We are well on our way in this series called BIG Church, and the reason it’s called BIG Church is because the church is a BIG deal. I don’t know what comes to mind when you think of church, but the challenge is to think of church and to view the Church as when it first began, because it didn’t begin as a building, it didn’t begin as an institution, it didn’t begin as a hierarchy. The church began as a movement two thousand years ago.
We’ve been going through the book of Acts, written by Luke, a physician and also the author of the Book of Luke. What he tells us is that the thing that launched the church wasn’t the teachings of Jesus, not necessarily even Jesus himself. Instead what launched the church was an event – the resurrection of Jesus; something those early disciples just couldn’t be quiet about.
They flooded the streets of Jerusalem telling everyone who would listen that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, who came for the whole world, and rose from the grave. In just a few short weeks over 5,000 men (not counting women and children) embraced that message. And suddenly, there was all this activity and energy around the Church.
The Church was a movement, and continues to be a movement today. Ever since the beginning of that movement, there has always been a group of people (a remnant if you would) who’ve understood that about the Church.
So last week we began to talk about boldness. We read about Peter and John being arrested for preaching about Jesus in the Temple, the epicenter of Judaism. After spending a night in jail, they went back and met with the believers and did something unexpected. Instead of praying for safety and protection (like we would do), they prayed for something else…
Now Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.
So if you weren’t here last week, you missed a good one—because at the end of the message, we all stood and prayed for that kind of boldness together.
We’ve lost our edge
We live in safest nation in the whole world. We live in one of the safest parts of our nation, and yet we’re still scared. We are still worried; whether it’s “wear a helmet”, “wear a seatbelt”, or “got to have a lawyer and a bunch of insurance”, etc. I’m not saying those things are bad, but before you know it, that kind of thinking creeps into our Christianity, and consequently we’re not bold. We get overly sensitive.
But honestly, I think if many people around the world heard our American prayers – “help us to have a safe trip”, “help me to get through school” – they’d laugh at us. They’re like, have you seen our highways? We don’t even have seatbelts, and we defiantly don’t have laws about seatbelts. We don’t ride around in seats of a car. We ride around in the back of pickup trucks or dump trucks or whatever we can hold on to. Oh, you get to go to school? That’s nice.
Then we pray things like, “bless me.” while other Christians in other parts of the world, have to hear that and think, “you don’t have enough already? You have money in your pockets, food on your tables, a roof over your head, a bed to sleep in.” I’m telling you, when you step way back and look at the universal Church, and then focus in on us American Christians, it’s kind of pathetic. With all the safety and with all that we have, we’re still praying these little feeble prayers of “protect us” and “help us to have a safe trip.” It seeps into our thinking as Christians. Consequently, out of all the Christians in the world, those who have the least to fear about being bold in their faith are some of the least bold believers.
We’ve lost our edge; we’ve lost our boldness. You see, there was a time when the local church was completely open-handed. The last thing they worried about was themselves. They were just so concerned about the people around them.
There was a time when the local church was so saturated with love that people outside the church looked at them in awe because of the way they treated one another, the way they treated outsiders, their response to persecution, and their response to being hated. Yet Luke tells us that they had favor. They had favor in their community and culture, because there was something so unusually wonderful about them.
We’ve lost that. Part of the reason we’ve lost that is because we’re so blessed. You should never feel guilty for a blessing. You should just feel responsible. The point of our time together today, as we study what happened in the early Church, is that we’ve got to amp up our boldness. We’re too afraid. Most of us, literally have nothing to be afraid of.
The disciples kept preaching the message…
So let’s jump back into the story. Here’s what happened. The disciples kept preaching the message of the resurrection and more and more people embraced their message. There’s already a Jewish festival going on so lots of people are in town, but word gets outside of Jerusalem that something is going on. So more and more people from the surrounding communities begin to flock to Jerusalem bringing their sick, lame, and blind because they’ve heard rumors that there’s a group of people that can lay their hands on the sick and heal them.
The apostles were able to do so because Jesus had given them the power of the Holy Spirit. But the point of the healings was not just so that these people would be healed, because every single one of them at some point in time still died. Instead, they were a sign that God was up to something unusual.
