root of Peter’s powerful statement in verse 29 in response to the Jewish leaders’ charges.  He said, “We must obey God rather than men.”  If you are going to be faithful to Christ in this world that opposes him, you must, must, must have a very clear conviction of who it is you it is you are seeking to please.

          I have no doubt the apostles would loved to have obeyed the Jewish leaders and in most areas, they did obey them.  But when they began to tell them to do things opposed to what Christ had commanded them, they didn’t waste any time contemplating where their highest allegiances were.  Some of us who hate conflict and who, over the years have learned to be good at walking the fence, are repelled by this truth:  that is--there are time when, if  we are faithful to God—no matter how gracious or gentle or kind we may be, people will be displeased with us and at times, even angry.  A friendly, caring demeanor may soften the blow (a gentle answer turns away wrath) but the gospel is an offense whether it is screamed obnoxiously without love or spoken serenely with great compassion.  It can tick people off.  We shouldn’t always assume that if someone is hostile or irritated with us for sharing with them the truth about their souls and the exclusive claims of Christ, that the problem is that we just weren’t loving enough.  We can at times be very loving and gentle and still incite great hostility because the offense of the gospel is great.

          No matter how gentle you are, when you tell someone who doesn’t know Christ that you believe they are spiritually lost and going to hell apart from Christ, its amazing how message that will get under their skin.  We can face the same choice the apostles faced.  I can either be silent altogether.  Or, closely related--I can be inoffensive but the message I proclaim is so watered down that it gives them no clue of their desperate need for Christ and the world will be happy.  In either case, I am denying God by compromising his gospel.  Or, I can be faithful to God and face opposition to the truth that is sometimes angry.  And when those situations arise, we must, like the apostles have a clear grasp of where our allegiances lie.  We must obey God rather than men.”  This is what Paul says in Galatians 1:10.  10 For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.”  This is a black and white issue for Paul.  He sees an absolutely mutually exclusive relationship between pleasing God and pleasing man—you can’t do both.  If your agenda in life is to please people, you should not be a servant of Christ because being a servant of Christ will cause you to say and do things that will—without exception--bring opposition from this world.  There is no middle ground where a person can, at one and the same time, be acceptable to the world AND truth-driven so as to please both God and the world.  WE WANT THAT—we desperately want to be able to please both God and other people at the same time, but that option simply does not exist.  You please God OR you please people, but you cannot please both.

          This is essential to being a follower of Christ.  Jesus says it this way in John 15:18, 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...  The argument is so simple.  There are two kingdoms—a kingdom of light and a kingdom of darkness.  The kingdom of darkness loves only those who are in their kingdom.  When a person becomes a follower of Christ, they are rescued by Christ out of this dark world and placed into the kingdom of light.  The darkness hates the light.  If the world hates Christ, then it will hate you.  If it doesn’t hate you, it’s simply because you bear either no—or very little resemblance to Christ. 

If the world knows you and you accurately reflect Christ, it is only a matter of time until they will oppose you in some way.  If you are trying to cultivate the admiration of the world AND live in obedience to Jesus, you will be greatly frustrated and experience a lot of inner conflict because you are trying to accomplish something that simply cannot happen.  We must remember that Christ didn’t send us to be liked or admired by those who hated him.  And that begs the question for the believer, “Why would we want to be loved by a world that hated Jesus, who we say we love more than anything else?”  Think of it this way--if someone hates your daughter or your husband or your best friend enough to want to keep them completely out of their life, would you feel any strong compulsion to have them like you?  Most of us would be repulsed by them and feel no need to be liked or admired by someone who hates someone very close to us.  Yet, we do that all the time with a world that hates Christ, don’t we?

Let me just go a bit deeper here and give two root causes why many of us are strongly tempted to be unfaithful in this area.  One of the root causes is--we don’t view sinners through a Biblical lens.  If we saw sinners through God’s eyes, then when we meet an unbeliever, our primary understanding of them would be—they are lost, without hope in this world and headed for eternal torment.  One a Biblical scale, that is THE MOST IMPORTANT THING to know about that person.  If THAT is the dominant way we view the sinner, then that will shape how we relate to them.  If we love them and we love God, wanting to obey him and we view them through a Biblical lens, then we will pray for that person’s salvation and look for opportunities to share the gospel with them.  The problem is—we often don’t view the unsaved people in our lives primarily from a God-centered, truth-driven perspective.  Sadly, the truth that primarily shapes our perspective of then is NOT—that they are lost and hell bound.  Often it is—they are pretty or handsome or smart or clever or skilled or my boss or my relative, or any number of other things that are native to this world and that will be completely irrelevant the moment their heart stops.  And when THAT is the primary lens through which we view a lost person, that will shape our agenda towards him/her very differently.  If the main thing we know about a given sinner is they are very respected or wealthy or skilled, our sinful flesh will tempt us to try to get them to like us or admire us because our overwhelming response to them is to be drawn to them in some way.  The reason is because we are viewing them –according to the flesh.  Likewise, if the primary way we view a given sinner is that he/she is obnoxious or ugly or abrasive or childish, then our flesh will tempt us to avoid them as much as possible because they repulse us.

