Sermon from Sunday, April 7th 2013 / Second Sunday of Easter
April 7th, 2013 Acts 5:27-29
Pastor Terry Defoe, Mount Olive Lutheran Church
Our sermon text this morning is found in the book of Acts in the New Testament, chapter 5. I’m reading verses 27 to 29:
27 The apostles were brought in and made to appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. 28 “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.” 29 Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than men!
New International Version, NIV, © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.®
This morning, we're going to have a look at the early Christian church. This morning, we're going to consider the challenges those first Christians faced as they set out to proclaim the message of the risen Christ. We need to remember that the apostles had spent three years at the feet of Jesus, learning God's will and seeing people transformed by his love. Now, after the resurrection of their Lord, we will see that they had an opportunity to put into practice what they had learned. I pray that God would bless our consideration of His most holy Word this day!
The message of Jesus Christ is a message of life and hope. It’s a message of sins forgiven and the promise of heaven. Now, you'd think that people would welcome a message like that with open arms. But you'd be wrong. As the earliest Christian church began to take the message of Jesus out into their world, they learned that some people will actively oppose their efforts. This morning, our text from the book of Acts reveals that the early Christian church faced many obstacles as they set out to win the world for Christ. They preached the word of God, as the Apostle Paul puts it in Second Timothy chapter 4, verse 2 "in season and out of season," in other words, when it was popular and when it was not. You know, God has never revoked the Great Commission – His call to take the Good News of Jesus out into the world. The modern Christian church has the same God-given responsibility as the earliest Christian church had. This morning, we’ll see what the earliest Christians faced as they proclaimed their faith Christ. This morning, we’ll hear their story, as it is recorded for us in the fifth chapter of Acts.
It's been said that those who fail to learn the lessons of the past are condemned to re-live them. That's just as true in the Christian church as it is in any other part of life. The book of Acts in the New Testament gives us a history of the early Christian church. It speaks of the first generation of believers in Jesus, how they understood their faith, and how they proclaimed it to the world of their day. The book of Acts tells us that the earliest Christian church was a vibrant, exciting, and growing church. Despite great odds, and in the face of severe persecution, the church took root in the rocky soil of that day. And, as we will see this morning, threats against the church only made it stronger and more determined to get the Word out.
The early Christian church was an evangelistic Church. It wanted to tell everyone about Jesus Christ. It wanted everyone to become a follower, a disciple of Jesus. The early Christian church was courageous. It faced an evil, unbelieving world head on. The early Christian church had a strong foundation of beliefs and doctrine. It knew its priorities and refused to be distracted. The early Church experienced its share of problems and conflict. But those things only served to make it stronger. In a paradoxical way, those who persecuted the church were actually doing it a favor.
The book of Acts tells us that, after the resurrection of Jesus, His disciples took their place as leaders in the first Christian church. They had been with Jesus. They remembered his teachings, They had heard his call to take the Good News out into the world around them. The disciples were no longer confused or fearful as they had been just before and just after their Lord went to the cross. They no longer cringed behind closed doors, afraid of what their enemies might do or say. Something had happened to Jesus' disciples. Something motivated them. Something assured them that their mission was not impossible. That "something," of course, was the Easter resurrection of Jesus. We saw last week that the resurrection came as a complete surprise to them. But, in the end, it took away their fear. In the end, it gave them a whole new perspective on their task. Now, they knew God's power. Now, they knew that death was not the end for those who trust the Savior.
The Easter resurrection of Jesus Christ carried a very special promise for the earliest Christians. They learned that they, too, would share Christ’s resurrection. The resurrection was no longer an abstract concept for them. Now, in that first post-Easter period, Christ’s resurrection was a glorious reality. The earliest Christians came to understand that God was on their side. They had heard Jesus’ promise that He would be with them. They had heard His promise of protection. They remembered his promise to give them the words to say. The earliest Christian church was faithful to God's call. And God, in turn, was faithful to them. Those early Christian evangelists learned the basics of Christian living, not in the classroom, but on the street corner. They learned to share their faith, not in a Bible Class, but in the rough and tumble environment of everyday human relationships.
The earliest Christians came to see themselves as being engaged in a great spiritual battle over the eternal souls of human beings. But they had God's word to guide them. They had his Holy Spirit to enlighten and empower them. And they had the bread and wine of the Lord's Supper to forgive them and give them strength for the journey. This morning, our text from Acts chapter 5 deals with one of the first major obstacles that the early church had to face. We are told that the Jewish religious leaders, especially the council called the Sanhedrin, decided that these Christians had gone too far. The council decided that this unfettered proclamation of Jesus Christ would have to stop. The Christians would have to be silenced.
The Jewish ruling council threw the Christian apostles into jail for preaching Jesus. They gave them a strict warning not to preach about Jesus again. The ruling council wanted to made the Christians fearful and discouraged. The Christian leaders, of course, were faced with a choice, a difficult choice. Who would they obey? Would they obey the Jewish ruling council? Or would they obey God and his word? It was quickly obvious to them that they were duty-bound to obey God and His Word and to face the consequences of that decision, whatever they might be.
