A Bold Strategy
A BOLD STRATEGY
If you would, take your Bibles and turn to the fourth chapter of the book of Acts, Acts 4. We’re going to continue our study in the book of Acts. David led us through Acts 1 and 2, and we really see some of the kind of the major events in the life of the early church. Then, we see the ascension of Jesus, the preaching of the gospel at Pentecost, and the establishment of the church. Now, really, we kind of turn the corner into the advancement of the gospel from, as Jesus says, from Jerusalem and Judea, Samaria, into the uttermost parts of the earth. So, we’re going to look at Acts 4 at what I’m calling a “bold strategy.” A bold strategy from Acts 4.
If you would, read with me in Acts 4:1. This is really picking up, as you’ll see there, and certainly as you read this week in the daily Bible reading of Acts 3 of the lame man that is healed at the temple gate. So, there’s the healing of the lame man, the preaching of Peter in Acts 3...we’ll look at in just a moment...and now, sort of the opposition that the church faces from the very beginning in Acts 4.
“And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them...” speaking, namely, of Peter and John and those around them, “...greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.” So, they were doing two things: they were teaching the people, and they were proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead, and whether that is the resurrection of Jesus or the resurrection, generally, from the dead, which the Sadducees denied, they were preaching it at least through Jesus.
So, it says in verse 3 that Peter and John were arrested. “They arrested them and put them in custody until the next day for it was already evening. But many of those who heard the word believed...” I love how Luke just kind of inserts this like, “Ha, there you are.” They put them in prison, “but many of those who heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand."
“On the next day their rulers and elders and scribes gathered together in Jerusalem...” Most people think this is what is referred to as the Sanhedrin, the ruling class in Jewish society, “with Annas the high priest and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. And when they had set them in their midst, they inquired, ‘By what power or by what name do you do this?’” You’ll notice this line is really the beginning of the dialogue, and a line that you want to underline.
Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, 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. This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone.”
Here is a great line...memorize it, believe it, verse 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.” And 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. But seeing the man who was healed standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition. But when they had commanded them to leave the council, they conferred with one another, 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. 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.”
So, they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 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, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” 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. For the man on whom this sign of healing was performed was more than forty years old.
And verse 23,
When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 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, who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit, ‘Why did the Gentiles rage and the people’s plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord and his Anointed,’ 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 all the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place."
“And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your Word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” 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.
You know, Acts is one of the most encouraging and somewhat discouraging books in all the Bible. When you think about all the things that we see in the book of Acts that we look at, and we just say, “Yes.” I mean, when you think about the early church in Acts 2:42, the very first line that is describing the early church in Acts 2:42, “That they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers.” We look at that, and we say, “Look at the purity of the early church.”
We look at, maybe, the episode that we see in Acts 3 of the healing of the lame man, where Peter and John see the man, and he calls out for alms, and they say, “Look at us,” and they tell him, “silver and gold we have none, but what we do have, we give to you. In the name of Jesus, rise and walk.” We look, and we say, “That is power, and we want that in our church.”
We look at, maybe, even in this particular text, in Acts 4, where we see, for example, in three different places, in Acts 4:13, 4:29, and 4:31, three times the boldness of the disciples is mentioned, and we think, “We want that kind of courage. We want that kind of boldness to be characteristic of us individually and as a body.”
However, it’s when we begin doing that, I think, that at the same time, we look at the early church, and then we look at ourselves. We look at, maybe, if you want to call it the “modern church,” or the “contemporary church,” and there seems to be an enormous disconnect between what we see there, and in some cases...and I’m not saying every case...but in some cases, what we see in our own life and in our own church.
Now, I want to be very careful...and David alluded to this last week, and we’re going to see this pattern all throughout the book of Acts, but I want to be very careful just to say that not every single thing that we see in the book of Acts is intended for us to do in the very same way. In other words, David phrased it this way, “There are some things in Acts that are descriptive,” in other words, they just simply describe what has happened, “and there are some things in Acts that are prescriptive,” in other words, things that ought to be the case, things that ought to be happening in our own lives.
So, just to give you a couple examples, there are certain things that are descriptive in Acts, that are never intended to be really repeated. They, obviously, can’t be repeated. There’s only one ascension of Jesus that is mentioned, for example, in Acts 1:8 and following. There is only one coming of the Spirit. There is only one birth and establishment of the church. These are unique, non-repeatable moments in salvation history that we just look at, and we praise God for, but we do not necessarily look for them in our own day.
