Acts of God: Part 5 - Pointing to Jesus – Hope 103.2

Acts of God: Part 5 – Pointing to Jesus

We are following, on these Sunday mornings, the Book of Acts and so far, we have seen quite a significant movement of the 1st Century people, over to Christianity. It has been quite a wonderful few weeks. And you will remember, for example, the Day of Pentecost, with thousands of people moving over to Christ.This […]

By Simon ManchesterSunday 6 Nov 2016Christian Growth with Simon ManchesterFaithReading Time: 19 minutes

We are following, on these Sunday mornings, the Book of Acts and so far, we have seen quite a significant movement of the 1st Century people, over to Christianity. It has been quite a wonderful few weeks. And you will remember, for example, the Day of Pentecost, with thousands of people moving over to Christ.

This morning there is some serious opposition to Christianity – and this, of course, is a lot more like the real world in which we live, because the real world in which we live has very great opposition to the claims of Christ – whether the opposition is violent, or whether it is polite, whether it is secular opposition, or whether it is religious opposition, there is much opposition to the claims of Christ.

Well, what we remember, as we look at this Book together, Acts, the acts of Christ, is that this Book is showing the work of the risen Christ, through His people, as they break with the Jewish roots, as they burst out of the Jewish wineskins, and begin to spread across the world. One historian that I read some weeks ago says this, ‘Within the space of 30 years after the death of Christ, the Gospel had been carried to all parts of the civilised world, and to no small portion of the uncivilised world. It had made its way over the most formidable barriers and secured such a hold in the imperial city of Rome as to make it certain that it would finally seat itself on the ruins of its paganism. It had settled the point that it would overturn every altar, close every pagan temple, and bring under its influence men of office, rank and power – that is, faith would stream from the Palace of the Caesars. And all this would be accompanied by the instrumentality of Jews, of fishermen, of Nazarenes. They had neither wealth, armies or allies. They were men without learning (except for Paul), armed only with the power of God, victorious only because Christ was their Captain. Their success has never been, and can never be accounted for, by any other suggestion than that God attended it’. It was a remarkable spread, from the start to the present time.

Now the spearhead of the Christian truth is that Jesus is Lord. And if He is Lord, He is to be served. And this, of course, is highlighted most clearly in the famous Chapter 4, Verse 12 which says that Salvation is found in no-one else; there is no other name under Heaven by which we must be saved.

Now instead of promoting this, that Jesus is Lord, you are in danger of privatising that Jesus is Lord. And I am in danger of privatising that Jesus is Lord. It is much easier for us to keep this in the confines of our ‘Church box’. And those of you who travel know that when you travel, you see people of other faiths, and it is much easier for you to say, as you travel and you see these people, ‘Well, each to his own’ than it is to say, ‘No. Jesus is Lord’. And those of you who study or read and pick up occasionally, some of the very beautiful, glossy books of other faiths, know that it is easy, as you look at these, to have a new understanding of the faiths and a new appreciation for the faiths and that it becomes much more difficult in the face of this information to say, ‘No. Jesus is Lord’. And those of you who face some of the questions, and we all face these questions.

The question of people who have never heard of Christ, either because they are deprived of the information (or at least sufficient information) to put their faith in Jesus, or because of some handicap which prevents them from ever understanding the Gospel, the question of whether religion is just a geographical issue, and that you believe what you believe because of where you have been raised. The question of whether we have any right at all, as a minority group in the world, to claim that Christ is right and that He is speaking for a loving God and the question of whether the world is actually pretty fine without Christianity.

These sort of things we are facing all the time – the travel, the study, the questions that come to us, chip away at the idea that Jesus is Lord. And these sort of issues has caused many convinced Christians to become relatively unconvinced Christians. And maybe this is you this morning – you are not quite so sure if the fact that Jesus is Lord is a true message. You are not quite so sure of whether it’s a loving message. You are not even quite sure whether it’s a necessary message.

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And this Acts Chapter 4 is an excellent example to us, and a reminder to us, of men who loved the world more than themselves, by telling them the truth of Christ, because they represented Christ, who loves the world and tells the world of Himself.

