Thus far in Acts we’ve heard a lot about the Apostles – the guys that were the leaders in the church – the guys that Jesus promised the powerful Holy Spirit – the guys that Jesus hand-picked to spread the Gospel around the world. These men were integral to the Early Church.
But…what about the rest of the church?
What about the “ordinary” Church member?
Today we are going to look at an “ordinary” church member named Stephen. As we do that, we’ll learn some things about ourselves as “ordinary” church members here in Raleigh. Before we do that, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The “Ordinary” Church Member named Stephen
The majority of Stephen’s story come from Acts 7. But before we get there, I think we should actually start with a phrase from Acts 5:29:
“We must obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29)
Stephen didn’t say that.
But I imagine that phrase bounced around in his head as the sharp tip of a spear pressed against his lower back directing him to an angry mob of Jewish opposition.
“We must obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29)
The phrase had first been uttered by the Apostle Peter. While Stephen didn’t exactly hear it from Peter’s mouth, it had become somewhat of a rallying crying for the Early Christians. In fact, it played a key part in bringing Stephen into the Early Church. Yes, he was first intrigued by the message of Jesus – full and free forgiveness because of Jesus’ death at the cross, but then, it was the conviction that drove him to being actively involved.
The apostles were willing to obey God and teach the message of Jesus…
…Even when others opposed them.
…Even when they were put on trial.
…Even when the opposition threatened death.
…Even when their backs were torn to a bloody mess by the violent lashings (floggings) as a result of their preaching the Gospel.
“We must obey God rather than men.”
That’s why Stephen had signed up.
That’s why Stephen had gotten into this mess.
A few weeks earlier the Apostles had requested some help. The church had been growing so quickly – which was a blessing. There were over 10,000 people who confessed Jesus as Savior. But since it had grown so quickly the work had gotten beyond the scope of 12 men and some of their ministries had started to be neglected.
Case and point – the distribution of bread for the widows. There were quite a few widows in the church and, at the time, widows were treated as the bottom rung of society. They couldn’t get jobs. They couldn’t make money. They were usually in poverty.
The church had been dealing with that by setting up a mobile food bank. Members were to give contributions of money; Christians that worked in the bakery would make some bread, and the disciples would grab a big old cardboard box, stuff some bread into it, and deliver it to the widows in need.
But…the program had gotten too big.
The disciples had other priorities.
Some widows had been forgotten.
Doubly unfortunately, the issue had gotten racial. The widows that were Greek began to complain that they were being ignored because they were Greek and the only ones to receive bread were the widows that were Jews…because they were Jews. Granted, that wasn’t what the Apostles were doing; they were simply too busy preaching and teaching. Still they did recognize that racial tensions and divisions were not a good look for a church whose entire premise was “Jesus died for everyone.”
So…the Apostles made a plan. They decided to choose seven men to help them in the distribution of food. Seven men who would deliver the bread and visit the shut ins. Seven men who could share the message of Jesus as they went; and free the disciples up to share the message of Jesus all day long.
One of the men they chose was Stephen.
And Stephen accepted the appointment.
And Stephen was awesome at it.
He loved seeing the smiling widows answer the door.
He loved helping them restock their empty shelves.
He even enjoyed it when the older widows squeezed his cheeks, told him how they wish they had a grandson like them and gave him a Werther’s for his trouble.
And that’s what Stephen did.
He did the ordinary job of delivering bread.
He did the ordinary job of sharing Jesus with those he met with.
He did the ordinary job of sharing what he was doing and why he was doing it with the people he met with.
And that – was why he was arrested.
By the same men that had arrested Peter.
He was arrested for delivering bread and teaching the message of Jesus.
So, he stood.
Hands cuffed behind his back.
A spear implanted into his lower back.
A room filled with vicious, angry, violent opposition.
And they were telling him to stop.
Now they were telling him to never mention Jesus again.
Now they were telling him to shut up or die.
He wasn’t an apostle….
He wasn’t trained for this…
This wasn’t in the job description!
“We must obey God rather than men.”
There was that voice again.
And Stephen couldn’t help himself:
“Brothers…friends…well trained and high respected scholars of the Old Testament Scriptures!”
Ya’ll are Old Testament scholars, so can I ask you a few questions about the Old Testament?
Do ya’ll remember Abraham? God made a promise to him to move to a country he’d never heard of and he’d bless him. People rejected that message. But God fulfilled that promise.
And do you remember Joseph? God promised him in a dream that he would one day be a ruler. His brothers rejected that message and threw him into slavery. But God fulfilled that promise.
And do you remember Moses? God promised to leader Israel out of Egypt through him. The people rejected Moses and didn’t believe him. But God fulfilled his promised. He performed 10 miraculous plagues. He split the Red Sea. He brought them out. And then…they still rejected Moses and worshipped a golden statue of a cow.
And do you remember Elijah? And Elisha? Isaiah? Jeremiah? Joel and Habakkuk? God prophesied through them. But the people rejected them. They beat them, imprisoned them and killed them.
Friends, that’s what our ancestors did.