Simply because some things in Acts are descriptive does not mean that all things are descriptive, or merely descriptive. There are things that we see in the book of Acts that I, genuinely, believe ought to be prescriptive. In other words, they ought to be the case in our life, and I think Acts 4 is one of those instances. I would submit to you, and I think we would all agree, that the boldness that we see by the disciples in Acts 4 ought to characterize our lives and the life of this church. We ought to be bold for Jesus.
Now, I think...and I want to be very careful, because I want to be sensitive to this. I think about it in my own life. I don’t want to come down heavy-handed or legalistic in any way whatsoever, because I know this is an area that many of us struggle in. Many of us struggle when it comes time to actually vocalize the gospel, to verbally witness of Christ in the same way that we see in Acts 4.
The truth is, most of us in this room are not the Franklin Graham types. Have you ever seen Franklin Graham on Larry King Live? If you ever see that, or maybe a rerun from the past, you can almost bank on it, within 30 seconds, no matter the topic, he’s on the gospel. I mean, Larry King could say something like, “Franklin, you know, we’ve just had an election and a lot of turnover there. How do you think the President will deal with this new Congress?” Graham would respond something like, “Well, you know, Larry, I don’t know much about a new Congress, but I do know that we all need a new heart, and if you believe in Jesus today, and you turn from your sins, you trust in Him, you can have life everlasting. Today, Larry, you can have it.”
I’m thankful for those kinds of people. Brothers and sisters, who have that kind of boldness, but the truth is, most of us are not as quick or as bold to share the gospel as we ought to be. Whether it’s a lack of concern, or it’s driven by a lack of courage, or maybe a lack of confidence, there are all kinds of reasons that we could give, but quite simply, we can all identify times in our lives when we were prompted by the Holy Spirit to speak of Christ, and for some reason, the words just never quite get out of our mouth.
With this text this morning, I want this text to be an encouragement to you. I want to encourage you. I want to motivate us, for those that are not concerned, but also I want to empower us. I want to encourage us with the power that we see here in Acts 4, the very same power that is available to us today.
Four Keys to a Bold Strategy
So, here’s what I want us to do. I want us to walk...we’re not going to be able to touch on everything that we see in Acts 4, and David’s exactly right, there is so much in these chapters that we just want to stop, but we just can’t. We don’t have the time to do it. What I want to do is I want to kind of walk us through, very quickly, Acts 4, and I want to give you four incentives, or four keys...as you have it there in your notes...four keys to a bold strategy in sharing the gospel. It’s my prayer that God would use this in my life and in your life. That God would use this text to awaken in us a passion to share the gospel, and that He would also embolden us for the task that is at hand.
The reality is there are people all around us, in our neighborhoods, in our workplace, sometimes in our homes, there are people all around us who are headed for a certain hell apart from the gospel of Jesus. Jesus has, in this very book, said that we will be His witnesses. We will be His witnesses, in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, into the uttermost parts of the earth. The task is laid upon us by God, but I want to show you how God, not only lays the task upon us, but God also provides the resources to accomplish the very mission He set before us.
Remember the saving power of Christ.
All right, so let’s look at four keys. The first key, remember the saving power of Christ. We’re going to have a bold strategy, and it is going to be bold in our witness for Christ. We must remember the saving power of Christ. Now, I want you to look mainly here at the first few verses of Acts 4, but we have to remember, when we’re looking at Acts 4, like I said earlier, we have to remember the context of this particular passage. Peter...this is the third message that Peter has preached. This is the third sermon that we have in Acts 4 that Peter preaches in the book of Acts, and when you look at it, what strikes me when I go back to Acts 3...and we see in verses 12-26...what strikes me as I look at Peter’s sermon is really the overwhelmingly positive nature of it.
I want you to turn back, if you would, and look at this sermon that really prompts the opposition that we see in Acts 4. I want you to notice...as we look just in verse 17 and a couple other places, I want you to see the tone of the sermon. I want you to hear just the opportunity and the grace and the mercy that Peter is extending. Verse 17, “Brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your rulers.” Verse 19, for example, “Repent, therefore, and turn again that your sins may be blotted out.” More promises in verse 20, “That times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord,” more grace, “that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for the restoration of all things about which God spoke.”
