Genesis 6:9-22, Acts 4:13-22, 32-33
June 8, 2008
Since Pentecost, we’ve been reading about the Acts of the Apostles – the things they did in the early days of the Church. And of course, we’ve been reading from the book of that name – the Acts of the Apostles. And I think you’ll agree, that was an amazing time. Through the Holy Spirit, God was working in powerful ways. Miracles were happening. Lives were being changed. The church was growing every day. And people were growing in excitement. But – it wasn’t all that easy!
These were also very difficult times! The Apostles faced great opposition. Actually that opposition started right here in chapter four. This is where they came up against the religious leaders of the day, these men who were the very people who had opposed Jesus. We didn’t have time to read this whole story today, so I’d like you to back and read it this week. I’ll make that your assignment, read chapters 3 and 4 for next week. I think it’s good to give you reading assignments throughout the week. It’ll help keep you focused on these stories!
When you read this story, you’ll find there the names of these very same men who were involved in trial and crucifixion of Jesus – guys like Annas the high priest, and his assistant Caiaphas, and others. And you’ll find that these guys were even more angry, now! They’d gone through all that trauma and difficulty of having Jesus silenced – and without turning the people against them. That wasn’t easy! But now it seemed it was all for nothing. Not only was the message of Jesus continuing, it was growing!!
So, they had the Apostles arrested. And that’s not little thing! Remember what happened when they had Jesus arrested! Less than 24 hours later he was put to death. So this was serious! And do you think the Apostles were afraid that the same thing would happen to them? You’d better believe it! That was the very thing they feared since Holy Week! And now in this chapter it finally happened. They were arrested by the same guys! And yet now it was different. Gone were those timid and fearful men who were hiding behind locked doors. Now, these men were bold and courageous. They were ready to take that message out to the world. And of course, the only difference was the coming of the Holy Spirit!
That was it. That was the power. That was the force by which the Apostles had been changed and empowered. The Holy Spirit had come upon them, and the whole of the book of Acts is about their acts of boldness and courage and miraculous power through that Spirit. These men were totally changed. They were ready to go out into the world with that message! They were ready “to boldly go!”
As I read this passage this week, I couldn’t help borrowing that cliché from Star Trek. “To boldly go.” How many recognized where that came from? Well, besides being a modern cliché, that phrase may also be the world’s most famous split infinitive! For you “non-grammarians,” the “infinitive” is the form of a verb that expresses the action of the verb without the defining the person doing that action. I other words, instead of “I sing” or “they sing,” the infinitive is simply the form of the verb, “to sing.” To sing, to jump, to laugh, to think… Those are all infinitives. And in strict grammatical rules, it is improper to put any word in between the “to” and the other part of the verb. If you do, you’ve “split” the infinitive, you see? So, if we said, “The choir likes to really sing…” that would be a split infinitive.
So when Captain Kirk stated every week in the mid 1960’s that the mission of the Starship Enterprise was, among other things, “to boldly go where no man has gone before” it was a split infinitive! It was incorrect grammar!! But few people cared! Well, now these Apostles were ready “to boldly go…” They were empowered to boldly go into the world, and to take to all people the story of God’s love. They did so, fearlessly, boldly, and with an enthusiasm that literally changed the world. That’s what I want you to think about today.
Look at this scene from Acts 4. Peter and John had just been to the Temple to worship. That’s what they did – for a while, anyway. (They were still “good Jewish boys!”) At the gate of the temple, they met this man who had been lame from birth. He had never walked! He had been carried to that gate every day of his entire life, so he could ask for alms. That’s how he was able to survive. He lived entirely on charity. That was the only alternative for the disabled in those days. And then Peter came along and healed the man. In that familiar passage, he told him, “Silver and God have I none, but what I have I will give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” And the man did! He was healed of this life-long infirmity! He walked for the very first time!!
Well, of course, there were a lot of people around to see all that! And they were amazed. And when they all went into the Temple, they saw the man, not just walking. He was “walking, and leaping, and praising God!” And in all that, no one claimed that the man had been “faking” his disability all those years! There was no doubt of this miracle!
So then Peter used this as the occasion to deliver his second sermon. He told the people exactly what had happened, and how it was in the name of Jesus that this man had been healed. And of course, they were in the Temple, so the priests were there, as well! They heard that, and they had them arrested. They had them held overnight in jail, and the next day they put them on trial. Verse 7 says, “they set them in their midst.” That’s what that meant. It meant they were on trial.
In the first part of chapter four, we have the account of that trial. And I do hope you will read this part, too. Here were Peter and John on trial, and they were preaching to the priests about Jesus. Talk about boldness! And there was this man standing beside them, who had been healed by the power of Jesus. And notice that the priests don’t accuse the man of fraud, either. In fact, they confirm the miracle! They say among themselves, “We cannot deny that a notable sign – a miracle – has been performed here.” But it’s amazing that, despite all the evidence before them, their response was still to deny Jesus. Here they had been given a second chance to accept the truth about Jesus, and to acknowledge him for who he was and is. But again, they chose to deny him.
Sometimes I wonder how many chances some people get to acknowledge Jesus, and yet like these priests, they deny him. Maybe you’re in that place in some way. Maybe like these men in Acts, you have a hard time accepting Jesus for who he is – the son of God. Maybe you prefer to make him out to be “just a man.” Maybe you’d prefer to go along with those in the world who would like to silence his voice. There are many people who would like that. And their numbers are growing.
Peter and John found themselves right in the middle of that whole controversy. These men wanted to silence the message of Jesus. They told the Apostles that they were told not to preach any more in his name. And in that they were compelled to make a choice. Who were they going to listen to? Who were they going to obey? Were they going to listen to these established authorities? Remember that these priests were the law in those days! Would they listen to them, or would they listen to God? That’s the very question they asked in response to this mandate by the High Priest. “You tell us what we are to do. Should we listen to you, or God?”
Think about that. Put yourself in their place for a moment. If you were put in jail for something, and you were told never to do it again, what would you do? I suppose it would matter if it were something you felt strongly about or not. But even so, would you be so bold? Like the Apostles, would you speak out anyway, even under threat?
I know that’s a hard question to ask. Because we never know how we will react to such difficult situations until we are in them. I’m sure some of the most courageous people in history didn’t know they were courageous until the moment was upon them. But let’s take the question back to it’s basics. All worry and fear aside for a moment, do you see that there are times when you are asked that question? Who are you going to listen to, the authorities and powers of this world, or God?
My friends, I believe that question is always a possibility for us. Jesus said to his disciples, “if you are mine you will be persecuted.” I can’t tell you what form that persecution might take. Most of us will never be asked to put our lives on the line for our faith. But most of us will be challenged to make a choice between the things of Caesar and the things of God. I remember a great quote I once heard. It went like this. “If you don’t feel some tension between what the world calls you to do and to be, and what God calls you to do and to be, then you might not be taking God’s call seriously enough.” Are we take his call seriously? Are we listening for his voice in our lives?
We all face trials like this one in Acts chapter four. They may be in big ways or small ways, but we are all given these kinds of choices throughout our lives. More and more, the world would have us not preach or speak in Jesus’ name. What will our response be? May God give us vision to see when that is happening to us. And may God give us strength through this same Holy Spirit to obey him, to follow his call, to take his message out to the world, “to boldly go!”
Lord, we need the strength of the Holy Spirit so that we may choose to follow you in all times of our lives. So many voices in our world would compel us to follow other places. Help us to see. Help us to hear your voice clearly. Help us to follow you. For we pray in the strong name of Jesus, Amen.