Acts of God: Part 8 - Suffering for Him - Hope 103.2

Acts of God: Part 8 – Suffering for Him

We are going to look this morning at some things that Jesus did. It’s a very normal sentence for a preacher to say on Sunday morning. But we are going to look at some things He did after He was crucified – and that is not a normal thing to say by a preacher. Things […]

By Simon ManchesterSunday 27 Nov 2016Christian Growth with Simon ManchesterFaithReading Time: 15 minutes

We are going to look this morning at some things that Jesus did. It’s a very normal sentence for a preacher to say on Sunday morning. But we are going to look at some things He did after He was crucified – and that is not a normal thing to say by a preacher. Things that Jesus did after He was crucified – and not passively, just by memory or example, but actively. Things that He did in the 1st Century after He had died and risen.

Since I spoke on a Sunday morning a few weeks ago, you will know that some well-known deaths have occurred. You can imagine people saying that their spirit lives on, that we can still feel them with us, and that sort of thing. However, the people who have died do not start new adventures. They don’t continue to confront people. They don’t continue to appoint people. They don’t initiate change and development. But Jesus does all these things, every day. He starts new adventures. He confronts people. He appoints people, and He initiates change and development. And He does it as Somebody who has died and has risen. And so He does His work from a new position, no longer earth, but now Heaven. And that’s what the Book of Acts is all about. If you think Jesus has gone, you really will be confused, but if you know He is on the throne of Heaven, everything will start to fall into place.

So I want to divide this section into three points:

  • Jesus Christ and the open door
  • Jesus Christ and the open tomb
  • Jesus Christ and the open mind

Jesus Christ and the open door

First of all, Jesus Christ and the open door – Acts Chapter 5 Verse 17. We have seen Jesus ascend to Heaven. We have seen the Holy Spirit descend. We have seen the Lord Jesus working through the Apostles, in preaching and doing miracles. And we have seen the opposition increase against them. And now in Chapter 5:17, we read the High Priest and the Sadducees were filled with jealousy. The reason they were filled with jealousy is because of what’s recorded in Verses 12-16. And what’s recorded in Verses 12-16 would make any opposition jealous. Here are the Apostles: they are doing miracles, they are wonderfully united, they are highly regarded by the people of the country. They are increasing in number. They are hugely successful. No wonder the High Priest and Sadducees were jealous. And what do they do? Well, they decide to put them in gaol (Verse 18).

I think it’s important for you to know that jealousy is a resentment of arrival and sometimes, a resentment of arrival is warranted and legitimate. And God resents an idol taking His place in your life, and He is right to do so. A spouse resents a third party in a marriage, and they are right to do so. But some jealousy is illegitimate and unwarranted because we are just annoyed that somebody is competing with us, who has a right to compete with us. And sometimes we are annoyed by a work of God which frustrates us or even humbles us. And that is what is annoying the High Priest and the religious leaders, and it makes them put the Apostles in gaol.

The gaol is useless because Jesus wants them out, and we read in Verse 19 that He arranges the opening of the gaol so that the Apostles might go on and preach this Word of life. And so we read that the Lord arranges for an angelic messenger to open the doors, and brings them out. And in this passage, the Lord Jesus overturns all the opposition. Put in gaol – open door. Told to be quiet – ignore. Beaten to intimidate – rejoice. All the opposition is overturned. And when the angel opens the door of the prison, a kind of a Biblical version of the three stooges begins to take place, or the ‘Keystone Cops’ if you are old, or ‘Dumb and Dumber’ if you are not that old. And it’s Biblical humour at its best. It’s laughing at opposition. And so the religious leaders put the Apostles in gaol, and the Lord opens the gaol. The religious council gets everybody together for a big trial, and then they can’t bring anybody in to stand in front of them on trial because they can’t find anybody in the prison. And the guards are standing there at the doors of the prison, guarding the prisoners, and there is nobody there. And the Apostles are now out, standing in the temple, preaching the message which they have been gaoled to stop them preaching. And so no wonder, when it says in Verse 24, that they went looking and were greatly puzzled, they were greatly puzzled. It’s a joke. And we are told, of course, that it was the Lord’s angel who opened the door and that the Sadducees did not believe in angels. So what are they going to say?

