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To the End of the Earth: (8) The Cost of Discipleship

Series: To the End of the Earth

Sermon by Derek Thomas on Jul 2, 2006

Acts 4:1-22

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The Lord's Day Evening

July 2, 2006

Acts 4:1-22

“To the End of the Earth (8): The Cost of Discipleship”

Dr. Derek W. H. Thomas

Now turn with me if you would to The Acts of the Apostles once again; and we have a fairly lengthy reading from Acts 4, and we're going to read together the first 22 verses of Acts 4.

Let's pray together.

Father, again we thank You for the gift of Scripture, this holy, inerrant word of God, and we pray blessing as we read it together, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Hear the word of God:

“As they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple guard, and the Sadducees, came up to them, being greatly disturbed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they laid hands on them, and put them in jail until the next day, for it was already evening. But many of those who had heard the message believed; and the number of the men came to about five thousand.
“On the next day their rulers and elders and scribes were gathered together in Jerusalem; and Annas the high priest was there, and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of high-priestly descent. And they had placed them in the center, and they began to inquire, ‘By what power, or in what name, have you done this?’ Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, ‘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 CORNERSTONE. 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.’
“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. And seeing the man who had been healed standing with them, they had nothing to say in reply. But when they had ordered them to leave the Council, they began to confer with one another, 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. 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.’ And when they had summoned them, they commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 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; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.’ And when they had threatened them further, they let them go (finding no basis on which they might punish them) on account of the people, because they were all glorifying God for what had happened; for the man was more than forty years old on whom this miracle of healing had been performed.”

Amen. And may God add His blessing to that reading of His word.

Well, as we recall from last Sunday evening, this extraordinary miracle has taken place in Solomon's portico, in the Colonnades on the outer sections of the temple, where this cripple (we read here in verse 22 that he was over forty years old) has been brought probably on a daily basis by friends or family to beg–a well-known figure. They would have seen him in the temple probably every day, and this man has been healed, and he's leaping and walking and praising God. And Peter and John are now brought to give an account before what is effectively the Jewish temple Sanhedrin.

A man by the name of E. K. Maltby used to say that Jesus promised His disciples three things: that they would be absurdly happy; that they would be completely fearless; and, that they would be in constant trouble. Well, that's what we have here. They are in trouble. It is of course what Jesus had warned them in the upper room: “In this world you will have tribulation.” That was only a couple of months ago, on their reckoning. Barely a few weeks have passed since Pentecost.

You would think, wouldn't you, that the healing of a cripple in the temple would have brought the Sanhedrin joy? But they are so caught up in rules and regulations, and especially the name in which this miracle was performed: the name of Jesus - “Jesus the Nazarene” as Peter refers to Him. That's probably not a term of endearment. It may well have been a term that was given to peter and John and the early disciples, that they were followers of “Jesus the Nazarene.” You remember what Nathaniel said about Nazareth: “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” he said. Nazareth was up in the north; it was the hill country; it was “out in the boonies”, as you would say. And these disciples are followers of some country prophet from up north. It is their teaching — in verse 2, “...being greatly disturbed because they were teaching the people.” It's an important word. You remember what Luke has said as he has described the four characteristics of the early church: that “they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine, and fellowship, and breaking of bread, and prayers”; and the apostles’ teaching...it's the same word. And this teaching, this doctrine, this preaching of the apostles was of course suffused with Jesus. They were constantly talking about Jesus. They were talking about His work. They were talking about His life. They were talking about His death in Jerusalem. They were talking about Calvary. They were especially talking about the resurrection, the physical manifestation of the human body of Jesus after He had been dead for three days.

Three things now come quickly to the surface.

