Chambersburg, PA
Presbyterian Church in America (PCA)

“Unstoppable Gospel” Sermon Text

Acts 5:12-42

“Unstoppable Gospel”

The path of Jesus’ life was suffering first, then glory.

And, this was something the disciples were slow to grasp – they seemed to be under the impression, despite Jesus’ warnings and foretelling of the cross that loomed ahead; of his suffering that he was preparing to face; of the death which he was born to die; despite all that, they seemed caught off guard by it, surprised by it, unexpecting of it; they seemed to think that the path of Jesus’ life would be glory up-front; but it was suffering first, then glory.

And after his resurrection, when they are confused about why his body isn’t in the grave unsure what to make of everything, he says to them:

Luke 24:25-26 “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?

Suffering first, then glory. And, just as that is the path of Jesus’ life, so it is the path for anyone who would come after him – anyone who would seek to be Jesus’ disciple, anyone would would take up their cross and follow him, anyone who wants to enter glory, will suffer first.

And, one form of that suffering – is persecution. Jesus himself warned his followers:

John 15 – 18 “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. 20 Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.”

And, he offered warning to those who would avoid at all costs the hatred of the world:

Luke 6:26 Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,
for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.

And, he offered blessing and reward to those who would embrace and obey him at all costs – even the rejection, hatred, opposition, persecution of the world:

Luke 6:22-23 Blessed are you when people hate you,
when they exclude you and insult you
and reject your name as evil,
because of the Son of Man.

23 “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.

And, Paul, who learned first-hand how much he must suffer for the name of Jesus, tells us in 2 Timothy 3:12 – “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted”

Acts 14:22 – “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God”

Are these truths which the church today readily embraces, or are these things the church outright rejects?

Have we bought into the lie that following Jesus is the path to earthly pleasure, prosperity, comfort, ease?

Are we willing to follow him no matter where it leads, no matter what the cost? Or will we cave in the pressure of the world, by conforming to the world, in order to avoid the persecution of the world?

And, in the book of Acts we see the proof that Jesus’ followers would suffer; and we see his witnesses standing firm by the power of the Spirit under his pressure.

And the way in which these first witnesses are an example to us, is that no matter what opposition they were met with – they were unhindered, undaunted, irrepressible; they stand firm in their witness to Christ; they never stop witnessing to the truth of what they had seen and the experience they had of Christ’s saving power; no matter what came at them, they were never intimidated, never swayed, never self-protecting but always willing to count the cost, for the one who paid the ultimate cost for them; willing to put their life on the line – and even give their earthly lives, for the one who gave his life for their eternal salvation & security & happiness & joy.

Calvin: “We must realize that God is longing to shower blessings on his church, but that he still allows it to be harassed by the ungodly. So we must always be ready for battle.”

Christians are naive if they think they will not in some way, in some form, meet the hatred of the world. And, if they aren’t prepared for that then they will certainly fail to stand firm in their witness for Christ.

  1. The Opposition of Christ’s Enemies
  2. The Resolve of Christ’s Witnesses

The Gospel and those who desire to be witnesses to it, will always be met with opposition.

In every time, in every place, the true gospel is an opposed gospel; because, the gospel at some point brings some type of offense.

And, if you hold on to a type of gospel that never offends anyone, anywhere, then you hold on to a false gospel.

And, if you want to avoid offending the world at all costs; or if you want to avoid persecution at all costs, then you will never be qualified to be a witness of the true gospel.

Because the gospel always offends – on some level, in some way.

A gospel that never offended a culture would be a gospel that was a product of the culture – a mere reflection of that culture’s pre-existing values, beliefs, perspectives, morality, desires, & popular opinion.

And, in fact, it’s when the gospel loses it’s confrontational nature that it at the same time loses its transforming power. How can the message of Christ change a culture, if it is only a product or reflection, of that culture –  only formed out of that culture’s pre-existing beliefs, and so, only able to confirm that culture’s pre-existing beliefs?

But a gospel that is truly from God, can’t be a product of a  culture and so it can’t be a mere reflection of a culture and so it necessarily will clash with and confront a culture – maybe not in every way – maybe not with every pre-existing value of that culture – but in some way, on some level.

And, while many non-christians would be happy if the claims of Christ would be banished from the public secular sphere where other values and beliefs seek to reign, Jesus is not content to do so; the claims of Christ necessarily spill over into every part of life – just as in v 28 the apostles are charged with filling Jerusalem with this teaching – the claims of Christ go into the world – every part of it because he is Lord of all – and clash with the values, beliefs, priorities of that world, and results in the hatred of that world;

and while many christians unfortunately would be happy to cut out the parts of the christian faith that offend or confront the culture around them, true witnesses of Christ won’t do so;

even, when it is met with the response we see here – of opposition and persecution.

