If you’re thinking about becoming a Christian, think again!
Jesus was very clear “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you.”
In the 1960s we Christians were viewed as irrelevant, by the 1970s we were a joke and by the 1980s we were viewed as narrow-minded and stupid. In the last 5 years Christianity is viewed as dangerous and the bible as hate speech. Covid has taken some of the heat out the debate but it’s coming back and it will never stop! So friends, be prepared.
In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, ~2 Timothy 3:12 (NIV)
Today's passage is round 2 of persecution in the early church. God's message won't be stopped, God is behind the mission of the Lord Jesus. The apostles asked for signs and wonders and they got it
Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by impure spirits, and all of them were healed. ~Acts 5:16 (NIV)
All who came were healed, God was confirming that Jesus is the living Lord, by the sheer number of miracles, the extradentary nature of the miracles and now drawing from people outside Jerusalem. God is truly at work. They were giving the Jewish leaders every reason to repent.
Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail. But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out. “Go, stand in the temple courts,” he said, “and tell the people all about this new life.” At daybreak they entered the temple courts, as they had been told, and began to teach the people. ~Acts 5:17-21 (NIV)
The Sadducees taught that there was no life after death and the apostles taught that Jesus is risen. You can see why people were shifting loyalties. If your worldview can't answer the problem of death then it’s time to change your worldview. Its everyone's felt need, there is lots of false hope.
You can now send a hologram of someone who has died to speak a message to a loved one from the grave. Kanye West did one for Kim Kardashian of her dead father. False hope!
My brother in law Greg was diagnosed with brain and lung cancer a week ago. It was his trust in the living Lord Jesus that made him face life threatening surgery with confidence.
If the Christians are filled with the Spirit then these Sadducees are now filled with jealousy. Out of jealousy they arrest the apostles for the 2nd time and put them in jail overnight. But when you oppose God it will come to nothing, so God sends an angel, which by the way the Sadducees don’t believe in. The angel opens the prison doors and directs the apostles to preach at the temple.
The next day the council convenes and everyone has turned up except the apostles and they are nowhere to be found. Then the leaders hear that the jail doors were locked tight, the prisons guards did not leave their post and the jail is as empty as Jesus tomb. And they are bemused, they go from jealousy to puzzled, people say “I will believe if I can see” well the evidence is mounting but they cannot see.
I remember asking an Atheist Relative “if Jesus were to appear today would you believe.?” “No!” it was never about the evidence. All the leaders can see is that their orders to be silent have been disobeyed, so they arrested the 12 now for the 3rd time.
“We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,” he said. “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.” ~Acts 5:28 (NIV)
They are upset at getting blamed for Jesus death, this is so ironic.
All the people answered, “His blood is on us and on our children!” ~Matthew 27:25 (NIV)
They got exactly what they asked for and yet the message of the cross is that their guilt does not have to fall on them. Their guilt, your guilt can fall on Christ in our place. The apostles were not about to apologise for pointing people to the risen Jesus.
Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than human beings! ~Acts 5:29 (NIV)
We are forever faced with this choice, God or human. Its not often obey God v obey humans, Jesus said the reason why people do not go public with their faith
for they loved human praise more than praise from God. ~John 12:43 (NIV)
I was talking to someone last week, a self-confessed people pleaser, they decided to draw different stick figures with the name of every significant person in their life. They then systematically crossed over each person, they were trying to live for the applause of one.
Notice the 12 apostles are so bold for Jesus, but Boldness is just Bravado when it’s not based on truth
The apostles make the same case as before:
God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins. ~Acts 5:31 (NIV)
There is a way out - with repentance comes the promise of forgiveness. This was their chance to lead God's people into repentance. I often wonder, what stops them and us from taking up the call to repent.
Is it pride?
Is it shame?
Is it fear?
It has never been cool to come to Christ. Is it too good to be true? Sometimes people never get passed the bad news and
so miss out on the good news. Or is it the cost of commitment, for if Jesus is Prince then they would need to obey him. If Jesus is saviour then they would need to trust him. It means that I have to get out of the drivers seat and let Jesus take control.