I. The phenomenal growth of the church.

After Pentecost, Luke tells us that the church at Pentecost was “about three thousand souls”, is the word he uses. Here he talks about five thousand men, and he uses the gender-specific term, meaning men and not women. In other words, the church was likely to have been probably now in the region of 15,000 and maybe a few more. In a space of a few weeks, the church has multiplied and grown at a rate that is extraordinary. It is perhaps in itself a manifestation of what Peter had alluded to in the sermon he's just preached in chapter three, where he speaks about “times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord.” And they’re experiencing a time of refreshing. They’re experiencing a time of a great outpouring of the Holy Spirit, when blessing has come upon them–what we commonly call today a “revival.” [Not the kind of revival, now, that you see on Baptist billboards around the state saying “Revival next week on Wednesday evening, running for two months”...or whatever. Not that kind of man-made idea of revival, but a sovereign work of God in which God does what He ordinarily does, but He does it in great numbers, and He does it all at once, and it's accompanied by a sense of His presence and a responsiveness on the part of the people of God to the word of God, and a sensitivity to sin, and great boldness and great courage in preaching and teaching.]

They’d seen that on the Day of Pentecost, of course, and there's a sense in which what we see here in Acts 4 (and we will see it many times as we go through The Acts of the Apostles)... there's a sense in which what happens here is related to Pentecost.

Now there's no mention here of the extraordinary gifts. There's no mention of prophecy; there's no mention of speaking in tongues here. It's as though if you think of Pentecost as an earthquake, these are the aftershocks–the rumblings that are still continuing in Jerusalem. Now, the church is going to spread out of Jerusalem as we go through The Acts of the Apostles, but for now it's confined to the city of Jerusalem, and Luke draws attention in particular to one particular feature in verse 8: that Peter was “filled with the Holy Spirit.” And I think that Luke is saying more than just something that was true of Peter since the Day of Pentecost, when, you remember, on the Day of Pentecost they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. And Luke isn't saying, ‘Oh, by the way, Peter is still filled with the Holy Spirit.’ I think Luke is saying here, as he will say again in verse 31 about others in Jerusalem, that there is a special and particular filling of the Holy Spirit that enables Peter to meet the exigencies of the hour, namely the persecution that's about to break out, and the courage and the boldness in that particular circumstance is the result of the filling of the Holy Spirit.

Now, the teaching of Scripture elsewhere tells us that every Christian is filled with the Spirit. Every Christian is baptized with the Spirit. If we don't have the Spirit of God, we aren't in communion with Jesus Christ. Paul, in Ephesians 5, will make the specific exhortation: “Be filled with the Spirit...keep on being filled with the Spirit”; but there seems to be in The Acts of the Apostles teaching that suggests that in particular circumstances of need, of stress, of trial, of persecution, the Spirit comes and He enables. He is the Helper. Jesus referred to the Spirit as the Paraclete, the paracletos. And one possible rendition of paracletos is the helper. He's the Helper, He's the sustainer. He equips; he gives Peter this extraordinary boldness and courage. This is Peter, after all! You have to pinch yourself...this man who, just a couple of months previous, was cowering, frightened by this very body, this Sanhedrin body, cursing and swearing that he didn't know Jesus–and what a change has come about. What a change in a short space of time has come about, and it's because he's filled with the Spirit. He's been filled with the Spirit.

A phenomenal growth of the church — a work of the Holy Spirit...it's right, it's proper for us to pray that we might see that again, as God has come in various centuries and periods of time and epochs, when God has come and caused His church to grow “like a nation born in one day” the prophet says; and in this day and age, that God would pour out His Spirit and draw men and women to Jesus Christ and revive His church as He did here in Acts 4, the phenomenal growth of the church.