In book of Acts: as the gospel advances, people will respond to it with hostility, opposition, and persecution; and, as the gospel is met with opposition & persecution, it only contributes towards the advance of that very thing it is trying to stop.

Like trying to blow out a fire; where blowing it only sends new sparks further out which ignite and spread to new places with renewed intensity.

see in Acts side by side: Gospel growth; gospel opposition.

Along with that: two paradoxical results of the gospel: revulsion & attraction

vv 13 – 14

the presence of the living God – as evidenced by his activity in his Church, is “alarming to some, appealing to others. Some are frightened away, others are drawn to faith.”

Because while the gospel is offensive to some, that very same gospel is attractive to others.

Stench of death to those who are perishing; aroma of life to those being saved.

And the difference really isn’t in what the gospel says to one person or the next; the difference lies in the heart of the hearer.

Some simply kept away, but others were more aggressive in their opposition – the high Priest and his associates.

3 reasons for the hostility and opposition we see in this chapter, among the religious leaders: The jealousy of their hearts; the offense of Jesus’ name; the guilt of their conscience.

the jealousy of their hearts:

v17 – the high priest and his associates (who were all Sadducees), were filled with jealousy.

And, this verse comes immediately after vv 12-16 describing the ministry of the Apostles in and around the Temple in Jerusalem, which shows us:

Their power: (v12) they performed many signs and wonders among the people.

Their popularity: (v13) they were highly regarded by the people; v15 – they were drawing crowds of people from Jerusalem and even the surrounding towns.

Their growth: (14) more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number.

This is very similar to descriptions of Jesus’ own ministry; and so it’s fitting that the response of the religious leaders to the Apostles’ ministry is very similar to the response we saw in the gospels to Jesus’ ministry.

And the reason given here, is that they were jealous of the ministry of the apostles.

They were jealous of this incredible power exhibited through the Apostles’ ministry – which certainly they themselves lacked.

They were jealous of the rising popularity of the Apostles among the people – which certainly exceeded their own popularity among the people.

They were jealous of their growth – that they were gaining disciples and believers – and where were those new believers coming from? Judaism! The apostles’ ministry was growing at the expense of their own ministry!

And what’s interesting, then, is their primary concern for their loss; rather than for their people.

They could be glad that people are being healed! Being freed from torment by impure spirits; being made well – made able to walk –

Or, they could be filled with righteous indignation that the people whom they are supposed to be shepherds of and are supposed to love and care for are being led astray by lies and falsehoods and deceit into a spiritual dangerous cult; but that’s not the reason.

they’re neither glad for the people nor concerned for the people – they’re concerned only for themselves! For their status and power and position!

They are supposed to care for others, but only care for themselves. They care most about what the world has to offer them – they love the world – and any one who loves the world can’t love God:

1 John 2:15, 17 “If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them… The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.

They are living for something that won’t last; they are living for something they cannot keep; they are living for something that will pass away – and so they miss out on that and on the only thing that does last – God’s kingdom.

And, the success of the ministry of the apostles threatens their own power and position and so they use the so-called power they think they have to try to oppose the incomparable power that the Apostles really do have!

Great plan!

They are plotting and scheming and flexing their muscles and showing their authority, arresting them, throwing them into jail and threatening them and flogging them; they think that all the power and authority is on their side; but in fact, none of it is. All power and authority is on God’s side.

And in contrast to them, the reason the Apostles can stand firm in their witness is because they aren’t living for this world or the things it has to offer. You never get the sense that they are driven by their own popularity or lust for power – they simply want to proclaim the name of Christ.

the Jealousy of their hearts; the Offense of Jesus’ name:

Back in chapter 4 they had warned them not to speak in Jesus’ name; but they keep doing it.

And so now in chapter 5, they arrest them; then they discover they’re mysteriously & miraculously no longer in jail but out preaching – doing the very thing the authorities were trying to prevent them from doing by jailing them – and the authorities aren’t even considering – though it’s suggested by the report they receive – they aren’t even considering that God might be behind their deliverance.

And then they round them up again and remind them, as though they just sort of forgot, v 28 “we gave you strict orders not to teach in this name…yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching.”

And the wording is very similar to 4:17 “we must warn them to speak no longer to anyone in this name.”

Compare to v 40 where the narrator says “in the name of Jesus”- but when it is on the lips of the religious leaders, they avoid even speaking Jesus’ name.

Both times, they say, “this name.” Is Jesus’ name unknown to them? Is it, unpronounceable to them?

Or… is it offensive to them – so offensive that they prefer not to even utter it.