So we are going to look at this Chapter under three headings. And the first point, from Verses 1-7 of Chapter 4, a national interrogation.

A National Interrogation

Now I say the word ‘national’ because I don’t want you to underestimate the interrogation that Peter and John and the Apostles are faced with. They were used by Jesus in the healing of a man, who now stands on his feet for the first time in 40 years, able to walk, leap and praise God. And the crowds gathered, and when the crowds gathered, the leaders came.

Look at Verse 1 & 2, the priests, the captain of the temple guard, the Sadducees, came up to Peter and John. And look down to Verse 5 – the rulers, the elders, the teachers of the law met in Jerusalem to try them. This was a national issue for Jerusalem: Thousands of people believed the Gospel. And so by the time the Apostles are put on trial, every leader of Israel is present. And it was very frustrating for the Jewish leaders of the 1st Century because it was infuriating for them because the Apostles were so effective but they were uneducated. How could they be so effective? And they were making these 1st Century Jews feel guilty for the death of Jesus. Why should they be made to feel guilty? And they had facts that they couldn’t get around. There was a healed man standing in front of them. I think Verse 14 and Verse 16 is semi-hilarious, where they say that the man is standing there and there is nothing that the people can say. It’s obvious, in Verse 16, ‘Everybody living in Jerusalem knows they have done an outstanding miracle, and we cannot deny it’. And of course, there is an empty tomb. They can’t even produce the body of Jesus, to get rid of this Christianity. There is no body to be found, and so they are frustrated.

But, worst of all for the Jewish leaders of the 1st Century is in Verse 2 – that these Apostles were proclaiming, in Jesus, the resurrection.

Now the Sadducees, who you see mentioned in Verse 1, they didn’t believe in the resurrection. The Sadducees were a wealthy, lay movement, fairly anti-supernatural. They just believed the first five Books of the Old Testament, and they didn’t believe in the resurrection and so of course, to proclaim the resurrection, to them, was nonsense. And do you remember Jesus’ devastating words to the Sadducees in Mark Chapter 12, ‘You don’t know the Scriptures? You don’t know the power of God’. The Pharisees who are also present, they did believe in the resurrection, but they believed in the great future resurrection. What upset them, according to Verse 2, was that the Apostles were proclaiming that the resurrection is found in Jesus. And so they were echoing the very claims of Jesus, who said Himself: I am the resurrection … I am the circle of the resurrection… if you want to join the resurrection, step into the circle of Jesus. If you want to sail from this shore to the next, you need to be in a ship not called ‘Good People’, you need to be in a ship called ‘Jesus Christ’. That’s what Jesus said, and here the Apostles are echoing. They are faithful to Jesus, in repeating what He Himself said. And they are facing this national, serious, scary interrogation as a result. And the big question that they are being asked is in Verse 7, ‘By what power, by what name, did you do this healing?’ It’s a national interrogation.

I found, as I was praying over this passage for myself, I asked myself the question, whether one of the reasons that I am not prepared, as boldly as I could and should, to speak of the greatness and the uniqueness of Jesus, is because I am afraid of trouble. And the Apostles are not like that. They have a greater courage and concern than to be afraid of trouble.

A Logical Conclusion

The second section is a logical conclusion – Verses 8-14. This is the real heart of the section because this is where the Apostles speak about the significance of the healing. What are they going to say about the healing? Well they say, Verse 10: the healing has taken place by the name of Jesus. Interestingly, Luke, who writes this account of Acts, gives no indication that this was the start of a healed world. He doesn’t give the impression that because this man has been healed, that he is the first-fruits of an immediately healed world as if everybody was meant to be healed immediately. No. He gives the correct impression that this man who has been healed is a preview of a restored world and proof that Jesus is alive and changing people, calling people to Himself.

And so Peter stood up in Verse 8, and he is filled with the Holy Spirit, and he speaks very wonderfully, because you remember that Jesus had said in Luke’s Gospel, and in some of the Gospels, that he would help them to speak when they were on the spot, and they didn’t have time to prepare. And this is what he says, Verse 9, ‘If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness, shown to a cripple, and are asked how he was healed, then know this, you, and all the people of Israel: it is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you, healed’.

