A Confident Witness for Jesus (Part 1)
Sermon Text: Acts 4:1-22
Sermon Theme: You too can be a confident witness for Jesus, no matter the threat.
The apostles preached through Jesus the resurrection from the dead. It includes all the happiness of the future state; this they preached through Jesus Christ, to be had through him only. Miserable is their case, to whom the glory of Christ’s kingdom is a grief; for since the glory of that kingdom is everlasting, their grief will be everlasting also. The harmless and useful servants of Christ, like the apostles, have often been troubled for their work of faith and labor of love, when wicked men have escaped. And to this day instances are not wanting, in which reading the Scriptures, social prayer, and religious conversation meet with frowns and checks. But if we obey the precepts of Christ, he will support us.
Peter being filled with the Holy Ghost, would have all to understand, that the miracle had been wrought by the name, or power, of Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah, whom they had crucified; and this confirmed their testimony to his resurrection from the dead, which proved him to be the Messiah. These rulers must either be saved by that Jesus whom they had crucified, or they must perish for ever. The name of Jesus is given to men of every age and nation, as that whereby alone believers are saved from the wrath to come. But when covetousness, pride, or any corrupt passion, rules within, men shut their eyes, and close their hearts, in enmity against the light; considering all as ignorant and unlearned, who desire to know nothing in comparison with Christ crucified. And the followers of Christ should act so that all who converse with them, may take knowledge that they have been with Jesus. That makes them holy, heavenly, spiritual, and cheerful, and raises them above this world.
All the care of the rulers is, that the doctrine of Christ spread not among the people, yet they cannot say it is false or dangerous, or of any ill tendency; and they are ashamed to own the true reason; that it testifies against their hypocrisy, wickedness, and tyranny. Those who know how to put a just value upon Christ’s promises, know how to put just contempt upon the world’s threatenings. The apostles look with concern on perishing souls, and know they cannot escape eternal ruin but by Jesus Christ, therefore they are faithful in warning, and showing the right way. None will enjoy peace of mind, nor act uprightly, till they have learned to guide their conduct by the fixed standard of truth, and not by the shifting opinions and fancies of men. Especially beware of a vain attempt to serve two masters, God and the world; the end will be, you can serve neither fully.
(From Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary)
- Are we sometimes mincing words or trying to sugarcoat the gospel? Peter refused to compromise the gospel by deleting what would offend the Sanhedrin. He spoke courageously because he was devoted to the truth and entrusted the outcome to his Lord. Instead of succumbing to the temptation to compromise the gospel, the church became even bolder. The persecution also served to draw the congregation closer together and to their Lord. In what was to become a recurring theme in church history, opposition only made the church grow stronger. The church cannot obey orders to give up its most characteristic activity, witness to the risen Lord, although it must be prepared to pay the price of its refusal to keep quiet.
- Is the church sometimes apologizing for Jesus being the only way to salvation — the narrow road? Is there salvation by any other way? May we never be disposed to apologize for any “good deed” which we may have wrought in the name of Jesus, no matter who may be offended thereby. May we never be tempted to give to ourselves any glory for anything that has been wrought through us by the Holy Spirit. May we not be moved by any regard for the opinions of what is called cultivated society or the opinions of materialistic scientists to attempt to explain away, or explain on some natural principle, that which has been wrought by the supernatural grace of God, by the power of faith in Jesus. May we never be ashamed of Jesus because of the public disgrace thrown on Him by His enemies. Jesus of Nazareth: call Him so, bigoted churchmen; call Him so, powerful worldliness; call Him so, cultivated skeptic; but He is Jesus, and whether of Nazareth, or Bethlehem, or Jerusalem, or earth, or heaven, faith in His name has healed millions, and not a single soul has ever been healed by faith in any other name [C. F. Deems, LLD]. For we can destroy ourselves and each other, but we cannot save ourselves or each other. There are some dangers and evils from which we can save both ourselves and our fellows, but from the worst we can neither save ourselves nor others. All that in this case we can do for ourselves is to look to a Savior, and for others to direct them to a Redeemer. We are seldom satisfied with what we have. Eve desired the forbidden fruit; and the Jews desired a Savior entirely different from Him to whom the prophets had given witness, and whom God had sent. To this fact Peter calls attention, and then adds, “there is salvation in no one else” (Acts 4:12).
- Why should we be silent who have tasted that the Lord is gracious? Let us tell to all what God hath done for our souls. Let the compressed love which glows in renewed hearts find expression in spoken praise. Silence is a sin, if your cry might save a neighbor from stumbling over a precipice; if your neighbors are on the broad path and your word might lead them into the narrow one; if a brother is sliding back and your reproof might urge him on; if a believer is oppressed with doubts and fears, while your lips might pour the consolations of God into his weary heart.