Even in our culture and our day and age – 2000 years after the life of Jesus, the name of Jesus still has power.

It’s still not a common name; and it’s only commonly used by the world, and acceptable to the world’s ears, as a curse-word;

But if you speak it with the honor that his name deserves; if you speak it along with all that name stands for; then it is then it isn’t acceptable at all but rather the most offensive vile curse word imaginable to the one who doesn’t acknowledge, or doesn’t want to be confronted with, all that name stands for.

The name of Jesus brings an uncomfortable offensiveness because of what the name stands for – and all that that name stands for is seen in Peter’s speech: the one to whom all allegiance is due; the one whom we bow down before and give our lives to, rather than live our lives for and to ourselves; The one who comes to bring repentance and forgiveness for sins – things that people in their sin don’t naturally want to hear about but rather cause offense.

The jealousy of their hearts; the offense of Jesus’ name; the guilt of their conscience:

v28 – “You are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.”

But, the problem is, they were guilty of this man’s blood. The Apostles don’t need to make them guilty, they recount the facts of what happened – and that reminds them that they are guilty – something they are trying to deny but it seems that it still lingers and haunts them.

After all, they were the ones who had an illegal trial with trumped-up charges and lying witnesses;

they were among those who, when Pilate was trying to release him, asked for Barabbas instead.

And when Pilate asked what he should do with Jesus, they shouted “Crucify him!”

23 “Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate.

But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!”

And when Pilate, convinced this man had done nothing deserving of death, washed his hands of it – it was them who answered: “His blood is on us and on our children!”

They asked for his blood to be on their heads; and now, they are furious at the Apostles for trying to put his blood on their heads!

And it’s evidence of their guilty conscience, that they are denying reality – that they in fact did put this man to death and are guilty for his wrongful dead – wrongful, especially if the claims about him that the apostles’ are preaching – are true.

They didn’t listen to the evidence about Jesus when he was alive – and know the Apostles’ are bringing new evidence – the evidence they again plainly state in vv 31-32 – that he was raised and exalted to the right hand of God – and that he sent his Spirit to those who obey him – implication is that the fact that the apostles & other believers have received the Spirit is an indication that they – not the religious authorities – are being faithful to God through their faithfulness to Jesus.

In all this, they aren’t considering, evaluating, assessing, the apostles’ claims! They’re telling them not to teach because they’re jealous, they’re offended, they’re guilty; but they’re not considering the truthfulness of the apostles teaching.

And, they never do – Even their relenting from wanting to kill them, even their willingness to release them from jail (with just a flogging), that is only because they cave to the pressure of the Pharisees –

Pharisees were minority on the Ruling Council (Sanhedrin) but they had more popularity among the people; such that the Sadducees, though majority, would be hesitant to oppose the Pharisees especially in a case like this where the Apostles also had popularity among the people. And, the Pharisees, probably are using this popularity to their own political advantage

Gamaliel – practical tolerance, but doesn’t examine claims of apostles. And ultimately, his motive is probably to keep peace and power.

In one sense, it is utterly foolish: he isn’t evaluating the claims of the apostles. It’s just a wait-and-see approach; and a wait-and-see approach, at least in the short-term from a human perspective isn’t always right; because sometimes, in the short-term, evil plans do triumph, and good plans do fail.

The wise thing would be to say: let’s consider their claims; and if their claims are true, then we need to believe and join them whatever the cost.

But, in another sense: he is right. God’s plan is unstoppable; and when you recognize that, you ought to lay down your opposition, and repent, change your evaluation of Christ.

Being against Christ puts one in the deadliest of positions – they are guilty for having killing Christ – the one that God exalted; but, even for them – even for their guilt – Christ offers forgiveness to them.

Remarkable: God offers grace even to those who so set themselves against him, if only they will lay down their pride, cease their rebellion, and come to him in humble repentance, bowing their lives.

Apostles’ response:

1) Stand Firm (v21 after imprisoned; v29 after reminded of orders; v42 after flogged):

They just keep preaching. They just won’t stop talking about Jesus; they won’t stop witnessing to Jesus; they won’t stop pointing people to Jesus; they won’t stop pinpointing him as the reason for their hope and joy and salvation.

They are irrepressible witnesses.

difference between disciples of Gospels and Apostles of Acts: Peter – who was intimidated by a servant girl into denying even knowing Christ. Now, leading the way in courage & boldness, standing firm against the political powers & their threats. Reason? Spirit’s empowerment for their task – only promised after his resurrection and ascension.