Incidentally, some commentators have tried to explain this angel away also, and have said that it was probably a friend of a warder, who acted like an angel to them. But this warder, you see, has to persuade all the guards to co-operate, and then stand there like dummies and maybe lose their life (which is the price you pay as a Roman soldier if you lose the one you are guarding). So you have to do an enormous amount of gymnastics to put away the fact that the Lord sent an angel.

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And no wonder the Lord did this because (Verse 20), He wanted them to preach the new life.

Now we have to ask this question – why doesn’t the Lord open every door? If the Lord can open doors, why does He even let them into gaol. And if He can open doors, why doesn’t He get them out in Chapter 5, and Peter out in Chapter 12, why doesn’t He get Paul out in Chapter 24? Why is it that the Lord open some doors and not other doors? Why does He cause some people to be miraculously relieved of things, and other people to be stuck where they are? Where is the consistency? And in the end, the Bible-believing Christian has to say, ‘I have a framework which I am going to live inside – and that is that Jesus is powerful and can do anything He wants to (Acts Chapter 5). Jesus is loving, and He wants people to be saved and to grow (Acts Chapter 5). And Jesus is wise. He sits on the throne of Heaven, and He sees the big picture in a way that we don’t (Acts Chapter 5)’. And that’s the framework that we have to keep on preaching, as a door may close in our face and frustrate us, or a door may open, and rejoice us. We have to keep on saying He is powerful, He is loving, He is wise. Everything fits into that framework.

At the suffering level, at the personal level, I was reading through this week of Joni Eareckson, who many of you will know, a fine Christian girl, author, who was made a quadriplegic four decades ago and has not been healed. And she must feel pressure, as many do today, to advance the research to make her well, which could come (some say) by stem research. But Joni Eareckson, concerned that young, small lives do not get snuffed out for her benefit went along to the Whitehouse recently and, in her wheelchair, four decades after she became a quadriplegic, said to George Bush these words, ‘I stand with countless Americans with disabilities who believe that our cause is not advanced when human life is sacrificed, in hopes of finding a cure. People like me who are medically fragile are left vulnerable and exposed in a society which views human life as a commodity which can be experimented on or exploited’. That is a brave thing to say, isn’t it. She has no door open out of her wheelchair, but she does not want a door which compromises Biblical convictions and truths.

Now at the Gospel level, the Lord is also able to open doors and close doors which sometimes are quite remarkable. You must ask Him this week to help you to be available, because, on any day of any week, He can open a door for you to be His representative. And we would do well to say to Him – I am available on a morning by morning basis. I am Your servant. Use me today.

We are not to be like a cartoon I saw of a butler, kneeling beside the bed of his boss, who was reading the paper in bed, and the butler was kneeling down beside the bed praying, ‘Forgive him his trespassers, and he forgives those who trespass against him’. In other words, we cannot get people to do our Christian life for us. It can’t be made easy. It can’t be made employable. It’s good for us to pray. It’s good for us to give. It’s good for us to seek to be consistent as Christians. But we can do all that very safely.

Silence, however, is not an option for the Christian, and the Lord calls us to be available to be His spokespeople. Nor can we pay people to be our missionaries. Nor can we pay people to be our witnesses. Those of you who do pay people to mow your lawns and clean your houses and mind your children need to remember that you cannot pay people to do the work of being His witness for you. The Lord has not asked us, as Christians, to find slaves. He has asked us to be slaves. He has not asked us to be on His board so that we can tell other people what to do. He has asked us to be in His service, so we can do what He tells us to do. And when you put together this wonderful door that He opens, and these willing disciples saying, ‘Use me’, you have the very best of the Christian mission – the Lord opening doors, because He is the Lord and using available, willing people like us.

Jesus Christ and the open tomb

The second is Jesus Christ and the open tomb, from Verses 26-32. They find the Apostles preaching into the temple. And they bring them into the court for a ‘ticking off’. And they are very annoyed. You can see, in Verse 28: we told you not to teach, and you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching. And now you are trying to make us feel guilty by telling us that we are responsible for Jesus’ death.