Something we should realize is that while all this is going on, the religious leaders were trying to manage the delicate balance of power between “Rome lets us do this, but if we do too much, Rome is going to come in and squash us.” These religious leaders are the experts in the law, they are the experts in religion, and suddenly nobody is showing up for their worship services. Suddenly nobody is asking them questions anymore. They are not at the center of attention and Luke tells us that they became jealous.
Disciples Jailed Again
So they send the temple guards to arrest all the apostles (not just Peter and John), the whole group. They get the ringleaders thinking they are going to put an end to all of this once and for all. They put them in jail for the night, planning to literally scare the Jesus right out of them.
But during the night, an angel of God opened the gates of the jail and let them out telling them to go to the Temple and give the people the message of life. So right back to the Temple they go. Something interested Luke puts in this line, is that he calls the jail a city or public jail. Meaning that there were many people around the jail, even in the jail and yet God does this right in front of them.
Disciples Arrested Again
The next morning the religious leaders send for the prisoners and they are nowhere to be found. The next thing they know, they hear that the apostles are back in the Temple preaching the name of Jesus and the resurrection. So now they are absolutely furious.
So, they send the temple guards back out to re-arrest these guys. And Luke says that the temple guard goes to arrest them, and they are so many people gathered around Peter, Andrew, James, and John and all the apostles, that the temple guards are afraid of the crowd that they would stone them. Can you picture it? One of them goes quietly up to Peter, he’s the number one guy, and he says, Peter, we were sent here to arrest you. Could you please quietly come with us.
Disciples Taken before the Sanhedrin
Peter and the disciples put a pause in whatever they are doing and they, as a group, accompany the temple guards back to the Sanhedrin and place themselves under arrest in order to give an account for what it is they’re doing.
Now, here’s where it gets pretty exciting. You really should read your Bible. Let’s pick up right here in the story.
27 The apostles were brought in and made to appear before the Sanhedrin [The Sanhedrin are the lawyers.] to be questioned by the high priest. [This is the top the guy.] 28 “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,”
This is so interesting. They don’t even want to say the name. They don’t want to say the name of Jesus. Isn’t it interesting that even in our culture, two thousand years later, that name is still disruptive?
28 “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,” he said. “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.”
Wow! Now there’s some bitterness. You have to remember that this is just two months after the resurrection. Jesus’ resurrection was a recent event. And the Sanhedrin are saying to the apostles look, the way you tell the story, it makes it look like we’re guilty.
And Peter is standing there thinking, that’s because you are! I’m Peter, remember? I was there. I had the whole denial thing. The reason it sounds like you’re guilty is because you had him arrested, you had him tried, and you had him crucified. You are guilty.
29 Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than human beings! 30 The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a cross. 31 God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins.
Here is the thing that puts Christianity in a completely different category. This is why Christianity is the culmination of all religion.
32 We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”
In other words, this isn’t about something we heard. This isn’t even about something we just believe. This is about something we saw. Come on, Sanhedrin, we were all around. We all know these events happened right here in this city just two months ago.
33 When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death.
It was no more just trying to scare the Jesus out of them, now the wanted to put them to death. But this should not surprise us, they put Jesus to death, so what would stop them from putting the apostles to death? But then something really fascinating happened.
34 But a Pharisee named Gamaliel (Ga-meal-e-al), a teacher of the law, who was honored by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while.
He was a very respected expert of the law and says, guys, before we decide to execute another group of people and make twelve martyrs instead of one, I have an idea. So, they take the apostles out, and now Gamaliel addresses the Sanhedrin and the high priest. Here’s what he says.
35 Then he addressed the Sanhedrin: “Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men.
In other words, think about this. And then he tells them why.
36 Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing.
37 After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered.
Now, we don’t know anything more about the man Theudas and his group other than what we just read. But we do know a good bit about Judas the Galilean. There’s extra biblical literature that talks him. Judas the Galilean lived at a time when the governor of Syria decided to do a census. The purpose of the census was to figure out how to raise the taxes (so they could hammer down on the people even more) based on how much money people made and how many people had moved into the area. But Judas the Galilean said no, we’re not going to participate in a census.
And he started a movement. In fact, the people that followed Judas the Galilean were the first group known as zealots. You’ve heard that word before, because one of the followers of Judas the Galilean became one of Jesus’ disciples, Simon the zealot.
