FOR May 2, 2010 FROM ACTS 5:27-42
CLICK HERE FOR WMA - Audio file of the sermon
In our series from the book of
Acts, one of Luke’s major emphases has been the constancy of the
apostles in speaking the gospel to others. As we have seen in Acts
so far, often the apostles are preaching to people very much opposed
to the truth that Christ crucified is the
only way for a person to escape God’s judgment.
We too live in a culture that is increasingly opposed to the
truth that a person can be saved from their sin only by placing their
faith in Jesus Christ. So,
what can we learn from these
apostles about speaking the gospel in a context of opposition? That’s the
question we took up last week as we looked at the example of the
apostles and saw three qualities necessary for us to speak the truth
of Christ in the midst of opposition.
We said that we
must first walk in the
Spirit and live Christ-empowered lives. A significant factor in how compelling our message is—is how compelling our life is to
You can’t separate the message
from the messenger.
Second, we saw that we
must have a firm conviction on who it is we are seeking to please.
The apostles loved the praise
of God far more than they loved the
praise of men and were able to say, “We must obey God rather than men.” The Bible repeatedly
teaches that we cannot please both God and other people and unless we
are firmly convicted to please God over humanity, we will not be faithful messengers within a hostile context where
the truth will bring opposition.
Finally, we said that we
must keep Christ and the gospel the main message. The apostles were amazingly
narrow in their focus.
They preached Christ crucified, risen and exalted as Lord.
We will do well to follow their
example and not allow ourselves to be distracted with secondary issues.
This week, we want to focus on the
quality that I think Luke wants us to see most vividly as we look at the
example of the apostles preaching amidst opposition.
Before we look at this, let’s again read the
brief section where the apostles are speaking to the
Jewish religious leaders who strongly opposed their preaching Christ. Beginning with verse
29 we read, “29 But Peter
and the apostles answered, “We must
obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. 31 God exalted him at his right hand as Leader
and Savior, to give repentance to Israel
and forgiveness of sins. 32 And
we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given
to those who obey him.”
What jumps out about the apostles from these verses is the earth-shattering
boldness with which they preached. A fourth quality necessary for speaking the
gospel to someone who is opposed to the message and one that is so
necessary for us today is—A
boldness that will not waver in the face of opposing, false
Being bold is so important and one reason we know that is because Paul—whose
life’s mission was to preach the gospel—when we asked for people to
pray for him in his preaching—what qualities did he ask people to pray for him?
Boldness and closely related to that--clarity.
He asks the Ephesians to pray
for him in 6:19“19...that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, 20
for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly,
as I ought to speak.” One
quality which should accompany the preaching of the
gospel according to Paul is boldness. Not only is it one of two qualities Paul prays for in his preaching, but his repetition
of this request so close together tells us that he is emphasizing the
importance of this. To
be bold is to speak without concealing anything—not holding back anything important so as to be less offensive. This is especially pertinent
to us who live in Northern Minnesota
where “Minnesota Nice” is often wrongly seen as a virtue.
Minnesota Nice is defined by NOT going to the
hard places—NOT speaking a word that might offend when necessary—avoiding conflict at all cost and that is antithetical
to Biblical boldness.
We see a very similar prayer request in Colossians chapter four. Paul says, beginning
with verse two, “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.
At the same time, pray also for us,
that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account
of which I am in prison—that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.” Notice again that Paul
says something about how he ought to speak. The word here is different, but boldness is implied.
That is—he wants his language to make perfectly clear the
gospel message. Part
of what that implies that he will not allow a desire to please people to keep him from telling the
truth as it is—and not as they would like to here it.
Notice, he doesn’t ask for prayer for cultural sensitivity—though that was
certainly a need. He
doesn’t ask that his audiences will have soft hearts to the gospel—though
that would have been appropriate as well. No, he wants prayer for clarity and with that clarity, boldness and he again adds that
this is how he ought to speak for Christ. This is so important for us because if Paul needed grace in this area, how much more do
Whenever we speak of boldness, we must
remember that Biblical boldness is always rooted in our love for Christ, our love for sinner and the
unshakable conviction that the gospel we have to share is glorious and absolutely, unquestionably
Biblical boldness is not rooted in anger or a desire to show the superiority
of our argument or a desire to impress someone with how zealous we are.