2) Obey God. not men:

No fear of man (civil disobedience)

Their view of God is big, and their view of man is small.

the reason we are easily swayed by the fear of persecution and threats and opposition, is because our view of God is much much too small, and our view of man is much much too big; and we need to be renewed in our sense of fear and awe of who God is – to see him for who he is; and to see even the seemingly powerful enemies we face, for who they are – weak; powerless; nothing compared to the might and majesty of God – and we need to obey God, not men.

We need to live faithfully to God – not matter what others might think of us or what others might do to us;

They disobey the human authority in order to obey the angel/God.

Christians can’t be bought & paid for by the political powers that be. They can’t be ultimately in allegiance to human authority; they can’t be swayed by pressure of intimidating bullies.

Christians should be good citizens; respectful/honoring/submissive/obedient. And they should do so as far as they can – even sometimes at the cost of legitimate freedoms or preferences that they might otherwise be at liberty to pursue.

Even if the demands of the governing authorities are pointless, wasteful, unnecessary, overly restrictive; we obey for the Lord’s sake.

But, we don’t do so absolutely.

there is a place for civil disobedience; there is a necessary place for civil disobedience – when obeying a human authority would mean disobeying God; when being loyal to a human authority would mean being disloyal to God.

Where the state commands what God forbids or forbids what God requires, they must disobey the state.

When the state engages in oppression and injustice, Christians should oppose

If they misuse it’s God-given authority and command what God forbids or forbid what God commands; then they become an illegitimate authority and it is the Christians duty to disobey in order to obey God.

There is no political party or worldly power that Christians can be ultimately absolutely and unquestioningly allegiant to.

And, I’m afraid that in our culture we have a system a climate that encourages blind allegiance and discourages any type of thoughtful critique or questioning of, or distancing from one’s own political party. And what Christians need, I believe, is more willingness to speak out against parties on both sides of and every part of the political spectrum.

And, this disobeying of human authorities, may result in suffering. It may result in imprisonment; it may result in death; for the apostles and many believers throughout history it has done so.

And when they did, they didn’t act out of self-interest – in fact, things would likely get worse for them; and they didn’t act in violence, but the calmly but resolutely stood firm – stood their ground for their faith

3) Rejoice:

You may not get thrown in jail; you may not be flogged; we might think that, sure, if someone was throwing me into jail for my faith I’d definitely stand firm – but the question is, is how do you respond to the real, even if small or more subtle forms of opposition – in which it may seem inconsequential to give in to those.

“We flatter ourselves if we imagine we in America have known anything like the oppression they knew. But we also make a mistake if we imagine we are immune.”

But it’s in those subtle forms of opposition that we need to stand firm that we need the resolve of the Apostles – if we’re ever going to stand firm in any circumstance, we need to stand firm in the circumstance we’re facing right now – no matter how big or small.

May not get thrown in jail; but perhaps you will be marginalized for your faith; perhaps your faith will cause you to miss out on opportunities or be overlooked for opportunities that would be available to you if you were silent or compromising about Jesus’ name. Maybe it simply means being thought less-well-of; or perhaps being mocked; being called a bigot or old-fashioned or close-minded or a hater or ignorant or weak-minded or whatever else.

But the question is, it is worth being called a name, for the sake of the honor of Jesus’ name?

And, will you find honor in identifying with Jesus’ name? Even if it means being dishonored by the world – are you willing to so value your identity in Christ, that you can lose your identity in the world?

hallmark of Christian witness and hope: rejoicing in the midst of trials.

Christians don’t seek out persecution; they don’t try to bring suffering upon themselves; they don’t love pain.

But, when it comes, they rejoice – not in the trial itself but in God’s plan and purpose in it; and the honor of identifying with Christ and his sufferings in it.

Because, the fact that they are being hated by the world only proves that they are true witnesses of Christ – it proves that he is with them and that they are in him – and so even if it means the ridicule of the world; it means the love of Christ.

And the latter is infinitely more valuable than the former.

God can deliver us from any opposition or persecution – but Christians are called to stand firm in their allegiance/obedience – knowing that he can deliver us; but not knowing that he will deliver us from that –

but, the reason they could stand firm; and the reason we can stand firm even more so – is because we know that God will deliver us from the ultimate enemy – sin and death.

And so we can stand firm even unto death knowing that God will deliver us from death into new life, eternal life.

If this life is all there is, why suffer? why endure persecution? Just go live however you want and try to get all you can out of this life. Life for pleasure, comfort, safety, security.

Hope, hope of our future security and salvation with God – that is the reason we can have joy even in the midst of suffering.

Jesus doesn’t send his children to suffer, where he hasn’t first walked. And, when we follow him, we follow him into battle; we bear scars of persecution; we are rejected by the world; but we place ourselves in his eternal kingdom; we prepare ourselves for his heavenly reward; and we find ourselves to be in Him – our Savior whom we love and who loves us.