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Friday, January 21, 2011

Hope, Liberty and Power

38-39"So I am telling you: Hands off these men! Let them alone. If this program or this work is merely human, it will fall apart, but if it is of God, there is nothing you can do about it—and you better not be found fighting against God!"  40-42That convinced them. They called the apostles back in. After giving them a thorough whipping, they warned them not to speak in Jesus' name and sent them off. The apostles went out of the High Council overjoyed because they had been given the honor of being dishonored on account of the Name. Every day they were in the Temple and homes, teaching and preaching Christ Jesus, not letting up for a minute.
(Acts 5:38-42)

The disciples have been making all kinds of new friends through the many converts to the Christian faith all over Jerusalem after the infilling of the Holy Spirit in the upper room on the day of Pentecost.  Scripture tells us that people had mixed emotions as it came to accepting this move of God those many years ago.  In fact, we see reports of those that absolute resisted the evidence right in front of them.  Others were a little "skeptical" - perhaps standing back and taking in what was going on, giving themselves a little time to "watch and wait" before they may any decision about what they'd do with this gospel message of deliverance and power.  There was always a crowd of those that immediately accepted the message of hope and aligned themselves with the New Testament believers.  In fact, we see reports that thousands were added to the "ranks" of the church daily.

In examining the two groups that were resistive or reluctant to the gospel message, we can see several interesting facts:
  • Acts 4:13-14 tells us that although the religious leaders and Pharisees wanted the disciples to stop speaking their message of hope in Christ, they were fascinated by how well these "unlearned" or "unschooled" men knew the very deep details of scripture.  They also had difficulty resisting the evidence that miracles were being worked in their midst - how could they argue with "evidence"?
  • Acts 4:21-22 reveals the inefficiency of their threats to "silence" the gospel message in those that are filled with the Holy Spirit.  Where there is a passion for Jesus, there is a purpose for life - it is difficult to silence one with a purpose!
  • Acts 5:11 recounts the perception of those that merely heard about what God was doing among the New Testament church.  Rumors were circulating of the miracles, the "community" of believers that was rapidly forming, and the fact that God was not to be "trifled" with.  The evidence of his outpouring caused a new reverence or "fear" of God.
  • Acts 5:12-16 gives us our first hint that there were what I will call "wary worriers" in the first church meetings or gatherings.   The scripture tells us "But even though people admired them a lot, outsiders were wary about joining them."  There were those that took it all in, but just couldn't come to the place that they moved beyond their "mistrust" of the gospel message.
  • Acts 5:29-32 recounts Peter's response to the leaders and Pharisees when they asked the disciples why they were continuing to spread the gospel message when they had specifically instructed them to keep silent.  Peter's response was one that tells it all:  "It's necessary to obey God rather than men."  There will always be those that just don't understand the allegiance of a man's heart with God's.

Earlier this week I was "blocked" from posting a link to my daily blog on one of the social networking websites I belong to.  The reason I received for the "block" on my daily post - someone reported the blog as offensive.  To that I say - YEEHAW!  The gospel message will ALWAYS be interpreted by some as offensive because it pricks at the conscience and it ultimately demands that we "do something" with what we have heard.  The gospel message is one of hope, liberty, and power.  Just as Peter said those many years ago - it is necessary to obey God rather than man.  

Look at our passage today.  The disciples had been whipped and warned not to speak in the name of Jesus anymore.  We don't understand this kind of "justice" in our culture today as our law enforcement agencies do not employ the "whip" as a means of attempting to correct action they find offensive.  What we do know about the method of whipping in the times the disciples were preaching was that it left the man bloody and often with open sores - at a minimum, the skin was blistered and raw.  Then the warning came - don't speak in the name of Jesus any longer.  Hadn't the disciples already told the leaders that it would be impossible for them to do that?

I want us to look at the response of the disciples - they left that day feeling overjoyed because they had been given the honor of being dishonored - all on account of the authority of the name of Jesus!  I wonder if we'd feel that it was an "honor to be dishonored" today on account of someone taking offense at the message of hope in Jesus' name.  I can only hope we would!  Don't ever be afraid to speak the most powerful name - the name that carries ALL authority - JESUS.  That is the ONE name that carries the deepest hope.  That is the ONLY name that can set the captive free.  That is THE NAME that opens the windows of heaven.  Speak it!