Look down, again in verse 25...more positive, more grace...“You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your father, saying to Abraham, ‘In your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.’” Again, in verse 26, “God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first to bless you by turning every one of you from your weakness.” Grace upon grace, promise upon promise, always in keeping with Scripture, but I want you to notice the reaction that we see in Acts 4:2. He gives them opportunity and grace, and notice what we see in Acts 4:2. It says, “The Sadducees came upon them, and they were greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.” They were greatly annoyed.
A lame man, lame from birth for 40 years, Acts 4 tells us...no doubt for years, perhaps even decades...has been carried by others to the temple because he can’t get there himself. A lame man is healed. Luke makes sure to tell us that he was leaping. He was leaping. Over and over he mentions that...recalling Isaiah 35 that...“When the Messiah comes,” he says, “the lame shall...” do what? “They shall leap like a deer,” indicating for the hearers that the age of the Messiah, the Redeemer, has come in and through Jesus, and they, the people that should have been most pleased to hear, the religious leaders, the ones who had constructed the entire religious system, they were the ones that were most greatly annoyed. They were the ones that were most put off by the message of Peter and John.
Brothers and sisters, be reminded of this from the very start. Yes, we have a glorious gospel. It is indeed rightly called Good News, but the truth is this: in this world we will always encounter deep-seated opposition to the truth of God. Even if we have...and we do...even if we have a glorious gospel, we will encounter deep-seated opposition to the truth of God.
Think about why that is as Peter preached. Why is it that the Sadducees were so upset? Why is it they were so resistant to the message that they were proclaiming? It says, “Because they were teaching the people, and they were proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.” Those seem like good things. Why wouldn’t religious leaders want people taught? Why wouldn’t they want the resurrection from the dead taught? Simply this: because the message that Peter preached threatened everything that they held dear. It threatened their authority to teach the people. It threatened their power over the people. It threatened their status in the community. It threatened their relationships. It threatened their long-held beliefs, including that in the resurrection. It threatened, at the very bottom, their careers, and it threatened even their financial futures.
The message was threatening, and I would submit to you today that, yes, it is a glorious gospel that Jesus has died for sinners, but it is, at the same time, a threatening message. It is a message that threatens our pride, threatens our self-sufficiency, threatens our lifestyle, threatens our relationships, and sometimes threatens our beliefs. The message that we proclaim is a good gospel, but it is also, at the same time, threatening to undo everything about everyone to whom we preach it, and we will receive opposition.
Here’s what I want to suggest to you: that as we receive opposition to the gospel, I would suggest to you that, instead of that opposition making us bitter, why not let that opposition make us bold? That instead of that opposition making us hopeless, let us be reminded, when we see that opposition, let it make us hope. You say, “What do you mean by that? How does opposition elicit boldness and hope in my own heart?” Simply this: if God could save me, God could save them. If God could save a wretched sinner like me, through and through, one that Romans describes as not righteous, not one, not understanding, not seeking God, hating God and hating others...if God could save me, and God could save you, the truth is that God can save anybody.
It’s what we see in Isaiah 59, “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not short.” Isn’t that a beautiful image? It’s as if the Lord, reaching down from heaven...it is not that He cannot reach down to the lowest sinner, but rather the Lord’s arm is not shortened that it cannot save, or “his ear dull that it cannot hear.”
The Lord can save anyone, and that includes anyone here, no matter your background, no matter your sins, no matter how ugly the past, the Lord’s grace is greater than all of that, which leads, I think, to the first takeaway there; the first point of application that you can see. Boldness ought to be birthed by recalling God’s mercy toward us.
Boldness is birthed by recalling God’s mercy toward us. Isn’t that what we see the disciples do? Isn’t that what we see in their lives even? Think about, in Acts 4 here, as we read down through the passage, in verses 19 and 20, it’s the great kind of the culmination of this particular section, where they are charged not to speak in the name of Jesus, but notice what they say, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge.” In other words, they are receiving opposition in all of it’s fullness, and they say, “Whether it’s right to listen to God or to you, you judge, but as for us, we cannot help but speak of what we have seen and what we have heard.” Isn’t that a great line? “We cannot help it. It is overflowing in us. The gospel is so down deep in us, it must come out.”
