Persistence in the Gospel
Sermon Text: Acts 5:12-42
Sermon Theme: Persistence in the gospel is how we rejoice in the midst of resistance to the gospel.
The separation of hypocrites by distinguishing judgments, should make the sincere cleave closer to each other and to the gospel ministry. Whatever tends to the purity and reputation of the church, promotes its enlargement; but that power alone which wrought such miracles by the apostles, can rescue sinners from the power of sin and Satan, and add believers to His worshippers. Christ will work by all his faithful servants; and every one who applies to him shall be healed.
There is no prison so dark, so strong, but God can visit his people in it, and, if he pleases, fetch them out. Recoveries from sickness, releases out of trouble, are granted, not that we may enjoy the comforts of life, but that God may be honored with the services of our life. It is not for the preachers of Christ’s gospel to retire into corners, as long as they can have any opportunity of preaching in the great congregation. They must preach to the lowest, whose souls are as precious to Christ as the souls of the greatest. Speak to all, for all are concerned. Speak as those who resolve to stand to it, to live and die by it. Speak all the words of this heavenly, divine life, in comparison with which the present earthly life does not deserve the name. These words of life, which the Holy Ghost puts into your mouth. The words of the gospel are the words of life; words whereby we may be saved. How wretched are those who are vexed at the success of the gospel! They cannot but see that the word and power of the Lord are against them; and they tremble for the consequences, yet they will go on.
Many will do an evil thing with daring, yet cannot bear to hear of it afterward, or to have it charged upon them. We cannot expect to be redeemed and healed by Christ, unless we give up ourselves to be ruled by him. Faith takes the Savior in all his offices, who came, not to save us in our sins, but to save us from our sins. Had Christ been exalted to give dominion to Israel, the chief priests would have welcomed him. But repentance and remission of sins are blessings they neither valued nor saw their need of; therefore they, by no means, admitted his doctrine. Wherever repentance is wrought, remission is granted without fail. None are freed from the guilt and punishment of sin, but those who are freed from the power and dominion of sin; who are turned from it, and turned against it. Christ gives repentance, by his Spirit working with the word, to awaken the conscience, to work sorrow for sin, and an effectual change in the heart and life. The giving of the Holy Ghost, is plain evidence that it is the will of God that Christ should be obeyed. And He will surely destroy those who will not have Him to reign over them.
The Lord still has all hearts in his hands, and sometimes directs the prudence of the worldly wise, so as to restrain the persecutors. Common sense tells us to be cautious, while experience and observation show that the success of frauds in matters of religion has been very short. Reproach for Christ is true preferment, as it makes us conformable to his pattern, and serviceable to his interest. They rejoiced in it. If we suffer ill for doing well, provided we suffer it well, and as we should, we ought to rejoice in that grace which enabled us so to do. The apostles did not preach themselves, but Christ. This was the preaching that most offended the priests. But it ought to be the constant business of gospel ministers to preach Christ: Christ, and him crucified; Christ, and him glorified; nothing beside this, but what has reference to it. And whatever is our station or rank in life, we should seek to make Him known, and to glorify his name.
(From Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary)
- What is the mission focus for the church of Jesus Christ? Are we focusing on the wrong things? Widespread confusion exists over what that primary mission should be. Some argue that the church should lead the crusade for social justice for the poor and downtrodden. Others see it as a political force to help change the culture. Still others view their church as a private club, where they can socialize with their friends. On a more biblical note, the church’s goal is to mature the saints through the preaching of the Word, fellowship, and discipleship. It also meets to praise and worship God. Those are important goals and should mark every church. Yet none of them is the church’s primary goal here on earth. Indeed, every one of them could be better accomplished in heaven. What is the primary goal of the church? Our Lord answered that question by charging us to “go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). The church’s primary goal is evangelism. It is to carry on the work begun by the Lord Jesus Christ, whose mission was “to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). That is the only duty of the church that can’t be better done in heaven. The early church understood its purpose clearly — Christians are responsible to proclaim the gospel and leave the results to God.
- What commitment and responsibility are you taking which demands a overt effort to proclaim the gospel in an alien environment which often result in persecution? For Peter proclaims in 1 Peter 4:14, “if you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” In the Beatitudes, Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when men cast insults at you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me. Rejoice, and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:10-12). For we are “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ,” wrote Paul to the Romans, “if indeed we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him” (Romans 8:17). For we can take great courage in the knowledge that “it is not great talents God blesses so much as great likeness to Jesus. A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hands of God” (Andrew A. Bonar, Memoirs of McCheyne [Moody, 1978]).
- If the gospel we preach is not convicting enough to make some men angry, is it convicting enough to bring them salvation? Our gospel presentations must be definitive enough that the world must take note, even if they reject our message. Some may react to a convicting presentation of the gospel not with open hostility, but with indifference. The word to all such fence sitters is “Now is the acceptable time, behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2; cf. Hebrews 3:7). Even though they were experiencing the most furious opposition and some tolerant indecision, their number was constantly increasing (Acts 6:1). As Paul told the Corinthians, such preachers “are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life” (2 Corinthians 2:15-16).
- Who ever heard of the shadow of a person acting the part of a physician? They had no right to suppose that any good would come of such an extraordinary plan. And they had certainly no right to make Peter cure their friends in their own way, by a device of their own, without consulting him first as to whether it would be agreeable or not. Now the remarkable thing is, though these people were thus ignorant and superstitious, neither God nor Peter found fault with them. They used Peter’s shadow as a charm, and God made it to them what they wished it to be. Now, why was this? Because of the simplicity of their belief. And does not God often throw His power into the means which we ourselves devise, if we have only childlike faith? Little children come to church with their parents, and they are not always able to understand the meaning of the service. But their attendance is not useless on that account. If they place themselves in their simple faith under the shadow of God’s house, the blessing will assuredly not be wanting. It is not an intellectual knowledge of deep mysteries that God values, but a simple faith in Himself. (H. Macmillan, LL. D.)
