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Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC)                                                           Sermon # 1221

July 19, 2015                                                                                                  Acts 5:27-42

Dr. Ed Pettus

 

“They Did Not Cease”

 

 

            We know today that we face an uncertain future as Christians in our own nation.  But we also know that we face a certain future with Jesus Christ our Lord.  I have been preaching the last few weeks about all the issues we do have and will have, and how we might respond to increasing hostility to the faith and the threats to religious liberties that people of faith have known historically in America.  I am drawn back to the early life of the Christian Church when the apostles faced hostility and even persecution for proclaiming the name of Jesus.  Back in early May I preached this chapter in Acts through 5:32 and I want to continue through the end of the chapter to verse 42.  Before we get there, let’s look at a bit of history first.

 

1.Religious freedom

 

Obviously the early church was started at a time when the government and culture had no influence except perhaps within the Jewish faith.  But we know that the Jews were at best just tolerated.  As long as they lived peacefully, the government would not bother them.  So the Jewish leadership simply did the best they could to keep the peace.  Christians had little concern for keeping the peace.  If preaching the gospel meant disrupting the Jews or the Romans, so be it.  The 3rd century Roman leader Constantine came to power and issued an edict for the toleration of Christianity and Christianity began to grow into a more institutional entity.  It was under Constantine that the Nicean Creed was created.  Now, this is a brief history, but let’s jump to the growth of the church in Europe and the time of the Reformation.  The Church splits and Protestantism becomes a major force in the world.  The Church for the most part, is well established and without much by way of persecution.  Jump again to the beginning of the USA and we have a nation built upon the traditions and truths of biblical faith. 

Over the last 40-50 years, perhaps history will one day pinpoint the time, the views in this nation began to change.  Here we are today at a time when religious freedom is determined as free only if no one is offended by anything within your particular religion.  In other words, you can believe what you want as long as your religion does not infringe on any other beliefs.  What happens in the end of that philosophy is that no religion has any authority at all, save the one that limits all the others, and in our case it is the religion of political correctness or equality for all or civil rights for sexual choices or multicultural pluralism, all of which are religions in and of themselves.  What the progressives thinkers want in all those religions practiced in politics is what they call freedom to worship.  You can worship freely but you better not practice your religion in public as you might offend or what you say may be considered hate speech.  Our faith that once defined a nation has now been deemed a disruptive movement with the potential to offend or discriminate against the civil rights of others.  We are in a new place, not unlike that of the early church.  Maybe we have come full circle.

 

 

 

2.A National Day of Grief

 

When the White House was used inappropriately to celebrate the Supreme Court decision on same sex marriage, it was touted in the news as a good thing, but it also marked a sad day for many Americans who believe God is the only one who can define marriage.   It strikes me as odd that Christianity was once the source of the civil rights movement and has now become an opponent to the civil rights according to SCOTUS.  While some people celebrate all the changes that have come with the removal of God from public life, I wonder if the President would offer a national day of grief for all who see the changes as a huge mistake.  If you light up the White House for some as a celebration, why not do something else for the other millions who are disappointed.  When will the White House represent all the people rather than only those who want to change the definition of marriage?  The grief we share is the knowledge that the traditional Christian foundations of our nation have crumbled.  The fall of the Berlin Wall was a defeat for darkness, but the fall of the USA is a resurrection of darkness. 

That which God deemed as a holy and sacred union of male and female, the culture now has profaned.  But if I proclaim that anywhere outside these walls and maybe even within these walls, I am discriminating against another person and thus breaking the law of the land.  Jesus said that what God has joined together, let no one separate.  Matthew 19:4-6,   [Jesus] answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh.  What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”  God joins males and females!  SCOTUS has allowed the joining of males and males, females and females.  It seems to me that in redefining marriage, SCOTUS has separated the entire foundation of what God established and Jesus reestablished.  They have not just separated male and female, but they have separated God from the narrative of marriage. 

