Bold Ambassador

Bold Ambassador

We’re studying the book of Acts to be encouraged and inspired by the early church to be Great Commission Christians. I don’t know what comes to mind when you think of church, but chances are it’s a far cry from what the early church actually looked like. The Church started as a movement with no buildings, no pews, no hymnals, no liturgy, no traditions. It was just a group of people that saw something supernaturally happen right in front of them, and when Jesus gave them the clear mission to go out and share this good news of what happened, they were full of the Holy Spirit and obedient, and therefore, the Church grew in amazing ways.

They were outward focused, more concerned about getting the word of Jesus out there, then they were about what’s in it for them.

Last week, we talked about praying bold prayers. Everything we do for the Lord must start with prayer. We read about Peter and John being arrested for preaching about Jesus in the Temple. After spending a night in jail, which could have been much worse, they went back and met with the other believers and did something unexpected. Instead of praying for safety and protection (like we would do), they prayed for something else entirely.

Acts 4:29-30
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.

They prayed that God would give them power to speak His word with boldness everywhere they went to everyone they could, and they asked God to do amazing works through them.
Because of their bold prayers, God fulfilled their request. And no matter how many times I read the book of Acts, I am absolutely amazed and in wonder at all that happened.

Remember back in Acts 2 where Peter preached his first sermon, he referred to the prophet Joel’s words from the Old Testament that said:

Acts 2:17-19
17 ‘In the last days,’ God says, ‘I will pour out my Spirit upon all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams. 18 In those days I will pour out my Spirit even on my servants—men and women alike—and they will prophesy. 19 And I will cause wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below.

This is exactly what was happening. Peter and the others were seeing opportunities that God put before them, and they seized those opportunities and preached with boldness full of the Holy Spirit. In just a few short days, over 5,000 men (plus women and children) committed their lives to Christ. And miraculous signs were in no short order. Healing the crippled man in chapter 3 that we read about last week, who never walked or stood a day in his life, was just the start.

Acts 5:12, 15 says,
12 The apostles were performing many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. 15 As a result of the apostle’s work, sick people were brought out into the streets on beds and mats so that Peter’s shadow might fall across some of them as he went by. 16 Crowds came from the villages around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those possessed by evil spirits, and they were all healed.

The apostles were healing the sick 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, this was a clear sign that God was up to something unusual.

We live in safest nation in the whole world. We live in one of the safest parts of our nation, and yet we are still scared and worried about all sorts of things. Will I get the job, will I get that house, will I have enough money, what if this or that happens, do I have enough health and life insurance for all the what ifs. Don’t get me wrong, it’s wise to be prepared, but with so much fear and over thinking, before you know it that kind of thinking creeps into our faith.

With all the safety and with all that we have, we’re still praying little feeble prayers of “protect us and help us to have a safe trip.” And consequently, out of all the Christians in the world, who have the least to fear, we are some of the least bold believers. We’ve lost our edge; we’ve lost our boldness.

There was a time when the local church was completely open-handed. The last thing they worried about was themselves. They were way more 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 and outsiders, the way that they responded to persecution, and their response to being hated. Yet Luke tells us that 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 being blessed, but you should feel responsible. You should be grateful and be good stewards of those blessings. 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 because we’re too afraid. And most of us, literally have nothing to be afraid of.

So let’s jump back into the story. The disciples kept preaching the message of the resurrection and more and more people are embracing 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 even more people from the surrounding communities begin to flock into Jerusalem.

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 take our power away from us.” These religious leaders are the experts in the law and religion, and suddenly no one is showing up for their worship services. No one is asking them questions anymore. They were jealous and didn’t want to lose what power they had from Rome.

So, they send the temple guards to arrest all the apostles who they hear are again preaching in the Temple. In chapter 4, Peter and John were arrested for preaching in the Temple. Now all the apostles are doing it, and the temple guards arrest them all and put them in jail.

But during the night, an angel of God opened the gates of the jail and let them out telling them to go back to the Temple and give the people the message of life. So right back to the Temple they go. Something interesting here is that Luke calls it a 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.

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. And now they are absolutely furious! Verse 24 says, they were perplexed, wondering where it would all end.

They send the temple guards back out to re-arrest these guys, but there are so many people gathered around the apostles that the temple guards are afraid that the crowd would literally stone them if they tried to take the apostles away. The scripture only says that they were able to arrest them without violence. So, I imagine it went something like this. The captain goes up quietly up to Peter and whispers, “Peter, we were sent here to arrest you. Could you please come with us quietly?”

Peter and the disciples put a pause in what they are doing and they, as a group, accompany the temple guards back to the high council and place themselves under arrest in order to give an account for what they are doing. Now, here’s where it gets pretty exciting.

