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It is not for the Faint-Hearted

Date: 12 March 2023

Speaker: Ps Luwin Wong

Sermon Text: Acts 4:1-31



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TRANSCRIPT

I was in the Artillery during my NS. And for reasons which still elude me till today, I was asked to represent the Artillery in the Inter-Formation games. The game was Rugby. In ordinary life, if a grown man three times my size, ran towards me at as fast he could with the deliberate intention of battering into me with his entire body mass and knocking me over, straight away, police case. Maybe trial for attempted murder.


But in rugby, that’s just part of the game. It’s in the official rules of the game.


Naturally, I tried to get out of it. I tried telling the coach that whatever it was he saw in me, he was mistaken. I said, encik I’m not fast. I just appear fast because my legs are short and so they move more quickly. He didn’t care.


So I thought, whatever. I’ll just train with the team, I don’t actually have to play, I’ll just sit on the bench, fine by me. Match day came, and we were playing the Combat Engineers, I looked at their team hey looked like the Avengers. And the coach began calling the names of the starting line up. I just kept my head down. Don’t pick me. Don’t pick me.


Sgt Wong. Scrum-half. Get in. I’m like, do you not want to win this game? I could sense every player on the opposing team just waiting for me to run with the ball.


But once I’m in the game, I’m in the game, I need to do what needs to be done. You have to tackle players running towards you, you have to run towards people trying to tackle you.


If I’m warming the bench, then I can sit in the shade, in comfort and in safety. But if I’m in the game, then risk is going to be involved, pain is going to be involved, and I am going to be involved. Was I afraid? Of course, I was. I’d be a fool not to be.


But to fulfill my duty to the team, I had to face those fears, I had to overcome them, I had to pluck up a bit of courage.


There are some situations in life in which courage is not optional; it is essential.

Playing rugby when you’re my size, is one of those situations. War is another obvious example. And in out text today, what we will see is that fulfilling the Great Commission, is also one of those activities where courage and boldness, are not optional, but essential as well.


Evangelism, vine work, Hermon’s mission to glorify God by being and making disciples of Jesus Christ will require Hermonites to be bold and brave. Why? Because the mission is inherently fraught with difficulty and hardship and risk.


If you are looking for ease, and comfort and safety. This is not the place to be. This is not the religion for you. Christianity is not for the faint-hearted. But if you know you’re afraid to speak about Jesus to others, don’t lose heart, there is hope for you yet in this text.


Let’s get into it.


There are three things I believe the text is calling us to do:


1. Be Opportunistic in Evangelism.
1 And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, 2 greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. 3 And they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. 4 But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand.

In our text last week, Peter and John were going to the temple, where they say a beggar at the gate, and instead of simply ignoring him, which was the easy option, Peter healed him in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.


And when everyone around witnessed the miracle, and crowded around him, Peter took the opportunity to evangelise – to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ.


Now, before we think it’s simply a matter of course, our text today reveals to us that what Peter did was incredibly brave, because it was incredibly risking. He was in enemy territory, he was in the temple, the jurisdiction of the high priest, proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus.


That proclamation alone was sufficient to ensure that the apostles would run into trouble. Because proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus does two things. It contradicted the theology of the priesthood and it condemned the morality of the priesthood.


The priesthood were from a Jewish sect known as the Sadducees. The theology of the Sadducees was confined to the Torah – the first five books of the bible.


In his sermon at Pentecost, Peter quoted from the Psalms to argue that Jesus of Nazareth is the resurrected Christ. The Sadducees would not have accepted that.

They only had the Torah, and so their theology denied doctrines such as the immortality of the soul and bodily resurrection after death.


Proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus contradicted the priesthood’s theology.


And it also condemned their morality.


Because it was the High Priest who was responsible for the initial arrest and eventual crucifixion of Jesus. To proclaim that Jesus of Nazareth is the resurrected Christ can only mean that the priesthood had murdered the chosen one of God.


It is tantamount to accusing them of wrongly arresting and murdering the innocent and holy Son of God.


