Sunday, July 6, 2014

When Jesus Gets You in Trouble (Acts 4.1-16)

Sermon by: Robert Austell - July 6, 201
Text: Acts 4:1-16

:: Sermon Audio (link) - scroll down for written draft  
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:: Some Music Used
Gathering Music: "A Mighty Fortress" (Pachelbel)
Hymn of Praise: "A Mighty Fortress" (EIN FESTE BURG)
Song of Praise: "My Hope is Built on Nothing Less (arr. Austell)
Offering of Music: "IV, Hope (from "Songs of Faith") (McChesney)
Song of Sending: "In Christ Alone" (Getty/Townend)
Postlude: "Exultation" (Cassler)

:: 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.
1 As they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to them, 2 being greatly disturbed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. 3 And they laid hands on them and put them in jail until the next day, for it was already evening. 4 But many of those who had heard the message believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand. 5 On the next day, their rulers and elders and scribes were gathered together in Jerusalem; 6 and Annas the high priest was there, and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of high-priestly descent. 7 When they had placed them in the center, they began to inquire, “By what power, or in what name, have you done this?” 8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers and elders of the people, 9 if we are on trial today for a benefit done to a sick man, as to how this man has been made well, 10 let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by this name this man stands here before you in good health. 11 “He is the stone which was rejected by you, the builders, but which became the chief corner stone. 12 “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:1-16)
Has being a believer in or follower of Jesus Christ ever landed you in trouble? Have you ever taken heat for it? I’d like you to ponder that… or what that might look like as we spend some time in Acts 4 this week and next week. Peter and John were doing good – they had healed a man in Jesus’ name and were not trying to stir up trouble, but trouble found them for a number of reasons. Though they had a message of hope and help, their words and actions were questioned and opposed.

Today I want to look with you at three ways following Jesus got these first followers in trouble. I think you will see some points of connection with our own lives and testimonies along the way.

Claim #1: More than this life


We read in verses 1-2 that “the priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to [Peter and John]” as they were speaking to the people. This is in reference to Peter’s sermon that we looked at last week. We heard last week that Peter told the story of Jesus several times during the course of that sermon. In doing so, he named Jesus as “the one whom God raised from the dead, a fact to which we are witnesses.” (Acts 3:15) The Sadducees were the priests of the Temple and distinctly did not believe in resurrection, and this gave them reason to be “greatly disturbed” when they realized Peter and John were teaching this in the Temple area. Not only were they disturbed, they took action and put Peter and John in jail overnight (v. 3) until they could stand trial.

Think about what resurrection means. In its most basic form, it claims that there is more THAN this life. Jesus made this claim, himself in response to the challenges of the Sadducees. In Mark 12, he answered them by quoting the Law of Moses: when God spoke His great name, He said, “I AM the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Jesus’s point? God spoke of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (long passed from the earth by Moses’ day) in the present tense, as those who were still alive. (Mark 12:26-27) Even more directly, when Jesus came to the home of Mary and Martha to find Lazarus four days dead, he said to Martha, “Your brother will rise again” (John 11:23) and “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” (v. 25) Jesus also spoke to his disciples in John 14 of going to prepare a home for them, that where he was they would also one day be. (vv. 1-3)

That claim is beyond human reason, scientific validation, and full comprehension! It is a claim that skeptics are quick to challenge and one that is sometimes mocked. Yet Jesus taught about resurrection in the context of an eternal God and a hope in the face of sickness and death. What an amazing and hope-filled claim! What a source of encouragement and perseverance, especially in the midst of suffering or injustice! If one also looks at the way scripture talks about what is to come, we also see promises like that of Revelation 21:4, where God “will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain….”

For speaking of it, Peter and John were thrown in jail.

Claim #2: More to this life


The next day, a trial is held for Peter and John. A significant group of religious leaders were gathered, including the high priest, Annas. Other notables among the priests are also named. Interestingly enough, once the questions start, resurrection is not on the front burner. Perhaps that is because the Pharisees did believe in it and the high priest knew he’d have to find something else to use against the disciples. One additional dynamic at play: in the meantime and in a matter of days, some 5,000 men had come to believe in the message Peter was preaching. This was no small number and the high priest had to be aware of the way people were responding to Peter.