Peter moves straight from the healed man to Jesus, and he reminds them that Jesus is alive and He is still doing His work, the One who was crucified and has been raised, and He is now doing His work. And this man who has been healed is just the platform that gives the Apostles their opportunity to speak, and when they speak, they don’t want to talk about the healed man, they want to talk about Jesus, who has done the work. So it is the crucified and risen Jesus whom they want to speak about.

And I want to say to you, on the side, that these Apostles, who cannot stop speaking of the crucified and risen Jesus, are on a very, very important subject.

Do you know how important the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus is? Because everybody that you know is familiar with the idea that Jesus was crucified and rose (Good Friday, Easter Day) everybody is familiar with these ideas. But very few people understand the reason why Jesus was crucified and rose. And we know this, because if you talk to people who don’t understand Christianity, or if you talk to people who have some alternate faith, they see no real reason for the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus.

When you talk to these people about their religion or their non-religion, and when you talk to them about their faith, or their non-faith, or their search, or their spirituality, or their Church that they go to, they don’t care what Jesus did. They are talking about what they are doing; what they are trying to do, what they are seeking to do, what they are aiming to do. They don’t care about why Jesus died and rose. But Peter and John keep talking about the crucifixion and the resurrection (and we must keep talking about the crucifixion and the resurrection) because nobody gets eternal life without the crucifixion and the resurrection. And nobody gets introduced to God without the crucifixion and the resurrection. It’s the crucifixion which allows a person to be forgiven and stand before God, today and forever. It’s the resurrection that opens the door, leading into eternal life.

And therefore, we need to say to people: get to grips, if you want to know the future, with the reason, with Jesus died – the crucifixion and the resurrection.

And if there is anybody who is listening to me, and you are in a complete fog about Christianity, you don’t understand what everybody is talking about. You are aimless in the fog, and all you can hear is yak, yak, yak, from some preacher, let me urge you – work out why Jesus died, and why He rose – and you have the secret and the solution and the centre of the hope of Christianity.

And Peter preached it. He preached about the crucified and the resurrected Messiah. And if any of the Jews accused him of now being offensive (and they said to him – this is completely ridiculous, that you would suggest that ‘that Jesus’ who went passed was the Messiah, the one we have put to death, that is absolutely ridiculous and it’s offensive to us. How can we possibly have missed the Messiah. We would know who the Messiah was). Look at Verse 11 – No, says Peter, the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone, the very Messiah who was predicted to be missed by you, has been missed by you. And now you need to rethink and return to Him. He is alive and well.

Now the next Verse, Verse 12, is one of the most important and forceful verses in all of Scripture, ‘Salvation is found in no-one else, for there is no other man under Heaven given to men by which we must be saved’.

Do you notice how Peter moves from the healed man, straight to Jesus? That’s his real subject. And do you notice how Peter moves, quite seamlessly, from healing, to what everybody needs – which is salvation? Everybody needs salvation. Salvation is found in no-one else. We must (Verse 12) be saved.

On Friday, I took a wedding here, and I was chatting to the soloist before the wedding. The soloist was a very, very well-known singer, and a very nice man, and a very thoughtful man. And I asked him what faith he came from. And he said he was raised a Hindu. And I said to him, as we were standing here on the platform, I said, ‘What is the Hindu message to me? What is it that Hinduism says I must know and I must do?’ And he looked a little perplexed, and he said, ‘Well, I suppose it’s reincarnation. You know, live well, so that you will return’

I said to him, ‘Do you know what the Christian message to you is, that you must know and you must do?’ And I said, ‘The Christian message to you has reasons. It is because Christ did die and Christ did rise that you must turn to Him in faith’. He said, ‘It’s a very chauvinistic message, isn’t it?’ I said, ‘It’s a very reasonable message’. He said, ‘You speak as a lover’. He said, ‘You love Christ, so you can’t stop speaking of Christ’. I said to him, ‘Actually, there are objective reasons, not just my subjective things, why people must turn to Christ’. He said, ‘Ah, there’s no logic in religion’. I said, ‘The resurrection has tremendous logic’.