A couple of months ago, I was on a plane. It was on a Friday night, and I was coming home from New York City, and it was about a four or five hour delay, and so I was in the airport for a long time. So, I knew that it was going to be a jam-packed flight. So, I got on the plane, and I found my seat. The seat next to me was empty, and the whole plane filled up except that one seat. So, as I was sitting there, waiting for us to get started, I prayed and asked God, I said, “God, would you please send someone, maybe just send someone my way that has never heard the gospel, or is not a Christian, whatever? Would you send someone my way so that I could share the gospel with them?”
Lesson learned, and be careful what you ask for. The Lord answered in spades. This woman sat down, about my age, and you could tell she was kind of bothered and just kind of angry. She sat down, and we were still delayed; we weren’t taking off. So, I said, “Well, might as well get this started.” I said, “What –” That’s bold witness, by the way, is it not?
Okay. So, I said, “Where are you from?” She said, “I’m from Queens.” She said, “Where are you from?” I said, “Well, I’m actually from Birmingham. I’m going home tonight.” She said, “Well, what brings you to New York?” I said, “Well, our church is considering just looking at some possibilities of planting a church possibly, one day, in the New York area, and I’m up here to kind of check that out.” She looked at me with, what I can only describe as equal parts disbelief and rage and said to me, “You’re a preacher?” I said, “Yes, is that a problem?” She said, “I hate preachers.” Well, that’s a good start. So, “Would you like to see my tract?”
Over the next three hours...the plane didn’t take off immediately...but about the next three hours, she preceded to ask me question after question, to which I would, as humbly as I could, answer her, to which she would scream at me and tell me to close my mouth and not talk to her anymore until she’d ask me another question one minute later. I mean, I can’t tell you how many times I’d just turn, like, “All right, I’m reading my Bible.” No. She called me narrow minded, a liar, a hypocrite. My personal favorite was vampire.
It had nothing to do with the Lord’s Supper, or anything like that, it was just totally whatever she had on her mind I guess. I don’t know, and a few other choice expressions that I’ll just kind of move on past. When the engines haven’t started yet, and when somebody is screaming, everybody on the plane can hear, by the way. I mean, it was a surreal moment. I mean, it was just really mind blowing.
At one point, she even...as we were going over, I don’t know, probably halfway there...she was angry again. She had asked me something, and I responded, and she said she didn’t want to hear anything else that I had to say. So, she put her fingers in my ears. Now think about that...my ears, not hers. That was, by the way, after several drinks of hers, not mine.
I would only classify that she was out of her mind in resentment and hatred and anger. At times, I mean, I’ll admit, it was at times, it was just completely embarrassing, but one thing that I just kept going over and over in my mind, one thing that I think really kept me from being angry or dismissive and allowed me to be calm, to speak the gospel to her, is the truth that, yes, she is out of her mind in sin, but so am I apart from God’s grace in Christ. So am I apart from His work in my own soul.
Do you remember when Jesus heals the demoniac in Mark 5? “He is out of his mind,” he says, “naked, running among the tombs.” Jesus heals him, and it says that he is, at the end of it, “clothed and in his right mind.” He asks Jesus, he says, “Can I follow you? Can I be your disciple?” Jesus says to him, “No, you cannot follow me. Rather go back to your own people and...” do what? “And tell them how much the Lord has done for you.”
The surest way that I know of to elicit boldness in my own soul, to shake me from my indifference and my lack of concern about all the people that are going to hell right around me, is to return again and again and again to the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, and to think and meditate and praise God for all that the Lord has done for me. So, I’d ask you, are you doing that? “So, I’m just not concerned. There are people around me. I know they’re going to hell, but for some reason, I don’t feel that in my soul.” The best way I know to encourage you is to go back and go back to the gospel, to remember the saving power of Christ.
Realize the profound power of the gospel.
Number two: Realize the profound power of the gospel. By God’s grace, and I am genuinely thankful for God’s grace in you, in this congregation, there are many people that I would say are concerned, that they are driven to share the gospel. We want to see...and many people here want to see...God to work in neighbors and home and family and workplace. We want to see the gospel advance, but there are many of those people that are intimidated when it gets right down to it.