So Peter and John knew very well that their evangelism will neither go unnoticed nor unpunished. But they took the opportunity at every juncture to proclaim Jesus Christ.


Such that by the time they were arrested, their proclamation of the gospel had saved 5000 souls.


5 On the next day their rulers and elders and scribes gathered together in Jerusalem, 6 with Annas the high priest and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. 7 And when they had set them in the midst, they inquired,
“By what power or by what name did you do this?”

Now, this is not a question asked in good faith. It was one day after the incident, and their rulers and elders and scribes 6 with Annas the high priest and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. These men form the Sanhedrin, the supreme court of the Jews. You can be sure they have done their homework and their due diligence as to what was done and what was said.


They knew that Peter and John had healed the lame beggar in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Over 5000 people knew it, it is safe to say these authority figures knew as well.


So “By what power or by what name did you do this?” isn’t so much a question as it was a challenge. It was a dare.


A big group of big-wigs gathered together and summoned the Peter and John, in effect saying, we’re in charge here, we set the rules here. We’re the supreme court which condemned Jesus to die. Repeat yourself, if you dare. Repeat your contradiction of our theology and condemnation of our morality to our faces, if you are bold enough.


8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, 9 if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, 10 let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well.
11 This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone.
12 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

Peter, filled with the Spirit, once again took the opportunity to proclaim the gospel, even more pointedly than before.


let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead.


11 This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone.

This isn’t just sound theology, this is bold evangelism. Which explains the astonishment of the Sanhedrin.


13 Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished.
And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.

What struck them was their boldness to repeatedly proclaim Jesus in enemy territory. At the Temple gate, in the Temple’s outer court in Solomon’s portico, and now again standing before the high priestly family and affiliates.


Maybe you think you are not eloquent enough, not knowledgeable enough, not learned enough, so that’s the reason for your fear of evangelizing. The text tells us that Peter and John were also unlearned. What qualifies them to evangelise is not their great learning, but their walking with Jesus.


If you have come to know Jesus, and walked with him, then, empowered by his Spirit, you can now proclaim him.


They took every opportunity to proclaim Jesus, they did not back down, even in the face of danger. And that takes boldness.


That is our example. Be opportunistic in evangelism, and yes, it often will require courage, and we’ll get to that.


But the reason why we ought to be opportunistic in evangelism is because we must be obey the will of God rather than the threats of men.


Which is our second point: Obey God rather than man.

Now I want us to take note of how Luke crafts the narrative in verse 14-22. Take note in particular of how it appears on the surface that the temple authorities are in charge of the proceedings, but on closer reading, they are really quite powerless to do what they want.


14 But seeing the man who was healed standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition. 15 But when they had commanded them to leave the council, they conferred with one another, 16 saying, “What shall we do with these men? For that a notable sign has been performed through them is evident to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it.
17 But in order that it may spread no further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.”
18 So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.
21 And when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way to punish them, because of the people, for all were praising God for what had happened. 22 For the man on whom this sign of healing was performed was more than forty years old.

they had commanded them to leave the council.


So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.


And then they had further threatened them, before letting them go


But for all their summoning and commanding and charging and threatening, the Sanhedrin simply could not find a way to accomplish their goal, which is to prevent the proclamation of Jesus Christ.


Why? Because the Sanhedrin’s true opponent isn’t Peter and John; they really pitting themselves against God.


Finding no way to punish them, because of the people, for all were praising God for what had happened.


You see, the underlying conflict is between the Sanhedrin and God. They couldn’t find a way because people were praising God.


Peter and John understood just as much, which was why when they were charged not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus,


19 But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, 20 for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”

The Sanhedrin has a will, which is to stop the spread of the gospel. But God too has a will, and that is for the name of Jesus to be proclaimed to ends of the earth.


And sometimes, human authorities can feel much more real than God. Their presence may feel closer their power may feel greater, the consequences of disobeying them can be more immediate. And so, we often capitulate. After all, they are right before us, in the flesh, the prison is just there, their rods are in our faces.


They may withdraw their friendship, they may end the relationship, our careers may be put at risk, our reputation may be at stake.