It’s not rooted in a personality that just likes a good scrap. Neither
is this boldness rooted in a twisted need to cover up any insecurity we may have about ourselves or the truths
we are speaking--as if speaking louder or more impassioned will make us sound more plausible.
Finally, it’s not a boldness rooted in a desire to intimidate people. Even though some have
tried, you can’t convince someone into becoming a genuine believer by pummeling them
into submission. This
boldness is simply an expression of love for Christ, love for the sinner
and the conviction that the
gospel message with which we have been entrusted is glorious and eternally life changing.
In Second Corinthians chapter three, Paul lays out the
superiority of the New Covenant ministry of Christ over the
Law of Moses and he says in verse 12, “Since we have such a hope, we are
very bold…” Paul’s
boldness was not rooted in his personality, but in the fact that he,
through his own personal experience was utterly convinced of the glorious nature of the gospel.
He knew that this message had given him a hope for eternity that he had never
found in the Law and he loved sharing this which was so personally precious to him with other people. If we do not love Jesus
and sinners and are not compelled by the glory of our message, our boldness,
if we have any—will not be Biblical.
Having said that as a qualifier, the
boldness these apostles show here is simply breathtaking. I find eight different
claims in what is undoubtedly Luke’s summary of their defense before
the Jewish leaders and each claim drips with boldness.
I want to very briefly look at each claim and see the
fearlessness—at times bordering on brashness--of these apostles. The first claim is in
response to the Sanhedrin’s prohibition to preach in Jesus’ name where
they say, “We must obey God
rather than men.” Think about what that
was communicating in this context where the hearers were all Jewish
religious leaders. They
are saying this to men who claim to be God’s authority on earth and are recognized as such within Judaism. Jesus also recognized
the authority of Jewish leaders.
In Matthew 23:2, he tells the
apostles, “2 “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat,
practice and observe whatever they tell you— but
not what they do. For they preach, but do not practice.”
Yet in this case, when they command them
to disobey Jesus, the apostles do not submit to their authority. When these
leaders heard Peter and the apostles say, “We
must obey God rather than men” their internal response was surely, “If you must obey God, you will obey us because WE speak
for him.” Yet
the boldness of the apostles
is seen in the conviction that THEY speak for God.
We—who did not go to an accredited seminary and have no formally recognized
religious training—WE speak for God. The clear implication is--they do not recognize the
Jewish leader’s authority. The
apostles are strongly implying to these leaders in this first claim,
“WE are from God—you are not. Therefore
WE, (not you) have the real authority here.”
Again, they are saying this to
men who were already jealous of them. This statement alone is like pouring gasoline on a fire but this is just the
A second bold claim is made in the
first part of verse 30 where they say to these
leaders, “The God of our fathers raised up Jesus…” These leaders would
have found just about every word of this claim to be offensive, but the
apostles mention the resurrection anyway because it is an essential part of the
would have been offensive first, because the main leaders—the Sadducees didn’t believe in the
more than that, for the apostles to say that Jesus was raised up by
“the God of our fathers”
implies other claims that would have been utterly noxious to these
the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Moses and other
Jewish father figures--raised up Jesus, that means that the God these
leaders claimed to serve and represent—in Jesus’ resurrection, reversed what they
had accomplished in his execution. The God of the Jews had—in the
most brazen way imaginable--communicated to the Jewish leaders through
the resurrection of Jesus—“You blew it
and I am vetoing you—you killed him, but I am overruling your murder by raising him up.”
The claim that the God of the
Jewish Fathers did this momentous resurrection miracle is a not so veiled accusation that the
Jewish leaders had been diametrically opposed to God’s will-even though in their
disobedience they were unknowingly accomplishing God’s will. It would be hard to
think of a way that God could communicate his opposition any more persuasively than raising from the
dead someone whom you had executed and the apostles boldly make that claim.
Perhaps the boldest apostolic
claim of all is in the second half of verse 30 where they
rightly accuse these Jewish leaders saying, “…Jesus,
whom you had put to death by hanging him on a cross.”