And that’s what you are now doing.
You stiff-necked people with uncircumcised hearts and ears; you always resist the Holy Spirit. (7:51)
You always resist God’s truth.
You are resisting the very Savior God sent for you – Jesus Christ.
And with that…the room erupted.
There were loud shouts.
There were swear words.
There was tearing of clothes and clenching of fists.
There were stiff-necked, with uncircumcised hearts and ears; resisting the Holy Spirit.
And Stephen dropped to his knees.
He looked up.
And he smiled:
“Look, I see heaven open and I see Jesus Christ standing at God’s right hand.” (7:56)
And the men charged the floor.
And they grabbed Stephen.
And they threw him outside.
And they began to throw stone after stone, rock after rock at Stephen.
Eyes swollen, mouth bleeding, lungs gasping for breath, said one last thing:
“Jesus, receive my spirit and don’t hold this sin against them.” (v.59)
And then, he died.
II. Lessons from Stephen about being an “Ordinary” Church Member
I think Stephen’s story is one of the most powerful in the entire Bible.
I think it’s incredible because Stephen was your average everyday church member with an average everyday church job.
Yet there are some incredible lessons that we can learn from this ordinary Church member. Here are a few things the ordinary Christian does…
(1) “Ordinary” Church Members Serve (Even when It’s Delivering Boxes of Bread)
Because that was probably not the most glamorous job.
It wasn’t that job that got your name in lights.
It wasn’t a job that would get you on a social media post.
It’s not the kind of job that develops its own hashtag: #ServingBreadIsAwesome
But Stephen did it anyway.
Because service is key.
Jesus said, “I didn’t come to be served, but to serve and give my life as a ransom for many.” (Mt. 20:28)
Stephen remembered how Jesus served him (by dying on the cross for his sins) and was motivated to serve others.
Here’s the thing – we have a lot of people that are a part of our church community.
And some of ya’ll are very smart. I know which ones I shouldn’t have a conversation about medical terms and which ones to avoid talking about computer coding with because the conversation will quickly go over my head.
Some of ya’ll are smart enough to do top level, top notch, sophisticated stuff…
…We need to be like Stephen.
We need to be willing to do the less glamorous jobs.
We need to be willing to humbly serve others…whether we have a master’s degree, a college degree or a high school diploma.
We need to be willing to deliver bread, to serve cookies, to water plants, to pick weeds, to change the classroom hamster bedding.
That’s the heart of service.
It’s the heart Stephen had.
It’s the heart Christ wants us to have.
(2) “Ordinary” Church Members …Knows God’s Word is MOST Important
That is why the Apostles came up with the position of bread deliverers.
And its why Stephen took the job.
Because God’s word was most important. And the Apostle’s needed to be spending their time doing that.
It’s why Stephen took advantage of the personal conversation and opportunities he had to share the message of God’s Word.
It’s why Stephen refused to compromise on God’s Word – even when faced with death.
Again – this is a key point of us today.
Because sometimes the things that we volunteer for at church don’t seem to be related to God’s Word.
There are things that are easy to relate – preaching, teaching, worship music playing, eldering….
…But other things are harder to see the connection. Things like: weed pulling, coffee making, website maintenance, and watching kids in the nursery.
In the bigger picture, these things free me up to share God’s Word. They free up Precious Lambs teachers to teach God’s Word. They free up guests and visitors to focus on God’s Word. They are absolutely, important and integral to a congregation’s Planting the Message of Jesus in the Heart of North Raleigh.
May I take a brief moment to free up all of you Stephens out there. To thank all of you who have been serving throughout this past year – as we grow, and more things are on my plate and more things are on our plans – thank you for your service to keep God’s Word as most important.
And a brief what now – consider ways you can continue to do that. Keep your eyes open as you serve for ways that you can share Jesus on a personal level.
Whether it’s talking to a fellow volunteer while trimming weeds…
Or welcome a visitor while you greet.
Or simply not complaining – like the people were doing – to help us stay less focused on complaints and more focused on our Savior Jesus.
(3) “Ordinary” Church Members …Suffer for their Faith
Because Stephen didn’t do anything wrong.
Stephen was simply delivering bread.
He was helping the sick.
And he was telling about Jesus.
But he suffered. He suffered even giving his life over to death.
Here’s the reality. Sometimes church Members, even “ordinary” church members suffer for their faith.
In fact, I sometimes wonder if it isn’t more often? Because Pastors deal a lot with church people.
Pastor have to spend a good amount of time in God’s Word prepping a sermon.
Pastors often get to teach people on their turf.
You work in the world.
You live in the world.
You have friends and family in the world.
You do life among the people that reject His Word and sometimes –reject you for following Jesus.
Expect to suffer.
A mean comment on Facebook.
A tension at work.
An angry speech from a family member.
Expect to suffer for following Jesus. Because honestly, it’d be extraordinary if ordinary church members didn’t suffer for their faith.
It’s entirely ordinary for ordinary church members to suffer.
And that’s ok.