So Gamaliel (Ga-meal-e-al) is saying, you remember what happened to these guys? And they’re like, oh yeah that’s right. Rome said, oh no, this isn’t happening and they squashed it. We didn’t get involved and Rome came in and solved our problem for us. So let’s don’t get our hands bloody. Let’s just wait. When all this gets out of control, Rome will solve our problem again.
38 Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. 39 But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”
Now pause and listen to the implications of this statement. Here’s what he was saying: The only thing that could overcome the power and control of Rome in this region of the world, is God. If there’s going to be a breakthrough movement, if there’s going to be a change, it would take an act of God.
Have any of you ever visited the modern city of Rome? Do you know what there are more of in Rome than any other city in the world? Crosses—that don’t represent crucifixion, crosses that represent a single crucifixion—that we only know about because of a resurrection. The city of Rome is the epicenter and considered by many the capital of Christianity, and Gamaliel was exactly right. Little did he know he was in the very city where God was going to do something new, ultimately called the Church.
Well, they liked his reasoning.
Disciples Flogged and Released
Acts 5:40 40 His speech persuaded them. They called the apostles in and had them flogged.
You know, flogged didn’t meant a whole lot to most of us until we saw the Passion of the Christ, did it? Flogged was just being whipped. But in all reality, flogged, in some cases, was a death sentence. Flogged was a whip of nine tails with pieces of sharp metal and wood tied into the ends of the strips. And a person was beaten until the skin was literally pulled off his back and stomach. And so, for several hours, the apostles stood in line and watched, as the temple guards flogged—permanently scarred the bodies of their closest friends for talking about something they had seen. Every time they changed shirts, every time they swam, every time they bathed it would be a visual reminder of this day.
See, the temptation is to just keep reading on, but we have to stop and realize that this was hours long, like half the day at least. This was listening to your closest friend gasp and scream out in pain, and knowing that you’re next—because of something you said you believe, and more importantly something you said you saw. You see if it were us, the thought of this would have been the end. The message of Christianity would have never moved beyond the first century. But listen to their response.
40 Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.
Ready for this?
The Disciples Rejoiced
41 The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.
You’ve got to be kidding me…you’re in a huge amount of pain and are permanently disfigured, yet you’re rejoicing.
See, this is where we Christians, in some ways, just need to get on our knees and repent, because we’re so afraid something negative is going to happen to us because we’re Christians; somebody’s not going to like us because we are Christians.
Yet our first-century forefathers, the founders said, are you kidding? To have suffered, to have given up something, to be disfigured because of the name of Jesus is the thing I’m most proud of. He gave his life for me, I gave up the skin on my back for Him. He gave His life for me, I gave up my reputation for Him. He gave His life for me; I gave up my job. I’m not ashamed. It’s my most prized possession.
And here we live in the safest country, in the safest neighborhoods, in the safest communities in the world, and we’re afraid somebody’s not going to like us? We’re afraid we might get a C on our test, we’re afraid we won’t get the job.
What happened to us? I’ll tell you what happened. We’re so extraordinarily blessed. And instead of being grateful and being good stewards of the blessing, we’ve allowed it to strip us of our boldness. I’m not an exception. This is so convicting to me too. It’s why in my prayers, I started to say, God let’s talk about something serious because of the Name.
The Disicples Continue teaching in the Temple
After the disciples have been flogged, (this is maybe after someone attended to their wounds, or maybe after they healed up) they continued teaching in the temple courts!
42 Day after day, in the temple courts [I mean it’s not like they went to a different city. They went back to the temple. You’ve got to be kidding, right?!] and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.
Wow! What do you do with that? How do you respond to that? At this point, as I’m studying for this message and I’m thinking, okay, what do you say after that? I thought, I could share some incredible modern day stories of Christians in different parts of the world, who are persecuted for their faith. But the problem is those stories are so far away and they are so far removed from our circumstances we would all go, “Wow, great story” and then we would just go to lunch. But I thought instead, we would do this: I would like to suggest some boldness baby steps.