So the question is asked: “By what power, or in what name, have you done this?” Presumably they meant the healing of the lame man, though perhaps the gathering of 5,000 believers was also in view. And Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, gave a three-sentence version of the message he had already spoken several times before. Here’s the whole thing again:
Rulers and elders of the people, if we are on trial today for a benefit done to a sick man, as to how this man has been made well, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by this name this man stands here before you in good health. He is the stone which was rejected by you, the builders, but which became the chief corner stone. (vv. 8b-11)
He explains that the healing was through the name and power of Jesus. He again points out that the people present were those who had put Jesus to death. He declares again the resurrection by the power of God. He quotes Psalm 118:22, which speaks of a stone rejected by the builders, yet become the chief corner stone, understood her to be the Messiah, rejected by God’s people and yet chosen and proven by God.

There is so much packed into this mini-sermon! But in a phrase, let me sum up this second claim. The first claim was that there is more THAN this life. This second claim, made in Peter’s words is that there is more TO this life.

That Jesus taught this is already demonstrated, because Peter is telling Jesus’ story. Jesus came and healed many. Jesus suffered, was crucified, and died. God raised Jesus from the dead. And all of this was in fulfillment of the scriptures – the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. And in all that, Jesus made it clear that God’s Kingdom was breaking in to this world and this life; it is available and it is here NOW, for all with eyes to see and ears to hear.

This claim is just as real and present for us as it was for Peter. It is that God is involved in this world and in our lives. Whether it is hearing and answering prayer, delivering those enslaved to sin, or providing a savior who was at once the perfect representative and sacrifice for us before God, one of the great claims of Christ is that there is more to this world and life than the daily grind, the human senses, and our limited perspectives.

We will see the response to this next week when we look at the end of Acts 4. But it is plain enough to see today that not everyone appreciates or welcomes talk of the invisible, the miraculous, or even the value of prayer.

Claim #3: No other name


Peter is not done; he concludes with a declaration of the utter uniqueness and singularity of Jesus Christ as God’s salvation, saying, “There is salvation in no one else… no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” (v. 12)

In the New Testament there is plenty of evidence that Jesus was understood as the only way. The Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 2:5, “There is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all….” He wrote in Romans 5:14-15 about the one man, Jesus, corresponding to the one man, Adam. One brought sin into the world through disobedience; the other brought God’s grace through obedience. And Jesus himself said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me.” (John 14:6)

The third claim is no other name – only Jesus. This declaration can get a modern day follower in trouble real quick because it cuts against our values of individuality and fairness.
“Surely I should be able to believe what I want!”
“Surely there are many paths to God!”
“You believe what you want and I’ll believe what I want.”
The reasons we struggle with the claim of particularity – that salvation is only through Jesus – are many and sometimes complex. But I think one reason is that many people think God is something we created. There is nothing more than this life and nothing more to this life than what we create. If that were true, everyone’s beliefs would be equally valid; or at least matched to the amount of benefit they created in life. But that is contrary to the very first claim of scripture: “In the beginning, God created…”  If that is true, then God is the one with the right to create reality, make claims on us, and stand in judgment of us. We can believe or not; and we can cry ‘unfair,’ but if God has made us, provided for us, stayed involved with us, and made a specific way for us, then it cannot be a matter of individual belief or fairness. But I understand; it can make people confused, angry, and frustrated. It can even do that to believing Christians!

Words of Life


In today’s text Peter points us toward three significant claims of and about Jesus Christ. These are not new to Peter, but echo in the pages of scripture as well as in the teaching of Jesus. They are the following:
There is more THAN this life
There is more TO this life
No other name – only Jesus
Peter no doubt understands how challenging those claims can be to hear and to believe. In fact, on another occasion when many were turning away from Jesus and some of his difficult teachings, Jesus asked Peter, “Are you also going to go away?”

Peter answered with words that have encouraged me, even when I struggle to believe and follow some of the teachings of scripture:
“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life.” (John 6:68)
May God give you ears to hear, eyes to see, and hearts to believe in this one – Jesus, the only-begotten Son of God and our Savior and Lord. Amen.




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