Teaching Sermons For Pastors and Laymen

 A Lesson in Divine Providence
Acts 5:12-42

 

Introduction

There was never a dull moment around old Jerusalem First Church! Pentecost came in a blast of Glory.  It was fifty days after Jesus’ Resurrection when the Holy Spirit came upon the believers during the Feast of Pentecost.  The presence of God filled the room, where they were praying, with wind and fire.  The Holy Spirit had been promised by Christ and now He had arrived to fill and equip each believer for a special roll in Christ’s ministry.  And, on that day, there was the unusual speaking in “other tongues” or other languages which was a miracle; it enabled Jews visiting from outside Judea, including Jews who no longer understood Aramaic or Hebrew, to understand the message of the gospel. 

The Church was born and the new Christians were daring and eager. There were healings taking place at the hands of the apostles.  It began just after Pentecost; Peter and John had gone to the temple to pray and as they entered through the Gate Beautiful they met a man who had been lame from his mother’s womb.  When the man asked them for alms, Peter said, “Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk.”  At that command, the lame man did what he had never done before.

The First Church received a lesson on hypocrisy.  A married couple, Ananias and Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and they purposely did not give all the proceeds to the fellowship.  Then they lied by saying that they had given the full amount.  When they were asked about the proceeds that they held back, first Ananias and then Sapphira lied both to the Holy Spirit and to the church leaders. Both of them, at different times, were struck dead.

Nevertheless, the First Church was increasing, not only in numbers, but also in other ways.  Christ’s grace was poured out on them, so they were strengthened and equipped for service.  The wave of power was building within the church to a great climax.

Can you relate to the First Church?  What can we learn from them to apply to our present state of affairs?  Let me suggest three things:
First, we will have times when we almost seem invincible. 
Our influence over others will draw friends and family to Christ.  People will listen and agree with our opinions.  We will easily resist temptation and we will feel God’s presence within; we will be happy and content.

Second, the good times will not last forever.  There will be times when nothing seems to go right.  We will fail in our service to the Lord.  People will criticize us and make fun of us.  When we are tempted, we will fall; we will sin knowingly.  It will feel like God’s presence has departed from us.  It will be disappointing, but it will not be hopeless.

Third, the key to being what we need to be is to remember who we are.  I love the song, “I Am a Child of the King.”  That says it all; nothing and no one is greater.  He will not lose one of His.  What ever power was available to the people of the First Church is also available to us.  The same Jesus that the apostles knew is setting at the Fathers right hand, and He is our mediator.  The same Holy Spirit who lived in the early believers, who came on the Day of Pentecost, lives within us.  Remember, the God who made all things is your Heavenly Father. This is the overwhelming lesson of Acts 5:12-42. 

Let’s read our text.

12 And through the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were done among the people. And they were all with one accord in Solomon’s Porch.
13 Yet none of the rest dared join them, but the people esteemed them highly.
14 And believers were increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women,
15 so that they brought the sick out into the streets and laid them on beds and couches, that at least the shadow of Peter passing by might fall on some of them.
16 Also a multitude gathered from the surrounding cities to Jerusalem, bringing sick people and those who were tormented by unclean spirits, and they were all healed.
17 Then the high priest rose up, and all those who were with him (which is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with indignation,
18 and laid their hands on the apostles and put them in the common prison.
19 But at night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said,
20 “Go, stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this life.”
21 And when they heard that, they entered the temple early in the morning and taught. But the high priest and those with him came and called the council together, with all the elders of the children of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought.
22 But when the officers came and did not find them in the prison, they returned and reported,
23 saying, “Indeed we found the prison shut securely, and the guards standing outside before the doors; but when we opened them, we found no one inside!”
24 Now when the high priest, the captain of the temple, and the chief priests heard these things, they wondered what the outcome would be.
25 So one came and told them, saying, “Look, the men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people!”
26 Then the captain went with the officers and brought them without violence, for they feared the people, lest they should be stoned.
27 And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest asked them,
28 saying, “Did we not strictly command you not to teach in this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this Man’s blood on us!”
29 But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: “We ought to obey God rather than men.
30 The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging on a tree.
31 Him God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.
32 And we are His witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him.”
33 When they heard this, they were furious and plotted to kill them.
34 Then one in the council stood up, a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in respect by all the people, and commanded them to put the apostles outside for a little while.
35 And he said to them: “Men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what you intend to do regarding these men.
36 For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody. A number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was slain, and all who obeyed him were scattered and came to nothing.
37 After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census, and drew away many people after him. He also perished, and all who obeyed him were dispersed.
38 And now I say to you, keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this work is of men, it will come to nothing;
39 but if it is of God, you cannot overthrow it—lest you even be found to fight against God.”
40 And they agreed with him, and when they had called for the apostles and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.
41 So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name.
42 And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.

