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Intro: Ps 2:1-4 Why do the nations rage, And the people plot a vain thing? 2 The kings of the earth set themselves, And the rulers take counsel together, Against the LORD and against His Anointed, saying, 3 “Let us break Their bonds in pieces And cast away Their cords from us.” 4 He who sits in the heavens shall laugh; The LORD shall hold them in derision. Sometimes the scriptures we know speak to a particular event clearly. David voiced a clear reality in these words. God’s people are opposed. They will suffer persecution. Our study this month in the Beatitudes focuses on this reality – Jesus Said in Matthew 5:10-12 – 10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
These words became real to the early Christians as they followed in the footsteps of Jesus. Although Jesus is certainly the “Prince of Peace”, His message brought division, as men and women were confronted with the truth.
- Matt 10:34-37 – 34 “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. 35 For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’; 36 and ‘a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.’ 37 He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.
In our continuing study of Jesus’ words in Matthew 5, I want to look closer at the event of persecution. How did the early Christians respond to persecution? What does God expect of us when we are persecuted for the sake of righteousness?
Read Acts 4:1-23 – This is certainly an intriguing series of events. The enormous success of the preaching of the apostles on Pentecost, coupled with the amazing miracles, such as the one in chapter 3, led to public and violent opposition.
- As recorded in chapter 3, when Peter healed the blind man (actually Peter says Jesus did it) a crowd gathered around him. Peter preached the 2nd gospel sermon recorded in scripture. But he was not even allowed to finish the sermon before persecution began.
- Those who came to stop Peter are described as: the Priests, probably the temple priests who upset at the disturbance Peter and John had created; The captain of the temple – the head of the temple police responsible for keeping the peace; and the Sadducees. -The ruling sect of the Jews, they were adamantly opposed to the teaching of the apostles concerning the resurrection from the dead. The text says they “came upon them”, literally “came suddenly” with malicious intent (same phrase used to describe the crowd as they approached Stephen in chapter 6.)
- They were greatly disturbed for two reason:
- Peter and John were teaching the people – They had no official credentials.
- They were preaching the resurrection from the dead – the Sadducees did not believe it. (Questioned Jesus on this in Matt. 22- You err not knowing the truth ). The Jewish authorities recognized the Messianic overtures of Peter’s teaching and saw it as revolutionary and possibly insurrectionary.
- Peter and John are immediately arrested and taken away.
I. The “Driving Force” of Persecution – How would we react if this happened to us? What if the authorities came in and arrested the preacher, or Bible class teachers? It was on the nightly news and there was a publicized trial? How would you react? It is difficult for us to relate to the events of Acts 4. We do not face this type of open opposition. In fact we may never be thrown in prison for our faith. But we do face persecution (if we are living godly),
- We noticed last week that the Greek word for persecuted in Matthew 5 means literally to be put to flight or driven from. This account is Satan’s dramatic attempt to drive the disciples away from Christ; cause them to flee from their convictions and faith.
- Does suffering for righteousness drive you away from Christ or closer to Him? What was the result here in the Jerusalem church? Let’s look closer and see.
II. The Power of a Bold Response – Peter and John provide an important example for us (just as Jesus did for them.) When the council convenes the next day, they are placed right in the middle of this intimidating convention (v. 7) and asked to make a defense of what they had taught. “By what power or by what name have you done this?
A. Peter’s passionate preaching – Peter seizes the opportunity to preach the word.
1. He is “filled with the Holy Spirit.” (v. 8) I am tempted to not place a miraculous connotation on this description, because God calls on me to be filled with the Spirit also. It may simply tell us who is influencing Peter. But Jesus had also promised the apostles in Mark 13:9-11 that the Holy Spirit would speak for them, giving them the very words to say. Peter is not intimidated because the Spirit of God is providing the strength and the words he needs.
2. vs. 10 – Peter boldly proclaims the identity and power of Jesus. He is the One who has made this man whole. Peter repeats what he had preached in the temple. The presence of persecution and opposition does not change the message. He boldly states, by the name of Jesus Christ..
a. Peter’s words in vs. 10 not only impugn the council in Jesus’ death (whom YOU crucified..) but unreservedly teach His resurrection ( and GOD raised up.) Peter refused to compromise the gospel by deleting what would offend the Sanhedrin.
b. vs. 12 – Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. The word “saved” in vs. 12, is a form of the same verb (sozo) used in verse 9 to describe the healing of the lame man. Not only was Jesus the source of physical healing, but He is also the only source of spiritual healing.
c. Peter & John preached an exclusive Christ in an inclusive age. So do Christians today. We are often accused of being narrow-minded and intolerant. How dare we insist that Christ is the only way? Matt 7:13-14 – “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. 14 Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.