            This is another sign of what is happening in our nation and it is a place in which we are unfamiliar.  But, I am reminded of Proverbs 21:30 which says that no earthly wisdom can prevail against God.

 

 

3.What’s it like?

 

What is it like to live in this unfamiliar territory?  We have never known the hostility and possible persecution (at whatever level) that is soon to come.  Some say it will not come in this country, but all the signs point in that direction.  How long will religious freedoms be tolerated in light of what is happening?  Religious freedom will not be tolerated when it discriminates against the new “civil rights” of people.  Religious freedom will not be tolerated when we say that sin is sin or when we claim Jesus as Lord or when we trust in the Bible more than the culture.  We are slowly discovering what it was like to be the church in the first century.

 

4.Not all gloom and doom

 

 There is good news!  It is THE good news of Christ.  It is the same news the apostles proclaimed before and after they were taken before the Jewish council in Acts 5.  It is the same news that has turned the world upside down time and time again.  It is the news we will continue to proclaim no matter what happens to our nation.  Since we have the news of life, there arises more opportunity to share that news.

 

 

5.Opportunities in darkness

 

As I have said in a several sermons recently, this will give us more opportunities to shine the light of Christ.  As the culture sinks deeper in sin, more people will be looking for the truth and for some light in the darkness.  This gives us reason to fulfill the scripture that calls us to be ready, 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame” (1 Peter 3:14-16).

 

 

6.Perseverance as a way of life

 

Perhaps the key to our time is perseverance.  This has been the way of God’s people through most of history.  God gives the power to endure, power for obedience, security in salvation, assurance for persistence, growth in faith, and sanctification.  Paul sums up perseverance in Romans 8:28-30, "We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified."  Glorification is characteristically reserved for those who will be glorified with Christ at the end of time.  God’s purpose is being worked out in and through us.

            In 2 Timothy 2:ll-l2 we read, "The saying is sure: If we have died with him, we shall also live with him; if we endure, we shall also reign with him..."  One of the main lessons of the Bible is that we keep the faith and endure.  The good news is that Jesus will keep us and thus Jude is confident to write, "Now to him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you without blemish before the presence of his glory with rejoicing, to the only God, our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen." (Jude 24-25)

 

7.Counted worthy – They did not cease proclaiming Jesus as Savior

 

I wonder if God sent Jesus Christ at the time he did because the church would be born in a time hostile to Jesus and to his church.  The disciples faced persecution from the day Jesus was arrested and that threat grew even stronger after the Holy Spirit came upon them.  As we pick up the story in Acts 5 the apostles have been detained by the religious council of Jewish leadership and they are warned that they were advised not to teach in Jesus’ name.  They wanted to kill the apostles but one of the Pharisees lifted up two cases about men who had a following but were soon killed and their movements quickly died as well.  He told the council that if these apostles were acting on their own then the movement would not last, just like the first two cases.  But, if the movement was of God, there is nothing they could do about it anyway!   

            This still holds true today.  If any movement is of God there is nothing anyone opposed to it can do!  Nothing the government or the judiciary can do will obstruct the purpose of God.  They can bring Christians to court, they can make laws, and they can celebrate that which opposes the scriptures, but they will not prevail against the church or against the will of God. 

            In Acts 5 the apostles are put out of the meeting while the Pharisee makes his case to leave them alone.  They decide not to kill them, but they do beat them and tell them to stop teaching in the name of Jesus.  Let’s read again what happens next:  41 Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. 42 And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.

            They get beat up and come out rejoicing for the honor!  So many are saying that those of us who hold fast to the traditional meaning of the Bible are on the wrong side of history.  I would rather be on the wrong side of history than on the wrong side of God’s word. 

            The second thing the apostles did was they did not cease teaching and preaching that Jesus is Lord and Savior.  They did not obey what the council told them to do.  They pressed on for the prize in Christ Jesus.  They fought the good fight.  This too is our call in Christ, to press on.  14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained” (Phil. 3:14-16).  As we face uncertain times in our nation, let us hold true to what we have attained in Jesus our Lord.  Amen.