First Mennonite Church
April 15, 2018
Afraid No More!
Text: Acts 5:12-42
Last week we saw the disciples hiding behind closed doors out of fear. And had the story of Jesus’ disciples ended with that image, Jesus, his life, death, resurrection and ascension would not have been a great deal. The story of Jesus would have become one among the many stories of heroes of ancient culture and of legends. And there would not be much hope for us as followers of Jesus. But fortunately, the story did not end there.
Before Jesus ascended into heaven, he made a promise to his disciples. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). In Acts, chapter two, the promise was fulfilled. The disciples were transformed from a fearful bunch into bold preachers. They were transformed from disavowers of Jesus into fully committed agents of his cause. From followers in the shadows to bold speakers of truth to the powers. They became healers and even dispensers of God’s judgment (Peter and Ananias and Sapphira). They became witnesses in the full sense of the word. The disciples began to proclaim Jesus as the glorified Son of God. They proclaimed that God not only raised Jesus from the dead but made him “both Lord and Messiah” (Acts 2:36) and that God now dispenses forgiveness of sins through him (2:38, 10:43; 13:38). The disciples proclaimed that God had established Jesus as the only Mediator between God and men, for there is salvation in no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved (4:12).
The empowerment given to the disciples by the Holy Spirit made them witnesses in the truest sense of the word. Jesus said to his disciples, “And you will be my witnesses”—martus/martys. It is the root word for martyr, which the disciples eventually became. The disciples gave testimony to Jesus even to the point of risking their own lives. And if for the religious authorities Jesus was enough trouble, their trouble only multiplied after Jesus’ death. The once-fearful disciples turned bold preachers, miracle workers, and great spiritual leaders which caused the authorities to summon Peter and John. And after much pressure to stop speaking about Jesus, in this first encounter Peter said to the authorities, “Judge for yourselves if it is right to obey you rather than God, but we cannot keep from speaking about everything we have seen and heard!” (Acts 4:19, 20)
Chapter five begins with one example in which the disciples’ authority to forgive or withhold sins is manifested (John 20:23). Among the converts there were those who wanted to share their possessions with the needy; thus, they brought them to the disciples for distribution. Some sold property in order to provide for others, and Ananias and his wife, Sapphira, wanted to pretend being generous, as those who had already given. But before they brought the money to the disciples, the couple agreed to withhold some of the money of the sale and they even agreed, if asked about their gift, to say the amount being contributed was the total, to the last dime, nickel, and penny, of the sale. And God’s judgment came upon them after they refused to speak the truth when they were given the chance to do so. The chapter goes on to portray the disciples’ power to heal the sick to the point that even Peter’s shadow cured those who had been laid on the street side. Throngs of sick people and those tormented by unclean spirits were brought to the disciples for healing. And verse 16 says, “And they were all cured.”
The first couple of chapters in Acts portrays the disciples and their movement as one sought by many. The gospel message became irresistible to many for various reasons. Lives were being changed, the sick were being healed, and the ordinary disciples displayed unsurpassed spiritual authority, for God was with them. There were also many who despite having great respect for the movement preferred to stay away from them. But there were those who felt their spiritual authority was being overshadowed and threatened. They were burning with jealousy (v. 17); thus, they joined with their religious enemies, creating a common force, to stop the movement. This time, they not only summoned Peter and John, but they actually arrested the disciples and put them in the public jailhouse. God sent his angel and miraculously released the disciples because even when the guards remained guarding their post and even when the gate of the prison remained locked, the disciples got out of the prison. In the morning the authorities found themselves mocked and bewildered at what had happened. They found the disciples freely preaching in the temple courts, once again. And this time the disciples were brought back to court without the use of force.
Verses 27 to 32 read:
27 The apostles were brought in and made to appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. 28 “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,” he said. “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.”
29 Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than human beings! 30 The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a cross. 31 God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins. 32 We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”
Had wise Gamaliel not intervened, the disciples would have been killed by the religious leaders. Gamaliel’s words diffused the authorities’ rage against Peter and the other disciples. But their lives being spared did not affect nor change their message. Peter, John and his fellow disciples proclaimed a clear Jesus, crucified, and risen. Nothing could silence them, no beating, no imprisonment, and no death-threats. Their message was simple and remains true even to this day: that Jesus, known by many as the son of a humble carpenter was indeed the Son of God. That his life, teaching, and example were proofs that God had sent him to call Israel into a new relationship with God. That despite Jesus being rejected and crucified, his resurrection and ascension and gift of the Holy Spirit are proofs that God was with him and for him. Now, Jesus sits at the right hand of God and through him God offers forgiveness of sins to those who repent.
The disciples were no longer afraid nor hiding behind closed doors. In fact they were in and out of prison for the sake of their bold preaching. Their message was simple and clear and nothing could stop them from preaching Jesus as Lord and Savior.
The message of the gospel is still simple, but its proclamation still requires God’s empowerment through his Holy Spirit. We need that empowerment from the Holy Spirit. We may not be hiding behind closed door literally but maybe of some other kind of doors. The doors that might keep us from preaching the gospel can be things such as fear of being impolite to other’s personal ideas and beliefs. It could be fear of being labeled a religious fanatic or of being religiously insensitive to others. Yet, the greatest obstacle there could be that prevents us from preaching the gospel message is that Jesus and his work of salvation do not register as high priorities in our to-do-list. It could be that we do not have a deep conviction from the Holy Spirit as the disciples had, when they said, “We cannot keep from speaking about everything we have seen and heard!”
God’s gift of the Holy Spirit to his disciples guided them on how and when to speak. The Holy Spirit brought upon them a deep sense of urgency about the timing and objects of their message. The disciples simply could not stop announcing Jesus and even after being flogged only assured them of being participants of Jesus’ suffering for which they rejoiced. They were afraid no more.
May God impress his words in our hearts today. May the Lord breathe upon us with his Holy Spirit. May we experience the joy of sharing that simple message, that Jesus is Lord and Savior. Amen!