It’s ok, because of our final point:
(4) “Ordinary” Church Members…Receive the Extraordinary Crown of Life
That’s the message that empowered Stephen to be willing to die for his faith.
He knew his Savior.
He knew that Jesus conquered death.
He knew that Jesus promised that he too would conquer death.
And then – after his sermon – after the crowd is already angry – Stephen looks up and sees Jesus’ standing in heaven.
That’s really interesting.
Because usually in the Bible, God is presented as “sitting on his throne.”
But here Jesus is standing.
You have to picture the same thing.
You have to picture the same thing, because it’s truth.
When you are suffering, when you encounter opposition, when you are struggling to maintain faith in an opposing to faith world, see Jesus standing and calling to you.
Revelation 2:10, Jesus says this, “Be faithful even to the point of death and I will give you the crown of life.”
That’s an extraordinary promise.
It’s an extraordinary promise to even ordinary people like you and me.
And it’s true.
When you cling to that extraordinary promise, God will work through ordinary you to do extraordinary things.
Isn’t that what happened with Stephen? His story is written in Scripture. His passion is recorded for us to read. His confident holding to God’s Word motivates us to stand up for God’s Word.
The “ordinary” church member – through whom God worked extraordinary things.
Brothers and sisters may our God do the same through you.
May he work extraordinary things as we work to Plant the Message of Jesus in the Hearts of North Raleigh. Amen.
This is a great question. There are a ton of resources for studying God’s Word. However, I think that might be the biggest problem. If there was only book to read, I think we would be in pretty good shape. Get book-read book. However, there are literally hundreds of Bible translations, not to mention the thousands of devotional books.
Where to start? I see four possible ideas:
Everybody loves a good conspiracy theory.
That we never landed on the moon.
That Area 51 houses all kinds of aliens.
That JFK was murdered by members of his own cabinet.
Did you know the NT Church was not without conspiracy?
Today we are going to read about a conspiracy that took place in the early church, learn a thing or two about our own hearts and see why God is the ultimate detective of truth. Before we begin, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Conspiracy
The conspiracy starts in Acts 5. But to really understand it well, we need to get some of the context from Acts 4:32-35. It says this:
All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet and it was distributed to anyone who had need. (4:32-35)
Did you follow what was going on? The Early Church took care of each other. When they noticed someone in need, they not only gave money to help that person out, but they sold property to get money to help that person out.
Verse 36 identifies one specific instance of that. It says, “Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”), sold a field he owned and brought he money and put it as the apostles’ feet.”
And I love that his nickname becomes “Son of Encouragement.” Because it is super encouraging when you are out of a job, when you don’t have enough money to feed your family, when you are running out of money to keep the lights on at church, for someone to give you a gift to help out. Now imagine if someone sells their property and gives all of the money to the work of the Lord!
What Barnabas did encouraged the Early Church: People said:
Look at what God did!
Look at what he worked in Barnabas’ heart!
Look at God’s grace to his people.
Segue to chapter 5 and there’s a guy named Ananias.
He has a wife named Sapphira.
Ananias was a part of the early church and had heard all about Barnabas’ awesome gift.
He heard his church friends talk about: “What an awesome gift that Barnabas gave!”
He saw it in the monthly report: “Thanks to Barnabas for his gift.”
He saw the Facebook post from the Early Church with Barnabas’ smiling face attached to the caption: “Thanks to Barnabas for his incredible gift – we helped 5 widows!”
Ananias saw all of this.
And he wanted in.
He wanted in, but he didn’t want to give up what Barnabas did to get in order to get it. So…
He came up with a plan:
Ananias together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. With his wife’s full knowledge, he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet. (5:1-2)
Did you follow what he did?
Say Ananias had a beach house (because beach houses are pretty awesome). He put that beach house on Zillow.com and ended up selling it for $500,000. Ananias took $250,000 of that beach house sale and put in the bank. Then, he took the rest -- $250,0000 and gave it to the Early Church. Only back then it wasn’t in a checkbook, but a big old bag filled with coins – copper, bronze and gold. (I imagine he looked kind of like the Monopoly guy as he came in and placed that bag before the disciples).
Ananias was expecting to hear the same kind of praise that was lavished on Barnabas to be lavished on him:
This is amazing Ananias!
You are wonderful Ananias.
I can’t wait to tell everyone, Ananias, about how you are such a wonderful man.
But that’s not what he got:
Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings, but to God.” (v.3-4)
When Ananias heard this, he fell down…and died. (v.5)
Let that sink in.
He sold a field.
He brought ½ the money and gifted it to the church.
He was rebuked.
And he died.
And that’s not the end of the story. Look at what happened next. About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened, Peter asked her, “Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?” Did you really give all the money to the church?
And Sapphira – who knows full well that it isn’t – has no problem smiling, and saying, “Yep. That’s the full price. We gave it all to the church.”
And Peter said to her, “How could you conspire to test the Spirit of the Lord? Listen! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door and they will carry you out also.” (v.9)
And at that moment, she fell down at his feet and died. (v.10)
This might be one of the most shocking deaths in the Bible. It seems to come out of nowhere and when our imperfect, human nature reads this it seems to put God in a bad light! As a result, there are three main ways that scholars interpret this parable.