This is a response to the complaint of the
Jewish leaders in verse 28 where they tell the
apostles, “…you intend to bring this man’s blood on us.” The
apostles knew that their claim that the Jewish leaders had Christ crucified
had left a very bad taste in their mouths, but they
now reassert it anyway. When
you understand the context, we see just how bold this statement is. By using that word translated
“hanging” to describe what they did to Jesus, they
are alluding to Deuteronomy 21:22. There the Law says, “22
And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is
put to death, and you hang him on a tree, 23 his
body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him
the same day, for a hanged man
is cursed by God…”
The apostles were accusing these
Jewish leaders of nothing less than the sin of blasphemy because they
are claiming that this Man Jesus—who God raised from the dead to vindicate
him as the Messiah, uniquely blessed and anointed by God “You—Jewish leaders placed a curse on this Man by hanging
him on a tree. This One who you should have been heralding as your messiah and worshipping as your King, you instead
placed under the
curse of God by hanging him on a tree.”
This claim implies not only that the
Jewish leaders were completely deceived, but that they had perpetrated
the greatest injustice in history.
These leaders were not just blasphemous, they
were epically blasphemous—not just deceived—they were uniquely deceived.
Another incredibly bold claim
is made immediately following this one in verse 31 where they claim
of Jesus, “He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior…” This takes an even more
offensive step forward from the other
this implies to the Jewish leaders is—“Not
only did God reverse your wicked action in crucifying the Messiah by raising him from the dead—but this One who you put to death on a cross and
cursed, God has exalted to the position of highest intimacy and highest authority—as
Prince at his right hand.
This One who you sought to bring God’s curse
upon is in fact the
One God intends as Savior-to rescue sinners from the curse of sin.” We must hear these
claims through the ears of the
Jewish leaders. These
titles “Prince” and “Savior” clearly communicate that Jesus is the promised
Messiah for whom the Jews had been waiting and as that Messiah, he is
now sharing God’s divine authority as his Prince.
Again, this claim not only implies that these
Jewish leaders were guilty of blasphemy, but that their actions were
the most blatant, shameful, brazen act of blasphemy conceivable.
truth about Jesus is magnified in the next section of verse 32 where
the apostles claim that Jesus has been commissioned by God “to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.” This speaks of Jesus’
unique office of High Priest. The
other Jewish high priests could pronounce that a person’s sin had been
blotted out upon the appropriate animal sacrifice, but no priest could
to even a single person, much less to a nation of people.
This is not a high priest who can only pronounce that God has put away your
sin—this is a High Priest who can actually forgive your sins and more, who
can change the
heart of a nation of people by granting them
the gift of repentance.
This High Priest not only changes hearts, but promises complete and total
forgiveness of sins. These
Jewish leaders would have recognized the apostles’ language in this
claim from the Old Testament.
They are claiming that Jesus is the
fulfillment of the New Covenant promises of Jeremiah 31. “33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
With each bold claim, the apostles
assert just how completely sinful, deceived and wicked these Jewish
leaders were in how they responded to Jesus.
Up to this point, the claims
made by the apostles are purely about the
historical facts but there is a personal dimension to their
next claim. They
assert, “And we are witnesses of these things...”
This is where they pause for a
moment to assert that all of what they have said up to this point is
verifiably true. They
do that by invoking themselves as witnesses.
This is an allusion to Deuteronomy 19:15 that says, “15
A single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime
or for any wrong in connection with any offense that he has committed. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established.” They are condemning
the Jewish leaders of these
crimes of which they have accused them
by telling them that—with perhaps 12 of them
standing there, they more
than meet the Biblical requirement for validation of a legal claim. They are also saying
that they are witnesses, not only to the
crime of the unjust crucifixion of Jesus, but also to the
exaltation of Jesus to the position of Prince and Savior at God’s right
are not just arbitrary claims—they carry the
full legal weight of the rules of evidence required by the
Law—these claims they have
made are not unfounded accusations, under Jewish law they must be seen
as absolutely the truth ----there
is no denying them.
