6-Week Series: Against All Odds

Sermons

Summary: It's always better to obey God.

Persevering Through Persecution

Acts 5:17-32

Rev. Brian Bill

January 25-26, 2020

Look around you and find eight people. Go ahead and count until you locate eight individuals. By the time you go to sleep tonight, eight people around the world will have died for their devotion to follow Jesus Christ.

Open Doors just released their World Watch List for 2019…

• More than 260 million Christians – one of every eight believers – experience high levels of persecution.

• A total of 9,488 places of worship were attacked.

• 3,711 Christians were detained without trial, sentenced and imprisoned.

• 2,983 followers of Christ were killed for faith-related reasons.

Here are some recent reports from around the world. I’m grateful to Ken White for gathering some of this information.

• Just this week in Nigeria, a pastor who gave praise to God in a ransom video, was beheaded by Boko Haram because he wouldn’t recant his faith.

• In North Korea, which is #1 on persecution lists, Christians are deported to labor camps as political criminals or even killed on the spot. Meeting other Christians for worship is nearly impossible unless it’s done in complete secrecy.

• Last year, in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, three churches were bombed, resulting in 29 church members and 14 children being martyred.

• Now China is utilizing a social score system that grades its citizens based on their actions, using surveillance cameras and artificial intelligence to monitor Christians. The government has been shutting down house churches for their refusal to install cameras or to put up a picture of President Xi Jinping at the center of their worship platforms. Incidentally, last month TIME magazine reported in just one Chinese city, there’s one surveillance camera for every six citizens – that’s 30 times the prevalence in Washington, D.C.

• In Burkina Faso, where Mike and Pam Hillhouse have served, a pastor and several church members have been martyred. BTW, Mike will be speaking here March 7-8.

If you’d like to stay up to date on the persecuted church, one of our Go Team partners, Voice of the Martyrs, has a number of free resources available. Simply go to Sermon Extras on the Edgewood app or on our website. We’ve also included a link to the ministry of Open Doors.

As we continue our study of the Holy Spirit’s actions in the Book of Acts, we come today to another outbreak of persecution against the early church.

Here’s how we’re going to approach Acts 5:17-32. First, we’re going to walk through the passage, so we learn it. Then we’ll allow the passage to walk through us as we seek to live it. We’ll start with exposition and end with application.

Last weekend we saw how Jesus heals our hurts and now we’ll discover it’s always better to obey God.

Exposition – Learn It

In response to seeing so many sick people experience healing and so many people getting saved, verse 17 says, “But the high priest rose up, and all who were with him (that is, the party of the Sadducees), and filled with jealousy…” Feeling threatened and jealous, the religious leaders stand to their feet and are ready to fight.

It’s sad the high priest is worked up because hurting people were being healed. The Sadducees were the religious liberals of the day. They valued rationalism and ritualism and didn’t believe in angels or the resurrection. The Sadducees were very wealthy because they controlled all the finances surrounding the temple sacrifices. While the Pharisees were the predominant group that attacked Jesus, the Sadducees take aim at the followers of Christ.

To be “filled with jealousy” means they were “wholly affected and boiling with fiery wrath.” It’s true that what fills you will end up controlling you. These leaders were trying to disguise their jealousy as justice. Jealousy is dangerous because it can make us do horrible things. In Mark 15:10 we read Jesus knew “it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered Him up.” Proverbs 14:30: “A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot.”

In verse 18 “they arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison.” In the previous chapter they only arrested Peter and John but now all twelve of them are thrown in the “public prison.” This is designed to both embarrass and intimidate the apostles because it’s all done for the public to see.

I love what takes place next according to verse 19: “But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out…” Angels are messengers of God and appear throughout the pages of Scripture. Later in Acts we’ll see how angels bring messages to an Ethiopian in Acts 8 and to Cornelius in Acts 10. An angel is also involved in freeing Peter from prison in Acts 12. This makes me smile because the Sadducees don’t believe in angels, so God sends one to bring the apostles out of jail.

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