Sunday, December 25, 2011

From Acts to Revelation - Part 9: Persecution of the Church


From Acts to Revelation
Part 9 – Persecution of the Church
Pastor Bruce A. Shields
House of Faith Church | www.PS127.org | www.TruthDigest.org

INTRODUCTION
Last week we talked about Peter and John and their daily trips to the temple, where they would preach and teach what they had seen and heard while with Jesus.

There was a man, lame from birth, who asked for alms, and Peter healed him in the name of Jesus.

This aroused the attention of many, including the sanhedrin, the religious leaders.

Today we will see how the religious leaders begin to struggle with control, and acting in fear of losing this control, they try to put a stop to Peter and John preaching and teaching about Jesus and the resurrection.

In the world we live in, persecution is different in the US than in other parts of the world, where it is closer to biblical persecution we read about.

But we are still faced with decisions we must make when it concerns the teachings of Jesus and the Word of God.

On what do you base your decisions in everyday life?  You may say God...but is that true?

Does favor of men control how you act? Or perhaps money is the basis for your decisions?

When you vote for a leader, does what God says is important, important in your decision making?

Are God's values reflected in your choices?

Today we see that the religious leaders are beginning to lose their control...as God is reclaiming it.

Today's scriptures will make us ask ourselves, is it better to listen to man, or God?



SCRIPTURE READING
Acts 4:1-22
 1 The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people. 2 They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. 3 They seized Peter and John, and because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day. 4 But many who heard the message believed, and the number of men grew to about five thousand.
 5 The next day the rulers, elders and teachers of the law met in Jerusalem. 6 Annas the high priest was there, and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander and the other men of the high priest’s family. 7 They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: “By what power or what name did you do this?”
 8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! 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, 10 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. 11 He is
   “‘the stone you builders rejected,
   which has become the capstone.’”
 12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”
 13 When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. 14 But since they could see the man who had been healed standing there with them, there was nothing they could say. 15 So they ordered them to withdraw from the Sanhedrin and then conferred together. 16 “What are we going to do with these men?” they asked. “Everybody living in Jerusalem knows they have done an outstanding miracle, and we cannot deny it. 17 But to stop this thing from spreading any further among the people, we must warn these men to speak no longer to anyone in this name.”
 18 Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. 20 For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”
 21 After further threats they let them go. They could not decide how to punish them, because all the people were praising God for what had happened. 22 For the man who was miraculously healed was over forty years old.



I.       PERSECUTION BY THE RELIGIOUS LEADERS
1.      Apostles were bringing attention to themselves
1.      In Acts 2 we see they healed a man who was lame from birth on the way to the temple

2.      This man told everyone what had happened, including the Temple priests

3.      Everyone in Jerusalem knew this man because he had lived here his entire life of 40 years, lame, a beggar in from of the Temple gates.

4.      After asking Peter and John for alms, Peter healed the lame man in the name of Jesus.

2.      Daily the Apostles taught of Jesus and the resurrection in front of the Temple
1.      This created animosity in the priests.

2.      These men were winning converts from Judaism to this new Church faith, referred to as Christianity.

3.      By this time, over 5,000 had accepted to the teachings about Christ and the resurrection, and had devoted themselves to Jesus, becoming His followers.

3.      Preaching the Truth has consequences
1.      When you preach the truth, two things will happen;
1.      People will come to Christ
2.      People will hate you

2.      When I began to preach at the First Baptist Church, immediately, people loved my preaching because it was the truth of God's Word, and immediately, people hated me for the very same reason.
3.      After two years preaching there, the church became divided into two groups, those who loved the Word of God and His Spirit working in the Church, and those who hated it, because God was gaining control...and they were losing it.

4.      I too was taken aside by the leaders of the church
1.      At first, encouraged by them to continue leading the church
2.      After those who hated wrote enough letters, I was asked by leadership to “play nice” with the handful of self-elected people who truly ran that church.
3.      When I refused to to stop preaching and teaching the scriptures, such as allowing people to come forward for the Elders of the church to pray and lay hands on them, the leaders once again called me for a meeting.
4.      This time, offering me my choice between three other churches to lead.
5.      To which I refused, as I told them, God had already told me years before that my ministry for Him would be here in Tawas, not another city.

5.      Animosity, anger and hate, all because of the Word of God.

4.      The Sanhedrin hated the Gospel for the same reason...
1.      The high priests were no longer high priests when Jesus came.

2.      The people no longer needed the priests for seeking God

3.      The religious leaders no longer were the top-dogs with the Apostles around

4.      So they beg, and threaten to hold on to their control of God's people, not wanting to hand it over to the Holy Spirit.


II.    THE APOSTLES RESPONSE TO THE PERSECUTION
1.      The Sanhedrin asked “By what authority do you do this?”
1.      Peter and John make it clear, the healing, teaching and preaching was all done in the name of Jesus.
2.      The lame man was healed in front of the Temple so that ALL the people of Israel should know the Name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.

3.      Remember: this is one of the signs that the Apostles were speaking for God, signs, wonders and miracles.

2.      Peter then reminds them who Jesus is
1.      You know, the one whom you crucified, but God brought back to life!

2.      The one you tried to silence, but could not.

3.      The one you tried to rid yourselves of, so that you would stay in control of God's people, but weren't able to.

3.      By the way...
1.      Salvation is found in no one else.

2.      For there is no other name under heaven given to men by which you can be saved.


III. ACTIONS TAKEN BY THE SANHEDRIN AND APOSTLES
1.      The Sanhedrin had a problem
1.      They asked that Peter and John be taken away so they could talk

2.      They knew these men were unschooled, and ordinary men, yet, they spoke with courage, and they realized that they had been with Jesus.

3.      They also knew that an outstanding miracle had taken place in this name they were operating in. The man had been lame for forty years, yet stood before them now.  Lame from birth, yet walked as if never lame.

4.      All of Jerusalem knew this man because he begged in front of the temple his entire life.  All those coming to the Temple saw him, and see him now. They could not deny he was healed.

2.      Questions they asked themselves
1.      They asked each other, “What are we going to do with these men?”

2.      “Everybody in Jerusalem know about this miracle.”

3.      “We cannot deny the man was healed, BUT, to stop the spreading of this Jesus, we must warn these men to speak no more to anyone in His name.”

3.      The Sanhedrin's Command
1.      Bringing Peter and John back into the room, they give their command, “Speak no more in the name of Jesus!”

2.      “Do nothing else in His name.”

3.      “Stop preaching and teaching what Jesus taught you.”

4.      The Apostles Response
1.      “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God's sight to obey you rather than God.”

2.      “For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

5.      More threats and release
1.      The scriptures tell us the Sanhedrin threatened Peter and John more before releasing them.

2.      They could not decide how to punish them because all the people were praising God for what happened, because the lame man who was healed was forty years old, and everyone knew him.

CONCLUSION
The religious leaders hated the teachings of Jesus, because they were losing their control and power over the people.

They tried to put a stop to what the Apostles were teaching about Jesus and the resurrection, but the signs, wonders and miracles that followed the Apostles proved that they were speaking the Truth, and were speaking for God.

Neither the leaders, nor the people could deny that these signs, wonders and miracles were taking place, therefore, the Sanhedrin could only threaten the Apostles.

But Peter asked them to judge for themselves if it were better to listen to men, or God?

Do we ask ourselves the same question on a daily basis?  We should.