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Power, Plan and Praise

Published: 4 weeks ago- 26 May 2024
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SERMON TRANSCRIPT

Well, lots of people have been asking me how am I settling back into being away for such a long time and then coming back to work. It’s a struggle, I must admit.

But this week, a news article actually helped me along quite a bit. On Wednesday morning, coming back from the gym, I heard this news on the 6.30 news, or something, that a Singapore Airlines flight had plummeted 6,000 feet, so that’s almost two kilometres, in 1.5 seconds. It hit some severe turbulence. This fall killed one and severely injured seven others. It’s the same airline that we were flying on the same flight path that we were on just a few weeks earlier, and I was thanking God that we were home safely and didn’t have to endure that, so it snapped me back into it. But in response to this thing, a journalist wrote an article in the paper saying, entitled How to Survive Turbulence. And as I read that article, I found out the way you survive turbulence, any guesses? Keep your seatbelt on. That was it. It was a big, long article, and basically that was the end. But it’s interesting because as we come to Acts, and what we see in Acts as we’re going along here is that the church is hitting turbulence. There’s ups and downs, ups and downs. And my question is, how does the church survive turbulence?

So that’s our question for the day. I’ve pretty much just nicked it from the Australian newspaper. How do we survive turbulence? But throughout history, the church has been up and down, up and down. What are the key ingredients from our passage today that enable us to survive turbulence? So it was important for the church in Acts, but it’s important for us as well today. So that’s our question. How do we survive turbulence? Well, I’m going to say three things about surviving turbulence from this passage. Firstly, we survive through the power of God, according to the plan of God, to the praise of God. Okay? So there are three things. By the power of God, according to the plan of God, to the praise of God. Let’s take a look.

THE POWER OF GOD

So firstly, by the power of God. And we see the power of God actively at work here in chapter 5 verse 12, and we’ll read through to verse 16.

Now, many signs and wonders were done regularly among the people by the hands of the apostles, and they were all together in Solomon’s portico.

So notice how Luke is describing it. It’s many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles, and they were all together in Solomon’s portico. None of the rest of them dared to join, so no people who were not a part of the church family, maybe not even the religious leaders dared join them. They’d heard what’s happened with Ananias and Sapphira. This is serious business, and the people are held in high esteem. We see at the end of verse 13. And yet in verse 14, we see, and more than ever, believers are being added to the Lord. And notice this! multitudes of both men and women. And so what we see here is that things were on a high. We’re gaining altitude, we’re gaining speed, the church is rocketing along. When Peter preached in Acts 2, he preached and 3,000 people responded. Later on in chapter 4, we read that 5,000 people were added to that number, so it’s up to 5. Here it’s saying more than ever were added, so the church is growing. And in verse 15, look at this, so they even carried out the sick into the streets and they laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by, at least his shadow might fall on some of them. So now it’s not even reaching out his hand, it’s just his shadow going over. People also gathered from around the towns of Jerusalem, so this phenomena is spreading beyond Jerusalem. It’s outside the walls of the city. Other people are noticing and they’re bringing in, see verse 16, they’re bringing in their sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits and they were all healed. Amazing things are happening here.

Really this is the formula for a scandal in a megachurch, isn’t it? Imagine a megachurch pastor just walking down the street and people being healed by shadow falling on them. And that’s what we’d expect to read in the papers today. But that’s not what is happening back in Acts 5. In fact, so many times I’ve heard people, when we read passages like this in Acts saying, you know what the church needs today? We need more miracles. If you had more miracles, that would fix the problem. That’s not the case. Take a look with me at verse, so here’s chapter 4, verse 29, it’s up on the screen there. This is the church’s response to the religious leaders telling them not to teach about Jesus anymore. This is the beginning of the opposition to the gospel being preached. This is part way, the last part of the prayer.

But this is what they say,

And now Lord, look upon these threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with boldness while you stretch out your hand to heal and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant. And when they had prayed, the place in which they gathered together was shaken and they were filled with the Holy Spirit and they continued to speak the word of God with boldness.

So see, that was their prayer back in chapter 4 and then we get to chapter 5, God is answering prayer. The power of God is at work in the church without a doubt, but it is an answer to the church’s prayer. I want to say that we access the power of God through prayer, through doing exactly what God has asked us to do, to be a church of prayer. Take a look again at chapter 5, 12 through 16, notice these are the adjectives of answered prayer. Many signs and wonders are being done regularly. We have more than ever, multitudes of people coming to faith. And that’s not through miracles, that’s through the teaching of the apostles and we see that, that’s what they’re talking about. They were all together at Solomon’s Portico. This is where the church gathered and the apostles are teaching. We know that from earlier and we’ll know that from a bit later in Acts as well. So it’s through the preaching of the gospel, then the apostles are doing miracles, that’s true, but they are witnesses of Christ showing that they’re continuing on the ministry of the risen Lord Jesus. Our job as a church is not to be replicating their miracles, but to be declaring the truth, their witness that Jesus is the Christ. And God is answering their prayers, so many are believing and all are healed. It is through prayer that God’s power is displayed in the church.