From our scripture, there are four pictures that we get of old Jerusalem’s First Church. 

We can see:
1. The Church Soaring.
2. The Church Suffering.
3. The Church Surviving.
4. The Church Singing.

In verses 12-16, we have the picture of The Church Soaring. 

We read that the people esteemed them highly.  The Church was respected throughout the city, because something in the Church member’s lives made them believable.  The Church is the people, not the building or the denomination.  It is the reputation of the individual members that either contributes to or detracts from the message of the Church.  And even today, it is the life that you lead, more than your words, which people use to evaluate you with.  You are the visible Church here at the Inn and many others observe your life and listen to what you have to say.  Believe me, as Christians we influence others to come to Christ or to walk away.  It was that way 2000 years ago and that’s how it is in 2002.

Our scripture states that “believers were increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women.”  So we know that the Church was growing daily.  We don’t know whether the Church kept records or not; but the Holy Spirit kept up with what was happening.  We know that by AD 300 there were millions of people in the Roman Empire who had turned to Christ. When the Church soars it is attractive to the people who are watching it.  They want to see what’s going on that catches the attention of people and draws new members.  I wish that people would go to church, just to worship God and to be fed from His word, but today we need programs to attract men, women and children; things like youth groups, dinners, parties, clubs, vacation bible school and summer camps.  But I know that God uses these things too, to present the gospel.

Another thing we found out about First Church was that it was a blessing to the community.  The people of Jerusalem brought their sick into the streets and laid them where the shadow of Peter could fall over them, and that showed how great their respect was for the leaders of this new faith.  They believed that there was supernatural power available to the people of God, so they found a way to get to where something good was happening. 

And we also read that reports were being given to the surrounding cities and they brought their sick, “and they were all healed.”  It was because the Spirit of God was known to be there, that there was such a great attraction that distance was not a problem.

Let me stop for a moment to explain why the apostles had this great power.  Remember, at this time there was no written New Testament. The Church is built on Jesus Christ-He is the Cornerstone-and the apostles are witnesses to Christ.  The sign gifts were given to them to demonstrate the fact that they spoke with God’s authority.  Today we have a written New Testament as our authority, and we accept preaching according to how it lines up with the word of God.

We have seen that The Church was Soaring; but we will find that it was also suffering. 

Jerusalem had been the place where Jesus’ enemies were the most powerful; it was where the leaders of the Jewish Church lived, where the Sanhedrin met and where there were many Pharisees.  Toward the end of His ministry, Jesus would only go there for the feast days because the danger was so great.  And it was dangerous territory for the members of First Church; when you are in enemy territory you can expect opposition. 

Listen to these three verses from our text; they show how the Early Church faced opposition.

Verse 18 asserts, “and laid their hands on the apostles and put them in the common prison.”
Verse 33 states, “When they heard this, they were furious and plotted to kill them.”
And in verse 40 we read, “And they agreed with him, and when they had called for the apostles and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.”

In Acts chapter 7, there is the story of Steven and how he paid with his life for preaching Jesus to the Jewish religious leaders.  Stephen was one of the first deacons of the First Church, but he also was given the power to do miracles, and we are told that he went into the synagogue and preached that Jesus was the Christ; and for that he was arrested. Steven had been taken before the Jewish council and he was required to defend himself, because they wanted to kill him.  But he refused to defend himself; instead he preached one of the greatest sermons of all time.  He spoke of how God called Abraham and promised Canaan to him and his seed; how Joseph was sold by his brethren; and how Jacob along with his family went down into Egypt; and that they were oppressed by the Egyptians.  He spoke of how Moses was born and brought up by Pharaoh’s daughter; that after attempting to deliver Israel he was rejected, and fled to Midian; that after a time Moses was sent by God to be their deliverer; that he prophesied Christ and received the Law for Israel, and was grieved by their rebellion and idolatry. 

