Cornerstone EPC Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734 October 4, 2020
Have you ever felt timid in view of expressing your faith in Christ to others? If you have, you perhaps have felt timid for reasons you can identify. You may feel threat of embarrassment—either in the content of the Gospel message and to yourself in the delivery of it. You also may feel threat of rejection, either of the Christ Whom you love or of yourself—a rejection almost never pleasant to your soul. You also may feel timidity about sharing the Gospel for reasons you cannot identify. In the face of this timidity, we know that we are not to feel shame in Jesus and His words (Mark 8:38), and we know that we must bear witness to the Good News of God in Christ Jesus. Yet how shall we do this, in view of our occasional-to-constant timidity concerning it?
We get tremendous help from the Lord in His Word today. I pray that the reading and proclamation of God’s Word in this place today, from Acts 4:23-31, both gladdens your soul and equips you for more faithful, more fruitful Christian witness. Let us once again hear God’s Word read and proclaimed in this place.
(HERE READ THE TEXT)
Today’s text closes a portion of Acts (3:1-4:31) that begins with the healing at the Beautiful Gate of the Jerusalem Temple. A man lame from birth begs for alms at afternoon prayer (at the ninth hour, or 3 P. M.). The Apostle Peter, speaking in the Name of the Lord for himself and for the apostle John, declared to him, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the Name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!”
This miracle, the lame-from-birth man walking and leaping and praising God, compels notice from all in the Temple that afternoon. Peter uses this opportune moment to proclaim Jesus of Nazareth as the Christ (Acts 3:11-26). He does this with boldness and incisiveness, and he urges repentance from sin and trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. We expect that this Spirit-empowered address had considerable effect upon the hearers that day, for the number who believed Jesus to be the Christ grew from three thousand souls to five thousand men, besides women and children—but we know that Peter’s message that late afternoon had effect upon the Jewish religious leadership. They acted upon that effect, and incarcerated Peter and John overnight.
The next day Peter and John stood before the Sanhedrin (Acts 4:1-22), that great Jewish ruling council that condemned Jesus to death just weeks or months earlier. Once Peter and John were before the Sanhedrin, the council asks, “By what power or name did you do this?” Peter, filled with the Spirit, declares in essence, “Jesus Christ of Nazareth.” Peter further declares, in the Spirit’s boldness, that they crucified this Jesus, but God raised Him from the dead. Moreover, Peter concludes his answer by asserting that, apart from Jesus, there is no other name given under Heaven by which we must be saved. After this the Sanhedrin confers—noting that a mighty, undeniable work has been done—and it commands Peter and John no longer to speak or to teach at all in the Name of Jesus. It proceeds to threaten them after Peter and John declare, in effect, that they will continue to speak and to teach in the Name of Jesus—for they will obey God rather than man, and they cannot help but speak what they have seen and heard. After this exchange, the Sanhedrin releases Peter and John, for they have no legal basis to detain them further.
Peter and John, upon their release, report to their friends what happened. The company, upon hearing this news, prays as one. First, the assembled company declares God’s sovereign power. It acknowledges His power in creation; He formed Heaven, earth, the sea, and everything in them. The company also declares God’s sovereign power in providence, especially in Jesus’ suffering as prophesied by David in Psalm 2. Next, the assembled company pleads from God. They ask Him for boldness to speak the Gospel message, and they ask Him to work signs and wonders: both to compel attention to the Gospel message and to confirm it in the minds of the those hearing it.
It pleased God to honor such a prayer. Note, in verse thirty-one, God’s powerful response to the prayers of His people. First, the place where the assembled company prayed was shaken. Second, the Holy Spirit completely filled (Greek pimplemi [pimplhmi]) every soul present. Third, in direct answer to their prayers, they continued to speak the Word of God with boldness. What tremendous encouragement those early believers must have received from God’s good hand, and what encouragement we receive today as well.
We have command from God to testify of His Son. Note Jesus’ post-resurrection words to His disciples, according to Dr. Luke, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His Name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And, behold, I am sending the promise of My Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:46-49). Jesus speaks similarly to His disciples just before He ascends into Heaven, saying, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). We are to testify of Jesus Christ, God’s Son.
Yet we too have threats, because we believe and declare the Gospel. We sense threats to our reputations (“What will they think of me if I declare the Gospel to them?”), to our livelihoods (“I may lose my job, either directly or indirectly, because of my faith in Jesus.”), and even to our physical well-beings (“Many around the world face, and endure, injury and death because of their Christian testimony. Will I?”). These threats are no mere figment of our imagination. They are real, and they grow increasingly menacing.
Forget not the good news you heard today—and act upon it. When threatened, pray. Pray declaring the Lord’s greatness, both in creation and in providence. Plead with the Lord: both for boldness to declare the Gospel message and for the Spirit’s favorable work in the hearts of our hearers. Only He can make hearts, minds, and souls receptive to His message. Yet He does this very again, and again—after all, He has done it for many, if not all, of us seated here today. May the Lord indeed give us holy boldness to declare His greatness and His good news of rescue and redemption in His Son, Jesus Christ.
 The Sanhedrin was the supreme ruling body of the Jewish people in the New Testament period. Seventy elders from the Pharisees and Sadducees, plus the high priest, formed the Sanhedrin.