Teaching series from Acts

Responding to Social Opposition

Acts 4

Teaching t05714

Introduction

Last week, we looked at a snap-shot of the early church’s community life.  Luke summed up the reasons why they kept feeling a sense of awe.  But this doesn’t mean there were no problems.  In fact, beginning in chapter 3 and continuing through chapter 8 Luke describes three imposing problems they faced.  Today we’ll look at the first of these problems--opposition from society.

Peter and John have just healed a lame man, and taken the opportunity to share a much greater gift (read 3:19).  Read vs 1-4.  The civil authorities arrest them for sharing their faith.  (But many others responded to their offer.)

For many Christians, this incident describes what they live with every day.  Over the last 2000 years, Christians have faced governmental persecution more often than not.  Even today, in China, Iraq, etc., those who take a public stand for Jesus Christ must be ready to pay for it with loss of their jobs, imprisonment, and even death.

We don’t see this kind of persecution because we live in a country in which freedom of religion is still protected by civil law.  But if you share your faith in Christ openly and invite people to receive Christ, you will experience some kind of resistance and opposition: FAMILY MEMBERS; WORK ASSOCIATES; FRIENDS.  If you are a new Christian, you need to expect this so it doesn’t take you off-guard.

>> Let’s study how they respond and distill the principles that will help us respond victoriously to social opposition.

Understand the reason for opposition

The first thing we want to understand is the reason for opposition.  In this case, it wasn’t because they were a civil threat to society--they just healed a lame man.  It wasn’t that they had no evidence for the resurrection of Jesus--their accusers never contest this claim.

The issue is that they claim Jesus is the only way to God.  They were “proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead” (vs2).  The issue was not just that there will be a future resurrection (Sadducees rejected this, but peacefully co-existed with Pharisees), nor even that Jesus had been resurrected, but that only through Jesus can we be resurrected to eternal life with God.  They were insistent that salvation comes only through Jesus (vs12).

This was the main cause of trouble for the early church.  The Jews had no real problem with Christianity as a sect of Judaism, as long as they didn’t insist that all Jews needed to receive Jesus as their Messiah.  The Romans had no real problem with Christianity either, as long as they were willing to affirm the legitimacy of other religions and swear loyalty to Caesar.  It was their stubborn insistence that Jesus was the only Lord and the only Savior that got them killed by the thousands.

Nothing has changed in this area!  Isn’t this still the main offense?  Especially in a relativistic, postmodern culture, the main offense of Christianity is its claim to be the truth.  People don’t mind if you say Jesus has helped you, or that Christianity is true for you.  But when you say that Jesus is the only way and not just one of many ways--watch out!!  Get ready to be called “arrogant,” “narrow-minded,” “bigoted,” etc.

Why is this so offensive? 

It isn’t because Christianity is logically inconsistent.  This is the only logical conclusion that can be drawn from Jesus’ claims (Matt.7:24-27; Jn.14:6).   Jesus is the only way to God because he is the only One who pays for our sins which have alienated us from God.

It isn’t because this claim has no evidence.   No other religion has the kind of evidence that Christianity has (see Christianity, The Faith That Makes Sense).

Nor is it that the message isn’t good news.  It’s not like we’re saying, “Jesus is the only way to God, and he’s not going to let you into God’s presence unless you pay through the nose.”  The message is, “Jesus loves you so much that he paid the full debt you owe to God, so that you can come to him just the way you are.”

It is because the message pricks people’s pride.  The offer implies/states that everyone is lost, that no one is good enough to make it to God on their own, and that you’ve been wrong about the most important issue in life up to now.  It takes humility to swallow that, and that’s what God requires.

DAN BUCKLEW: “It took so long because I didn’t want to admit I had been wrong about the most important issue in life for 35 years.”  This is probably why people come to Christ much more easily when they are young.  The older you get, the harder it gets to admit you’ve been that fundamentally wrong your whole life (though many do admit this).  This was a big issue for me.

>> GOSPEL: Too much is riding on this issue to blow it of just because it’s not politically correct.  You owe it to yourself to investigate Jesus’ claims, weigh the evidence for those claims--and humble yourself to receive CHARITY.

>> CHRISTIANS: When you get flak for this, remember that the real point of contention is not you--it is Jesus Christ.  Get used to it, and don't take it personally (Jn.15:18-20).  If you are genuinely excited about what Jesus has done for you, and if you genuinely care for people, you will speak openly about the free gift and take the crap when people respond this way.  And God will help you to do this...

Rely on the filling of the Holy Spirit

Read vs 5-7.  This was like facing the Supreme Court (most powerful people; no appeal).  Imagine how Peter and John felt at this moment.  They knew what kind of “justice” Jesus had received from these folks, and they had the power to do the same thing to them!  I would be tempted to take the 5th Amendment--if there was one to take.

Instead, Peter and John turned the tables and put them on trial!  Read vs 8-13.  The Sanhedrin was flabbergasted.  Jesus the carpenter had been silent before them, but his fisherman followers spoke with confidence and insight.  What changed Peter in a few short days from the chicken who fled Jesus’ arrest and denied him three times during his trial to the “rock” Jesus predicted he would become?

