Summary: Exposition of Acts 5:17-33 about the defiance of the apostles toward the court, and their boldness in witnessing
Text: Acts 5:17-33, Title: Unstoppable Believers, Date/Place: NRBC, 9/9/07, AM
A. Opening illustration: Around the world today Christians are being persecuted for their faith. More than 70 million Christians have been martyred for their faith since 33 AD. This year an estimated 160,000 believers will die at the hands of their oppressors and over 200 million will be persecuted, arrested, tortured, beaten or jailed. In many nations it is illegal to own a Bible, share your faith, change your faith or allow children under 18 to attend a religious service. Son Jong Nam, an underground Christian in North Korea, has spent more than a year in prison, awaiting public execution. He risked his life returning to North Korea to preach the gospel and VOM contacts believe he is still alive, although contact is limited.
B. Background to passage: A freshly purified, empowered, and growing church was perceived as a threat to the established leadership in Jerusalem. And so as the church grew, the Sanhedrin Council grew increasingly fearful and angry with this new sect. So, they continue to make vain attempts to silence this new movement.
C. Main thought: Our account today demonstrates the boldness of the believers in the early church.
A. Bold Defiance (v. 17-28)
1. Jealousy and anger are powerful emotions, especially when fueled by pride and fear. And so the Sanhedrin threw the apostles in prison again for the night preparing to deal with them in the morning. The Angel of the Lord miraculously set them free, and commissioned them to get up to the temple courts and teach the people in the morning—to do exactly what got them thrown into prison and warned not to speak in His name anymore! And they did it!
2. Ex 1:17, Dan 3:17-18, 6:10
3. Illustration: Pastor Zhang Rongliang was sentenced to 7 1/2 years in prison. According to China Aid Association the July 4 verdict was issued by Zhongmu County People’s Court. Pastor Zhang Rongliang, a prominent Chinese house-church leader, was arrested in a rented apartment at Xuzhai village the afternoon of December 1, 2004. Zhang already had spent 12 years in prison for his faith during five separate detentions. He experienced harsh torture, including electric shock, during his previous prison terms. In 1556 in Stratford-le-Bow thirteen men and women were condemned to be burned at the stake for heresy. They were separated into two groups within the prison. The sheriff not wanting to have them burned, went to one group and told them that the other group had recanted, and would be spared, and that they should follow suit, but they told him that their faith was in Christ crucified alone. Then he went to the other group and did the same, and they responded that their faith was in Christ and His faithful word. Neither would budge. So on the day appointed they were all brought out and they rejoiced together, went up to the three stakes set before them, kissed the stakes and embraced them. Then they were bound and burned.
4. Things don’t always turn out for our deliverance. When they don’t grace will be provided. These believers were bound and determined to obey God. Just as millions down through the ages have chosen to risk their lives doing what the government says not to do. I wonder if you and I would have that same commitment to radical obedience were we to live in a different country that didn’t have a bill of rights or a government that allows for protection of religious freedoms? And it may not be too far away even in our own nation. Canada is working on legislation that will make it illegal even within a religious context to speak openly about homosexuality being a sin. What will churches do whose pastors continue to serve jail time and pay fines? Will pastors and believers avoid these controversial topics to avoid jail time? This week another state Supreme Court (Iowa) ordered marriage licenses be granted to homosexuals. Time is drawing short for true religious freedom even in America. We should prepare ourselves to give all. Guidelines for governmental defiance are two-fold: 1) when the government begins to require believers to deny their faith or their Lord, and 2) when it requires believers to take part in actions that are in clear conflict with Christian conscience or teaching. When and if we defy, we should do so in a non-violent, respectful, and public fashion, being willing to accept and submit to arrest and punishment. This kind of wartime mentality would be the death of pettiness within our churches. If you and I were focused on embracing the stake that we were about to be burned upon, there would be no time for squabbles over matters of little kingdom important. And there would be little time for messing around with worldliness and sinful behaviors when you could die today for trusting Christ. In fact this might be the cause for our inability to die for the faith—the fact that we daily immerse ourselves in a culture and society that is usually in diametric opposition to about all that we stand for.