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Acts #14 (chapter 4:13-31)
The Book of Acts
Persecuted for Truth’s Sake, Part 2
Acts 4:13–31
The Book of Acts, as you know, is the history of the first church and in the early chapters we get a little insight into its formation and life.  We also get to see how quickly Satan began to attack i's work through persecution.   
Almost as soon as it began, the opposition rises up in an attempt to silence the witness of the church.   We looked at the account found at the beginning of chapter 4 where the Jews put Peter and John in jail for preaching and healing in the name of Jesus. 
And as we saw last week, in answer to their inquiry about the miracle that was done, Peter confronts the Jewish leadership by telling them the miracle they witnessed was done in the name of Jesus, Who was, in fact, their Messiah who they had recently killed. 
Well, in the arrest and response of Peter and John, we get some insight into the appropriate response to persecution.  We began looking at that last week by noting that, first of all, they didn't resist.  They were actually submissive to the persecution and that allowed them an opportunity to preach the the gospel. 
In fact, they wound up being the center of attention, with an invitation to talk about Jesus.  Only God could have arranged that!
The second principle that rises out of this persecution is they were filled with the Spirit.  What they did and said was beyond their own human ability.  But Jesus, faithful to His promise, does exactly what He told them He would do.  He puts the words in their mouth so they'll know what to say. 
The third thing was they used the persecution to boldly present the Gospel and talk about Jesus.  And I find it extremely compelling that even though these guys are relatively inexperienced and the church is brand new, and they haven't had the resident Spirit living within them very long,  they possess this amazing boldness and confidence that allows them to stand up in front of the most powerful men in town and speak the truth. 
They don't soften the message or make sure no one is offended.  They preach the exclusive claims of Christianity that offers salvation in Jesus only and they do it with absolute confidence. 
And notice the response they receive in
verse 13
The Jewish PH.D's are shocked!  They are supposed to be the only ones who speak with authority and they're astounded that these uneducated Galilean fishermen say what they say with such boldness, such confidence, and who talk like they knew what they were talking about.  In fact, they're acting adn sounding just like Jesus!
And that leads to a a fourth principle which is
4.  Be obedient to God no matter the cost
verses 14-17
The leaders have a problem on their hands.  They are looking at the man who had been healed standing with Peter and John.  They can't deny the miracle.  They can't argue with the disciples’ understanding and interpretation of the Old Testament. 
They best response they could give would be to repent, but they're not going to do that.  So they have to figure out some way to respond. 
So, in verse 15, they ordered them to leave the council, and then they began to discuss their options.  The miracle happened.  The whole city knows it’s a miracle.  We can’t deny the miracle.  What are we going to do with these men?
This is a tough problem.  And by the way, there’s no law against healing people.  It's hard to outlaw a good deed!  And furthermore, Peter and John were popular with the people.  How popular were they?  20,000 people or so by now have joined their movement!
They not about to kill these men or they’re going to have a revolution on their hands.  But they can’t let them go with no punishment and they can't have them continuing to go around teaching and healing in the name of Jesus. 
So, verse 17, they come up with the solution of threatening them and telling them not to do it anymore!
This is the inevitable moment in persecution.  we read about it from time to time.  ISIS finds Christians, they bring them in, they say “denounce Christianity, embrace Islam or we’ll chop your head off.”  That moment comes in persecution when you must choose to be persecuted or deny Christ.  That's what is happening here. 
I find it interesting that the early believers had to be commanded to be quiet about Jesus while modern believers have to be commanded to say something about Him.  We’ve come a long way, haven't we? 
But these guys are threatened, by way of this command, not to talk about Jesus.   No more preaching. 
So how do they respond? 
verses 19-20
That is a well-crafted response, isn’t it?  They might’ve been ignorant and unlearned fishermen, but they were pretty shrewd.  "Since you are so good at making judgments, you need to make another one.  Should we obey you or God?  What's the right thing to do?"
And I know we are commanded to obey the civil authorities and all that, but we live under a higher authority and there comes a time when we have to choose to obey God, and no one else. 
So what do you do when what man tells you to do is contrary to what God tells you to do.  Then, who do you obey?  You be the judge. 
Whether it’s right in the sight of God to give heed to you, rather than to God, you judge that. 
By the way, how did Daniel face that?  Daniel was told: do not pray.  Daniel answered that question, “I have a higher authority.”  Daniel, by nature, was a submissive young man.  He had demonstrated that in his training in Babylon.  He was a well-rounded noble, accommodating man, and rose to a position of power and authority in a foreign country.  But when it came to being told not to do what God commanded him to do, that’s where he had to obey the higher authority.
So what does someone do in persecution?  First, you boldly proclaim the message that brought about the persecution, and secondly, with holy courage and boldness, you take your stand.  You have, really, no choice.  When the culture tells you not to proclaim the gospel, when the culture tells you that you cannot read the Scripture, when society forbids you to name the name of Jesus Christ, or when society demands that you do something God forbids like allow homosexual marriage, then you have a higher authority.