So, which is holding you back and is it worth it? Fear, Shame, Pride, or Cost of commitment. That is why the Spirit has to witness to your Spirit that Jesus is Lord. But who is interrogating who? It may look like the apostles are on trial but it's the ruling council who are on trial
When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death. ~Acts 5:33 (NIV)
Watch the emotional words in this passage. Jealousy becomes Fear and Fear leads to Rage. Every instinct in me wants to say to the apostles tread lightly boys and don’t cause trouble. That is what I feel like saying to our Prime Minister when he talks tough on China on the inquiry into COVID. I'm thinking ScoMo tread lightly you’re going to ruin our trade and our farmers are going to pay a heavy price. Sometimes you say the right thing regardless of the cost.
There is a real place for being winsome, it’s never right to be rude and cruel but sometimes the truth needs to be said loud and clear.
They can’t be forgiven unless they repent, they can’t repent unless they confess their sin and they won’t confess their sin unless they confess Jesus to be their Lord and Saviour. In the face of death threats God provides an unlikely rescue.
But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honored by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while. Then he addressed the Sanhedrin: “Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men. ~Acts 5:34-35 (NIV)
Gamaliel cites two cases to make his point. Two men, Theudas and Judas of Galilee, both led a rebellion and both were killed and their followers were scattered and both movements came to nothing.
Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.” ~Acts 5:38-39 (NIV)
Leave them alone and let them go, don’t kill them and he gives 2 reasons. If its just another human ideology then it won’t last.
That is why when I see Christians push another human ideology learnt at the university of Facebook or Google I think, friends remember the words of Jesus “Heaven and earth will pass away but my words will never pass away.” Only Jesus words stand the test of time and nothing else.
At one level success is not the only criteria if something is from God otherwise Macdonald's and Islam are from God. I put it this way “Not all success is from God but if it is God-given it will succeed”
Part of the reason why I believe in Jesus is that what Jesus promised in Acts 1:8 has taken place. The Good news as spread from Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria to the ends of the world. “Christianity is believed by people from over 2000 different language groups in the world. More people pray and worship in more languages than in any other religion in the world.”
Its why we have a God-given optimism toward growth and that is why we seek to plant 5 congregations in 10 years and ask God for a 1000 new disciples and that is why I don’t apologise in calling for every person who makes MBM home to financially partner in Gods work.
But more than that you stand against the cause of Christ, you stand against God himself and that is not just Wrong its Dumb. Its why the Jewish leaders are so frustrated, you can’t take on God and win and it’s why some of you are so exhausted, you’re warring against God. The word is to surrender and let Jesus set you free! If God is for us who can be against us. If God is against you then heaven help you, because there is no hope.
But this is no Disneyland Christianity.
His speech persuaded them. They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. ~Acts 5:40 (NIV)
The God who raised Jesus from dead, who sent an angel to set the apostles free, the God who provided Gamaliel to protect the apostles from death. Still allowed them be flogged, 39 lashes to be exact on the back of each of the 12. So brutal it has caused some to bleed to death.
There is no force field protecting Christians, in fact, when the angel who set them free sent them back into the firing lines they asked for boldness that would get them into more trouble. Their boldness is escalating the conflict and its bringing further suffering on them. Eventually, the 12 apostles will be killed for their witness to risen Jesus.
Peter himself will be crucified in Rome upside down and none of it makes sense if they lied about seeing Jesus alive.
I love their response to the flogging.
The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. ~Acts 5:41 (NIV)
They saw the 39 lashes on their backs opening up their skin as a privilege. To walk in the footsteps of Jesus who for the joy set before him endured the shame of the cross-honour. The honour of suffering shame for his glorious Name, the only name by which we can be saved. A joy that refused to be silenced.
Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah ~Acts 5:41 (NIV)
I've put on the top of my list of impossible prayer points, "Lord give me spiritual courage to speak boldly about the good news of the Lord Jesus". I invite you to do likewise.
At bible study this week we talked of what persecution looks like for them: accused of believing in fairy tales, of being left out and sidelined. One young man, who works on building sites, mentioned he was a Christian at work, the site manager made sure every person could hear him say “I have more hope in believing in werewolves and zombies” The rumour spread around the building site, opening up for more ridicule. I asked him what did he do “I prayed: Father forgive them for they know not what they do” Then I asked how did you feel? I wished he could have spoken better but so glad I could speak, the bible verse on his app that day was:
Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. ~Romans 5:3-4 (NIV)
Don’t be rude but don’t be ashamed or intimidated brother and sister. We are the only ones who have the answer to death. We have a living faith because we have a living Lord who has made us alive.