II. The sustained hostility of the world

Secondly, the sustained hostility of the world, because just as we see, and to the extent that we see, the growth of the church, we also see in parallel with it the sustained opposition of the world. And it's exactly the same today. The principle is exactly the same today: that wherever you see zeal and boldness and courage, you will see opposition, because if there's something that the devil hates and fears more than anything, it's zeal that is according to knowledge...boldness, courage in preaching and teaching and witnessing to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

One of the earliest English Puritans, John Geary in the late sixteenth century, wrote a tract. It became very famous, and was called The Character of an Old English Puritan. And in it he speaks about his motto. His motto was vincit qui patitur, in Latin, which means he who suffers, conquers. And what you see is exactly what Jesus had predicted would happen. He had warned the disciples - He’d warned Peter especially at Caesarea Philippi, that occasion when He had said, ‘On this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” Jesus builds His church within sight of the very gates of hell, and to the extent that Jesus builds His church, to that extent Satan will try to oppose it. And you see it here. In the next three chapters you will see three particular waves of opposition. In this chapter, it's opposition that's coming from outside that needs to be resisted by faith in Jesus Christ. In the next chapter, it will be a subtle hypocrisy from within: the story of Ananias and Sapphira, that needs to be dealt with quickly and decisively; and in the following chapter, Acts 6, it's to come in the form of an unhappy division in the church, where the church is divided into two sides and needs to be resolved with patience and wise, wise, counsel. And in every instance — in chapter 4, in chapter 5, in chapter 6 — in every instance the real opposition comes and originates from the powers of darkness. The prince of darkness trembles when Christians speak with boldness about Jesus. He trembles. And one of the great lessons that we learn in this passage is that the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but spiritual; mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds.

III. The response of the apostles.

But there's a third thing I want us to see, and that is the response of the apostles. And the response is three-fold, and we won't get to the third part. We’ll be looking at that next week. But the response of the apostles first of all is...what does Peter do? They've been arrested, they've spent a night in prison, and they’re brought before the Sanhedrin in the morning and they’re asked all kinds of questions. And what does Peter do, in front of the Sanhedrin? He does the very same thing that got him into prison in the first place. He preaches the gospel. He preaches about Jesus. It's his third sermon so far. There's a sermon in chapter 2, there's a sermon in chapter 3, there's a sermon now in chapter 4. He's doing, of course, what he will exhort his readers to do when he comes to write an epistle: “Be ready to give a reason for the hope that lies within you,” he will say, writing to Christians who are also going to face terrible, terrible, persecution. Some of them are going to lose their lives, and Peter could see it coming and he's saying to them ‘Be bold and be strong, and be courageous and stand up for the truth; and be ready with winsomeness to give a reason, with gentleness and respect...to give a reason for the hope that lies within you.’

Do you notice several things, very quickly, in this sermon? Did you notice how once again (for the third time) he tells his Sanhedrin audience that ‘It was you who put Jesus to death’?

Now, this isn't anti-Semitic, you understand. Peter's a Jew himself. There's no hint of anti-Semitism here, despite what the wonderful John Chrysostom said in his sermons, and what Luther did in his sermons. This isn't anti-Semitic. This is making them realize the truth of the matter as to what it is they had done: they had crucified Jesus of Nazareth, whom God has now set forth as both Lord and Christ.

And rocks...Peter had a fascination for rocks and stones. I think every time Peter went by a building...you know, if he’d been here seeing the building going on...and did you notice when you drove in? If you drove in on the north side there are bricks everywhere, obviously with a view to being put up at some point, and some of them on that side are wrapped in cellophane, and I was tempted to go and have a look at them, what kind of stones they were...specially ordered, shaped. Ever since Jesus had said to Peter in Caesarea Philippi, “You are the rock, and on this rock I will build My church,” and on the profession of Peter that Jesus is the Son of the living God, I think Peter couldn't see a rock or a stone without thinking about Jesus, and he quotes here, as he will do in his first epistle, he quotes from the 118th Psalm: “The stone which the builders rejected...” (You can imagine some of those builders, you know, looking at this brick and it's sort of out of shape or something, and they just toss it aside and they choose another one) “...and that stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.”

And then, the absolute exclusivity of Jesus: that there is no other name under heaven given amongst men whereby we must be saved. What an extraordinary statement that is! What an arrogant statement that is...unless it's true that Buddhism cannot save, that Islam cannot save, that Hinduism cannot save, that Shintoism cannot save: only Jesus, faith in Jesus Christ saves.