- Did you ever notice the intolerance of God’s religion? In olden times the heathen respected the gods of their neighbors: but Jehovah put this as one of His first commandments, “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:3). The Christian religion is just as intolerant. The Brahmin may admit that there is salvation in fifty religions besides his own; but we admit no such thing. There is no true salvation out of Jesus. What is the reason of this intolerance? (1) Because there is the truth with the Jew and the Christian. A thousand errors may live in peace with one another, but truth is the hammer that breaks them in pieces. A hundred lying religions may sleep peaceably in one bed, but wherever the Christian religion goes as the truth, it is like a fire-brand. Truth cannot afford to be yoked with error—it gives to error its due, declaring that it hath no salvation.(2) Because we have here the sanction of God. It would be improper in any man who had invented a creed of his own to state that all others must be damned who do not believe it; but since this religion is revealed from heaven, God, who is the author of all truth, hath a right to append to this truth the dreadful condition. We are not really intolerant, for we are but echoing the words of Him that speaks from heaven, that there is no salvation out of Him. To quicken your diligence, however, I will conclude by noting that if you do not find salvation in Christ, remember you will never find it elsewhere. What a dreadful thing it will be for you if you should lose the salvation provided by Christ! For “how shall you escape if you neglect so great salvation?” [C. H. Spurgeon]
- How important is the chief cornerstone? If the chief cornerstone was laid even slightly angled, the whole building ended up at least slightly rotated on its own axis. If the chief cornerstone was laid even slightly slanted, the whole building ended up tilted and risked collapse. Who is this stone which has become the base to built our lives upon? Jesus, who is the chief cornerstone of our faith, “for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:11). If what you believe about Jesus is set correctly, the rest of the building blocks of your faith will work themselves out and your faith will endure. If you what you believe about Jesus is incorrect, nothing you add to it will correct the error and your “faith” will risk collapse. How can this be? The Bible says that you will go to heaven instead of hell when you die if you sincerely believe that Jesus died on the cross to pay the death penalty due for your sins (John 3:16 ). If your faith is built on this chief cornerstone, it will endure through hardship, even death, because the rest of your eternity in heaven or hell hang in the balance. But many pulpits today tell people to believe in Jesus because He will make them more healthy and wealthy while on the earth, and to express their “faith” by giving money to their ministry. If your faith is built on this lie, it will collapse as soon as the promised health and wealth fail to materialize and the lie is exposed. Don’t follow the religious leaders and teachers, who want themselves to be the chief cornerstone of what their hearers believe.
- And who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you (1 Peter 3:13-15). Isn’t it ironic that the early believers had to be commanded to be quiet, while many modern ones have to be commanded to speak. Peter and John did not vacillate but immediately answered that they would refuse to obey the Sanhedrin’s command. They appealed to a higher court by asking the question of whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to men rather than to God before the supreme court of Israel (cf. Acts 5:29). Which court is higher? The reaction of Peter and John, however, marks the limits of that obedience. They would gladly obey if they could do so without disobeying their sovereign Lord. But when God’s commands conflict with those of the government, the government must be disobeyed. Although Peter and John refused to obey the Sanhedrin, they nevertheless treated them with respect. They did not argue with them, nor pretend to submit and then go and disobey. Instead, they carefully and respectfully explained that they could not stop speaking. Like Paul, who exclaimed, “Woe is me if I do not preach the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:16) — they were compelled to speak.
- Are we anxious in our witness of the truth of Jesus? The Lord Jesus Christ had told the disciples that “when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not become anxious about how or what you should speak in your defense, or what you should say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say” (Luke 12:11-12). All Christian ministry and witness depend on the filling of the Holy Spirit. Peter yielded to the Spirit’s control. He did not become filled by lengthy prayer or an emotional experience. The filling of the Spirit occurs when the believer walks in obedience to the Word and Spirit (cf. Ephesians 5:18; Colossians 3:16). Yielding to His control releases His power in the believer’s life. This principle is foundational to all the rest; yielding to the Holy Spirit is the key to successfully handling persecution. Because Peter was Spirit-filled, persecution merely drove him closer to the Lord. Lack of being filled with the Spirit is the reason the church today has difficulty facing opposition. A Spirit-filled, uncompromising church will be uncomfortable in the world, since it will be a rebuke to it. It will, however, be a powerful, victorious church. Peter and John confronted the world head on, with a boldness and eloquence that caused their opponents to marvel (cf. Acts 4:13). They were victorious because they were Spirit-filled.
1) In modern times the church (at least in the West) has rarely faced physical persecution. Satan’s attacks have become much more subtle—the type of attack detailed, for example, in C. S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters. Instead of threatening the body, Satan’s persecutions today aim at the ego. They threaten our selfish pride, need for acceptance, or status. Satan has largely destroyed the spiritual effectiveness of the church without having to kill the individual believers in it. In fact, letting believers live self-centered, complacent, indolent, worldly lives is more effective in keeping people from being attracted to the Christian faith than killing them. Martyrs are respected for the strength of their character; compromisers are despised.
2) The Word of God is not my word; I, therefore, cannot abandon it; but in all things short of that, I am ready to be docile and obedient. You shall have my blood, my life, rather than a single word of retraction; for it is better to obey God than man. It is no fault of mine that this matter creates confusion among you. I cannot prevent the Word of Christ becoming a stumbling-block to men. I know well that we must pay obedience to the civil magistrate, even though he be not a man after God’s own heart; I am quite ready to pay that obedience in any matter that does not shut out the Word of God.
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