(1) It’s a propaganda myth – a propaganda story used to scare people into giving money to the church.
But if it were a mere propaganda myth, I think it would be a terrible choice. If I started telling people at Bible Basics, “After you’re a member, you’d better give about $1000 per month or God will give you a heart attack,” I’m not so sure our membership would be trending upward.
The point is that if the disciples made this up, it seems like a terrible advertising choice. If their goal was to make up and start a religious movement, this would be a fairly foolish and strange story to include in its origin story.
(2) It’s a weird coincidence -- a weird one at that. They were shocked at having been discovered so their blood pressure increased, genetic problems surfaced and…death.
But to believe, you have to believe that husband and wife both have that condition.
That husband and wife both die from that same condition within hours of each other.
That husband and wife both die right after Peter calls them out for their deception.
Not likely? It only leaves option 3.
(3) It’s the truth. While this is the least popular theory, it’s the only one that makes sense. People knew Ananias and Sapphira. They were a part of the church. People knew that they died – in fact a group of church people was there when Ananias brought the funds and died at Peter’s rebuke!
This is real.
This is truth.
This story circulated at a time when people said, “Oh yeah. I remember that…”
But IF IT’S TRUTH. What does it mean?
Is God a big meanie for doing this? That’s always our sinful, imperfect response and I’m asking you right now to fight it. Remember – we are imperfect. We are sinners. We are the ones whose hearts have been affected by evil. Before you bite on this, consider for just a moment the alternate perspective that God is not the bad guy in the story. That what happens is a good God fighting evil.
Ok. Ananias did evil. But what was his evil? Does it mean that our good God wants us to give 100% of your paycheck to him? No. In the Old Testament, God demanded 10% as an offering. In the NT, God demands that we give our first fruits, that we give cheerfully and that we give generously. God doesn’t demand 100% of our money. (Although if he did – he is the One who gives us all things, so it wouldn’t be unfair for him to ask for what he already owns.)
What’s the real problem?
Look at a few key phrases:
“You have lied to the Holy Spirit…” (v.3)
“You have not lied to human beings, but to God.” (v.4)
“How could you conspire to test the Spirit?” (v.9)
The problem wasn’t that they kept ½ the money, but that they pretended to give it all.
The problem wasn’t that he wanted to keep some cash, but that he wanted the label of super godly without being super godly.
The problem wasn’t that they stole God’s money, but that they wanted to steal God’s glory.
II. Conspiracy within Us
What about you?
Do you belong to a conspiracy?
Do you conspire to steal God’s glory?
Of course, as any good, conspirator your first response will be to deny it.
But…examine your life…if you’re involved in spiritual conspiracy to steal God’s glory…the clues are there.
Telling your friend “I give 10% of my money to church.” When you know by 10% you meant 10 % of 10% of your spending money which is 10% of your take home pay.
Spending more time getting the right filter for the photo of you studying the Bible to post on Instagram, than actually studying the Bible.
Making sure everyone here knows you as a devoted follower of Jesus, while your secret internet history shows you are a devoted follower of XXX.com.
Telling your coworker “I belong to Gethsemane Church,” and by belong you mean, “I show up and barely pay attention for about an hour every month.”
Stop stealing God’s glory as an individual.
But what really strikes me in this text is the word “conspire” in verse 9. Because conspire involves more than one person. Ananias and Sapphira conspired together.
Our goal as a church is to aim towards God’s glory. But…
We need to be oh so careful that don’t let this place become a secret hideout for conspirators against God.
A place where we high five each other and talk about how awesome we are at following God…and forget all about the God we are following.
A place where we build a state of the art Early Childhood Center and remind everyone about how hard we worked at making the ECC --- with no mention of the One who empowered us to do so.
A place where you tell me how great I am for coming here and I tell you how great I am for coming here – and we talk about how awesome we are at ministry without actually participating in any ministry.
We can’t be a church of lies.
We can’t be a church of deception.
Even though we might fool each other.
Even though we might fool others.
We can’t fool God.
Ananias and Sapphira couldn’t hide the truth from God.
God knows all things.
God sees all things.
God knew their sin.
God knew their heart.
And our good God judged their evil sin.
And you can’t hide the truth from God.
God knows all things.
God sees all things.
God knew their sin.
God knew their heart.
And our good God will judge your evil sins.
III. Good News in a Conviction Text?
As Christian preachers, we believe that the ultimate end to the story of the Bible is good. That a good sermon convicts people of sin, but then offers the solution for their sin in Jesus their Savior. Good news. It’s not hard to find the convicting part in this text. Don’t conspire, don’t lie to, don’t try to deceive the Holy Spirit! And we have, and we are convicted. Forgive us Lord.
But what about the good news?!?
Do you see it?
The good news in this text is simply this:
You aren’t dead yet.
Neither am I
God has mercifully, patiently, kindly continued to grant us life in spite of our deceptions and lies.