And so I was thinking about that and I thought, well, what should we do in response to this? Would you like to be a part of a church which was making a big difference in its community for the name of Jesus? Yeah? Do you want this to be more than just a little social club that we gather on a Sunday morning? I do. I mean, you’re lovely people, but it’s got to be more than that, doesn’t it? All right, so here’s the first pastor’s pop-up prayer meeting. I’ve booked the auditorium. I went online into our church system. I booked the auditorium Tuesday, 7.30, here. I will be here and I’m going to be praying for MPC. I’m going to be praying for our budget. I’m going to be praying for PCQ denomination as we go through what we’re going through at the minute. I’m going to pray that in all this distraction that we as MPC would maintain our faithfulness to the gospel and our heart for the need of the people in the immediate surrounds in North Brisbane, in our country, in the world. And I want to invite you, whoever’s available, come and join with me. If there’s two or three, we’ll pray. If there’s a hundred, we’ll break into groups and pray. If there’s three hundred, we’ll rejoice and be great, won’t it? If you’ve got a musical instrument and a song, bring along. We can sing and then we’ll pray. But 7.30, Tuesday night, I’ll be here and you’re invited to join me because I don’t want to just read about the fact that it’s through the power of God that the church continues in its mission. I want to actually experience it. I want to be obedient and to live it out. So that’s the first point. We survive the turbulence. You know, when you look at the PCQ, I’ll just say this, when you look at the PCQ predicament that we are in at the moment in the courts and I sit through assembly meetings and we talk around things, it seems impossible that we’re going to come to a solution from a human point of view. We need to ask God to step in and do the impossible. Well, the impossible for us, he can do whatever he wants. We need to be praying. This is how we’re going to be in an effective church. So please join with me, Tuesday 7.30, the pastor’s pop-up prayer meeting. You’re all welcome. That’s the first. It is by the power of God. That’s good news too, isn’t it? You don’t want the personality of the pastor to be the thing that makes the church work. That’s garbage. You want the power of God and that is through the church who prays. Let’s be a church who prays.

THE PLAN OF GOD

Secondly, it’s through the plan of God. Now this is a bigger section, but take a look at what’s going on here. Verse 17, but the high priest rose up and all who were with him, that is the party of the Sadducees. We’re going to find out about the Sadducees in just a tick.

They were filled with jealousy and they arrested the apostles and they put them in public prison. But during the 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 life.

I want to say that this is like a little movie trailer just before the rest of it unfolds, the rest of this section unfolds. This is a little movie trailer. What you need to understand is that the Sadducees were a religious party and they didn’t believe in angels. They didn’t believe in resurrection to eternal life. They believe that they’re in charge. So the high priest, we see in verse 17, the high priest rose up and all who were with him, that’s the Sadducee’s party. So that’s his party. They’re the religious leaders over the people. They don’t believe in angels. They don’t believe in resurrection. I love this. They arrest the apostles because they’re angry that they’re preaching the gospel.

Now look what God does and I think we’re supposed to see the funny side of this. Verse 19,

but during the night, an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out.

So they don’t believe in angels and yet an angel saved them. And look at this. He opened the doors and he walked them past the Roman guards. So they’re in public jail. That means they’ve been guarded by Roman soldiers, the best army in the world, the guards of the Roman prisons. On point of death, if you lost your prisoner, that was your, you died. So God doesn’t spirit them out of the prison. You know, in Acts 8, God spirits Philip, he evangelises the Ethiopian eunuch and then he disappears. God spirits him away to Azotus or whatever it is. But here God walks 12 men and an angel out past the prison guards out the door. I love it. Don’t you love that? And then he goes and says, all right, go and speak about this resurrected life that comes through the resurrection of Lord Jesus, the very things that the Sadducees don’t believe in. So they don’t believe, the little joke is that they don’t believe in the angels. They don’t believe in the resurrection. That’s why they’re Sad-you-see!

But it’s like a little movie trailer. Okay. They’ve got their plan. God has got his. Now how’s this plan going to unfold in the rest of this passage? We’ll take a look from verse 27. So from verse 21, they go to find them in jail and they’re not there and they come back and report and then someone comes in and says, oh, they’re out in the temple speaking and so they go and get them and they bring them back. And when they verse 27, “when they had brought them, they set them before the council.” So now they’ve gone from just the Sadducees to the whole council. That’s the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin are the guys who condemned Jesus to death. They were the full council of all the religious leaders of Israel. And so the apostles are now brought before the Sanhedrin and the high priest questions them and look what he says.

We strictly charged you not to teach in this name and yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.

We’ll just stand there. They’re not objecting to the good things that they’re doing, are they? They’re objecting to the fact that the gospel has been preached.

We strictly charged you not to teach in this name and yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.

