From our sermon series “Acts of the Apostles: The First Thirty Years.”
Today we will continue looking at Acts 5:33-42. It is part of Acts 5:17-42, which covers one event, the second trial involving an apostle. The first trial was in Acts 4 and involved only Peter and John after Peter healed the lame man at the Temple gate in Acts 3. At the end of that trial, the apostles were commanded by the Sanhedrin to no longer preach in the name of Christ.
The title of the last three sermons of the series has begun with “Burning Coals.”
Burning Coals: When We Are Persecuted For The Right Reasons
Burning Coals: Bearing A Faithful Testimony
Burning Coals: God Knows How To Deliver His People
The reason I’ve used “Burning Coals” as a part of the title is because I think the apostles’ arrest and trial demonstrates how the church should both make and treat their enemies. It mirrors the life of Christ, as it should. Trusting in Christ makes the world (the Satanic inspired system of oppressive spiritual rule) our enemy because it is God’s enemy. We cannot be on friendly terms with it and be faithful to the Father.
You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.
If the state, or any one else, chooses to be our enemy, let the choice come because we provoked them to jealousy through, (1) The good we have done in our community by loving & serving our neighbors, (2) And the Gospel we have faithfully preached as we love & served our neighbors. Listen to Paul instructing Titus in the Gospel
11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people,12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. 8 The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works.
Listen to the Word God revealed to John in the Apocalypse.
And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.
First, The apostles used the power given to them to love, bless, and serve others. Yes they are working miracles, but the miracles are also GOOD WORKS. The Gospel brings forth good works in those that trust in Christ. It is the Gospel of Christ and the word of our testimony that conquer the Enemy practically speaking. We are to be zealous and devoted to doing good where we are planted. The Word of Christ is the power of God unto salvation, but it is often delivered in a powerless atmosphere by fruitless Christians. What do our lips and our life say about the Gospel we profess? This is the word of our testimony. It is not only what we say, it is what we say the Gospel has done for us and the confirming witness that our life bears forth. The apostles were persecuted because of the good works they had done. They make their enemies the right way.
“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.
Second, let us treat our enemies the right way too. When we do have the opportunity to preach the Gospel to them, we should set their sins in the light of the resurrection, as the apostles did in response to the Sanhedrin’s accusations. 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. (Acts 4:30-31)
We can offer the forgiveness of God in Christ as we use the law to convince people of sin. We must believe Christ desires to save our enemies as He desired to save us. We should be careful to present a Christ Who delights to save and takes no pleasure in condemnation, instead of the opposite. If we do these first three things well,
- Be devoted to doing good and serving our neighbors
- Faithfully preaching the Gospel as we do good and serve our neighbors
- Present a Christ that desires to save… actually rejoices to save
Then we will be able with a clear conscience to point to our neighbors’ sin and call forth repentance. We also might find renewed success among our own people too, because we will have established a context of love rather than a context of condemnation, and love is the context of the Gospel. Listen to our Lord Jesus, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:16-17) We must present the Gospel in a context of love, thus treating our enemies the right way.
Finally, we must find our joy in the Gospel today, in the now, while we are in a time of peace. Would your family and friends describe you as full of joy? We, who have more than any generation in history, are also a joyless generation. We are full of anxiety, depression, and restlessness. We are also excessively critical of others and overly fixated on the sins of others rather than our own. If we ever expect to have a line like this written about us, “Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name” (Acts 5:41), we must find joy in the Lord before persecution. A joyless people in times of peace will be a docile and unfaithful people during times of persecution. If you cannot find joy in the Lord in the light you will not find it in the dark.
The same means of grace that last week trained us for enduring persecution by practicing forms of self denial, are the same means that help us find joy in eternal things. Anxieties, depressions, restlessness, criticisms, and condemnations flourish in our heart when the means of grace are not in frequent use by faith. If we do not seek the Father’s face in worship there is a reason. It is not because we are too busy. That is the excuse we tell ourselves. It is because we do not believe He actually rewards those who seek Him.
And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.
Those who do not draw near are those who do not believe. If we are joyless, unhappy, and difficult perhaps another podcast, self-help book, or blog is not the answer. Perhaps we do not need more knowledge about God but more worship of Him. Perhaps we do not need more activity but more being quiet in the Presence of almighty God. Maybe we do not need to buy another book on systematic theology or Christian dogma. Maybe we need to return to our first Love and the simple truths of the Gospel.
There are three words that Paul chooses in Romans 14 to describe the Kingdom of God. “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 14:7) Does doing good (righteousness), interior calm (peace with God), and deep-seated joy describe you? It should describe us all. If we have the Holy Spirit the Kingdom of God is ours. If we have the Holy Spirit these three are present in some degree. I would not be sure I could take a beating and rejoice at being “counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name” (Acts 5:41) if I could not be joyful when I was blessed with every material provision. If we are to endure difficulty for the name, we must discipline ourselves to joy by making a practice of rejoicing and giving thanks daily.
Thanks for taking the time to read the blog! Look for a new essay from Acts 6:1-7 to on Tuesday.
May God be with you!