You know, when you think about it, the Jewish religious leaders should have been relieved after Jesus was put to death. Their problem should have been finished. But, instead of getting better, things got worse. In trying to stamp out the fire that Jesus had lit, their actions had only managed to start a lot of little fires, all over the place. The time had come for them to clamp down on these Christians and their message. When you think about it, it would have been very easy for Jewish religious leaders to put an end to the speculation about Jesus' resurrection. All they had to do was produce Jesus' body. That would have thrown cold water on the notion that Jesus had been raised from the dead. But they couldn't do that. Instead, Jesus' influence was growing. Stories of his resurrection were everywhere. Christian preaching was finding sympathetic ears among the people.
To make things worse for the Jewish leaders, these Christians were boldly preaching Jesus and his resurrection right in the middle of Jerusalem. In the temple, in an area called Solomon's Portico, the Christians openly preached and taught. The Jewish ruling council had lost touch with the people they were supposed to serve. They had become little more than an old-boys club. They stifled God's will instead of advancing it. The body of Judaism had a bad case of hardening of the ecclesiastical arteries.
The author of the book of Acts wants us to know that the first Christian leaders placed the highest priority on preaching and teaching. But now they were being told not to preach or teach in the name of Jesus. If they did, they would face stiff sanctions. The first Christians knew that to obey such an order would be the death-knell for the church. So the decision was made: they would obey God rather than men. As you might expect, their decision brought a swift response. The temple police gathered them up and tossed them into jail. Humanly speaking, the religious council had done everything it could to stop what they considered a heretical sect. But they had forgotten one thing: if this movement was from God, they would not be able to stop it.
The book of Acts reveals that early Christian church was an exciting place to be. The early Christians did more than just talk about God. They introduced people to a saving relationship of trust in Jesus Christ. They fought the good fight of faith. And God richly blessed their efforts. As the Church faithfully proclaimed Jesus Christ, they saw the power of God at work. Lives were transformed.
I’ve got a question for you this morning. What can you and I in the church today learn from these experiences of so long ago? What relevance does this story have for us today as we, in turn, proclaim Jesus Christ to our post-Christian society? The first thing that needs to be emphasized is that God has not cancelled or annulled the Great Commission. He hasn't cancelled his call to take the Good News of Jesus Christ to every corner of this world. It's still true that whenever God's Word is preached clearly and powerfully, some people will be upset. Some people will do their best to muzzle the church. Persecution has always been a fact of life for Bible-believing Christians around the world.
The Christian church is, and always has been, in the communication business. God calls us today to take the message of new life through Christ and put it into the kind of packaging that modern people can understand and relate to. God calls his church in every generation to share his precious Word of Life. He knows that human beings in every generation crave the forgiveness of their sins. They want to know Him and his love. They want meaning for their lives. They want the support system that the Christian church provides. Our part is to remove the layers of dusty man-made tradition from the message so that people can see it as it really is.
This morning, God wants us to know that His word hasn’t lost its power to transform human lives. God wants us to know that He still blesses the proclamation of his word. He still protects those who proclaim it. The early church learned that it must never compromise or water down the Word of God. Whether it was popular or not, they were to keep on proclaiming that Jesus Christ is the way and the truth and the life. Even in times of great persecution, were to preach the risen Christ. The unpopular Scriptural truth is that people without Christ are lost. Because of the persecution that often comes to those who share Christ, there is a danger that Christians will huddle together, fearful of sharing their faith and remain silent. Christian author James Smith tells the following story about the fear of sharing Christ with the lost. He says:
"I saw," she said "all the horror of it's sinking, and I heard, even more dreadful, the cries of drowning people."
Although twenty life-boats and rafts were launched – too few and only partly-filled – most of the passengers ended up struggling in the icy seas while those in the boats waited a safe distance away.
Lifeboat #14 did row back to the scene after the "unsinkable" ship slipped from sight at 2:20am. Alone, that lifeboat chased cries in the darkness, seeking and saving a precious few. Incredibly, no other boat joined it. Some were already overloaded, but in virtually every other boat, those already saved rowed their half-filled boats aimlessly in the night, listening to the cries of the lost. Each feared a crush of unknown swimmers would cling to their craft, eventually swamping it.
"I came to seek and to save the lost," our Savior said. And he commissioned us to do the same. But we face a large obstacle: FEAR. While people drown in the treacherous waters around us, we are tempted to stay dry and make certain that no one rocks the boat. Yet the boat is not ours, and our safety came only at the expense of the One who overcame fear with love – and saved us by grace.
Our text this morning from the 5th chapter of the book of Acts reminds us that the preaching of God's word has always been challenging. Some of the most vicious opposition to our work will come from so-called "religious" people. When it comes to our sharing of God’s word, the hazards are many but the rewards are great. We’ve seen this morning that Jesus’ apostles were able to fill Jerusalem with their teaching about Christ and his glorious resurrection, despite powerful opposition from high places. God opened closed doors for them and added his blessing to their faithful service.
The book of Acts reminds us that the earliest Christian church grew and prospered in the rockiest of spiritual soil. It reminds us that persecution only added to their zeal and dedication. They decided to do things God's way no matter what. And God blessed their faith in ways that they could never have imagined. May our Lord give us the same kind of dedication and courage. And may we know that, because of our efforts for him, many more souls will be added to the Kingdom of God. May God grant it. Amen.
Let's Pray: DEAR HEAVENLY FATHER – Empower us to carry on the long tradition of evangelism that the earliest Christians began. Enable us to resist efforts to silence or distort our message. Renew our faith in these post-Easter weeks and make it possible for us to communicate the Good News of Jesus Christ in the most effective way possible. In Jesus’ name. Amen.