Skip to comments."Witnesses Worthy of the Name" (Sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter. on Acts 5:29-42)
Posted on 04/30/2011 10:49:24 PM PDT by Charles Henrickson
Witnesses Worthy of the Name (Acts 5:29-42)
Today we begin a series of sermons based on readings from the Book of Acts. Recently many of you went through a several-month-long Bible study on the Book of Acts, and hopefully that will still be somewhat fresh in your mind. In any case, I think it will be timely and helpful for us to reflect on these glimpses of life in the early church, for in many ways the time of the early church, the conditions they faced, parallels the situation of the church in our day. They lived in a world that was either hostile toward, or ignorant of, the Christian faith. And so do we. Most importantly, the church in the first century and the church in the twenty-first also have this in common: We have the same mighty Lord, the same Savior, the same power and blessing from on high, to give us life and to guide our mission.
We will gather these sermons under the theme, Witness, Mercy, Life Together. If those words sound familiar, that is because they are an emphasis for the church that is being raised by our synods president. But Witness, Mercy, Life Together--those words are not merely a catchy slogan or a slick program. No, rather, witness, mercy and life together are living realities for the church in any century, in any place. These are perennially relevant aspects of the churchs life and work, because the church is connected to Christ, and thus these truths will never change. Witness, Mercy, Life Together--we will see these themes emerge throughout this whole series on the Book of Acts.
In todays text, the aspect of Witness comes out the strongest: the apostles bearing witness to the name of Christ, even in the face of strong opposition and hostility. And so our theme this morning: Witnesses Worthy of the Name.
Witnesses. What is a witness, exactly? A witness is called upon to testify to what he has seen and heard. And that is what the apostles were called to do. They had been with Jesus during his ministry, they had heard his teaching, they had seen his miracles--they had seen Jesus himself risen from the dead. And their risen Lord told them, You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. So that is what they have been doing when we encounter them in our text. They have been testifying in Jerusalem, speaking the words of life, teaching in the name of Jesus.
But for this, they get in trouble with the Sanhedrin--the Jewish ruling council, the same bunch that had gotten Jesus killed. They get in trouble with them again--this is not the first time. Previously the chief priests had ordered the apostles not to teach in Jesus name. And now they get called on the carpet for violating that order.
Peter, the leading apostle, answers for the group: We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.
But notice how the apostles continue to bear witness, even as they are standing there under the threat of punishment. This is instructive for us, both as to the content and as to the courage of their witness.
The content is consistent with the message of the apostles in the Book of Acts. It always focuses on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the preaching of repentance and forgiveness in his name. Christ crucified, Christ risen, exalted now to Gods right hand, the position of highest authority and honor. Jesus Christ, Leader and Savior, calling all men now to repent of their sins and to turn to him in faith to have those sins forgiven. That is the content of the apostolic witness.
And see also the courage of that witness. Like I say, this Sanhedrin, the council--these are the same guys who had had Jesus beaten and put to death on the cross, the same Sanhedrin that had had Peter and John arrested in Acts 4, that had all the apostles arrested earlier here in chapter 5, warning them to cease and desist, and that now has had them arrested again. But they cant get the apostles to stop, they cant intimidate them. In Peters response, you can hear the courage in his voice, when he says, Jesus, whom you killed, God exalted.
The content and courage of the apostles witness sets the pattern for our own. The content does not change. We too preach Christ crucified, the Savior of the world, dying on that cross for your sins and mine. We too preach Christ raised from the dead, victorious over death and the grave. And we too call all people everywhere to repent, that is, to give up on themselves as their own god and their own savior--that will not work--and instead to trust in the only true God and Savior there is. Turn in faith to the one true God and receive forgiveness for all your sins. This message still applies today. There is nothing irrelevant or out-of-date in it. This is what all people to this day need to hear. We speak the same message as the apostles.
And we share the same courage, because we share the same Lord. When you know your sins are forgiven, and youre going to heaven, and God is on your side, watching over you, no matter what may happen to you--why, this gives you some fair amount of courage, I dare say! If God is for us, who can be against us?
If this undertaking is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. Thats what Rabbi Gamaliel advised the council, and he turned out to be right. No one has been able to stop the church, for 2,000 years now. Jewish priests, Roman emperors, pagan chieftains, Communist rulers, cultural critics--all have tried, and all have failed. As Jesus said, I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. This thing is indeed of God, old Gamaliel. Your prediction proved to be true. Your boys couldnt stop it; no one ever will.
Friends, it may look like the church is on the ropes. But be encouraged today: Gods word will not return unto him void, but will accomplish the thing for which he sends it. Whether that is to confirm judgment upon those who reject his word, or to bring salvation to hungry and thirsty souls, our gospel witness is never in vain.
