This morning we are continuing our study in the book of Acts and were reading the account of the early church written by a guy named Luke. He’s an educated man who wrote more of the New Testament than anyone else. He not only wrote the book of Acts, but he also wrote the Gospel of Luke. So Luke wrote about the life and ministry of Jesus and then followed that up with his personal experience in the ministry with Jesus’ people in the early church. And so his writing is kind of like cause-and-effect: The Gospel and the Acts of the Church; The work of Jesus Christ and the works of the Holy Spirit. And this was important because the Holy Spirit is the power behind Jesus’ Church to be his witnesses, to take their faith and their ministry public; to press on regardless of the opposition. And that is exactly what we are seeing here in Acts chapter 5; as we see the Holy Spirit working through the disciples. People are being accepted, loved, healed, and delivered from Satan and sin. The followers of Jesus are effectively continuing the work of Jesus after his resurrection, the church exploded as those first 120 faithful followers added to their number three thousand and then thousands more. Let’s pick up the story now in Acts chapter 5 at verse 12:
“The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon's Colonnade. 13 No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people. 14 Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number. 15 As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter's shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. 16 Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed.”
Here in this Scripture, we see that the same power that was exerted in Christ through his resurrection is now empowering the church to proclaim this new life. To tell others that Jesus lived, that he died, and that he rose again. Testifying to the fact that he is God our Savior… He ascended to heaven as he promised… and he sent the Holy Spirit to empower the church to continue his work in the world.
This morning you and I are part of that great gospel witness two thousand years later, we’re all witnesses to Christ, because the Holy Spirit has come in power. So their story has become our story, because by the power of the living God the mission of the Church is unstoppable. And maybe this morning you find yourself in that place where the mountain before you seems to be impassable and immovable, that situation impossible, and the obstacles overwhelming. If that’s you, listen close, because God is with you, his grace is enough for you, and he has a plan to prosper you, to give you hope and a future that’s unstoppable. You can do everything through him who gives you strength (Philippians 4:13). As a matter of fact, we’re going to see this morning that the more difficult circumstances became, the more impossible things seemed to be, the more opposition the apostles came up against, the more unstoppable they became. And you and I need to know this morning, because if we like them can remember that it’s God’s strength and not ours, and if we would be willing to trust him, allowing him to use us for his purpose we too will be unstoppable.
I believe we as the church today can learn a lot from the illustration of the early Church in Acts chapter 2 and following. And so what we see here in Acts chapter 5 is the believers meeting together, the sick are being healed, and those tormented by evil spirits delivered. There’s a focus on the resurrection of Jesus Christ, where he is exalted, and there is a great sense of oneness as people are being welcomed, embraced, and received into the community with love. But note that there was also a sense of holy fear. Verse 13 says, “No one else dared join them…” Remember the context, this is just following the incident with Ananias and his wife Sapphira where they had lied to God and dropped dead (Acts 5:3-10). And so as you can imagine news of that spread like wildfire. There was great respect for the Christians, they were highly regarded, and people were curious about their message, but hesitant to join the team. Yet, in spite of the concerns, it says in verse 14, “Nevertheless…” I always love when the Bible says nevertheless, because you know God is breaking in to do something wonderful. So it says, “Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number.” Regardless of the criticism… regardless of the gossip of others, nevertheless… multitudes went public in their commitment to Jesus, and more and more people are being saved through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
People were coming from all over… crowds were gathering… these were families just trying to put food on table, people who can’t afford doctors, people fighting sickness and disease, people overwhelmed by their daily circumstances and verse 16 tells us, “All of them were healed.” People were being healed. They were physically healed and it’s recorded and documented by a physician.
You see, our God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He’s not just a God who has healed, but he’s a God who will heal, and is healing today. Just as Jesus healed when he was on earth, now he rules from heaven and he still heals on earth. He still has jurisdiction! And that includes over those who are tormented by evil spirits. Jesus Christ delivered them from those things that had held them in bondage. Evil spirits were driven out, the Holy Spirit filled them, they got their right mind back, they got their health, they got there hope back. They were set free. People were being loved, saved, healed, and delivered; and all that was a good thing…
But it was in the name of Jesus, so there was opposition. For every healing there was debate about its authenticity… for every delivery there was criticism… for every salvation there was doubt and unbelief. But the more opposition that Peter and the disciples came up against, the more unstoppable they became, because they relied upon God to bring them through difficult circumstances and to accomplish the impossible. It was as the Lord told the apostle Paul, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). And so what we see here is that the same power that was exerted in Christ through his resurrection is now empowering the church to proclaim this message of new life.
As the apostle John said, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched — this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us” (1 John 1:1- 2).
And the Holy Spirit is now empowering the Church to continue the work of Jesus Christ, but the religious leaders didn’t want to hear about. They saw the great works that were happening and they opposed it, they resisted it, and they tried to stop it. And in verse 17, “The high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail” (Acts 5:17-18).