It’s very interesting. They won’t use Jesus’ name. They hate being in the dock. They assume that to be guilty is totally inappropriate, whereas in fact, they are guilty and they need to face it if there is to be any progress.

Now Peter, in four verses, gives a masterful speech. He says – we have been preaching because we are under the authority of God. And he says, ‘We must say things’. And he lists three things that we must say. One, we must say that God raised Jesus from the dead. Now, why does Peter say this? And why does he say in Verse 30, ‘He raised Him whom you killed by hanging him on a tree’ especially when they have just said – don’t keep saying that we did it! Peter says this to them because of course; they did cause Jesus to be placed on the tree or the cross. Deuteronomy 21 – anyone who is hung on a tree (that’s the cross) is cursed by God… and Jesus was cursed by God. But the thing that people need to know is not just that He was cursed by God, but He was then honoured by God. He was vindicated and raised. And it’s a very unfair thing if people think that Jesus just died, and they don’t realise that God vindicated Him and honoured Him and raised Him. If a person only takes the view that Jesus died, that’s a bias, and it’s a warp. They need to know that God, seeing Jesus on the cross, with the sins of the world on His back, paying them successfully and effectively, then raised Him and said, ‘You have paid. You have done it. You are vindicated. I raise You from the grave’. And people need to know that.

It’s interesting, isn’t it, that there is no shrine to Jesus that is official in the world. Nobody knows where Jesus was buried. There are some guesses. Some of them are good guesses. I walked passed the Waverley cemetery this week. I saw some vaults that were huge family vaults and there are memorials in the cemetery – some of them are six metres high. And these are for people who are not specially known, but the most famous Person who has ever lived in the world, Jesus Christ, has no clear shrine. And the reason is because it was not important to remember a place where He stopped for an hour or two. You see, the raising of Jesus means that there is no body there, and there is no body there because He has been raised.

And then, says Peter, God exalted Him to the right hand. He didn’t just raise Him from the dead. He didn’t just raise Him like Lazarus. He exalted Him and gave Him the place on the throne, which is the place of power – peerless, supreme, without equal – and we must tell people.

Those of you who are coming to the debate in a few weeks’ time down the road, between a Muslim and a Christian… I hope you know that the Muslim and the Christian who are speaking (and no Muslim or no Christian who have got their head screwed on think that the views of Islam and Christianity about Jesus can be equalised or compared. They are totally distinct. One will say that Jesus is inferior and one will say that Jesus is supreme. And the evidence that Jesus is supreme is all through the New Testament. And to take the view that He is not supreme, you have to mentally or physically remove 90% of the New Testament. It all points to Him being exalted to God’s throne.

And then, says Peter (Verse 32) – he gave His Spirit. Everybody who turns and believes is given His Spirit, a brand new eternal life. This is what marks out a Church person from the Christian. A Church person just walks in and out, but a Christian has God’s Spirit in their heart and life. And the reason a Church person has God’s Spirit in their heart and life is not because they are good, but because knowing they are not good, they turn to Jesus and say, ‘Forgive me. I surrender to You’. And being joined to Christ at that moment, God’s Spirit took up residence in their heart, and they became people with eternal life, which will go on for eternity. That’s the privilege and Peter says we must say these things.

Spurgeon said once, ‘I would rather step on to a narrow bridge that I knew went right over the chasm, than a very broad bridge (as wide as the world) which did not get across’. Jesus Christ is the narrow bridge, yes, unpopular, but He crosses the chasm and takes a person to God, and one day, face to face. And that is why we must tell people. It is a loving thing to tell people.

Put together the open tomb and the loving witness.

