Sermon

Acts 4:23-33

 

It isn’t being paranoid as a Christian to think that there are people out there who threaten to want to get you.   It is being realistic.  It will happen.  It is what is happening.

 

There were violent threats against believers in the words of our reading today.  The enemies of Jesus had just killed him.  The threat was: “Believe like we do and get on our side…or die.”  That was pretty much it.  The Romans would carry on an even more vicious tradition.  Kiss the statue of Caesar and pledge allegiance to him, or die.  This threat became the reality for many, many Christian believers.

 

Today there are no hungry lions held on leashes to sic on Christians.  There aren’t many Christians lighting up festivities at night as living and burning torches.  It isn’t like that.  But the threat is still there and the threat is still terrible.  Cover up the name of Jesus if you are around it.  Don’t talk about Jesus under the fear of punishment or ridicule as being hopelessly bigoted. Don’t speak the name Jesus and risk your political career.  Just follow the path of least resistance.  Don’t rock the boat.  Don’t be judgmental.  (You are deemed judgmental when you say there is truth.)  And if you need further examples of the threat against believing Jesus, just say publicly, “I believe in Jesus and I want you to believe in Jesus.  He is the only way.  There is no other way.”  Try that if you are skeptical about there being a threat.  Try saying to Moslems and Mormons and Jehovahs’ Witnesses and erring Christians, “You are wrong.  You are not right.  You don’t have The Way.  If you don’t change and believe Jesus, you will be lost.”

 

HOW TO FACE THE ENEMY’S (EMEMIES’) THREAT    

1. Pray

2. Remember

3. Speak boldly

 

1. Pray

On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and elders had to say to them.  

 

And what did they say?  It doesn’t say in the text, but we can know that Peter and John said to the Christian believers in Jerusalem, “Jesus’ enemies said that we should not speak about him anymore.  That’s what Alexander and John and Caiaphas and Annas said.  And we told them, ‘For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.’”  No doubt they also said, “You know that these people are not going to back down.  They are going to come after us.”

 

In view of this threat we read, “When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God.”  What followed was their prayer to God.  You might be surprised to know what they didn’t say in their prayer.  (You and I are not able to pray this way either when we are faced with a threat.)  They didn’t say, “Cut the enemies off at the knees.  Spoil their days.  Make them miserable.  Help us to get even.  Help us come out on top of every argument.”  

 

When faced with the threat, the first Christians prayed and remembered in their prayers that Jesus made everything by his power.  “Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them.”  He created all things…even the ones who were making the threats.  That puts everything into perspective.  Those who threaten us are going up against God himself, the one with all power, the only one who creates.

 

And then they identified the enemy.  They said, “Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed.”  You have to know the enemy by name if you are going to pray for them.  And Jesus taught us to pray even for our enemies.  What a hard thing it is.  What a great command our Lord asks of us.  It is hard to pray for Caiaphas and Annas and Alexander and John.  They were of the ruling family that killed Jesus. But Jesus does give us a good example.  He prayed for us when we were his enemies.  He asked his Father to forgive us all.  Turnabouts is fair play.

 

And finally, the first Christians acknowledged their own weakness and lack of power to do what they wanted to do and knew they must do, so they prayed, “Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.”  Our prayers are also sent on their way heavenward with that prayer on our lips, “Enable us in view of the threats to speak your word with great boldness!”

 

2. Remember

And they remembered.  In the face of threats these first believers in Easter remembered things.

 

They remembered the Scripture.  They quoted it.  It was in the Scripture that they found their moorings and their bearings.  When people threatened them and their message they found their courage and their way in The Way of the Bible.  They were aware of what it said in Psalm 2:1,2  Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?  The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his Anointed One.”  They quoted that verse as they dealt here with the threats of their enemies.  They were also aware of what it said in Psalm 1:2, “But his (the believer’s) delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.”

 

On various Holocaust museums around the world, the words “Lest We Forget” stand off the walls with somber and clear letters so that everyone can read them and be warned.  Forgetting is bad.  If we forget history, as the historians will tell you, we are doomed to repeating it.  Forgetting our heritage and belief about the Lord and his Word is an awful thing to happen.  We don’t want to forget.  We can’t forget and survive.  So when unbelief in all its terrible mutated forms threatens us, we remember our Jesus and what he has done and what he has said for us.  He said in his Word what he said for just such a time as this….”lest we forget, lest we forget.”  

 

Let’s remember that Jesus is still in charge.  He still reigns.  He and his Father still reign supreme.  (The Supreme Court of the world continues to be in heaven!)  What we say in The Apostles Creed is still absolutely true.  Jesus “ascended into heaven, sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.”  He is there reigning today.  Still.  Certainly.  And his Father is still the Father Almighty.  Let’s remember that too when we are threatened with might that seems much greater than we…and is!  Let’s remember and believe that even the bad things that happen are happening according to the Will and Way of God.  He is going to cause even them to support his people and his Kingdom.  We hear this very promise echoed in the words before us today…words the first believers remembered when they considered the threats of the enemies.  “Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed.  They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.”

 

3. Speak boldly

In view of the praying and the remembering, there is a third thing to do in the face of threats to do nothing.  That too is part of the threat: to do nothing.  To not talk about our faith in Jesus.  To not actually believe Jesus is King and live accordingly.  To not confess.  To not be bold in our testimony.  But that is not the way believers respond to threats.  They respond to threats with the continued prayer, “Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.”

 

It is all right to be in the face of wrong.  It is all right to get in the devil’s face and say, “You will not succeed in robbing me and my children of Jesus.”  It is all right to say in the face of The Lie, “Jesus is the Way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through him.”  It’s all right to be bold in that way.  And when it was done at that first time of our reading today, we hear, “After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken.  And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.”  It happened!  They were bold.  They did speak the Word boldly.

 

And when their prayer in the face of their enemies was over and they were able to speak boldly, they did one more thing.  They also remembered---they didn’t forget---how important their unity was…and how important it was to share with each other, not only in the bearing of the threats but in the support of life itself.  So we read finally in the words before us today the quiet summary of life in view of all the threats of unbelief:  “All the believers were one in heart and mind.  No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had.”

 

With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all.

 

It isn’t whistling in the dark.  It isn’t bravado.  It isn’t a rattling of swords.  It is the promise of our God to us in the face of threats.  We pray.  We remember.  He makes us bold with his grace and power.  Amen.