Another root cause for our unfaithfulness is we don’t view ourselves through a Biblical lens.  If our view of ourselves is God-centered and truth-driven—which means it is shaped by the gospel--if we know for certain that we are loved and cherished by God and secure in who we are in Christ--as a person who is saved and justified and adopted by God, and we get our sense of worth from that identity, then we will be secure in him.  If we are secure in Christ, that means that we won’t feel the crushing need to constantly prove our value by getting people to like us.  People who are not secure in Christ try to get much of their sense of self-worth—their sense of value from what other people think about them.  If your sense of self worth is not shaped by the truth of the gospel, then you will find it tortuously difficult to risk having someone hate you for telling them the truth of the gospel. The point is—if we are to experience the freedom in Christ is necessary for you to share the truth of the gospel without it being tortuous to us, we must internalize the gospel.

          That does NOT mean that we’re excused from sharing the truth until we’re completely secure in Christ.  God’s grace is sufficient for us—regardless of how unbiblical our view of sinners or ourselves may be.  We must obey God rather than men.”  The point is simply that we need not only to work on being faithful to share the gospel, we must also be faithful to internalize the gospel more ourselves.  Though it never gets easy and always requires faith, as receive your sense of self worth from what God has done for you in Jesus Christ, you will find it not so hard to share the truth.  And you will want to do it more anyway, because you will be filled with a greater sense of wonder over what God has done for you in the gospel.  The apostles had a truth-driven, God-centered perspective on sinners and on themselves and out of their gospel saturated joy in Christ, they boldly preached the truth in the midst of opposition here in chapter five.  They were faithful to obey God rather than men because they understood who they served.

          A third quality necessary to be faithful to Christ in the midst of opposition is: We must keep Christ and his gospel the main message.  This is true whether you preach to those who are openly opposed to you or not, but the temptation with those who are opposed will be to move into peripheral areas that are a bit less contentious.  Even though Christ—his life, death and resurrection and what that means will bring us the fiercest opposition, we must never back down from making Him the cornerstone of our message.  The apostles always keep the main thing the main thing in their gospel preaching.  Listen to the heart of the message they preach here in verse 30 and following.  The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had put to death by hanging him on a cross.  He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.”  They knew the Jewish leaders hated Christ and killed him, yet they boldly preach Christ.  They knew the Sadducees didn’t believe in the resurrection, yet they boldly preach that Jesus was raised up by God.  Without Christ we have no message.  Questions on things like the authority of Scripture and evolution and social and ethical issues may be important at some point, but we must never fall into the trap of making them the main thing.  It is possible to be completely Biblical on topics like evolution and the authority of the Bible and still be lost in your sins-many are.  Sometimes we must talk about those issues, but we must never believe we have preached the gospel if we haven’t preached Christ.  Paul says it this way in First Corinthians 2:2, “2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.  That’s the heart of the gospel—everything else is secondary.

          Notice the apostles make a point of mentioning that Jesus was the One “whom God exalted to his right hand as Prince and a Savior…”  It’s interesting that though the gospel message preached today includes the life, death and resurrection of Christ, the exaltation of Christ is almost never preached.  Yet, in apostolic preaching, it was a very common theme.  In Acts 2:33 we read of Christ, “33 Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.”  In Acts 3:21, Peter speaks of Christ as the One “21 whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.”  Heaven received Christ in his exaltation to the right hand of God’s throne.  Here are three texts that speak of Christ as the exalted Lord.  The one in Acts 5:31 for this morning says that he is exalted by God “to his right hand as Prince and a Savior.”  The truth that Christ has been exalted to God’s right hand as Prince speaks of the fact that he shares authority with God as his Prince.[1]  This speaks of Christ’s authority—his Lordship.  The truth of the Lordship of Christ was important for the Jewish leaders to know, but it’s also important for the sinners we know to understand as well.

          Perhaps one reason why many alleged believers claim to believe in Jesus as their Savior, but foolishly think the gospel does not require that they submit to him as Lord, is because we have mostly lost the emphasis on the exaltation of Christ in our preaching of the gospel. We must make clear to those with whom we share that Christ is not only Savior, but also Prince—Lord.  You cannot divide the person of Christ by claiming that he is your Savior, but not your Lord.  He was exalted as both Prince and Savior.  Peter says in Acts 2:36 in a sermon we studied earlier, “36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”  We must preach a gospel that proclaims that Christ comes into a person’s life not only to save them from their sin; he also comes to rule their life as their new King.  He is not only our Counselor, he is also our King—not only the Lamb, but also the Lord. Any gospel that does not speak of his exalted status as Lord of all is not complete.

          We will look at more qualities necessary to be faithful with the gospel in the midst of opposition next week.  Until then, may God give us the grace to have Christ empowered life that gives us credibility to preach the gospel, know with conviction who we were sent to please and keep the exalted Christ the main thing.


[1] Bock, Acts, ECNT, p. 247-248.

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