Jesus Christ and the open mind

Thirdly, Jesus Christ and the open mind. Well, when Peter speaks like this, of Jesus being raised and exalted, and giving the Spirit, he makes the opposition (Verse 33) want to kill them. And the only thing humanly that gets in the way of their killing is that an honoured Pharisee called Gamaliel stands up and he persuades the council not to kill them. He says in Verse 38 – I advise you to leave these men alone. Let them go. For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail, but if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men. You will only find yourselves fighting against God. To his credit, Gamaliel seems very wise, doesn’t he. Many human causes do die out. He is right. It would be hopeless to fight God. He is right. It seems that He is God’s weapon to prevent the Apostles from going to an early grave. And he has gone down in Church history as a bit of a peacemaker. I want to suggest to you this morning, however, that I think that he is a bit of a wimp. I think there are serious weaknesses in Gamaliel. For example, it’s quite foolish to say that every human cause has died quite quickly. There are lies which have lit fires that are still going after centuries. Mark Twain said once, ‘I lie will run around the world while the truth is still tying on its shoes’. And not only that, I don’t see that Gamaliel can lump Jesus into the same company as a man called Theudas, who got a group together and a man called Judas (another Judas) who got a group together. How can Gamaliel seriously think that Theudas and Judas and Jesus can be put in the same collection? What about the message of Jesus? What about the miracles of Jesus? What about the death and resurrection of Jesus? No. Gamaliel is a lazy thinker. He seems to have an open mind, but it’s just failing to bite on something, and it is a cowardly thing to just keep your mind open, and not make a decision. And sadly, of course, so many people wake up in hell as a result.

His student, whose name was Saul, who became Paul, had a totally different philosophy. Saul made a decision against Christianity, and he fought it. He saw the implications, and he fought it. Then he was converted, and he became Paul, and he saw the implications, and he fought for them. He was not a wait-and-see man. He was a turn and live man. And I suspect that Gamaliel was more interested in anti-suffering than he was in pro-truth. He represents so many in the world who just want to be left alone and have a soft road. However, God did use his speech. The Apostles got off with a probable 39 lashes. They were ready to suffer. They rejoiced that they could suffer for the name of the Lord Jesus. In John Stott’s commentary, he quotes the saintly African Bishop, Festo Kivengere, who said, ‘Without bleeding the Church does not bless’. And maybe one of the reasons that I and we do not bless as we might bless is because we just don’t want to pay a cost.

Let me finish by honouring Jesus Christ. He rules from Heaven. He rules the doors. He opens and closes the doors, according to His sovereign power, love and wisdom. And He opens doors for us so that we might know Him and serve Him and proclaim Him. And then, of course, He also rules the world. You will never go astray if you take seriously that Jesus Christ sits on the throne of the universe. It will do you good to kneel before Him and to honour Him and exalt Him. And Jesus Christ rules the minds of men. We may think Gamaliel was in the seat of power because he seems to have that position of being able to say – Yes, No, Yes, No, Maybe – but look at Verse 31. Jesus Christ exalted to the right hand of God, gives repentance and forgiveness of sins. Do you see that Jesus so rules the universe, that He gives repentance. Nobody repents unless God gives the will to repent. No one turns back unless God enables them. The fact that a person thinks that they have an open mind is a little bit of a pipe-dream, because they can never close it on Jesus unless He enables them. And I say this because if there is anyone here this morning who doesn’t yet belong to Jesus Christ, I do long for you to belong to Jesus Christ, and I want you to feel your helplessness. You cannot turn to him unless He helps you. I don’t want you to think you are powerful. I hope that you will call up and say, ‘Help me to turn. I’ve never turned. And help me to be forgiven. I have never been forgiven’. Because you, could go out from this building and say, ‘It is all up to me, but Jesus rules and it’s all up to Him’.

I say this also because I want many who do belong to Christ to feel the gratitude. It was Jesus who helped you. God drew you to Jesus. He woke you and He drew you, and then He forgave you. And I hope that you will feel your gratitude, that you have been helped to turn and been forgiven. He is the Lord, Jesus, of the open door. He enables a messenger to say something. He is the Lord of the open tomb. He gives us a message which the world wonderfully needs. And He is also the Lord of the open mind, and that’s why everybody must quickly grab what they know of Jesus and what they can get of Jesus, before the opportunity disappears, as we have seen people in these last weeks, whose opportunity has just suddenly disappeared.