- What kind of intentional effort are you making to obey the will of God? To obey God is not simply to act according to His will, but because it is His will. An accidental conformity of the will of man to the will of God is not obedience. It must be intentional. An atheist may do what God requires, but you would not therefore say that he obeys God. A man may do some things which God requires from some inferior consideration. Thus some are scrupulously honest, because dishonesty is disgraceful, or an inherent principle of integrity, and not out of regard to the Supreme Lawgiver. The very same elements go into the constitution of filial obedience. A dutiful son is one who does what his parent instructs, not because it falls in with his own inclination, or because he is to gain anything by it, but out of regard to the will of his parent. It is apparent, then, that there may be a great deal of morality and right acting among men where there is no obedience to God. For how shall we render our obedience to God but from the heart (Deuteronomy 11:13; Romans 6:1), willingly (Psalm 18:44; Isaiah 1:19), faithfully (Joshua 22:2-3), undeviating (Deuteronomy 28:14), and constantly (Philippians 2:12).
- Why would anyone lie to God? Could anything make you lie to God?
- How can you worship a God who would cause people to die?
- What situations can you see rising in our culture where you would have to obey God rather than government?
1) THE ATTRACTIVENESS OF JOY (By Chrysostom): Let us take someone of consular rank, possessed of great wealth and living in the imperial city, who has no business to conduct but is at leisure to live in luxury, seated at the very summit of wealth, honor and power. And let us set against him a Peter, in chains, in evils beyond enumeration, and we will find the latter living in greater luxury. For where there is such an excess of joy, so that one is happy even in chains, imagine how great the joy must be! For just as those in high office, no matter how many terrible things happen, do not perceive them but continue in enjoyment, likewise these men rejoiced all the more precisely because of these circumstances. For it is altogether impossible to put into words the great joy that came to those who suffered something terrible for Christ’s sake. For they delighted more in sufferings than in good things. If someone loves Christ, he understands what I am saying. But what about safety? What owner of countless riches, I ask, could escape so many dangers, visiting so many different peoples for the sole purpose of transforming their way of life? For they accomplished everything as if by imperial decree, only more easily. For a decree would not have been so effectual as were the words of those men. An imperial decree compels by necessity, but these men drew followers who came willingly, spontaneously and grateful beyond measure. What imperial decree, I ask, could have persuaded people to part with all their property and their lives, to despise home, country, kindred and even self-preservation? Yet the voices of fishermen and tentmakers accomplished this, so that they were both happy and stronger, more powerful than all others. [From Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture]
2) The word “ought” is but an old past form of the verb “owe” — it is, in fact, but another spelling of “owed.” What, therefore, we ought to do, we owed to do; what we ought to be, are owed to be. To God we owe our lives; we ought to pay Him with our lives. What we owe to our fellow-man, is that which we owe it to God to do for an honored creature of God. We ought to do it because we owe to do it. And yet we go on saying we ought to do and we ought to be, never thinking that what we ought we owe, and that what we owe we do not pay! [H. C. Trumbull, DD]
3) Many people can imagine Church workers feeling pleasure under certain conditions and experiences of their work — in its hours of success, and scenes of glad acceptance and sympathetic reception; but hardly any, without careful thought, could understand men professing themselves as happy after enduring such an ordeal as the apostles had just passed through. Yet let me point you to analogies. First take the case of the scholar, the man who loves and pursues knowledge for its own sake. Have we not heard of men who are content, nay, supremely happy in toiling on steadily and silently for years, wrapped up in and devoted to enlarging their ever-increasing stores of information? Such there have been and are, who deny themselves all other pleasures, even health, not to speak of worldly advantage or social advancement, who work on in silence and solitude, finding their one joy in their enthusiastic devotion to this their only object in life. Or take the case of the man of science. Not the man who studies literature or law or history, but the man who is engaged in wresting fresh secrets from nature; not in order to patent an invention and make a large fortune, but who loves nature and science for their own sake, whose one object seems to be making constant additions to the number of known facts or verified laws and operations. Again, have we not read of travelers and explorers perfectly possessed by their life of adventure; ever seeking to scale heights which no one else has reached, to penetrate further into unknown regions, and who for this purpose have endured almost incredible hardship and toil; to whom labors well-nigh superhuman seemed as nothing, who would face with readiness situations where they verily went with their lives in their hands? I might go on to speak of the love of the soldier, the engineer, the artist, the musician, for their callings. For we shall find that the greatest men in every sphere of life have had, as it were, a perfect passion for their profession, and have followed it not for any outside reward or emolument it might bring, but for its own sake. Now, may I take Christianity as a profession, and give the widest interpretation to the true Christian work? Is it quite impossible for the Christian worker to find such an interest in the work itself, apart from any hope of reward, as a scholar, an artist, a soldier finds in his profession? The true artist has a pure and enthusiastic love for art; the scholar’s one object in life is knowledge; what, then, is the Christian worker’s means and object of rejoicing? Must it not be in the increase of goodness? Christ and Christianity have but one object — the righteousness of man, the placing of good in the stead of evil. Notice how different the conduct of the apostles now from what it was previous to the resurrection. Then, at the advent of a few armed men, they had fled in terror and deserted their Master. Now, they were joyfully prepared to suffer persecution and death on His behalf. What had produced the change? What but a revelation of the true nature of their Master? [W. E. Chadwick, MA]
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