Sunday, July 13, 2014

We Cannot Stop Speaking (Acts 4.13-22)

Sermon by: Robert Austell - July 13, 201
Text: Acts 4:13-22

:: Sermon Audio (link) - scroll down for written draft  
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:: Some Music Used
Gathering Music/Song of Praise: "How Can I Keep from SInging" (Tomlin, Redman, Cash)
Song of Praise: "All I Have is Christ" (Jordan Kauflin/Sovereign Grace)
Offering of Music: "No Time" (Susan Brumfield)
Song of Praise: "The Doxology"
Hymn of Sending: "Lord, Thy Church on Earth is Seeking" (AUSTRIAN HYMN)
Postlude: "Exalt Him, Everyone" (Richard Lloyd)

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf)  
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.
13 Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus. 14 And seeing the man who had been healed standing with them, they had nothing to say in reply. 15 But when they had ordered them to leave the Council, they began to confer with one another, 16 saying, “What shall we do with these men? For the fact that a noteworthy miracle has taken place through them is apparent to all who live in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. 17 “But so that it will not spread any further among the people, let us warn them to speak no longer to any man in this name.” 18 And when they had summoned them, they commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; 20 for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.” 21 When they had threatened them further, they let them go (finding no basis on which to punish them) on account of the people, because they were all glorifying God for what had happened; 22 for the man was more than forty years old on whom this miracle of healing had been performed. (Acts 4:13-22)

I want to talk about talking about God. Actually, that’s not specific enough. I want to talk about talking about Jesus. It’s scary, right? You may have visions of crazy people, shouting people, obnoxious people. And we don’t want to offend. On top of that, I think many or most of us feel like we don’t know enough to talk about Jesus. So we just keep it to ourselves… personal… private.

And yet I’ve titled this sermon “We Cannot Stop Speaking,” after Peter and John’s words in Acts 4:20. And this morning we sang a song entitled, “How Can I Keep from Singing?” Is it possible to have that kind of freedom to talk about Jesus, to talk about faith? Is there a natural, easy, joy-filled kind of speaking and sharing by which we might share the story of Christ? I think so.

I would note that today’s text is not a “how to” manual for this. Instead, it is narrative – one account of two Jesus-followers and what prompted them to share the story of Jesus with confidence and boldness. So while it does not provide step by step directions, I do think it gives us something to think about. It might even offer us some inspiration in our own witness; maybe even a little boldness as we think about the differences between excuses and obstacles and God’s power in the midst of all that.

Noting that this text follows and is a part of the trial of Peter and John before the Sanhedrin (religious ruling council), I want to divide verses 13-22 into two sections, two broad dynamics I think Christians experience and face in modern times when it comes to talking about God. The first has to do with KNOWLEDGE and the second with FEAR.

Knowledge (vv. 13-16, 20b)

One of the most common hindrances to talking about Jesus is thinking you don’t know enough. What if someone asks me a question I can’t answer? What if I leave out something important?

Notice that Peter and John did not engage in a philosophical or theological debate. This was not advanced apologetics or Bible trivia. That they were “uneducated and untrained” is explicitly known and noted in verse 13. And they were, in fact, speaking to the most educated and highly trained religious leaders of their day, so they would have been right to be concerned about tough questions. You may even remember that they were first approached by those religious leaders and asked a tough theological question about resurrection.

But also look at how they responded. They talked about Jesus and what they knew about him. They had traveled with him and had witnessed the things they talked about: the miracles, the arrest and crucifixion, and the resurrection. They did not engage the debate, but just talked about the Jesus they knew. They didn’t even claim credit for the healed lame man, but attributed the miracle and the power to Jesus.

Their approach is summed up in verse 20 when they said, “…we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.” Think about it. If there is anything you are the foremost expert on, it is what you have seen and heard. Someone might think you are lying or mis-led, but that is more of a character judgment than a knowledge problem. And in most cases, in today’s culture, you are granted the right to tell and claim your own story.

And look at the description of how the religious leaders responded to Peter and John sharing what they had seen and heard. The religious leaders observed their confidence; they understood their lack of training and education; and they recognized their personal connection with Jesus. And though they would continue to disapprove and resist them, we read that they were amazed by them. In fact, verses 14-16 tells us that they could not reply to or deny Peter’s testimony and the miracle before them.

All this is to say that intellectual knowledge is not the foremost requirement to talk meaningfully about Jesus. If Peter is any example (and I think he is!), one of the most effective ways to talk about Jesus is to simply share your own story – to share what YOU have seen and heard of Jesus. That may be as simple as an experience as a teenager at church camp or the answer to an earnest prayer. It may be a sense of God’s presence during a very difficult time in life or the hand of a caring friend in Christian love. It’s the kind of thing that is not easily refutable, and really refuting is beside the point. Sharing what you have seen and heard invites the same from others and it engages in the kinds of conversation where God shows up.

If there is a simple application question from this part of the story it is to ask you: What have you seen and heard?

Can you verbalize it? Would you try? Would you be willing to share it with a friend or with me in written form or with the church? I love it when people share those simple stories with the church because I think it reminds us how significantly God shows up in ordinary circumstances of life. I’d love for some of you to take me up on the invitation of sharing here. This is a safe place; we want to hear your stories and be encouraged! Let me know if you are willing!

Fear (vv. 17-22)

Well, that invitation may lead to the second part of today’s story, and that is fear. Sometimes the reason for fear is explicit. In today’s text, the religious leaders openly threatened Peter and John, commanding them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. (v. 18)

That kind of open threat does still go on in our world today, especially in some parts of the world, but even perhaps sometimes for some of us. What is more common for us, I think, is fear of what others might think of us or of potential repercussions, socially and otherwise.

In any event, it is worth noting Peter’s response. It was not fear, though he and John were being openly threatened by people with real power. It’s there in verse 19 in their answer to the religious leaders: “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge…” In one sense, Peter and John put the question back to the religious leaders; but you can see their underlying assumption: God is the one to heed, to listen to and obey. God has more power, more authority, more wisdom, and more truth. Though fear is a real thing that we experience, it is utter foolishness to listen to any earthly power or any abstract fear more than we would listen to the God of all.

I’m not suggesting that you “don’t fear” – I know that’s not something one can easily do. But Peter’s question is most helpful when you are experiencing fear. I’d ask it this way: Should you listen to this fear or listen to God? You decide.

While it may be hard, the clear answer for a believer is “I should listen to God.” So the next step is to figure out how to do that. What does God’s Word have to say? What is the Holy Spirit prompting you to do? Will you let fear rule you or a loving and powerful God rule you?

It’s a helpful set of questions, I think. And it takes a more positive turn when we see Peter and John’s reaction… they decided to let the religious leaders sort their question out. They were too busy sharing what they had seen and heard to spend much time dwelling on the fear!

Takeaways

So, two takeaways for today: the first is a way of thinking about fears that reminds us of God’s ultimate authority and power over all things. It can provide a helpful re-set to get us out from under fear, tangible or intangible.

And then a question: What have you seen and heard? And would you be willing to take a next step of sharing a piece of your story with someone else? I’d be interested in knowing and hearing about it.

I think you’ll be amazed how much God shows up and uses conversations like that, and how easy it can be. Amen.







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