Summary: This expository sermon series is adapted from Max Lucado's book, Out Live Your Life, and credit for most the series belong to him. Outlines are original. In Acts 4, we see the church was Fearless with Persecution, Faithful with Prayer, and Free with Posse
Made to Make a Difference: Acts 4
Scott Bayles, pastor
Blooming Grove Christian Church: 7/10/2011
This series is inspired by and portions adapted from Max Lucado’s Out Live Your Life.
The early church didn’t have any of the advantages that some ministries boast and depend on today. They didn’t have big budgets provided by wealthy donors. Their pastors lacked any credentials from accredited universities and none of them had written any best-selling books (well, at least not yet). Most of their preaching ministers had arrest records and would probably have a hard time joining our churches today, let alone leading them.
I’m not the first one to notice this by the way. In out text today, Peter and John stand before the Jewish high council to defend themselves and their preaching, and the Bible says, “The members of the council were amazed when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, for they could see that they were ordinary men with no special training in the Scriptures” (Acts 4:13 NLT). Despite their lack of training or expertise, Peter and John led the early church on a history-making, globe-changing mission. And the truth is—throughout history, God has often used farmers, merchants, and simple folks to build his church and change the world.
As we continue our journey through the book of Acts, chapter 4 brings with it more insights into the passions, principles and priorities that governed the early church. It also offers three powerful examples that, if we follow today, I believe will help us live our lives in such a way that the world will be better for it.
Now the first three chapters of Acts have been happy days. Thus far the early church has enjoyed smooth sailing. The Pentecost miracle harvested three thousand followers. The church gave birth to acts of kindness, compassion, and fellowship. Their good deeds authenticated their good news and the number of their followers grew. When last we left, Peter and John had performed a miracle of compassion in the name of Jesus and used that miracle as a springboard to share a message about Jesus. But as we enter into chapter 4, the church will get its first taste of trouble and we will find our first example worth following—the apostle’s were fearless in the face of persecution.
• FEARLESS WITH PERSECUTION
When Peter and John healed the beggar by the Beautiful Gate, they attracted more than a little attention. A crowd formed. Peter preached. And that’s when the religious elite showed up along with the temple guard. The Bible says, “While Peter and John were speaking to the people, they were confronted by the priests, the captain of the Temple guard, and some of the Sadducees. These leaders were very disturbed that Peter and John were teaching the people that through Jesus there is a resurrection of the dead. They arrested them and, since it was already evening, put them in jail until morning” (Acts 4:1-3 NLT).
The next day as Peter and John stood before the high priests Annas and Caiaphas, Peter summed up the situation well with this question: “Rulers and elders of our people, are we being questioned today because we’ve done a good deed for a crippled man?” (Acts 4:8-9 NLT).
This little inquisition was only the beginning. During the infancy of the church, apostate Jews aligned themselves with Rome in an attempt to completely wipe out the Jesus movement. Under the authority of emperors like Nero and Domitian, Christians were hunted, killed by the sword, thrown to the lions, crucified, and even burned alive to give light to Roman parties. Modern-day martyrdom is no less frequent. Around the world, there are more Christian martyrs today than there were in 100 AD, during the days of the Roman Empire.
Not all forms of persecution end in martyrdom, however.
Just recently Brittney Kaye Settle of Dixon, TN was given the same assignment everyone in her freshmen high-school English class received—to write a research paper. The students were told they could write about whatever they wanted to write about, but they had to use at least four sources. Given that latitude, a lot of students chose to write about spiritual topics. One student wrote about reincarnation, one wrote about the occult, another wrote about spiritualism, but Brittney Kaye Settle chose to write about the life and times of Jesus Christ. Because of her choice in subject matter, her paper was awarded a zero and that grade was upheld all the way to the Supreme Court.
Consider another Federal Court case—Jane Doe vs. Santa Fe Independent School District. This case dealt with prayer in school, specifically prayer at a high school graduation. Here’s what the court decided: “This court will allow prayer if it’s a typical non-denominational prayer. The prayer can refer to God or the Almighty, but the prayer must not refer to Jesus. And make no mistake; this court will have a United States Marshal in attendance at graduation. If any student offends this court and mentions Jesus in the prayer, that student will be summarily arrested and face six months incarceration. Anyone who violates these orders will wish that he or she had died as a child when this court gets through with him.”