God has mercifully, patiently, kindly continued to reach out to us and call for truth.
God is mercifully, patiently, kindly reaching out to you with the truth right now.
And the truth about every human heart is this –
We are sinful.
We need a Savior.
We have a Savior.
Our Savior Jesus came to this world without a deceptive bone in his body.
And he died at the hands of men who conspired to steal God’s glory.
And when he died – he died far apart from any glory!
Yet – three days later – he rose and attained all glory.
But that glory, rightfully His, he offers up to you and to me.
That’s truth. It’s no conspiracy. It’s truth. God loves you dearly.
IV. What Now?
1. Be Truth-Filled
It always seems easier to lie.
It might seem easier to talk a big game.
To tell everyone you’ve got it all together.
To save face and make sure everyone knows “you’re a good Christian.”
But that’s not truthful.
1 John says this:
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make God out to be a liar and his word is not in us. If anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father – Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. (1 John 1:8-2:1)
Isn’t that crazy? When we deceive and try to steal God’s glory, all glory is removed from us. People will find out. Your glory façade will fall. (That’s what happened to Ananias).
But when we confess our sins and are truthful about our utter lack of glory, God gives us His own divine glory in Christ.
The glory of Jesus means that when God our Father examines with his divine-magnifying glass every aspect of our lives – our hearts, our thoughts, our hidden longings – the only thing that He finds – is righteousness. Sinlessness. Perfection.
Be truthful. Receive REAL glory.
2. Inspire Each Other
We do not want to be a church conspiring together to steal God’s glory.
But how awesome to be a church known for inspiring each other with God’s glory!
To inspire with the message that Jesus died for us!
To inspire with the message that Jesus rose for us!
To inspire with the message that Jesus forgives us.
To inspire with the message that His heavenly riches are ours!
The other day I met lady at a coffee shop while I was working on this very sermon. She found out that I was a pastor and she asked if she could give me some advice. She told me that I needed to stop mentioning the word sin. That I needed to stop mentioning the need for some Savior. That I needed to tell people they could do it and they were alright, and they were generally doing pretty well.
And I thought…
So…you want me to lie?
Because with all the love in my heart and motivated by the love in my heart, God tells us that is not true.
Things are not alright.
Helping each other pretend that things are alright might give the gift of momentary, phony, human glory.
But telling the truth and seeking the true Savior – gives eternal, real, lasting, divine glory.
God wants us to live in truth.
God wants to heal you.
In fact, if you continue Acts 5, right after the account of Ananias and Sapphira, the text returns to telling of God’s incredible healing power. It tells of how God made the lame walk, the sick healed and the injured well.
That’s the truth.
That’s what God wants for us.
That’s what God wants for you.
Be truthful about who you are. And you will be truth-filled with who Jesus made you to be. Amen.
Today we are having a Youth Confirmation and an Installation of a Teacher. Our message in Acts 4 fits perfectly. And I think it will be a blessing for you even if you aren’t being confirmed or installed. Before we begin our study, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Story
This morning we’re going to pick up with our study exactly where we left off. Peter and John had just healed the Paralyzed Man at the Gate called Beautiful. It was a miracle so amazing that a crowd had gathered after the miracle. And Peter had used the opportunity to do two things: (1) give a public confirmation of his faith in Jesus and (2) teach the people about Jesus and his message.
The reality is that while many believed, not everyone did. Not everyone in the city was a believer.
Not everyone in the city was a part of the church.
But while some just didn’t believe and went about their business without becoming a part of the church; others took their unbelief a step farther:
The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people. They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people, proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. (V.1-2)
A couple notes from this section:
They were greatly disturbed. These people didn’t just ‘not believe.’ They were ‘disturbed’ by what was being taught. (That’s a word that’s usually used for tragedies or horror films). These people were disturbed at Peter’s teachings.
Which might seem strange! Everyone else was excited and in awe of the teaching that had enabled this Paralyzed Man to be able to walk.
But these people weren’t surprised.
They were disturbed.
Proclaiming the Resurrection. That’s what Peter’s teaching was all about. He was teaching that not only could the Paralyzed be able to rise up to their feet; but one day the dead will be raised to life.
That might be a bit disturbing – if you think of zombie apocalypse – but also might be disturbing if you didn’t think it would ever happen.
If you think that the resurrection will never happen, then Peter’s message was dangerous! It was causing people to be distracted from important things like money, fame and family – and focusing on worthless things that would happen – like eternal life.
In Jesus. That phrase tells us the reason that Peter believed a resurrection would happen. It was because of Jesus.
The guy that the Sadducees had falsely arrested.
The guy that the Sadducees had falsely convicted.
The guy that the Sadducees had killed.
And the guy that had ‘supposedly’ come back to life.
They thought they had killed the message of Jesus with the death of Jesus!
But now he was supposed to be alive.
And his message was definitely alive and well.
And so, they take action:
They seized Peter and John and, because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day. (v.2-3)
The next morning, I imagine Peter and John awoke to a gruff, “Get up! It’s time to go.”