Then we grabbed one another by the throats and wrestled on the platform here for about five minutes! No. We got interrupted at that point. One of the groomsmen came up to ask something quite unimportant. But that’s as far as we got. That’s as far as we got in our conversation.

Now I want to ask you to put your mind back on Verse 10. This is very important. The basis for conversation between a Christian and a Hindu, in the opinion of God’s Word, is that something unique and wonderful in history has happened. It is, by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, who was crucified, but who God raised from the dead.

See friends; there is a time for you to tell a friend what Christ means to you. And actually, I wonder whether we couldn’t do a much better job of this, because I sometimes wonder, in my best moments, how any person can turn away from someone called Jesus Christ, who is so wonderful, and whose friendship and fellowship is such a treasure. And there must be times, I hope, in your Christian life where you say, ‘I have Someone, in Jesus Christ. I can’t understand how anybody could turn away from this Person, or be away from this Person. He is so wonderful’. And there is that subjective, treasured aspect of the Christian life.

But in the end, the reason that a person has an obligation to think about Jesus Christ, to re-think and re-turn is because He was crucified and He was raised. You see? It’s that basis which is causing or calling the world to wake-up and take notice.

And I think one of the crucial questions that we need to ask people when we are in these sort of conversations is, ‘What is essential about your faith? What does your faith say I must do? And then, why must I do it?’ But we can say to a person whom we care about, ‘There is something you must do because there is Someone who impacted history – died, and rose – and the world knows about it. It is of global significance. It is of eternal significance. It is not arbitrary. It’s not optional. It is the door, from this world to the next and therefore you and I have an obligation to turn’.

Well, that’s what Peter says. The global event of Verse 10 gives rise to the appeal of Verse 12 – you must be saved. And I want to say very quick things about Verse 12, as we continue. First, salvation, according to Verse 12, is necessary. We must be saved. I know it’s very old-fashioned to say a person needs to be saved. Jesus saves. I know it sounds slightly irrelevant today, to say that you need to be saved. The fact of the matter is that every person does need to be saved from their sins and does need to be saved from judgement before they meet the Judge. And we ought to be asking people, ‘What is essential about Christianity? It is that you must be saved’.

And then, from Verse 12, salvation is controlled. It’s owned. It’s monopolised by Jesus. There is no-one else; there is no other name (Verse 12) by which we must be saved. We have to echo what Jesus says Himself: He is the way. We don’t do this because we are arrogant. We are meant to do this because we are humble. We have worked out that He is reliable, and we humbly sit under what He says and we humbly tell people what He says. We echo His claim. We echo His credential. And the main reason we do this is because He is on the throne; He deserves the bowing of people. But we also do it from compassion, because there is no salvation without Jesus.

And friends, if you say to me today that you are not sure that a person needs Christ, it sounds to me as though you are not converted. Once you know that you need Christ, to be saved, you know that everyone needs Christ, to be saved. This is a logical conclusion. If we say to people, ‘All faiths are the same’, we know that’s absurd. If we say, ‘All faiths are fine’, we have spoken extreme arrogance. We haven’t just said that we now disagree with the ones that are not our faith. We have now said that no faith is right to claim it’s the way. We don’t have to claim, as Christians, when we talk like this, that we have perfect knowledge. We are not God. What we are saying is that we have a reasonable truth. We have an adequate truth. And we don’t even need the person that we are talking to, to agree, to be friends. We just need to have patient and kind communication.

Salvation is necessary. Salvation is controlled by Jesus. Salvation is given. It is given. He is given (Verse 12) to men: God so loved the world, that He gave His Son. Most of the world faiths want to take. Most of the world faiths are ‘on the grab’ – they want your performance. The first thing that Christianity says to people is this: God gives you a new life, receive His Son.

Salvation is necessary. Salvation is controlled. Salvation is given. And, salvation is global (Verse 12): there is no other name under Heaven by which we must be saved. There is no other name. Jesus is not an Anglican. Jesus is not white. Jesus is not western.