Now you’ve got to wonder what they did wrong. You know, the disciples have been loving people, telling them about Jesus, praying with them to be healed, and driving out evil spirits; when all of a sudden there is this opposition. The high priest got upset, he didn’t like this, and he said this needs to stop. Now I don’t think he thought they needed more people to be sick, demon possessed, to go to hell, or not to have friends. I think what he was upset about was the fact that it was beyond his control. The Holy Spirit had not anointed him for this kind of ministry, he didn’t have the power, and he was filled with jealousy. He is freaking out because he’d spent his whole life preparing to be in charge and the next thing you know the Holy Spirit picked the wrong guy.
Thinking he could oppose God, he could regain control over the situation, the high priest had the apostles thrown in jail, but let’s read again at verse 19, “During the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out, "Go, stand in the temple courts," he said, "and tell the people the full message of this new life”
21 At daybreak they entered the temple courts, as they had been told, and began to teach the people.
When the high priest and his associates arrived, they called together the Sanhedrin — the full assembly of the elders of Israel — and sent to the jail for the apostles. 22 But on arriving at the jail, the officers did not find them there. So they went back and reported, 23 "We found the jail securely locked, with the guards standing at the doors; but when we opened them, we found no one inside." 24 On hearing this report, the captain of the temple guard and the chief priests were puzzled, wondering what would come of this.
25 Then someone came and said, "Look! The men you put in jail are standing in the temple courts teaching the people." (Acts 5:19-25).
Here we see that even in the midst of persecution the apostles of the early church continued to be obedient to the command of Jesus to "Go into all the world and preach the good news” (Mark 16:15). And by the power of the Holy Spirit they experienced a supernatural boldness; they were empowered to rise above their fears, to look beyond their circumstances and the impossibilities, and to focus on glorifying God. And so at daybreak, the apostles go back to the temple courts as they have been told and begin to teach the people about Jesus.
Verse 26 says, “At that, the captain went with his officers and brought the apostles. They did not use force, because they feared that the people would stone them.
27 Having brought the apostles, they made them 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."
So they go get the apostles bring them back before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest who says, “We gave you strict orders not to teach in his name…”
Again it’s the name… they won’t say the name of Jesus, but the whole fight is over the name of Jesus. All the opposition is around the name of Jesus, because his name is the “name that is above every name” (Philippians 2:9). So Peter’s like, “So you don’t want me to teach. I’m not supposed to preach?” And they’re like, “Exactly!”
I love Peter’s response in verse 29, "We must obey God rather than men!” He’s like, “Well, since you’re all here, I do have time for a sermon.” Isn’t that awesome? You know Peter’s preaching, he’s arrested, and released. He gives another sermon; he’s arrested again, and told not to preach. Now sermon number three is coming and Peter begins to preach again. Read it with me in verse 30:
“The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead — whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. 31 God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel. 32 We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him."
33 When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death. 34 But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honored by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while. 35 Then he addressed them: "Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men. 36 Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing. 37 After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered. 38 Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. 39 But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God."
40 His speech persuaded them. They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.
41 The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. 42 Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ.” NIV
Peter and the apostles could not stop talking about what they had come to know as the truth. They were driven by the revelation they had received through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. They had seen him, they had heard him, they had touched him with their own hands, and they knew it to be true. They had witnessed a miracle and could not keep quiet about it. So instead of seeing the flogging and threats as an opportunity to flee, groan, or complain, the apostles rejoiced. They got beat up and threw a party. You see, they’d chosen to set their focus on God, seeing the bigger picture of what he was doing and viewing persecution for their faith as a privilege. They rejoiced, because they’d been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the name of the One who gave his all for them.
The apostle John said it this way, “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete” (1 John 1:3-4).
As we close I want you to know that we are at a crucial point, a turning point, for the gospel of Jesus Christ. I believe the time is short and you and I were born for this moment, to bring light and hope to a lost and hurting world. You see many of our friends and neighbors wonder if there is any hope and we’re the ones with the answer: his name is Jesus Christ. Through our relationship with him and the presence of the Holy Spirit living inside of us, all things are possible, all things work together for good, and we’re unstoppable!
I love the last line. “They never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ” (Acts 5:42). You walk into their gatherings and they’re talking about Jesus. You walk into their meetings and they’re talking about Jesus. When anything good happens Jesus is praised. If anybody needs help, they serve in the name of Jesus. They won’t stop talking about Jesus. And in the same way, you and I are to be witnesses of Jesus. The Holy Spirit wants to empower you and me to be witnesses who continually testify that Jesus is alive, that he forgives sin, that he helps people, that he changed your life and my life; that he did this and he did that, he loves you and you need him. And so we can’t stop talking about Jesus.
And this morning if you have never trusted Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins and the promise of eternal life I invite you to come to Jesus. God wants you to turn from sin, and trust in him, just as the multitudes did; to cross the line and go public with your faith. And if you are a believer, you need to know that this life comes with a price, that there is opposition and persecution that comes against those who would profess the name of Jesus. What a great joy, what an honor, what a privilege to be counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the name of Jesus. If you’re going to pay a price, make it for the name of Jesus. If you’re going to live your life for some cause, reason, or purpose; make it for the name of Jesus.
Pastor John Talcott
Christ's Community Church
303 West Lincoln Avenue
Emmitsburg, MD 21727
May 03, 2015