Many of us are concerned, “What if I say the wrong thing? What if I just mess it up? What if they ask me, you know, to recount David’s sermon from Romans 9? What am I going to do with that?” Right? “I don’t know all the answers.” Well, I want to show you really a recurring theme, a running theme throughout the book of Acts, that this book is not primarily about the power of any man, or the power of any men. Rather, this book is about the power and the triumph of the gospel from the very start to the very finish.
First of all, we see the power of the gospel in the life of the lame man, the very passage that we are reading here in Acts 3 and Acts 4. Notice what Peter does twice. Acts 3:12, if you look back at that, as they gather around, the lame man’s been healed, and they’re inquiring, “What is going on?” There’s attention drawn to this. Notice what he does in verse 12. Peter saw it. He addressed the people, “Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us as though,” and this is the line, “as though by our own power or piety we have made him walk?” Peter says, “It’s not about us. We didn’t do this. We didn’t cause this man to walk.”
It’s the same thing that we see in our passage in Acts 4:10, “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. This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone.” Verse 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.”
I want you to notice over and again the unmistakable and unapologetic clarity of the disciples regarding the power of the name of Jesus. They deeply believed that there was power in His name. Not in some kind of mystical way, not in some kind of magical way, but by virtue of the name in that context, by virtue of who He is and what He has done on the cross and in His resurrection brings about the fact that there is power in that name. We see it as the lame man leaps up, and he praises God, and we see it, not only in the life of the lame man, but we see it also in the life of the early church.
All throughout the book of Acts, we see the power of the name of Christ in the life of the early church, and I want to take some time, just for a second. You don’t have to turn there, but, maybe, if you have a pen or pencil, and you’re taking notes, I would encourage you to write down these verses. I’m going to walk through them rather quickly. I want you to see over and over again, in the early church, and I want you to see their confidence in the name of Jesus, and I want you to see the laser-like focus that they exhibit, that it is not some nebulous idea of God. That it’s not some vague idea about a Savior. It is a particular man...God-man...named Jesus Christ from Nazareth that God has raised from the dead. Over and over, it is that name, that Lord, that preaching that saves.
Look, for example, in Acts 2. You don’t have to turn there, but notice these verses: Acts 2:36, “Let all of the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Verse 38 of the same chapter: Acts 2:38, “Repent and be baptized every one of you.” Just repent and be baptized? No, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.”
Acts 3:6 we’ve mentioned already, “Rise and walk in the name of Jesus of Nazareth.” Acts 8, as we go forward in the book of Acts, Acts 8:5, Philip goes down to the city of Samaria, and Luke tells us that he “proclaimed to them the Christ,” Acts 8:5. Again, same chapter, Acts 8:35, “Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture, he told them the good news about Jesus.” Not just good news. Not just, “God loves you, has a plan for your life.” He tells them Good News about Jesus. It is circumscribed. It is particular. It is news about Jesus.
Acts 9:27-28, Barnabas talks about, “He went in and out among them at Jerusalem,” speaking of Paul, “preaching boldly in the name of the Lord.” Acts 11:20, “But there were some among them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus.” Acts 13:38, “Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you.” Acts 16, you remember Paul with the Philippian jailer? Acts 16:31, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, you and your household.”
Then, even to the end of the book, especially to the end of the book, in Acts 28:30-31, notice how the book of Acts ends, “Paul lived in Rome two years, at his own expense, and he welcomed all those who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God,” and doing what? “and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.”
What I want you to see, these takeaways, brothers and sisters, ultimately, boldness is not rooted in our personality. There are all kinds of people throughout the book of Acts that are preaching the gospel. They are boldly proclaiming the name of Jesus. It is not dependent upon one person or one particular personality. It does not matter, ultimately, whether we are outgoing or not, whether we are an extrovert or an introvert. In fact, my wife has described me before as socially awkward.
It’s an encouraging thing for a pastor to be described as socially awkward, but it’s not dependent upon my personality or your personality. Nor is it dependent upon our intelligence. It’s not rooted in our intelligence. Think about Acts 4:13. What do they say? “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John...” they perceived what? “...they perceived that they were uneducated, common men.” The word “uneducated” is where we get our word “illiterate” from. It doesn’t mean that they couldn’t read, but it does mean, more than likely, that they were uneducated, that they had never had formal religious training in the same way that the Sadducees would have benefited from.