Peter and the rest of the apostles were witnesses worthy of the name. They testified truly and faithfully to what they knew to be true, and their testimony lifted up the Name, the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Content and courage connected to Christ, they could not but speak of that which filled their heart. And the same will be true for us.
The apostles were witnesses worthy of the name--worthy of suffering dishonor for the name. When once again they were beaten and charged not to speak in the name of Jesus, they left, our text says, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. Now that may strike us as strange. We would think you would rejoice to be counted worthy of receiving honor. But they rejoiced to receive dishonor! Because to be persecuted for the sake of the name of Christ is really, from Gods perspective, a badge of honor. Gods vote outweighs the vote of any council or the weight of popular opinion. Id rather have Gods approval than all the applause of the world. We Christians may be out of fashion with the world, but who cares?
The worlds frowning attempts to shut us up--and this disapproval is coming at us from every direction these days--this will not stop us, when we stop and consider who Christ is. He is our Leader, he is the Savior of the world. And he is with us and for us. Disapproval and intimidation certainly did not keep the apostles from continuing to bear witness to the faith: And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.
How will you bear witness to Christ this week? Your witness may be to friendly and receptive ears--God grant that it be so! But even if you run into unreceptive, unresponsive, even hostile hearers, your witness to Christ will not be for naught. Faith speaks what the heart is full of, and there is nothing more powerful, more wonderful, to have in your heart and on your lips than the sweet and saving name of Jesus Christ!
Witness, Mercy, Life Together: That is where we are going this Easter season, as we make our way through these readings in Acts. And to serve as a companion along our journey, Ive composed this hymn that you see on your insert. Its called, not surprisingly, Witness, Mercy, Life Together. Let me read it for you today, and then well learn to sing it over the coming weeks:
Witness, Mercy, Life Together,
Life in Christ, for Church and world;
Witness, Mercy, Life Together--
This shall be our flag unfurled!
Gathered, going, speaking, serving,
New life flowing from our Lord;
He shall feed us, onward lead us,
By His own life-giving Word.
Christ came down and dwelt among us,
Law and Prophets to fulfill;
Sent to save a world of sinners,
Jesus did the Fathers will.
Dying, rising, then ascending,
Christ is making all things new;
Pouring out His Spirit on us,
Christ now gives us work to do.
Witness bearing, Martyria,
Bold proclaiming of the truth;
Tongues of fire on each believer,
Now as in the Churchs youth.
Preaching, teaching, faith confessing,
Gospel reaching far and near;
Lord, we pray that You would open
Mouths to speak and ears to hear.
Mercy works, Diakonia,
Service done in Jesus name;
Hearts so moved with His compassion
For the poor, the weak, the lame.
Giving, caring, helping, healing,
Love that takes the lower place;
May our lives of humble service
Show the riches of Gods grace.
Life Together, Koinonia,
Sharing in a common birth;
Fellowship, with Christ the center,
We His body here on earth.
Growing, bearing fruit, forgiving,
Brothers living all as one;
Breaking bread, the Lords Communion,
Life eternal now begun.
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
Triune God, whom we adore,
Source of all the Churchs blessings,
Praise to You forevermore!
Guarding, guiding, still providing,
For our mission is Your own:
Witness, Mercy, Life Together--
Glory be to You alone!
But Peter and the apostles answered, We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.
When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in honor by all the people, stood up and gave orders to put the men outside for a little while. And he said to them, Men of Israel, take care what you are about to do with these men. For before these days Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. After him Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him. He too perished, and all who followed him were scattered. So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God! So they took his advice, and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.
I am not a Lutheran.My first witness of Christ was a Deacons daughter -who invited me to a Billy Graham Crusade for Christ stadium event in Denver(1965) I joined the Fruitdale Baptist Church ,because it was close to my parents house-and where Debbie Wilkie and her parents went to church.As a milk/probably more hormonal Christian I believe I thought Billy Graham in a special class way out of my league.But I wanted to Preach. I asked Debbies Daddy how I could become a Preacher. For whatever reason he told me I could Never be anything in that church or any other because I had the Mark of the Beast on my forehead.I ran from that church I trusted adults -as a teenager. And had been hurt by what he had said. My dad was right faith in any church -or man would only hurt me. I decided Never to darken the door of that church -or any other unless it could be to disrupt or discredit those inside. Gods Grace and loving patience brought me to a form of reconcilliation. many years later.
Deacon Wilkie died before I returned to that church to ask forgiveness.The church is now “independent” no longer Southern Baptist. I attended a local Bible College for two years affiliated with the Christian Church. I attended the Promise Keepers Stand in the Gap Stadium Event in Washington
D>C> and a follow up event in Denver. Some of what they did was very good. Some of it just selling a show. I am convinced that the bible is True— and we all see through a glass darkly— The famine of the end times seems to be for the Word of God fitly spoken. I pray I will prove a witness worthy of the name.Thanks for your comments- and Praise be to God above for this worthy posting from the Acts.
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