April 7, 2022

Confident Witnesses, April 3rd, 2022

Preacher:
Series:

Creator God, you spoke, and light appeared in chaotic nothingness. Your Word became flesh in Jesus Christ and lived among us. Speak again with the power of the Holy Spirit through the Scriptures, read and interpreted, and transform our understanding so that our lives may more fully conform to your Living Word. Amen

New Testament Reading:   Acts 4:1-22

Up to this point, as we follow the lives of the Apostles, as told by Luke in the book of Acts, things have been going fairly well for them. Jesus has spent forty days with them after his resurrection, teaching and encouraging them, telling them about the promised Kingdom of Heaven. And just prior to his ascension to be with God the Father, he told them to go to Jerusalem and wait for the Holy Spirt to descend upon them.

After that took place, on the Day of Pentecost, through the gift of the Holy Spirit, the disciples were able speak to the crowds which had gathered in Jerusalem in their own languages and tell them that Jesus, who had been crucified by them fifty days earlier was truly the Son of God and the long promised Messiah for the world. After hearing Peter speak many in the crowd came to believe and over three thousand were baptised in the name of Christ. They then began to worship, pray, and fellowship together. As mentioned earlier, this was the founding of the Christian church, of which we are a part.

While the disciples were in Jerusalem we’re told by Luke, the author of the book of Acts, that “Day by day, … they spent much time together in the temple.” On one of those trips to the temple Peter and John encounter a lame man at one of the gates, sitting there and begging for alms. They had no money but were able to offer him something much more valuable, the ability, for the first time in his life, to be able to walk. Thanks to the Holy Spirit working through him, Peter was able to heal the man of his lameness.

Luke tells us that, “All the people saw him walking and praising God, and they recognized him as the one who used to sit and ask for alms at the Beautiful Gate of the temple; and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.” Peter seizes this opportunity to tell the crowds who had witnessed this miracle about the Saving Grace of Jesus Christ. After hearing Peter’s sermon Luke says that; “many of those who heard the word believed; and they numbered about five thousand.” So, in a matter of weeks the church had gone from 120 believers huddled together in that house in Jerusalem to 3000 at the Day of Pentecost to over 8000 after Peter and John healed the lame beggar. Things were looking up!

But now, all that was about to change. Although many in the crowds had come to accept Jesus as their Lord and Messiah, those in charge weren’t quite so enthused. This is what happened next, “While Peter and John were speaking to the people, the priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees came to them, much annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming that in Jesus there is the resurrection of the dead. So, they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening.”

So, here we have the all the leaders of the temple ganged up against Peter and John. There are the priests, who officiated at the temple, the captain of the temple, who was the head of the temple police, whose job it was to maintain order, and finally the Sadducees. They were the leaders of the Sanhedrin, which was the Supreme Court of its day, and they didn’t believe in the resurrection of the dead, which made it even worse for Peter and John who were proclaiming that Jesus had risen from the dead.

But encountering such opposition shouldn’t have come as any surprise to them. When Jesus was preparing his disciples for the time when he would no longer be with them, he gave them this warning, “When they bring you before the synagogues, the rulers, and the authorities, do not worry about how you are to defend yourselves or what you are to say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that very hour what you ought to say.” (Luke 12:11-12). And now that was about to happen, this was to be the beginning of the persecution of the church, which we still see happening today. And at that point Peter and John were put in prison for the night, held there until they could face their accusers the next day. This was not the way they had thought things would turn out when they left that morning to go to the temple to pray. Jesus never promised that it would be easy, but they were so hopeful that morning when they first set out.

Luke then tells us that, “The next day their rulers, elders, and scribes assembled in Jerusalem, with Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. When they had made the prisoners stand in their midst, they inquired, ‘By what power or by what name did you do this?’” So here we have these two regular men, with no formal education, standing in front of the crème de la crème of Jerusalem society, having to answer for having healed the lame beggar the day before. And let’s not forget that these were the same men who had arranged the crucifixion of their Lord and Master, Jesus. So, Peter and John were in a lot of trouble.

But when asked, “By what power or by what name did you do this?”, this is what took place, “Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead.” Through the power of the Holy Spirit, Peter was able to turn their accusations completely around, back on the ones who deserved to be accused, being the Chief Priests and elders, those who had caused the crucifixion of the Son of God, Jesus Christ.

This too, was promised by Jesus when he was teaching the disciples, he told them, “‘But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So, make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.’” (Luke 21:12-15). Jesus told them that when they were standing before the governing authorities, he would give them words to say. And this is what took place, through the power of the Holy Spirit, Peter was able to accuse those powerful men of their part in the death of the long promised Messiah.

And the proof of the fact that Jesus was that Messiah could be found in that once lame man who was standing there with Peter and John. The Holy Spirit, working through Peter, had healed this man and for the first time in his life he was able to walk.  Peter said to that council of elders, many of whom did not believe in the resurrection of the dead, that, “this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead.” And what could they say, the physical proof of Peter’s words was standing there in front of them, that man, who had been lame from birth, was now able to walk.

So how could these religious leaders possibly punish the two apostles for what they had done, especially when the crowds were on their side praising God for the miracle that had been performed? This is what happened next, “When they saw the man who had been cured standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition. So, they ordered them to leave the council while they discussed the matter with one another. They said, ‘What will we do with them? For it is obvious to all who live in Jerusalem that a notable sign has been done through them; we cannot deny it. But to keep it from spreading further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.’ So, they called them and ordered them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.”

But that wasn’t going to work, this was Peter and John’s reply, “‘Whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.’” They had spent three years with Jesus, learning from him and witnessing the miracles he had performed. They had seen him crucified but had also been with him for those forty days after his resurrection. And they were there when he had ascended into heaven to be with the Father. And since the Holy Spirit had descended on them on the Day of Pentecost over 8000 people had come to know Jesus. There was no way that they could not continue to tell people about all that they had seen and heard.

And that’s what should inspire us today. The truth is that while Peter and John had to be commanded to stop speaking, most of us need to be reminded of the command to speak to others about Jesus Christ. Many Christians today think that Jesus’ Great Commission; “to go and make disciples of all nations”, was really just the Great Suggestion. Or we think that it applies to those called into missionary work, but not to the rest of us. But every believer should be able to say with Peter and John, even under threat of persecution, “I cannot stop speaking about what I have seen and heard.” If we are prone to be timid witnesses for Christ, we should pray that the Lord would give us the confident boldness that we need to speak out for Jesus and his message of salvation for all who believe.

You and I are the messengers of God to this generation of people. We give people the message of Jesus first through our lives and then through his Word. Sometimes we feel insecure or scared or even embarrassed about it. This is a normal human reaction but if we are willing to help bring light into someone’s dark life, God will empower us to be his messengers.  This is what Jesus asked of the disciples and what he asks of us today. We are God’s people and together, we can make a difference.

Let us Pray:

Heavenly Father, thank you for your Word.  Thank you for your glorious insights, revelation, and truth.  Help us use this message wherever it can be a help and encouragement to bring others closer to you. Give us courage and strength to share the Good News of the Gospel to those we meet in our broken world.  We know you love all who reach out to you. Shine the Holy Spirit on our daily lives and bring us peace as we follow Jesus for your honour and glory. Amen

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