The 20th Sunday after Pentecost October 11, 2015
Acts 4:1-3, 5-8a, 12-13, 18-20, 23-31
2 Corinthians 3:1-12
773 (TLH alt. 507), 495, 501, 341
Now as they spoke to the people, the priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees came upon them, being greatly disturbed that they taught the people and preached in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they laid hands on them, and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening… And it came to pass, on the next day, that their rulers, elders, and scribes, as well as Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and as many as were of the family of the high priest, were gathered together at Jerusalem. And when they had set them in the midst, they asked, “By what power or by what name have you done this?” Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them… “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus…So they called them and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard”…and being let go, they went to their own companions and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them. So when they heard that, they raised their voice to God with one accord and said: “Lord, You are God, who made heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in them, who by the mouth of Your servant Davidhave said: ‘Why did the nations rage, and the people plot vain things? The kings of the earth took their stand, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord and against His Christ.’For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done. Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your Word, by stretching out Your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus.” And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.
I’d like to tell you about Hugh Latimer. He was a public speaker. His audience included the most powerful people of his day. Hugh Latimer spoke in the church, from the pulpit. One day the king himself was attendance. He spoke words that made the king uncomfortable for this king was not known for his Christian virtues. Afterward the king demanded that the preacher apologize in church the following week. The day came and Hugh entered the pulpit again. The king was there again. He began his sermon: “Latimer, Latimer, you are going to speak before the high and mighty King, who is able, if he thinks fit, to take your life away. Be careful what you say. But Latimer, remember you are also about to speak before the King of kings and Lord of lords. Be careful that you do not displease Him.” And Hugh Latimer went on to preach the very same sermon he had preached the week before.
Hugh Latimer managed to survive the sword of Henry VIII. Surviving long enough to become bolder still, speaking up for justification by faith in Christ Jesus when the prevailing theology in England was salvation by works. It was Queen Mary, “Bloody Mary” as history knows her today, who burned him at the stake in 1555—burning Hugh Latimer and hundreds of other Christians who spoke too boldly.
I’d like to tell you also about Peter and John—two disciples of Jesus, apostles sent out by Him. They spoke in public. Their audience too included some of the most powerful people of their day—the priests, the captain of the temple guard, the Sadducees, the rulers and elders and the teachers of the law. In front of these people Peter and John proclaimed such a bold message that it seemed impossible for it to be true: “The God of our fathers has glorified his servant Jesus…You disowned the Holy and Righteous One…You killed the author of life, but God raised Him from the dead” (Acts 4:13ff NIV).
The powerful people who heard were taken aback. They could not believe such bold statements. Resurrection of the dead? Really? Did that happen? Could that happen? A man who was crucified in front of so many onlookers and buried in a sealed tomb and guarded.
Resurrection of the dead? Who in their right mind would proclaim that the dead could live again? Is that part of the common human experience? Is that what is regularly seen and observed? No, death looks to be the master. Nobody comes back to life, do they? Nobody can beat that enemy, can they?
Peter and John made a bold proclamation. They said that someone could reverse death and did. He not only overturned His own death by coming out of the grave and appearing to many, but He overturned death for others too. If it was done once, it would be done again.
The powerful people were in an absolute uproar because the apostles were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. This thing they were speaking—this wild talk about life after death, of resurrection—was such a bold proclamation the powerful people could hardly conceive of it; and they surely could not accept that Jesus made it all possible! The preachers had said “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” [v. 12 NIV] But that seemed to them the stuff of fantasy. It seemed that it could not possibly be real. So, they threw Peter and John in jail.
What Peter and John had proclaimed was the Gospel itself. The Good News that Jesus comes to bring life. The Good News is that Jesus has gone through death and has come back to life and in the same way He will bring each of us back to life. When He brings us back we need not fear because He has forgiven our acts of disobedience against God and will not punish us for them because He was made the Lamb of God, a sacrifice for the sin of the world. We can trust Him to come and raise us from the dead!
This Gospel of Jesus, this word which we are invited to go out and tell in the world is a bold proclamation. It is astonishing. It is radical. It is “unscientific” by the world’s standards. It goes against the grain. It runs contrary to popular opinion. It runs contrary to our own natural way of thinking. Therefore, there is no doubt that this bold proclamation calls for boldness to proclaim.