One soldier bent down to unlock the chains around their wrists, while another stood close by – sword draw – in case of any funny business.
They walked through the dark hallway of the underground and slowly made their way up the torch lit stairwell. The sun was barely risen – it’s dawn light revealing the path to a large courtroom.
As Peter and John entered, the hubbub of the crowd turned to loud hisses!
Every direction the disciples looked they saw eyebrows furled and teeth clenched in anger.
And there – at the front – in the middle of this angry crowd were two men that the disciples recognized: Annas, the former high priest and Caiaphas, the current high priest.
(If those names sound familiar to you, they should. These were the exact same two people that were in charge of the courtroom when they sentenced Jesus to death.)
“Silence!” Caiaphas barked. He leaned in and started the trial:
“By what power or what name do you do these things?” (v.7)
Some kind of illegal drug?
Peter cleared his throat. All eyes were on him.
Peter knew what they were capable of.
Peter knew that he was teaching the same message that had gotten Jesus killed.
Peter knew that if he spoke about Jesus, he could possibly be killed right now.
...and he didn’t care.
“Rulers; elders…It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth whom you crucified, but whom God raised from the dead that this man stands before you healed. Jesus is ‘the stone the builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.’ Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven, given to mankind by which we must be saved.” (v.10-12)
II. Withstanding Opposition
Now, (Cullen; Jenni).
You’ll probably never be put on trial.
You’ll probably never have to face crucifixion.
You’ll probably never be faced with death because of your faith.
But…you will encounter opposition.
The high school teacher who tells you that your faith is foolish!
The preschool parent who thinks that kids don’t sin, and you shouldn’t tell their kids he’s a sinner.
The friends who tell you ‘church’ is stupid. And you’d be stupid to go to church.
Your own family question your career choice because…” You could make a lot more money somewhere else.”
Here’s the truth:
You will encounter opposition because you are Christian.
How will you respond?
Stop mentioning Jesus in your Bible time lessons?
Tell your friends, “I just come because my mom and dad make me.”
Hide the fact that you love Jesus on your Facebook profile?
Will you be like Peter?
Will you boldly confess your faith?
Will you boldly state that you follow Jesus?
Will you boldly share that YES! I believe?
It is my prayer and our prayer and God’s desire that you confess boldly.
In fact, this lesson teaches us that we have a lot of reasons to confess boldly.
1. You are Spirit-Filled
Did you catch that right before Peter spoke? The Bible tells us that Peter was “filled with the Holy Spirit.” (v.8) That’s God’s himself. That’s the Almighty Lord. That’s the same Holy Spirit who did incredible things on Pentecost Day!
He was able to give them instantaneous foreign language comprehension; the scribes took years to perfect Hebrew alone.
He placed flamelike apparitions upon their head; the teachers of the law had acolytes keep the candles in the sanctuary burning for them.
He made a tornadolike sound come into the midst of the living room; the Sadducees could only make a quiet raspberry noise.
And that same Holy Spirit is with you.
And He is way more powerful than any spiritual opposition you will face.
2. You are backed by Resurrection Power
In fact, verse 10 says, “By the name of Jesus Christ, whom you killed but whom God rose from the dead,” we speak this message. In other words, the disciples had seen Jesus die. But then they saw him come back to life. And then he promised that he would bring them back to life as well.
Think about that! If someone who had the ability to bring you back to life promised to bring you back to life, would you be a lot bolder?
It’s like on a video game when you have a few lives more than you usually do when facing Bowser at the end of Mario. You are more confident and do things more dangerous than you normally do!
You have been promised that you will live even though you die.
You’ve been promised this by one with the resurrection power to heal you.
You have a powerful resurrection backing you.
A resurrection more powerful than sin….
More powerful than guilt.
More powerful than death.
And more powerful than any threat the group of angry religious leaders could make.
3. Your faith is Essential
Peter says this, “There is no other name given to humans by which we must be saved.” (v.12)
Think about that.
The name “Cool” won’t save.
The name “Popular” won’t save.
The name “Enlightened,” won’t save.
Only the name “Jesus” will save.
Don’t disown the one name that will save. That’d be like fall off the dock down at Shelley Lake. And you aren’t good at swimming. And you start to flail. And you start to drown. And you need someone to help you. And you see your friend Bob over there on the dock. And he’s got a life preserver in his hand. And he’s a trained lifeguard.
But…your friends told you, “Bob isn’t cool.”
And you don’t want anyone to hear you asking for Bob’s help so…
You keep flailing…
That’s what it’s like to throw away the name of Jesus.
His name alone saves.
Jesus alone is our Savior.
Jesus alone died for you and rose for you.
There is no other name under heaven, given to mankind, by which we must be saved. (v.12)
No one else did that.
Not your friends.
Not your classmates.
Not some preschool parent.
Not even your family.
Only Jesus did.
III. What Now?
Confess your faith boldly.
And I don’t just mean in a minute when Cullen, you are able to confess your faith before loving family and friends.
And I don’t just mean in a moment when you, Jenni, are confess your faith and desires to teach before a congregation that is excited for you to teach.
