Summary: I preach expository messages, and this is the eleventh in my series on the Book of Acts.
“Fighting Against God”
July 15, 2007
“Honey, it’s the dentist,” I say, “I just know it. All the signs point that way. Everything lines up. He had to be the murderer,” I say.
“No,” my wife Karen will reply, “It was her brother-in-law.”
“But it can’t be her brother-in-law,” I protest, “He had an iron-clad alibi! But just look at the dentist; he just looks shady.”
“No, I’m telling you,” she’ll say, “Trust me, it’s her brother-in-law.”
And though the names and occupations and relations change, it’s never the dentist. It doesn’t matter the movie or the show, more often that not, Karen’s right; almost always, Yours Truly is wrong. Just about the time I’m saying, “it was Colonel Mustard, in the library, with a candlestick”, it comes out that it was Professor Plum, in the Conservatory, with a ball point pen or something. If you want to know whodunit, you don’t want me to be the man on the case, that’s for sure. Somehow, I get lost in the twists and turns of a story, and by the time the mystery man is uncovered, I’m still in the bakery. I wasn’t even that good at guessing the culprit on Scooby-Doo; the only thing I knew was that somebody at the end of every show would repeat the same line: “I’d have gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t for you meddling kids!”
A good story has a lot of twists and turns; it might go in a lot of different directions; it leaves an element of mystery as to the final outcome. Such is today’s narrative, found in Acts 5. Every time we see the word “but”, for instance, we know that what is about to be described is set in opposition to what has come before, and there are a lot of “buts” in these verses of Scripture. We see things going from good to bad and back to good and to bad again several times for the apostles, who were chosen by Jesus Christ as the representatives of His message. We begin with a good:
I. Success - :12-16
God was doing some amazing things in the early church in Jerusalem in the days just following the resurrection of Christ and His ascension into Heaven. Signs and wonders were taking place; people were being healed; despite the rumblings of persecution, people continued to be added to the church, though there were some who were unresponsive and kept their distance. The early church enjoyed a great reputation among those who weren’t even part of it. They were riding the wave; it was all good, or at least almost all good. The message of Christ was going forth, and notice something pertinent to us: the message wasn’t being watered down or made more palatable to contemporary sensibilities, but rather it was boldly proclaimed just as it was.
That’s a temptation that I fear some are giving into in these days, to tone it down a bit, to round off the edges of the message, to flatten the “bumpy” parts, to sugarcoat and namby-pamby around the truth. If we’ll just emphasize the “positive parts”, we can get a big crowd. And yes, it’s certainly true that some draw lots of folks with a watered-down, feel-good approach—this is what the Bible predicts will happen. But that didn’t happen in the early church, and by God’s grace, it won’t happen at Red Oak. We’re not charged to make the gospel politically-correct or more palatable to modern sensibilities; we’re just charged to share it. The early church grew as it proclaimed a bold, countercultural message. But then the good quickly turns to bad:
II. Arrest - :17-18
Pity the poor “religion boys”. The high priest and the religious council had cornered the market, pretty much, on the “religion thing”, and so it is a natural human reaction that we see rising up in them as a result of the astounding success of this movement they considered heretical, dangerous, and subversive: jealousy. They thought that they’d rid themselves of this Jesus fellow when they’d consented to His crucifixion, but now it seemed like the problem was bigger than ever. The people were following Jesus more after He’d been crucified than they had when He walked the hillsides of Palestine, and now, his apprentices were healing people, preaching that Jesus had risen from the grave and condemning the religious hypocrisy of those very leaders. And the common people were following this dangerous sect instead of the religion boys. They were jealous! And so they had the apostles arrested and thrown into prison for the night. Bad, right? Well, next plot twist:
III. Deliverance - :19-21a
Now the delicious irony here is that the Sadducees, who were the dominant party on this ruling council, were the religious liberals of their day: they didn’t believe in the existence of angels, for instance. And yet, in a touch of perhaps divine humor, God used an angel to release His men from the prison arranged by the Sadducees in the first place!