In Acts 4 the believers face opposition. Their situation is not easy. But let us be inspired as we see them respond with faithfulness and bravery. As we look at this morning’s reading, I hope that we will be challenged by the conviction and courage of Peter and John and that like them we will be compelled to step out in mission.
1. Conviction: Hold firm to the truth with Conviction
I know a man who loves the chorus, ‘Peter and John went to pray, they met a lame man on the way; he asked them for alms and he held out his palms, and this is what Peter did say . . .’
That song highlights the events of Acts 3, which provide the background for the chapter we are studying. There Luke records the healing of the cripple at the temple gate called Beautiful. That event attracted a crowd and Peter used the opportunity to give an evangelistic talk. But not everyone was impressed. The temple authorities break up the meeting and put Peter and John in prison. These religious leaders were Sadducees—a religious and political group who did not believe in a future resurrection from the dead. Their focus was here on this world and in this world they collaborated with the hated Roman authorities to get positions of power. They were disturbed that the disciples spoke of resurrection and they were worried about the influence the disciples had over the people.
But many who heard the message believed, and the number of men grew to about five thousand. Isn’t that encouraging? The meeting was broken up and the speakers were put in jail. But the number of Christians continues to grow. All over the world the church grows despite opposition. Think of the growing number of Christians in China . In our own society influential people may oppose what we teach but God still uses our message to draw people to himself.
So Peter and John spend the night in the cells and the next day they are brought before seventy-one members of the Sanhedrin. The authorities point to the man who was formerly lame and ask, “By what power or what name did you do this?” Peter responds with incredibly brave and faithful words. He tells the Sanhedrin that they crucified the Messiah. He declares that there is only one way to God and that Jesus is that way. He states that to reject Jesus is to reject God.
Salvation is found in no-one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” To be honest it makes sense. The religions of the world contradict each other. For example we believe that there is one God, Hinduism teaches that the divine is impersonal and approached through many lesser deities; Buddhism technically doesn’t have a god. Every other religion seems to place an emphasis on deserving God’s favour, the gospel teaches grace—that God forgives sinful people on the basis of what Jesus achieved on the cross. If God has given us many religions then he has left us to wander blindly in confusion. But we are to hold firmly to the conviction that God has revealed himself in the pages of Scripture and uniquely the person of his Son.
2. Courage: Pray for the Courage to speak the gospel
I don’t know about you but I would not consider myself an especially brave person. I don’t know about you but I have kept my mouth shut at times when I know I should have spoken. I don’t know about you but I have found myself in situations where I have not known what to say. So what was the key to Peter speaking the truth with such clarity and courage? We read that he was filled with Holy Spirit as he spoke.
So as we plan our evangelism we need to pray. At the beginning of each day let’s pray that God would fill us with the Holy Spirit that we might share the gospel with boldness. Before we go in to our workplaces pray that we would know what to say. When we are meeting up with unbelieving friends or family, let’s pray for courage and wisdom. Before we teach Sunday school or take a kids’ club gather the other leaders together and pray. For we need to be filled with the Spirit if we are going to have both courage and wisdom.
When the members of the Sanhedrin saw the courage of Peter and John and realised that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. They were ordinary people, who spent time with Jesus, and now were being used in extra-ordinary ways.H
We can see many examples of this courage in the history of the church. Such courage comes out of a life that is depending on God in prayer. In the late eighteenth century a bright and attractive fourteen year-old girl called Marie Durand was brought before the authorities and charged for her faith. She was a Huguenot (a Calvinistic group). She was asked to renounce her faith. But she would not comply. Together with thirty other Huguenot women she was put in a tower by the sea—for thirty-eight years. Instead of saying the words j’abjure (I renounce) the inmates scratched on the wall of the prison tower ’reister’ (‘Resist’). This inscription is still visible today.
3. Compulsion: We are to be compelled by a burning heart
We need to remain firm in our convictions about the gospel. We need to pray for the courage to speak the truth with boldness and wisdom. Finally, we are to be motivated by an inner compulsion.
The authorities ordered the apostles to withdraw so that they could consider what to do. “Everyone living in Jerusalem knows they have done an outstanding miracle, and we cannot deny it. But to stop this thing from spreading any further among the people, we must warn these men to speak no longer to anyone in this name.”
When Peter and John are recalled and told not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus they replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God …” One early Methodist preacher, John Nelson, was brought before an official and asked to state the offence for which he was imprisoned, he replied: ‘For warning people to flee the wrath to come, and if this be a crime I shall commit it again, unless you cut my tongue out; for it is better to die than disobey God.’
“… For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” ‘We cannot stop telling about everything we have seen and heard’ (NLT). Why not? What was compels these men in mission? How were they so motivated in evangelism? J. John writes, ‘You and I need to walk in intimacy with God, our hearts ablaze with the love of Christ. Then we will find that evangelism happens as a by-product – an overflow of our burning hearts.’
Their evangelism comes as an overflow of burning hearts. They live to share the good news about Jesus. They won’t simply take the opportunity when it comes along; they are actively looking for the opportunity. How everything would change if we were to grasp the joy of sharing our faith. We not only rob others when we keep the gospel to ourselves, we deny ourselves great pleasure.
In 1909 J. Campbell White, Secretary of the Laymen’s Missionary Movement, said, ‘Fame, pleasure and riches are but husks and ashes in contrast with the boundless and abiding joy of working with God for the fulfilment of his eternal plans. The men [and women] who are putting everything into Christ’s undertaking are getting out of life its sweetest and most priceless rewards.’
J. John writes, ‘a missionary is not someone who crosses the sea; a missionary is someone who sees the cross.’ We ought to look at the cross and be people of conviction. Jesus would not have died there if there had been any other way for people to be reconciled to God. ‘God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God’ (2 Cor. 5:21). This message is fantastically different from what any other religion teaches. We believe our message is exclusive in the fact that there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved; but we are inclusive in seeking to share this good news with all people.
If we are to have the courage to share this good news we need to pray. Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke in a way that left the Sanhedrin amazed at his courage and with nothing to say in reply. Pray for people, pray for opportunities, pray for courage to speak and pray for the wisdom to know what to say.