And so, we fear man more than God, and we end up obeying man rather than God, complying with the will of man, rather than fulfilling the will of God.


We keep quiet about our faith, we pretend we don’t know Jesus. We come to church on Sunday and sing “He is my everything, he is my all, he is my everything, both great and small”, but come Monday, at school we put him at arm’s length, almost like he’s nothing to us.


We come to church and sing, “We've a story to tell to the nations, that shall turn their hearts to the right, a story of truth and mercy, a story of peace and light, a story of peace and light.”


But come Monday, at work, the stories we tell our colleagues is mostly office gossip.


Because it’s uncomfortable, it feels risky, we don’t want to rock the boat, we want our lives to be smooth sailing. But friends, that’s not an option for the Christian. It wasn’t an option for Christ, it wasn’t an option for the apostles, it is not an option for us today, who are called to bear the cross and follow in their steps.


For the Christian obedient to the Great Commission, boldness is not optional, because risk is ever present.


So, we must be bold, we must find courage. And the good news is this. Boldness is given to them who ask.


Our final point from the text: Be Optimistic in seeking Boldness.

29 And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, 30 while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”

Faced with the threats by the Sanhedrin, the same council responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus, the believers prayed for boldness.


Why? Why not pray for a change in circumstances? Perhaps pray that the Sanhedrin will change their minds and retract their threats? They could. It would not have been a bad prayer.


But usually, the better prayer is not for a change in circumstances, but for a change in ourselves. Prayer is not so much a means by which our will is done, but by which we are empowered to do God’s will.


Better to ask for a stronger back than for a smaller cross, because the bible has told us there will be a cross to bear. Better to ask for boldness in evangelism than for the world to stop opposing the gospel, because the bible has informed us that just as the world hated Christ, so they will hate those who proclaim him.


The better prayer is for boldness. And there is a reason to be bold.


And the reason is this. God, not Man, is ultimately in control. When it’s a tussle between God and Man, God wins, every time. Guaranteed. Plus chop.


Let’s hear the opening of the believer’s prayer after Peter and John returned from the Sanhedrin.


23 When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them.
24 And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, 25 who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit,

Hear how they addressed God. He is the Sovereign Lord, he is in control of everything, because he made everything. Everything was made by him and for him. He’s in charge.


“‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain?


The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed’,


27 for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.

The gentiles rage in vain, they plot in vain, because God will be done.


They gathered and raged against Jesus, they plotted his crucifixion, but everything they did, simply advanced the salvation plan of God. The death of Jesus Christ on the Cross is central to the plan.


to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.


Friends, it is this truth that gave rise to the song that we sing,


“Though the nations rage Kingdoms rise and fall There is still one King Reigning over all So I will not fear for this truth remains: That my God is the Ancient of Days”


Friends, God’s sovereignty gives us reason for boldness. One King reigns over all. One will is ultimately carried out. One side will definitely win. And we are on his side, and he is by our side.


That is reason to be brave and to be bold, because when the nations rage they rage in vain, but our proclamation of Jesus Christ, saves and sanctifies and will echo into eternity.


So take heart and be optimistic in seeking boldness. And here’s what happens when we do so.


29 And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, 30 while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”
31 And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.

The believers prayed that they might continue to speak the word with boldness, and the result was that they were filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.


When we pray for boldness to evangelise, God, through the Holy Spirit. grants us boldness to evangelise. We get what we ask for when we ask according to his will.


And that’s reason for optimism when we seek boldness. And its also reason for comfort. Because God does not expect us to be brave through sheer effort, he wants us to lean upon him. Nor does he expect us to find courage when we hear the threats of men, he wants us to turn to his word and be reminded of who is in charge, whose of voice it is that will ultimately carry the day.


Our father knows our fears and he knows we are timid and faint-hearted. He knows this. And he doesn’t fault us for our weaknesses, he gives us grace sufficient for it. He gives us power to overcome it. He gives us his Spirit to embolden us to fulfill our mission as the church, to proclaim the name of Jesus to the ends of the earth – the one name under heaven by which we must be saved.


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