He said that they had the tabernacle, until Solomon built the temple.  Then he declared that according to the prophets, “the Most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands.”  He boldly accused the council and their nation of imitating the rebellion and persecution of their ancestors, who rejected and slew the prophets; and then he charges them with murdering Christ, in violation of their own law.  We are told that those who listened were “cut to the heart,” and that they took him away to be stoned.  As Steven was about to be stoned he was given a vision of Christ; he called out to Him to receive his soul, and to pardon his murderers.  When they cast their stones, the bible says only that he falls asleep.

The apostle Paul was another who faced terrible opposition and paid dearly to follow Christ.  Here is what he wrote about himself in II Corinthians, “In labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often.  Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness."

The First Church was soaring and suffering, but it was also surviving. 

God will protect His own property and sometimes He does this in ways which are beyond our imagination.  In our text for today, we read how He used an angel to deliver the apostles.  They had been thrown into prison and their future was in doubt, “but at night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, ‘Go, stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this life.”  It would be wonderful to be rescued by angels and it would certainly build your faith. 

The disciples did what the angel told them to do; they went back to the temple and preached Jesus, because they feared God more than they did the Council.  When we look back at the experiences of the Early Church, there may be several lessons worth learning:
1. The Lord will not totally crush our opposition. 
He will not totally put down all opposition and rebellion until He has established His Kingdom.  Until then, He will allow sin and disobedience.  But He watches over His own and protects and provides for us, and He has promised that He will not lose one of us.
 
2. God’s people will not be immune to trials and setbacks. 
Some of the trials will even come from God, because when we triumph over our problems, we are made stronger.  He has promised us in His word that we will not be tempted beyond what is common to all men and that along with the temptation He will provide a way of escape.  Satan cannot harm a child of God, more than God will allow.
 
3. While there is opposition, nothing can stop the gospel’s progress. 
Sometimes God may use the opposition to accomplish His plans.  In verse 34 we read, “Then one in the council stood up, a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in respect by all the people, and commanded them to put the apostles outside for a little while."  God used this Pharisee to speak up for the apostles, and so they were released from prison.  Neither men nor Satan can stop the gospel or frustrate the will of God.
 
4. The message of Jesus is more important than our comfort. 
We are so blessed in this country to be able to worship God and not to be subjected to hardships or persecution.  But it’s not that way every where.  There are many today, in other countries, who are suffering because of their faith.  They must worship in secret, because if they openly declare their faith, they will be thrown in prison or killed.  Let’s pray for them and help them, if we can.  But some day, we may also be forced to suffer a little for our Lord.  And if we do, let’s do it joyfully and consider it a privilege to be included with the millions of others who have suffered for Christ.

The last picture we have of the First Church of Jerusalem is of The Church Singing. 

We are told that when they left the presence of the Council “that they were rejoicing because they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name.”  They were a joyful congregation and we read that they were “daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.”  But how did they maintain their joy, especially when there were hardships and persecution? 

First, they were uncompromisingly obedient to God’s will.  Verse 29 said, But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: “We ought to obey God rather than men.”  They had been warned by the Council that if they continued to preach Jesus, they would face even greater punishment than they had already received; maybe even death.  But they would obey God, rather than men; so God blessed them and filled them with His Spirit. 

Second, They had no question about their message.  Listen to how verses 30-32 expresses the message of these early believers: ”The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging on a tree.  Him God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.  And we are His witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him.”  They were confident witnesses and they went door to door preaching Jesus, and they continued to preach even in the temple for as long as they could. 

Third, they had the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit.  He was inside them; empowering them, teaching them and giving comfort when they encountered the hard times.  This was a Spirit-filled and a Spirit-led church.  So, they kept on singing.

 

Conclusion

They had some hard times, but those rough experiences did not create doubts and fears in the hearts of the apostles.  It was the exact opposite, because they were strengthened and brought to a closer relationship with God.  They may have been wounded at times, but they wore their wounds as badges of honor.  God gave them the song, and nothing could take the song away from those who kept the faith.  They found their joy in worshiping God, serving Christ, and in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.  God blessed them and provided for them.  They lived by divine providence and it was an exciting experience.  God has not changed.  He still loves us and provides for us.  If you will make a total commitment to Christ today, you can have the same relationship to God that the Christians of First Church had; the same relationship that thousands of believers have today.  The First Church was God’s church.  Divine providence brought the church from that small beginning to its present position. 

Let’s pray and thank God for His commitment to us and to His Church. 

 

 

 

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