Even the enemies of Peter and John grudgingly admitted they were courageous men. Consider the boldness it took to say what they said in front of those who were listening—here they were standing before a group who could cause them a lot of trouble and they were not backing down. They were not softening their talk about the Christ. They were not changing their tune under pressure. When commanded not to speak in the name of Jesus they replied “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God.” [v.19 NIV]
Peter and John were filled with courage. They were brimming with boldness. They were also filled with the Holy Spirit. Yes, theirs was a bold proclamation—which called for boldness to proclaim but the boldness with which they were filled was not from themselves. They were bold to speak because the Gospel of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit had overwhelmed their hearts.
Peter and John were bold to speak because that great and glorious message—in Jesus we will live even though we die—is so powerful that it moves people to tremendous boldness. That message moves people to preach the same sermon twice in front of the king. It moves people to say before emperors, “Here I stand, I can do no other.” It moves people to say “we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” [v.20 NIV]
Why do you think Peter and John could do it? Because they knew that in Jesus they would not die. Because the Spirit of God in the Gospel had persuaded them that this astounding message simply had to be heard, and that same message guaranteed their own safety no matter what their enemies did to them. Suddenly they had boldness to proclaim. A gift from God!
The same Spirit of God and the same powerful Gospel message is in you too. The Holy Spirit has “called you by the Gospel, enlightened you with His gifts, sanctified and kept you in the one true faith” (Martin Luther—Small Catechism).
The message of life in Christ—life from the dead because He is risen from the dead—has also changed your thinking, has brought you from the darkness of unbelief to the light of faith. That message—whether proclaimed in the waters of baptism when you were an infant or whether received in old age—that Word has declared you to be clean of your sins. It has drawn you into God’s spiritual family and made you one of His children. It has promised you resurrection from the dead. “Because I live you will live also” (John 14:19), Jesus said.
That truth has changed you. That truth has made you bold. It pushes out your timidity because it tells you that even death has no power over you. It removes your deepest and greatest fears.
“But I do not have the boldness to speak such a bold Gospel! I am not like Peter and John. I am not like Hugh Latimer. I am not like Martin Luther.” Oh, but you are. Because the same Spirit that was in them is also in you.
What do you mean you are not bold to talk about the resurrection of the dead like Peter and John did? You have called a pastor to preach that Gospel publicly on your behalf and he comes into this pulpit every Sunday and does it, and you come to listen! You have a Sunday School and a Vacation Bible School and you invite others who may not know Jesus and sometimes they come. When someone drops by and asks about your church, you tell them. You don’t hide what you believe—you put it out there on the sign in the front yard. You put it out on the internet. You have made public confessions of faith. Some of you have come before this very altar on your confirmation day and spoken the bold Gospel boldly in front of everyone.
What do you mean you are not bold enough to talk about Jesus, the resurrection of the dead, and all the rest? You already do it! Already you cannot help but speak what you have seen and heard!
I know that it takes boldness to speak. I know that it takes boldness to stand before a cancer patient and say to them, “The doctor says you will die, but Jesus says you will live again.” It is especially difficult when an unbeliever is in the room. I know it takes boldness to say that. But you can say it!
I know it takes boldness to say to a frustrated friend, “You seem to be angry with God, but what harm has He really done to you? Do you know that He gives you life?” It’s difficult, but you can say it.
I know it takes boldness to assure a despairing person that, “With God all things are possible” (Mark 10:27). I know it takes boldness to say to a person drowning in his sins, “Repent and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.” It’s difficult, but you can say it.
It is a bold message you have to share, and it calls for boldness to proclaim it. Boldness that God will give, for you jars of clay are the receptacles into which Jesus has placed His Gospel that it might be spread to all people.
Therefore let us pray for continued boldness, using the prayer of Peter and John and the others:
“Sovereign Lord, you made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant David: ‘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.’ Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. Now Lord, consider the threats made against you and your people today, and enable us your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Amen.” [vv.24b-29 NIV]
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.