Two men have told me this week (one at breakfast on Saturday; one at lunch on Friday) that they have been to Churches, or they are working in Churches, where the ‘non-whites’ are taking over the numbers of their congregations. In Newcastle, there are congregations there with the Chinese and the Sudanese that rival, for numbers, the white Anglo-Saxons. In Parramatta, I was told by the minister this week, that the number of Chinese and the number of Persians is now greater than the number of white Anglo-Saxons. That’s wonderful, except for the white Anglo-Saxons, who keep thinking, you see, that it is possible to be optional. But the Chinese, and the Persians and the Sudanese of the Churches around this State will tell the white Anglo-Saxons – No, there is no other name under Heaven, given among men, by which you must be saved. It is a logical conclusion.

A Cowardly Suspension

The last, this morning – a cowardly suspension. In the last seven verses, a cowardly suspension, the authorities have the decision to make now, don’t they? They are face-to-face with a healed man and a risen Jesus, and a message. The evidence is very clear. They don’t know what to do with the evidence. It is undeniable. And so they have a number of options. They can convert to Christianity. Many have done that already in the 1st Century – why don’t they convert to Christianity? Well, it’s too humbling. Or second, they could tolerate Christianity and let it spread, far and wide, but of course, that is too annoying for them. Or they could persecute Christianity, but that’s unjust, and it’s also going to be very unpopular for them. And so, Verse 18, they bring in a cowardly suspension. They call them in and command them not to speak in the name of Jesus. That is a suspension, as far as they are concerned, of speaking. Do not speak. You are suspended. But actually, the cowardly suspension is theirs, because they cowardly suspend the decision. They won’t convert. They won’t tolerate. They won’t persecute. They come up with something which is up-in-the-air called ‘we won’t decide, but don’t say anything’. It’s pathetic. It’s tragic. It’s embarrassing for these authorities, but sadly, you know, that’s happening all the time, isn’t it. So many of our friends are up in that suspension. We do need to pray, don’t we, that the good people who are going to Christianity Explained, seeking to find the basics of Christ, would not end up in some suspension.

Well, Peter and John know that the Sanhedrin Council is not the final authority. They know that God Himself is the final authority. And so they refuse to obey. They insist on obeying Christ. They have the right to speak, and they are prepared to face the penalties that may come from an earthly government.

The 1st Century Jews, you see, have this terrible situation. As one commentator says, ‘They can arrest the Apostles. They just can’t arrest the Gospel, and it just keeps going’.

I want to finish with three one-sentence applications.

  1. Ask God in your prayers, in your private prayers, to save you from forgetting the foundation of God’s mission. If you believe that the death and resurrection of Jesus is important for you, it’s important for your neighbours. If you believe the work of the Apostles in preaching the Gospel is important for you, it’s a model for you to your neighbours. Ask God to save you from forgetting the foundation of the faith.
  2. Ask God to save you from unbelief at Chapter 4 Verse 12. Ask God to save you from the erosion of believing that Jesus is the one name given under Heaven by which people must be saved. Most of you, I imagine, are quite concerned as you read your newspapers, about the big war that is taking place in the Middle East, and I want to ask you (and I ask myself this question) … if I claim to hold in my right hand the Scriptures, and I believe the Scriptures to be true, and they tell me there is a great war for the eternal souls of people, why am I more concerned about what my newspaper says than what my Bible says? Do not let 4:12 be eroded from your brain.
  3. Ask God to keep you ‘at the ready’ for the witness. Ask God to help you to be one of His people whom He uses, somehow, to say a word which helps a person to rethink about Jesus. You may not be successful, but the Apostles, in a sense, were not successful. But they were faithful. And maybe you need to have something in your pocket, a little Gospel, a little booklet, a little something which you are ready to give to that person this week who you helped to rethink about Jesus, through whom all people must be saved.

Let’s pray. Our Heavenly Father, we thank You this morning for the risen Lord Jesus – crucified, now risen, who continues to work wonderfully in reaching people across the world with a message of salvation. We thank You for what He began, with the Apostles, and continues to the present day. And we do pray that You would not leave us on the shelf in Your purposes, but that we might also be Your representatives, Your ambassadors, Your witnesses in helping people know the Lord Jesus, through whom they must be saved. We thank You for bringing this message to us. We pray that You would help us to hear it and heed it, believe it, be transformed by it, and in Your goodness, in Your power, be transmitters of this good news. We ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.