I mean confessing boldly in front of whomever opposes your faith.
Because Jesus confessed you boldly before the devil himself.
When the devil said, “She’s a sinner.”
When Satan shouted, “He’s a failure.”
Jesus spoke loudly and confidently,
“He’s my son.”
“They are a part of my kingdom.”
Jesus boldly confessed us in the midst of the fiercest opposition. You boldly confess Jesus, in the midst of any opposition.
We’ve been in the book of Acts this summer. And maybe you’ve noticed – the book of ACTS is all about the ACTS of the Apostles. The Twelve guys that Jesus spend three years teaching. In Acts, Jesus had gone to heaven. The Apostles are going around preaching and teaching all by themselves.
And up to this point – over 3000 people believed their message. Amazing!
But not everyone believed.
Because sure, they like that Jesus guy.
Sure, they knew this Jesus guy was something special.
And yes, the disciples had been with Jesus…sure.
But…they weren’t Jesus.
So…was God still with them?
Was God’s power still with them?
Was their message the same?
Today we are going to answer that very question – which is SUPER important for us today, because the Apostle’s Teachings are what we have recorded in the New testament of the Bible. Before we begin our study, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Same Power.
The lesson in Acts 3 seems takes places days after Pentecost. By this time, the news about the Apostles had started to spread. News about the incredible events at Pentecost – that there was a tornadolike sounds emanating from the middle of a house, the apostles had something like fire on top of their heads and could speak in languages they had never learned – had spread.
People were interested.
The disciples kept preaching.
The disciples kept teaching.
But at the start of Acts 3, that’s not what they’re doing.
The Apostles are just living their life.
True story – even today – pastors don’t always work. (It’s true.) I don’t just preach and teach and counsel all day long. Sometimes I go to Food Lion to pick up deodorant. Sometimes I stop by the gym to workout. Sometimes I go to Home Depot for advice on Lawn Care Supplies.
The Apostles were doing the same thing.
Peter and John were heading into the temple.
Not to preach.
Not to teach.
But simply to pray.
The temple was rather large. It was so large that it had a bunch of different entrances that one could use to get into it. Each entrance had a specific name. (It might be like the PNC Arena – and the different entrances that they have).
One of the entrance was simply called BEAUTIFUL. It called to mind the notion that God and worship of God was Beautiful.
But at entrance of the gate.
Right under the incredible archways and the beautiful jewel studs.
Was something – not so beautiful.
A dirty middle-aged man.
A dirty middle-aged man sat on the ground.
A dirty middle-aged man sat on the ground and begged.
This man was paralyzed. He had never been able to walk a day in his life. Because he couldn’t walk, he also couldn’t work. (There weren’t a lot of desk jobs back in the day). The only thing that he could do was hold out his hand, ask for money, or ask others to grab some food for him.
And that’s what he did:
Sir, could you spare a few dollars?
Ma’am, do you have some extra money?
Friend, could you help me? Anything will do.
And as he asked, undoubtedly people responded in a lot of different ways:
Sorry bud. I don’t care cash on me.
Give you something? Why don’t you get a job?
Honey, please look the other way. Who knows where that guy has been!
Here you go – I suppose – Here’s a $10 – but I’d like 9 dollars in change please.
This was his life.
He was “the Paralyzed Beggar at the Gate called Beautiful.”
All the time.
And that was what he was doing as Peter and John walked by on their way to the temple for prayer:
“Good sirs! Do you have some money? Can you help a brother out?”
And the disciples stopped.
And the turned to the Paralyzed Man.
And the man got excited. Maybe they’d give him a dollar or two.
And Peter looked him straight in the eye.
And he said this, “Silver and gold, I do not have. But what I have, I give you. In the name of Jesus, WALK.” (v.6)
And the man looked at Peter.
Was Peter serious?
The man had never walked in day in his life.
If Peter didn’t have any money, he could just say so and get on his way – why did he need to rub it in like this?
But…then again…he looks sincere.
And I do really want to walk. It’s all I’ve ever wanted.
To do what I’ve never been able to do.
The man reached out his hand.
He took a hold of Peter’s
And instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. He jumped to his feet and began to walk. (v.7-8)
Because notice Peter didn’t give him some kind of pill to swallow.
He didn’t inject him with some kind of steroid.
He didn’t affix a robotic leg.
He spoke, and the man walked.
And he did much more than walk! Because check out verse 8, “He went with the disciples into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God!”
He wasn’t hobbling around.
It wasn’t like he took his first step and then sat down for a rest.
He was instantly walking and running and jumping and skipping and doing cartwheels and practicing his breakdancing!
This was amazing!
What’s the point?
This is a miracle.
A miracle that only God could do.
A miracle that Jesus had done on more than one occasion a couple of years earlier.
That meant this:
The disciples weren’t doing their work on their own.
God’s power had to be with them.
And if you’re skeptical, remember – this happened in the middle of the temple courts.
Surrounded by thousands of people.