Boldness Baby Steps
Now if you listen to these and go, Trish, compared to what the apostles went through, that’s nothing. I agree, but it’s just where we are. And we have to start because come on, we’re the Church! We’ve been handed the Church for our generation and it’s up to us to hand it off to the next generation. So what kind of shape are we going to leave it in? If we want our younger generations to have the Church the way God really designed it, then we’ve got to get bolder now. So here are some suggestions.
• Bold is deciding to say something when it would be easier to say nothing. You run into those situations all the time. I know you do because I do. I feel a nudge to say something, but then I’m like, no what if I make a fool of myself, what if it doesn’t come out of my mouth right. I’m just not going to say anything.
• Bold is taking advantage of the opportunities that present themselves. Let me tell you what. You start praying for boldness, and as I told you a couple of weeks ago, you’ll see what you’re looking for. You’re going to run into opportunities to be bold. And boldness is simply taking advantage of the opportunities that present themselves.
• Boldness is also creating opportunities.
This is how this whole thing called Church got started, and to fall short of that is to really betray the people who gave their lives so that we even have this message. Come on, aren’t you grateful somebody was bold with you? Aren’t you grateful somebody brought you to church? Aren’t you grateful somebody gave you that book or pamphlet? Aren’t you grateful somebody kept inviting you and inviting you, and then they invited your kids? And that was cheating, because your kids wanted to come back, and then you needed to come to make sure of what your kids were experiencing.
One of the reasons we aren’t bold, is because some of us have been Christians so long we’ve forgotten what it’s like not to have peace with God. Some of us, all we’ve known is Christianity. We’ve never not had peace.
Some of us, we’re just too busy. We’ve just gotten too distracted. So consequently, we’re not bold. But that can change. It’s simple. Someday somebody will thank you. They’ll come knock on your door, sit in your cube, or take you to lunch and they’ll say, “I know that was awkward, and I know I was a real jerk early on, but thank you for being bold.”
Addressing Non Christians
Now you know what? If you’re here or you’re watching this online, and you would put yourself in that “I’m not a Christian” category, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, this is the very thing I don’t like about Christians. And I know why you think that. You’re thinking, why can’t they just keep it to themselves?
Well, the great news is most of them do. You’re safe. You work around Christians and you don’t know they’re Christians, because they don’t ever talk about it. You have Christians that you play golf with. You don’t know they’re Christians, because they don’t talk about it. You might even have some family members who are secret Christians. So the good news is most of us will never let on that we’re followers of Jesus, because we’re good Americans, scared to death it might cost us something.
But there are some of us that believe this verse. [John 3:16] There are some of us who literally believe that God loved the world – and that’s you – not church people. There weren’t any church people when this started. For God so loved the world that he gave something. He didn’t require anything. He just gave what was most precious to Him—His Son that whoever – which means you—that whoever believes in him won’t perish but have eternal life—that means their life won’t lose all its meaning and significance once they breathe their last breath.
It means that there’s something beyond this life, and you instinctively know that anyways, because there is eternity in your hearts.
And when you think church, you think negative, and when you think Christian, you think ridiculous, that’s our fault. Because here’s the deal: If we had kept the spirit of the first century church alive, do you know what would be the case? Even if you never became a Christian, you’d like us. You would be in awe of us. You would look at the love we have for each other and say, I don’t know that I believe all the Jesus part, but I would like to have some of that.
You would want to hire us. You would want to work for us. You would want your children to marry us. You would want to get as much of the character, the ethical and the moral part, the honesty, and the “look you in the eye” part and “if I say it, I’m going to do it” part. You would be in such awe of that, that you would love Christians even if you never believed in Jesus.
And if that’s not been your experience with the Church and Christianity, that’s our fault, not yours. So forgive us for not being a very good Church and a very good representative of the Savior. We hope that either because of us or in spite of us, that one day you’ll come to the realization that God loves you so much that He gave His only begotten Son, that you could have eternal life, peace, and hope.
Learn to be Bold
In the meantime, while hopefully that all takes place, the rest of us, we’re going to learn to be bold, aren’t we? We’re going to say something when it would be easier to say nothing; we’re going to take advantage of opportunities when they surface. And some of us are going to go out and create some opportunities, because that’s what we’ve been called to do.
It’s how the Church escaped the first century. And in the words of Gamaleal, it was an act of God, and God has been active ever since. And we are all a part of it, because we are a part of the BIG Church.