Bold Ambassador

Bold Ambassador

Bold Ambassador
Acts 4:29-30; 5:27-42, 2 Corinthians 5:20

Church, when it first began, wasn’t a building, an institution, or a hierarchy. Two thousand years ago, the church began as a movement. Luke tells us in the book of Acts that what launched the church wasn’t the teachings of Jesus, not necessarily even Jesus himself, but instead what launched the church, what got it moving was an event – the resurrection of Jesus. Something those early disciples just couldn’t be quiet about.

So 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. And 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 two weeks ago, we began to talk about boldness. We read about Peter and John being arrested for preaching about Jesus in the Temple. 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…

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.

And at the end of the message, we all stood and prayed together for that same kind of boldness.

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, got to have a lawyer and a bunch of insurance. 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, nervous, scared.

But honestly, I think if many people around the world heard our American prayers, (you know: help us to have a safe trip, help me to get through school) they’d laugh at us. They’d be 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.” And 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.” That seeps into our thinking as Christians, and before you know it, out of all the Christians in the world 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. Part of the reason we’ve lost that is because we’re so blessed. Now you should never feel guilty for being blessed, but 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 ramp up our boldness and stop being so afraid. Most of us, literally have nothing to be afraid of.

So let’s jump back into the story where we left off two weeks ago. 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 even 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, this was a sign that God was up to something unusual.

And something we should realize while all this is going on is that the religious leaders were trying to manage the delicate balance of power that Rome gave them. Rome let them have their have their faith, but if they get too loud or rambunctious, that’s the end of it and likely them too. So suddenly, the religious leaders who were working so hard to keep this balance and stay in control of it, are not at the center of attention, and Luke tells us that they became very jealous.

So they send the temple guards to arrest all the apostles (not just Peter and John this time), the whole group thinking they are going to put an end to this once and for all. But during the night, an angel of God opened the gates of the jail and let them all out telling them to go to the Temple, a public place, and give the people the message of life. So right back to the Temple they go.

Something interesting Luke states is that this is 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. So now they are absolutely furious.

So, they send the temple guards back out to arrest these guys again. And Luke says that the temple guards go to arrest them, but there are so many people gathered around the apostles that the temple guards are afraid of the crowd, that they would stone them. Can you picture it? One of the guards 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.”

And Peter and the disciples stop what they are doing and as a group, they accompany the temple guards back to the high council placing 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 should really read your Bible.)

Acts 5:27
27 Then they brought the apostles before the high council, where the high priest (this is the top guy) confronted them. 28 “We gave you strict orders never again to teach in this man’s name!” he said.

Notice, they don’t even want to say the name of Jesus.

Acts 5:28
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 defiantly some bitterness here. Again, this is just two months after the resurrection, and the high council is saying to the apostles look, the way you keep telling this story makes it look like we’re guilty.

I’m sure Peter was 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.

Acts 5:29-31
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’s the thing that puts Christianity in a completely different category.
Acts 5:32
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 about something we heard. This isn’t even about something we just believe. This is about something we saw happen right here in this city just two months ago.

Acts 5:33
33 When they heard this, the high council was furious and decided to kill them.

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.

Acts 5:34
34 But one member, a Pharisee named Gamaliel (Ga-may-ual), 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 said to his colleagues, “Men of Israel, take care what you are planning to do to these men! 36 Some time ago there was that fellow Theudas (thee-u-dus), 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. The purpose of the census was to figure out how to raise the taxes based on how much money people made and how many people had moved into the area. This was all to hammer down on the people even more.

But Judas the Galilean was tire of this and said, no more. 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-may-ual) 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 don’t get our hands bloody. Let’s just wait. When all this gets out of control, Rome will solve our problem again.

Acts 5:38-39
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!”

So he recognizes this and knows that 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.

Anyone ever visit the modern city of Rome? Today, Rome is the epicenter and considered by many the capital of Christianity. So Gamaliel was absolutely right. Little did he know then that he was in that region, in fact in the very city where God was doing something new, ultimately called the Church. Well, the religious leaders liked his reasoning.

Acts 5:40
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.

The temptation is to just keep reading on, but we have to stop and realize the reality here. Flogged didn’t mean a whole lot to most of us until we saw the movie “Passion of the Christ?” We thought flogged was just being whipped. But in all reality, 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 until the skin was literally pulled off his back and stomach.

So for hours, the apostles stood in line and watched as the temple guards flogged, permanently scaring the bodies of their closest friends, listening to their closest friends 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.

If it were us today, 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.

Acts 5:41
41 The apostles left the high council rejoicing that God had counted them worthy to suffer disgrace for the name of Jesus.

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 like someone won’t like us because we are Christians.

Yet our first-century forefathers are feeling like 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 and stomach for Him. I gave up my reputation for Him. I’m not ashamed. It’s my most prized possession.

What’s 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 blessings, we’ve allowed them to strip us of our boldness.

After the disciples have been flogged, this is maybe after someone tended to their wounds or maybe after they healed up.

Acts 5:42
42 And every day, in the Temple and from house to house, they continued to teach and preach this message: “Jesus is the Messiah.”

Remember, this is after they prayer for boldness. It’s not like they went to a different city. They went right back to the temple. What do you make of 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. Now if you listen to these and go, Pastor Trish, compared to what the apostles went through, this is still nothing. I agree. But it’ where we are, and we have to start somewhere becuase 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.

Boldness 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, might offend someone, what if it doesn’t come out of my mouth right. I’m just not going to say anything.

Boldness is taking advantage of the opportunities that present themselves. You start praying for boldness as I told you a couple of weeks ago, you are going to run into opportunities to be bold. And boldness is simply taking advantage of those opportunities that present themselves.

Boldness is also creating opportunities. Let’s get out into our community. Let’s host events and opportunities to share the Gospel like the Community Thanksgiving Eve Service, the Christmas Tree Lighting, Back to Church Sunday.

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. Aren’t you grateful somebody was bold enough to bring you to church? Aren’t you grateful someone gave you that book or pamphlet? Aren’t you grateful someone 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. And some of us, we’re just too busy. We’ve just gotten too distracted. So consequently, we’re not bold.

But that can change. And someday someone will knock on your door, sit in your cube at work, take you to lunch and say, thank you for being bold. Thank you for inviting me to church and being persistent.

2 Corinthians 5:20
20 We are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!”

Next week, is Back to Church Sunday. Let’s quit procrastinating, let’s quit being scared or always taking the easy path. Let’s get out there and invite all sorts of people!

Let’s say something when it would be easier to say nothing. Let’s take advantage of opportunities when they surface, and let’s 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. We are all a part of it because we are a part of the Church.