So, they say it as clearly as you can say it.
verse 20
We can’t stop speaking about what we’ve seen and heard. 
verse 21
And there we discover why they let them go.  There is a massive movement of God going on.  There are all these people who have become true believers and are now making up the church.  And the whole city is captivated by this incredible miracle, and they’re all glorifying God for what happened. 
Everyone knew this miracle was the work of God.  After all,
verse 22
For decades, they had seen this beggar in his lame condition, and now he's up walking and jumping up and down and giving praise to God. 
So they threatened them and not much more because they were afraid of the people and then released them.  Now eventually, the consequences will become much more serious as they move from threatening to beating to killing the followers of Christ.  But this time, they threaten them and release them.
Verse 23
Basically, they gave a report.  They had stood their ground.  They had been bold.  They had been threatened.  They made up their mind to keep doing what they were supposed to do, and they were released.   
There is a man in church history named John Chrysostom who was summoned before the Roman emperor Arcadius, who threatened him with banishment if he didn’t stop preaching Christ. 
He is said to have said this: “You cannot banish me, for the world is my Father’s house.”  The emperor said, “Then I will slay you.”  “Nay.  You cannot slay me, for my life is hid with Christ in God.”  “Then, your treasures will be confiscated.”  “That can’t be.  My treasures are all in heaven, where no one can break  in and steal.”  “Then I will drive you from men, and you will have no friends.”  “You cannot do that either.  I have a friend in heaven who said I will never leave you or forsake you.” 
Ultimately, Chrysostom was banished to a remote place on the edge of Armenia.  And all he did when he got there was preach.  All the time.  So they determined they had to banish him further into a terribly obscure place, and he died on the journey. 
No threat could break his spirit, and no threat could keep him from being obedient.  He, like these early believers, simply obeyed Christ, even if it meant persecution. 
What did they do?  They were submissive, they were filled with the Spirit, they used the persecution as an opportunity to preach, and they were obedient, no matter what it cost. 
Fifth, we see that persecution
5.  Drew then closer together as believers
verse 23
Notice the word companions is in italics.  That means it's not in the best manuscripts,  It was added to add translation,  But if you read the verse without the word, it says, "They went to their own."
They had this unusual sense of family and community and persecution only enhanced and grew that.  Notice what we read down in
verses 32-37
There is this incredible coming together that is a product of the persecution.  It produces unity.  They clung tightly to one another; they were dependent on each other. 
Perhaps at no time is the fellowship of other believers needed more than when someone in the family is being persecuted.  It forces believers to circle the wagons and cling to each other and support one another. 
And that, in and of itself, becomes a great testimony to the character and nature of the church becasue it flows from our love for one another.  That's what led those who observed the early church to comment on how they loved one another. 
Then, quickly, and this one will sound odd, a proper response to persecution is to 
6.  Praise the Lord
verses 24-28
Isn't that amazing?  They come directly out of this persecution to gather with their brothers and sisters in the Lord and immediately begin to praise God.
And there is an interesting word choice found in how they address God.  They say, "Lord, you are God".
But the word they use for "Lord" isn't the normal word.  This word means the master of all, and in particular is used to speak of the absolute ruler of slaves.
They see themselves as slaves, and they are praising their master.  They praise, with one accord and in one voice, their God, who is the creator of the entire universe, the God who has all of the rulers of the world and nations of the earth in the palm of His hand. 
That means if God is the absolute master of all, then He must have allowed their enemies to do what they did.  But God is to be praised because even though they were persecuted,  they accomplished God's purpose, which was to bring glory and honor to His Son.
That's what verse 28 is talking about.  The persecution of God's people didn't surprise God.  IN fact, He allowed it and planned it so He could accomplish His predetermined plan.
And the God who can plan and do that deserves to be praised! And that's what they do!  They give their  report, then praise the Lord and glorify God. 
They understand the guilt of Herod, Pontius Pilate, the Romans and the people of Israel.  But behind it all is the invisible hand of God bringing about His predestined purpose.
Then, the last response is to
7.  Pray for Greater Boldness
verses 29-30
After all the praise, then comes the request.  And notice, it's not, "Lord, get us out of this.  Make them quit treating us so mean!"
No.  Here’s their request: “Allow us, as your servants, to preach with an even greater boldness so that Jesus will be honored."
Give us more confidence and allow the privilege of doing more miracles and more wonders so that the name of Jesus will be proclaimed more and more.
And boy, was their prayer answered!  Notice heaven's response in
verse 31
This is how to face persecution.  And I will tell you this:  the gospel of the Kingdom has always depended on faithful saints. 
We’re here today enjoying the privileges we have because of faithful saints of God.  It was faithful saints who preserved and printed the Scriptures.  Faithful saints wrote the books illuminated by the Holy Spirit that explain the Scripture so that it could come to life through the centuries and be brought down to us.  Faithful saints have been used of God to guild the church and preach the gospel and teach the children and baptize believers. 
And we can look backward and see many faithful persecuted believers, but we need to realize that there are many today living.  There will continue to be many more in the future.  Maybe some of us willa be called on to stand in the face of opposition and preach Jesus.
may God help us to do it as they did so that we would know the same response of heaven that was given to them.
Let's pray.
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