You know, in our post-Modern world, it's not the statement that Jesus saves that is offensive. It isn't the least bit offensive in our post-Modern world. It's the statement that only Jesus saves that is offensive to the world.

Isn't this bold, my friends? In this age when we are being pressured to water down our message, in this ecumenical age in which we live? He was reflecting of course what he had heard Jesus say: “I am the way and the truth and the life, and no man comes unto the Father but by Me.”

So what does he do? First of all he preaches, and he preaches the same message. He preaches the gospel of Jesus Christ, and of Jesus Christ alone. But the second thing that he does, he makes a resolution, a resolve, a public resolve in the face of the threatenings of the Sanhedrin. When the Sanhedrin says to him not to preach any more in the name of Jesus, what does he say? What he says effectively is, ‘I must obey God rather than men. This is something that I cannot obey, because I must obey God first of all.’

It was the church throwing down the gauntlet, you understand. Things would have gone very differently if Peter had conceded to the demands of the Sanhedrin not to preach publicly in the name of Jesus, that this sect of the Nazarenes wouldn't spread.

Do you know James Guthrie? He was one of the early Covenanters in Scotland, whom Oliver Cromwell called “the small man who wouldn't stoop.” He was hanged for his faith in 1661, at the accession of Charles II. And when he was tried before his judge and jury, somebody turned to him and said to him, “Mr. Guthrie,” and, quoting an old Scottish proverb that says something like that if you duke (now, duke in the old Scottish language means “to duck”), “if you duke a little [if you duck a little], you won't get hit by the wave. Mr. Guthrie, we have an old Scots proverb: ‘Duke, that the wave may not go over you.’” And do you know what he said? “There is no duking in the kingdom of Christ.” You cannot stoop, you see; you cannot bow, you cannot give in, in the kingdom of Christ. He paid the ultimate price for that, and they hanged him...the wonderful, extraordinary, James Guthrie.

I've been reading the past couple of days a brand new book by a friend of mine called Helen Roseveare. I'm sure some of you know Helen Roseveare. Helen Roseveare lives in Belfast, in Northern Ireland. Some of you will remember in 1964, she was a missionary — a medical missionary, she was a doctor — in what was then the Belgian Congo — what is, I think, Zambia, today. And in June of that year, 1964, in a rebel uprising, they came to the village where she was working and captured her. You know her story, I'm sure. She was tied to a post and raped for three days, over and over. It's a horrendous story. She's an extraordinary woman. I count it among one of the greatest privileges of my life to have known her. She's a godly woman of the old fashioned sort. There was no compromise with Helen Roseveare. And this is her latest book...she's retired now. (Well, she’ll never retire! But she's sort of retired.) And when she was tied to that post, and when she was being abused, she says that she heard a voice. It wasn't an audible voice or anything like that; she says it was just God speaking to her through her recollection of what Scripture demanded of a Christian in that kind of situation. And this is what she heard: “Can you thank Me for this, even if I don't tell you why?” That's what she heard. “Can you thank Me for this, even if I don't tell you why?” And she said in her biography, she said it out loud: “Yes,” she said, “if this fulfills Your purpose.” I wish I could bring her here tonight and let you hear her voice and see her demeanor, and see her strength. She is still a stalwart soldier for Jesus Christ to this very day.

That's Peter, and that's Helen Roseveare. And you know...I know the time has gone, and my last sentence now...but you know, it really, really convicted me yesterday, this afternoon. Would the Sanhedrin have to ask you not to speak in the name of Jesus? Would they have to warn you not to speak in the name of Jesus? Now go home and think about that question.

Let's pray.

Father, we thank You for Your word. We thank you for the courage of Peter. We see it as the work of the Holy Spirit. Mold us, shape us, bend us, break us; make us into soldiers of Christ. Forgive us, O Lord, for our weakness. We ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.

Please stand; receive the Lord's benediction.

Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.

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