What this passage teaches us when we read it, is that they were uneducated, common men, as it is not a seminary degree, or a particular type of training, or any kind of course, or any kind of class that brings about our boldness. That is not where our boldness is rooted. If it is, it is a false boldness. It’s a boldness in something else, namely ourselves. Rather genuine boldness...you see it...genuine boldness is rooted in the life, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
It’s rooted in the deep conviction that the gospel is, indeed, the power of God, Romans 1:16, that it is indeed, “the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentiles.” That the name of Jesus can make the lame leap. He can make the deaf to hear, the blind to see, the dead to rise, and the lost to be saved.
The power of the gospel is real, and I would ask the question, “Do you believe that? Do I believe that?” Do we really, really believe that? That there is power in the name of Jesus; there is power in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus? If we do, who cares if we stumble? If we really believe that...that the power’s not about us...who cares if we stutter and stammer? Who cares? Who cares if we don’t get it all right? So, as long as we get the life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus all right, then we’re good. It’s not about us anyway; it’s about Him. It’s about what He has done. It’s about His story, not my story. It’s His life; His death; His resurrection, and when we have that kind of confidence, then there wells up in us a boldness to proclaim that, knowing that when we do, God may be pleased by His grace and by His Spirit to convert a lost sinner.
Rest in the sovereign power of God.
We remember the saving power of Jesus, the saving power of Christ. We realize the power of the gospel, the profound power of the gospel. Number three, we rest in the sovereign power of God. We don’t have time to unpack all of Acts 4:23 and following, but notice as they are cast out of the assembly, they go back, in verse 23, they were released. They went to their friends. They reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them, and notice how they pray in verse 24, and I would encourage you all week to look at this prayer and make this prayer your own. This is a wonderful, rich, deep prayer, confident in the sovereignty of God. Look at what they say in verse 24, “When they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, ‘Sovereign Lord, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them,’” notice how they begin. They begin by, “Sovereign Lord.” Why? Is that just a coincidence, or is there something to that?
You know, it’s interesting that the word that is used here for “Lord” is not the typical word that is used in the rest. The typical word, “kurios,” for Lord is used like 600 or 700 times in the New Testament. This particular word, which is “despotés,” where we get the word “despot” or “dictator” from is used only a handful of times, six or seven times, and only two or three times in reference to God. It’s the idea of an absolute dictator.
Now, we have all kinds of notions about what a dictator is in our mind, but the believers here are calling on God as that kind of ruler. It’s often used in terms of a slave’s master, the master over a slave, one who has absolute control and absolute authority over every single thing. Don’t miss this. When they come back after the opposition that they faced, when they come back, what do they do? They don’t wring their hands. They don’t devise a plan. They don’t sit around and say, “Well, what are we going to do?”
They call out to the Sovereign Lord of the universe, and they say that...together they declare that He is sovereign, and that the whole world is enslaved to Him. That seas and stars obey His voice, that kings do His bidding. That as He speaks, history unfolds. That every single thing that exists in the universe, it exists at His will and by His pleasure.
Spurgeon said it this way, speaking of the sovereignty of God. He said, “I believe that every particle of dust that dances in the sunbeam does not move an atom more or less than God wishes...” it doesn’t go one way or the other, “...that every particle of spray that dashes against the steamboat has it’s orbit, as well as the sun in the heavens; that the chaff from the hand of the winnower is steered, just as the stars are in their courses.” He said, “The creeping of an aphid over a rosebud is as much fixed as the march of the devastating pestilence.”
“Every single thing,” as Paul says in Ephesians 1:11, “Everything is ordered and ordained by God.” Everything. Which leads to the truth that they confessed. The truth that they confessed is that our God...in the face of opposition, they come back and they declare this truth, “Our God is the Lord of all.”
I want to show you, and I want you to think how it is that truth...that God is Lord, that Jesus is Lord...how that truth serves to sustain them in the midst of rejection and in the midst of persecution, and it is the same, I would suggest, for us. They were confident. They were not derailed. They were not intimidated. They were not giving up. They were not going to forsake boldly declaring the Word of God because some king or some ruler or some ruling class had opposed them. This was all according to the sovereign will of God. It is that confidence in the sovereignty of God that sustains them, and I would suggest it’s the same confidence that ought to sustain us.