Acts 5:27-42
27 Then they brought the apostles before the high council, where the high priest confronted them. 28 “We gave you strict orders never again to teach in this man’s name!” he said. “Instead, you have filled all Jerusalem with your teaching about him, and you want to make us responsible for his death!”

There’s definitely some bitterness. Did you notice, he won’t even say His name.

29 But Peter and the apostles replied, “We must obey God rather than any human authority. 30 The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead after you killed him by hanging him on a cross. 31 Then God put him in the place of honor at his right hand as Prince and Savior. He did this so the people of Israel would repent of their sins and be forgiven.”

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, who is given by God to those who obey him.”

In other words, this isn’t just about something we heard. This isn’t even about something we just believe. This is about something we saw. We all know these events happened right here in this city just two months ago.

33 When they heard this, the high council was furious and decided to kill them.

Here we go. That’s it. It’s all over. It was no more just trying to scare the Jesus out of them, now they wanted to put them to death. This should not surprise us. They put Jesus to death, so to really stop these guys too, they’re going to have to put them to death too. But then something really interesting happened.

34 But one member, a Pharisee named Gamaliel (Ga-meal-e-al), who was an expert in religious law and respected by all the people, stood up and ordered that the men be sent outside the council chamber for a while. 35 Then he addressed the Sanhedrin (the high council): “Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men.”

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, think about your next move carefully. And then he tells them why.

36 “Some time ago there was that fellow Theudas, who pretended to be someone great. About 400 others joined him, but he was killed, and all his followers went their various ways. The whole movement came to nothing. 37 After him, at the time of the census, there was Judas of Galilee. He got people to follow him, but he was killed, too, 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 in order to raise the taxes.

But Judas the Galilean said no, we’re not going to participate in such a census. 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? Rome said 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 not get our hands bloody. Let’s just wait.

38 “So my advice is, leave these men alone. Let them go. If they are planning and doing these things merely on their own, it will soon be overthrown. 39 But if it is from God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You may even find yourselves fighting against God!”

Wonder why he said that? Did he have a clue that this was all from God? Now pause and listen to the implications of this statement. He’s saying the only thing that could overcome the power and control of Rome, 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. Little did Gamaliel know he was in the very city where God was doing something new, ultimately called the Church.

40 The others accepted his advice. They called in the apostles and had them flogged. Then they ordered them never again to speak in the name of Jesus, and they let them go.

Now the temptation is to just keep reading on, but we have to stop and look closer. These men were flogged, and that does not mean just being whipped. They were flogged like Jesus was flogged. 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. A person was beaten 39 times (40 was considered death), until the skin was literally pulled off his back and stomach. I don’t mean to gross you out, but I need you to understand the depth of this.

So, for several hours, the apostles stood in line and watched as the temple guards flogged and permanently scarred the bodies of their closest friends for talking about something they had seen. 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. Every time they changed shirts, every time they swam, every time they bathed it would be a visual reminder of this day.
You see if it were us, the thought of this would have been the end. We would have never went back to the Temple. The message of Christianity would have never moved beyond the first century. But listen to their response. After being beaten almost to death…

41 The apostles left the high council rejoicing that God had counted them worthy to suffer disgrace for the name of Jesus. 42 And every day, in the Temple and from house to house, they continued to teach and preach this message: “Jesus is the Messiah.”

They were in a huge amount of pain and are permanently disfigured, yet they rejoiced that they were worthy enough to suffer like Jesus. This is where we Christians today need to get on our knees and repent because we’re so afraid someone’s going to tell us no or not like us because we ask them to church.

Yet our first-century forefathers said 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 my skin for Him. He gave His life for me; I gave up my reputation for Him. I’m not ashamed.

How do you respond to that? At this point, as I’m studying for this message and I’m thinking, what do you say after that? And the only thing I could hear was just get started and keep going.

Many of you have done that when you committed to taking the 30 day challenge, when you prayed for the church and over our communities, wrote notes of encouragement, invited people to church, when you took those bags to invite more. You started. Well done. Now, I asking you to take the next step, pray even more boldness.

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, so I’m just not going to say anything.

Bold is taking advantage of the opportunities that present themselves. If you pray for opportunities to be bold, to share your faith, you’ll find them. Boldness is simply taking advantage of the opportunities that God is giving you. Remember He made you for this.

Aren’t you grateful someone was bold with you? Aren’t you grateful someone brought you to church? Aren’t you grateful someone gave you that book or pamphlet and kept inviting you or invited your kids to church? 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.

Someday someone will thank you for being bold with them. They may knock on your door, sit in your cubical at work, or take you out to lunch and say, “I know that was awkward, hard for you, that you weren’t necessarily comfortable doing this, but thank you for being bold.”

Friends, pray for boldness and take the opportunity to be the Church God created us to be!