B. The Council’s Perceptive Observation: Notice what the Sanhedrin observed about these apostles as they defended their faith: Acts 4:13 Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus.
1. Boldness: Peter and John were not intimidated by the council. Satan’ s attempts to intimidate disciples is often successful. In fact, it takes much less for us to cave in. John MacArthur states, Boldness is that essential quality without which nothing significant can be accomplished for the gospel. Jesus warns sternly against those who would deny Him in times of trouble.
a. It says the council also perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men (they marveled) – By the one word (uneducated) they mean ‘men uninstructed in the learning of the Jewish schools;’ and by the other (untrained), ‘men of the common sort,.. There were not the elite, but common men, not a place you would find such reasoning and boldness. The also said the same thing about Jesus. John 7:15 – 15 And the Jews marveled, saying, “How does this Man know letters, having never studied?” Which leads to their next observation:
2. They had been with Jesus: This possibly refers to their remembrance of Jesus’ boldness at His trial. Or they recognized Jesus’ irrefutable reasoning from scriptures. But this is the true measure our response to persecution. If what we do reminds others of Jesus we have responded successfully.
C. The Disciple’s Blessed Response: (v. 19-31) Just as Jesus predicted, with the persecution there would be a blessing. What was the response that brought the blessing of God? Let me suggest 6 ways we should react to persecution as evidenced by Peter and John in Acts 4.
1. Be Submissive – Do you remember the Peter who was with Jesus in the garden. He had his own ideas about how to respond to those who would oppose His Messiah. John 18:10 – “Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, and cut off his right ear…. 52 But Jesus said to him, “Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. 53 Or do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels? ( Matt 26:52-53)
a. What happened to that Peter? This was not the same man. Peter did not fight or resist. Someone showed him how to overcome your enemies by trusting in God, not your own strength. Later he taught others this same lesson: 1 Peter 2:18-23 Servants, be submissive to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh. 19 For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully. 20 For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God. 21 For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: 22 “Who committed no sin, Nor was deceit found in His mouth”; 23 who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously.
2. Seize the Opportunity to Teach – Submissiveness is not cowardice, and Peter boldly took the opportunity that this trial provided. It is easy to reference every difficulty in the context of how it affects us. We need to see how our persecutions and troubles may benefit others – even those who oppose us. Phil 1:12-14 -But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel, 13 so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ; 14 and most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.
3. Be Obedient to God at All Costs – Acts 4:17-20 – 17 But so that it spreads no further among the people, let us severely threaten them, that from now on they speak to no man in this name.” 18 So they called them and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. 20 For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.” The Council attempted to intimidate Peter and John into silence and ordered them not to speaking the name of Jesus any more (no more talking about a resurrection).
a. It is ironic that the early believers had to be commanded to be quiet, while we have to be commanded to speak.
b. The parents of the blind man in Acts 9 were afraid to speak up for fear they would be excluded from the synagogue. What does it take for you to be silent? What is the price?
c. Peter himself, earlier denied Jesus at the hint of persecution, but now he is fearless.
- Matt 10:27-28 – 27 “Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light; and what you hear in the ear, preach on the housetops. 28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.
4. Seek Solidarity With Other Christians – Acts 4:23 – And being let go, they went to their own companions and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them. The first thing Peter and John did after being released was to go to be with other Christians (their own companions). They sought encouragement from others and sought to encourage them as well. Later in this chapter Luke describes the unity the resulted from the initial opposition and the apostles’ imprisonment. Acts 4:32-33 Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common. 33 And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all. Why does trouble take us away from the assembly rather than draw us towards it?
5. Be Thankful – As Peter and John report of their opportunity to preach Christ to the Sanhedrin , the group breaks out in praise as they remember the prophecy of David about those who would oppose the Messiah. (vs. 24-29) They did not express fear of rejection or self-pity. They were thankful to be a part of the fulfillment of God’s plan.
1. Later, after another imprisonment, the apostles expressed joy at the opportunity to suffer for Christ. Acts 5:40-42 40 “.. and when they had called for the apostles and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 41 So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name. 42 And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.
6. Pray for More Boldness – Peter and John were ready for anything.. right? As bold and confident as they appeared before the council, in their humility and dependence on God, they pray for more boldness to face future trials. Acts 4:29-31 29 Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word, 30 by stretching out Your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus.” 31 And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.
a. If there is anything we need to pray for it is boldness. Boldness to speak the word of God to a world that does not want to hear it. Boldness to speak to our children & our family.
b. The answer to their prayer was not long in coming. The lord gave evidence that He was pleased with their courage when he shook the house and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.
c. Satan’s attempts to frustrate the preaching of the gospel had turned against him. He has no weapon against the courageous preaching of God’s truth. If we can react to the persecution Satan sends us in the same way that Peter and John and the early Christians responded to their trials God will work His plan in our lives as well.