This was especially important because as we know from Matthew,
the religious leaders had attempted to cover up their
leaders instructed the guards at the
tomb after the resurrection, “Tell
people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’
Matthew adds in verse 15, “…this
story has been spread among the Jews to this day.” That means when the
apostles say to these Jewish leaders that they
had been witnesses to Jesus resurrection and exaltation, they were telling
them that they knew they
were liars and their hoax was just that—a hoax.
In the second half of verse 32,
they continue their indictment
of the Jewish leaders by saying that the
witnesses to these crimes are not only human, but divine. They say that they
not only serve as witnesses but “so is the Holy Spirit,” which the Jewish leaders would have taken
as another way to speak of God. That means they
are saying, “Not only do we know all about
this, but God himself bears witness to the truthfulness of our claims and God himself knows that
you are phonies who have perpetrated this hoax.”
The final claim is in the second
half of verse 32 where the apostles say of the
Holy Spirit, “whom God has given to those who obey him.” Again,
remember the context.
The apostles are performing these
clearly miraculous signs and wonders that are unmistakable signs of the
outpouring of the Spirit of God.
In that context, what they are
saying to these leaders is essentially—“The
reason we have the
supernatural quality of ministry we do is because God has poured out his Spirit on us in response to our obedience.” Conversely,
it implies—“And the reason your ministry is so different and frankly insipid
compared to ours is because you don’t obey God, and therefore haven’t enjoyed the ministry of the Spirit as we have.” Luke wants us to see
that it would be difficult to imagine these apostles being more bold
than they were.
They didn’t make one or two claims that would have endangered their
lives—they made at least eight claims in rapid fire succession and every
one of them would have been taken by these
already jealous Jewish leaders to be inexpressively offensive and inappropriate. They leave NOTHING out for fear of being offensive.
Now, perhaps we can understand more fully why they
respond as Luke records in verse 33. “But when they heard this, they were cut to the quick and intended to kill them.”
These dignified, Jewish men are so furious---cut to their
very hearts that they want to lynch these
apostles right then and there. At every point possible,
the apostles communicate the
truth of the gospel to these
men who were opposed and they pull no punches.
They may have been very gentle and gracious in their
tone—we don’t know, but they missed no opportunity to tell the
truth, knowing that the claims they
were making would infuriate these Jewish leaders who had the
power of life or death over them.
It’s very difficult to overstate just how bold these
apostles were here. At
every point possible, their words communicated the
truth and by implication they communicated that these
men were wickedly wrong, wrong, wrong about everything related to Jesus Christ.
Now, does all this mean that we are obligated to communicate to someone who
opposes the gospel that they
are WRONG, WRONG, WRONG! No,
because we will never speak to anyone who has done to Jesus what these
men did. They
were as deceived as it is possible to be because these men had seen
him, heard him—noted his Messiah-validating miracles and still put him to death.
What it DOES communicate to us very clearly is that we
must never shrink back from making any gospel claim because of a fear that it will not be accepted or that it will
in some way offend someone. As
we said last week—we must know that there are people who God calls
us to share the truth with who, if they
are not offended, we have not been faithful. God does not call us to be offensive, but he calls us to be faithful with a gospel that
is offensive. Our
goal is not to be offensive, but to be faithful.
We are often very good at going right up to the
edge of saying something that will offend, but stopping just short.
The person isn’t offended, but neither
have they heard anything that will change his life.
We walk away convincing ourselves that we were faithful.
As wrong as it is to try to intimidate someone with the
truth, most of us struggle, not with being manipulative or heavy handed, but with opening our mouth at all. God says to us—be bold!
As we close, let’s go back to what is at the
root of our boldness because that is where many of us have to begin.
Do we genuinely love Christ and want to share him with others—have
we been utterly convinced of the glory of the
gospel message? Have
we experienced the forgiveness of the
gospel and do we, on an ongoing basis, continue to experience the healing
and forgiveness and mercy found in the gospel?
If that is not where we are, then
boldness will be a very frustrating goal for us.
Without a love for Christ and a love for the
gospel, we will be only able to mimic boldness in our flesh—it will never be real to us.
And do we love sinners—do we see them
as God sees them—harassed and helpless—like sheep without a shepherd? Those are the
building blocks of boldness and that is what the apostles had. May God give us the
grace to grow in these truths so that we might know this earth-shattering,
apostolic boldness for his glory and our joy.