And when people saw this formerly paralyzed man walking around – they recognized him as the paralyzed man who sat at the Gate called Beautiful!
And when they asked what happened and they heard what the Apostle’s did – it became absolutely, 100% certain of what happened.
God did a miracle.
God’s power was with the Apostles.
And that’s important to note.
II. Same Message.
I am working out a CrossFit Gym. And sometimes at the CrossFit Gym – people that I work out with tend to give me advice. There was a guy a few months back who started critiquing my clean and jerk method. He told me to get my shoulders up, to hold it close to my body and shift my weight onto my heels.
And as he said it, I started thinking, “Whatever dude. You’re just some guy like me trying to do this. What do you know? Why should I listen to you?”
Then we started the workout. And he was able to do about 150 more pounds than me.
Turns out – he knew what he was talking about.
This miracle was proof that the Apostles knew what they were talking about.
They would not have been able to do that miracle without God’s authority.
Which means if they have God’s authority to do miracles…
They have God’s authority to teach his message.
And we better pay close attention.
Look at what at that message:
Fellow Israelites, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? (We didn’t. We couldn’t. This was obviously God!) The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers (the God in the Old Testament, the God who does miracles, the ONLY God) has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. You disowned the Holy and Righteous One. You killed the author of Life…
Do you see what he says about Jesus?
God glorified Him!
He was the Messiah.
He was the Savior.
He was God himself.
You handed him over to be killed.
You disowned him.
You killed Him.
You killed the Author of Life.
You killed God.
But what could the crowd say?
Peter had just healed that paralyzed man that no one had been able to heal for over 40 years.
His message had to be sponsored by God – as divine truth.
Now…Peter’s words were directed at the crowd that had gathered.
However – they have been recorded.
We are reading them right now.
And in other parts of Scripture the Bible says:
“Jesus was pierced for our transgressions.” (Isaiah 53:5)
“He was delivered to death for our sins.” (Romans 4:25)
“Jesus bore our sins in his body on the cross.” (1 Peter 2:24)
In other words:
You handed Jesus over to be killed.
You disowned Jesus.
You killed Him.
You killed the Author of Life.
You killed God.
Again – we did not do this actively.
We didn’t swing the hammer.
We weren’t even alive back then.
But that doesn’t make it less true. Your sins are the reason that Jesus died. In fact, the miracle that occurred right before Peter did this, proved that this message is true.
And if you’re offended by that message, realize that it doesn’t’ make it any less true. You might not want to think of your sins as killing Jesus, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t.
Listen to Peter’s, God powered, approved message with a humble heart.
Your sins killed Jesus.
And then, listen with a heart ready for some good news.
Your sins killed Jesus, But God raised Jesus from the dead. (v.15)
That means sin didn’t kill him.
Jesus killed sin.
Sin didn’t overpower Jesus.
Jesus overpowered sin.
Your sin did not defeat Jesus.
Jesus defeated your sin.
And again. The disciples knew what they were talking about. Peter says, We are witnesses of this! (v.15)
And they were! Literal witnesses. They had seen Jesus alive after his death.
They touched his hands.
They touched his feet.
The saw the nails marks.
They could confirm that Jesus was alive.
And the miracle of the lame man walking could confirm that they were not lying.
Not to the crowds.
Not to you.
Jesus rose from the dead. It’s truth.
Turn to God.
Your sins will be wiped out. (v.19)
Think about that. Your sins will be…
Put your faith in Jesus and you’ll be witness to a miracle even greater than what happened with the Paralyzed Beggar at the Gate called Beautiful.
You’ll have God’s grace.
You’ve have sins forgiven.
You will be free of guilt.
You will have the promise of heaven.
And if you do believe.
Let me switch the language.
You have God’s grace.
Your sins are forgiven.
You are free of guilt.
You have the promise of heaven.
III. What Now?
1. Think Bigger
Because too often we think like the paralyzed man. When he saw the disciples, he thought – maybe they can help. Maybe they can give me a dollar – a few coins – a sandwich – or a Starbucks gift card. But what the disciples offered was so much greater! The ability to walk.
But even then, that wasn’t it. If we think that’s the extent of God’s grace, we’re wrong. Because he offered the man something greater than the ability to walk on earth – he offered him the ability to walk in heaven.
So often we think too small.
So often we think too ‘now.”
If only God could take this cold away.
If only God could get me that 1% raise.
If only God could help me find the right guy.
If only God could keep the sun out this morning.
But God has in mind to give you something much bigger.
Something that lasts much longer.
Something that is beyond your wildest imagination.
Absolute God authorized forgiveness of all your sins. Think BIG, Think ETERNAL. Think DIVINE in your prayers and have confidence God will give it.
2. Praise God!
We’re here today at the picnic and we are celebrating.
Celebrating good weather.
Celebrating a year of learning at Precious Lambs.
Celebrating fellowship at church.
Celebrating new members.
Celebrating good food.
And that’s great.
But– those aren’t the main reason for our celebration.
Our main reason for celebrating is the incredible news of our sins being wiped away.
Celebrate God’s goodness.