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"Holly Boldness II"

MESSAGE FOR May 2, 2010 FROM ACTS 5:27-42

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          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 others.  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 worldviews. 

          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.[1]  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 we? 

          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 true.  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, 3 so 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 beginning.

          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 gospel.  This would have been offensive first, because the main leaders—the Sadducees didn’t believe in the resurrection.  But 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 leaders.  If 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 claims.  What 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 the 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. 

The same 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 grant repentance 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 hand.  These 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 crime.  These 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.

[1]  . Vol. 5: Theological dictionary of the New Testament. 1964- (G. Kittel, G. W. Bromiley & G. Friedrich, Ed.) (electronic ed.) (871–886). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.



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