The takeaway is that boldness is encouraged, or that it’s strengthened, by fresh reminders of God’s sovereignty. We need to go back and back to this truth, that our God reigns, that He is sovereign. You know, it would be nice if every person that we talk to about Christ couldn’t wait to hear about it, but you know, that’s not typically the case. It’s not too often that someone says, “You know what? I’ve been waiting for someone to come and tell me that I’m a dirty, filthy, rotten sinner. Thank you so much.” It’s just not the way that it normally works.
Oftentimes, we will encounter opposition. We will, in some cases, suffer loss, whether that’s small or great. Here in our context, it may be the loss of a relationship, may be the loss of a job, may be the loss of some opportunity. In some contexts, it is the loss of life, but quite often, if we’re boldly declaring the Word of God, as we see the disciples do here in Acts 4, quite often it is going to cost us. Our tendency, in our flesh, is to shrink back from that, and to immediately begin running all kinds of scenarios and calculations in our heads and say, “You know, if I do this, they’re going to do that. If I say this, they’re going to say that. If I share the gospel here, then it’s going to cost me in this way and that way and that way.”
However, what I would encourage you, brothers and sisters, is to be not surprised. Do not be surprised when we encounter opposition to the gospel, rather regard it as the sovereign will of God. In the same way that Jesus was rejected, so shall we be rejected. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 2:15-16, he says that, “We are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.” Notice he says, “We cause a reaction among people.” He says, “We are the aroma of God.” It takes two different forms he says in verse 16. He says, “To one, a fragrance from death to death.” For some people, we are the fragrance from death to death. He said, “To others, though, a fragrance from life to life.”
What I would remind you is, when we share the gospel, whether we are the aroma of life, or whether we are the aroma of death, either way, it’s not up to us. We have no control over that. It’s not us that is making life. It’s not us that’s making death. God is sovereign over all of that. He’s sovereign over our new birth. He is sovereign over theirs. So, in light of that, in light of that confidence in the sovereignty of God, why not go ahead, be rejected, be laughed at, be despised in a nice sort of way? Be rejected, and when we are, let’s rest in the sovereignty of God.
Rely upon the enabling power of the Spirit.
Last, number four, not only remember the saving power of Jesus, the profound power of the gospel, resting in the sovereignty of God, but last, we rely upon the enabling power of the Spirit. Look at the substance of their prayer in verses 29 and following. It’s not until...and I think this is instructive, by the way, for our prayers as well, when we face opposition to the gospel. Do not, immediately, run to answers and solutions and suggestions, but rather we immediately run to the sovereignty of God. We immediately talk to ourselves about God first.
However, notice they finally get to their request in verse 29, “And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” This is amazing. When you think about this and think about this with me, in the time and in the context of this passage, Peter has just...on back-to-back days...he has preached the gospel, one to the crowds, and two, he has stood before the ruling class and has boldly said that there is salvation in no other name under heaven given among men except in the name of Jesus.
I mean, this is a high point. This is the epitome of boldness in the life of a disciple. He is entirely bold in Acts 4 in the sermon that he preaches, but notice...he joins then, it says, all the disciples. He joins with the rest, and he asks what? For more. He asks for more boldness. It’s what we see there, the truth in your notes, that past boldness is no assurance of future boldness.
Brothers and sisters, past boldness is no assurance of future boldness. I can think of times in my own life, when I’ve been bold in sharing the gospel to those that were antagonistic, to those that were opposed to hearing of the gospel, but in the very same week, cowered before a girl...a little girl. It’s the takeaway that we see, that what this passage is driving us toward all along, from the very start, from Acts 4:8, to the very end. It is bookended in this way: that boldness demands continual reliance upon God’s Spirit.
In order that God might receive the most glory, brothers and sisters, He has so ordained it that we do not receive boldness for a year, or maybe even for a month. Rather, we receive boldness for the day; we receive boldness for the hour; we receive boldness for the moment, so that all along the way, we might say that we were continually dependent upon God to do this.
We can’t lift our finger apart from the enabling power of God. How much less do we believe that we can take this gospel to those who, in many cases, do not want to hear it, who in some cases will kill us for saying it in some contexts? How much less do we think that we can take this gospel to those people apart from the enabling power of God’s Holy Spirit? God forgive us for arrogance and pride in thinking that we can do this on our own.
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