Luke reveals the secret (re-read vs 8: “filled with the Spirit”).  The difference isn’t that Peter took some positive self-esteem course.  It is that the Holy Spirit empowered him and gave him boldness, insight, and persuasiveness he never had in himself. 

This is the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise in Lk.12:11,12 (read).  When following Jesus brings us into situations of conflict and opposition because of the gospel, the Holy Spirit will empower us to respond with boldness and insight and persuasive/convicting speech.  Many of you have experienced this, just as I have. (“It was like all of a sudden I was watching myself responding.  I referred to passages I didn’t know I had remembered, and I spoke with a persuasiveness that is not normal for me.”)

QUALIFICATION: This is not the power to become rude, harsh, cruel (OVAL PREACHERS; BOB LARSEN).  This is the power of the flesh, and it gives Christianity a bad reputation.  The Holy Spirit empowers us to be bold and insightful and convicting--but to do this in a calm and gentle way that communicates genuine love and respect for the very people we are refuting (see 1Pet.3:15b).

>> Do you want to experience this kind of filling?  You can--if you are willing to walk into the situations of potential conflict and mix it up!  Those who aren’t willing to do this miss out on this opportunity...

Stand for the truth even when it is costly

Read vs 14-22.  The Sanhedrin realize they have no legal case against these men, and that they would turn the people against them since the lame man had been undeniably healed.  They released them with a verbal warning, assuming they could intimidate them into silence.

Look at Peter and John’s response (vs 19,20).  They are respectful toward these civil authorities, they don’t have a rebellious attitude.  But they are unwilling to agree for one simple reason: this command (vs 17) is superseded by a higher command (Lk.24:47).  They couldn’t agree to these conditions without disobeying Christ.  So they took the only correct course of action: they stood for the truth even when it was costly.  The next time they were threatened about this, they did the same thing (5:28,29), and even though they got flogged they kept telling people about Christ (5:40-42).

If you follow Jesus Christ and tell others about him, you will find yourself in similar situations (2 Tim.3:12).  It may mean suffering ridicule from your family rather than softening your stand that Jesus is the only way.  It may incurring your spouse’s wrath rather than agreeing to drop out of fellowship or quit telling your children about Jesus.  It may mean losing business or even your job rather than making your job your god or doing unethical work.  It may mean terminating a romantic relationship rather than compromising your commitment to Christ.

Which do you want--people’s acceptance and the perks this brings, or the satisfaction of remaining true to Christ?  When there’s a Y in the road like this, remember Peter’s counsel in 1Pet.4:19 (read).  And “entrusting yourself to a faithful creator” involves something else...

Pray in Jesus’ name

Read vs 23,24.  They returned, they reported, and they prayed.  It’s not surprising that they prayed in this situation.  What is surprising is how they prayed.  This is an example of what it means to pray “in Jesus’ name” (quote Jn.14:14).  This is not a magical phrase we stick on the end of our prayers so that we’ll get what we want.

Affirm God’s sovereignty over your situation.  The first word out of their mouths was “Sovereign Lord” (despostes - “absolute master”).  In a situation that was humanly intimidating, when they were tempted to react in fear and panic, they took those thoughts and feelings captive and prayerfully reaffirmed that God was bigger than their enemies, that he had everything under control.  Notice the specific ways they remembered this:

Vs 24 - God has created the whole world, so he is bigger than any human power.

Vs 25,26 - Psalm 2 says specifically that God is sovereign over the resistance of human rulers.  He “laughs” at their plans to reject his sovereignty.

Vs 27 - God displayed his sovereignty over human rulers through the execution of Jesus.  God is so powerful that he can accomplish his purpose even through their wrong and rebellious choices!  Nothing demonstrates this more than Jesus’ crucifixion.  God used man’s greatest rejection of his authority to accomplish his greatest act of redemption!

To pray in the name of Jesus means praying to the same God Jesus prayed to.  Many of us pray to a weak, almost impotent God (“...if you can...”).  This is the place to start.

Now notice what they prayed for.  I would have prayed for safety, vengeance, etc.  They ask God to take note of the Sanhedrin’s threats, but their main request is for the power to go on sharing the gospel with confidence (read vs 29,30).  And God answered their request (vs31). 

To pray in Jesus’ name means asking for the resources to do God’s will, rather than asking God to do your will.

Are you frustrated with God’s response to your prayers?  Why not evaluate the motive and content of your requests?  Are they so that God’s purpose can be advanced and so that people can be influenced by Jesus Christ--or are they primarily for your safety and comfort?  Try asking God to give you opportunities and boldness to mix it up with people about the gospel.  Try asking God to empower you to be more genuinely loving toward a difficult person.  Try asking him to show you how he is sanctifying you through your difficult situation.  You can take these requests to the bank!!

Conclusion

As we share the good news generously and lovingly, we should expect social opposition.  But if we respond in this way, we can experience God’s power in greater ways that free us from fearing people and give us a deeper security in a faithful God.

NEXT WEEK: another common obstacle to God’s work through the church