This is part of God’s plan. Let me show you why. In response, look at what Peter does. Peter and the apostles answered, we must obey God rather than men. So one commentator said, this is the most important sentence, one of the most important sentences of all the New Testament.

We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised Jesus whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as leader and saviour to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins and we are witnesses of these things. And so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.

So Peter has just preached the gospel to the Sanhedrin and notice when he’s preaching the gospel, he doesn’t say to them, you’ve got to be good people and then you’ll be right with God because they are the Sanhedrin. They would have been following the law. In their mind, they would have been the best of Israel, the most well behaved of Israel. They would have been at temple every week and giving lots of money toward the temple and doing all these things to earn God’s favour.

But look at what he’s saying in here, we must obey God rather than men. So he starts with obedience to God and then he says, but you are not being obedient because you rejected Jesus. You see the God of our fathers raised Jesus whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. Just put yourself in that position. Peter is standing there before the very people that condemned Jesus and had him killed. They have masses of amount of authority. And Peter’s pointing the finger at them and saying, you had him killed. Notice the power of the Holy Spirit in the people of God is amazing, isn’t it? Because here’s Peter who when asked by a slave girl, aren’t you one of the guys who were following Jesus? Oh no, I don’t know what you’re talking about. And yet now through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the enabling of the Holy Spirit, he is standing before the very people who condemned Jesus to death and he’s saying, you killed him, you hung him on the tree. But notice what he’s doing. He is saying you are not right with God because you reject Jesus and he’s putting it in the clearest possible language that they will understand. If you’ve ever been to the chiropractor of massage and you’ve got a knot and you say, oh it’s really sore, it’s right at the back and then they go, they push their finger on it. They go, is it here? Yes. Oh, that hurts. And what do they do then? They jam their elbow into it and they just keep going and then because they know that it’s got to deal with that knot before it frees it up. This is what Peter’s doing, isn’t he? He’s found the knot. This is how you are rejecting Jesus. And if you don’t stop rejecting Jesus, you’re not obeying God. You’re not part of His people. It’s a great reminder to us, isn’t it?

Because there’s so much pressure on us with the gospel to make it more family friendly or society friendly. What we actually need to be speaking into society is, this is how you reject Jesus. This is why you’re in need of the gospel. The same Holy Spirit that dwells in Peter dwells in us. We have not been given a spirit of timidity, one of love and power. Love is knowing that people apart from the gospel will not be saved. Power is the capacity, the courage to stand before people and say, this is how you are rejecting Jesus. Things need to change. That’s part of the plan. That’s part of God’s plan is that people would hear the gospel. But notice also the other plan. They’re charging the Sanhedrin of Paul, Peter and the apostles in there going, you filled Jerusalem with your teaching and we’re going to stop it. We’re going to stamp this out. We’re going to tell you, stop it. And then Peter and the apostles are standing before the Sanhedrin, the halls of power. And what happens? They preach the gospel. So where the gospel wouldn’t have got in before, now the gospel gets in. The heart of these guys try to stamp out the gospel. According to God’s plan, the further it goes, now they heard it. You find that amazing? I do. I found that. I say, this is funny. They’ve got all the power of Jerusalem. They’re trying to stamp out this gospel. And in the very room where they’re trying to stamp it out, it is proclaimed with great clarity. Isn’t God amazing?

When I was a Bible college, I heard this testimony from a North Korean, Christian, from North Korea. He was a guard, a soldier. They’d confiscated some Bibles. And he said, his testimony was that they were using them for cigarette paper because Bible paper is nice and thin. And so they were using that for cigarettes. And he said his testimony is he smoked his way through the Old Testament. And then he started reading the New Testament and he became a Christian. It’s amazing, isn’t it? As the world tries to stamp out the gospel, God just puts it in places, uses that actually, to take it further. But notice the courage of Peter. You see, he’s on board with the plan of God. I want to say, it’s no accident that you are where you are. It’s no accident that you work where you work. You’ve got friends who are your friends that you live where you live. You’re on mission. And apart from the gospel, people will not be saved. And it could be that you are the only person that knows Jesus that your friends or family or work colleagues know. And God wants to, God’s plan is that the gospel would be preached to every nation. And we’re a part of that. This is how the church survives turmoil. The world’s going to try, Satan doesn’t want the gospel to go out. As we are committed to the plan of God, then it will continue on.

THE PRAISE OF GOD

So there’s the power of God, the plan of God, and finally, the praise of God. We do it to the praise of God. We see this here in verse 33, “when they heard this, they were enraged and they wanted to kill them.” So this is the Sadducees. They’re boiling over. You’re going to rip their head off. And then, so this is what we see verse 33, is raw gospel opposition. Literally, they have been cut through with anger. It has got in. And then we see, so that’s raw gospel opposition. Now we have reasonable gospel opposition.

But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, teacher of the law, held in honor by all the people, stood up and gave orders for the men to be put outside.

When the men go outside, he said, guys, just be careful. You might remember the account of Theudas. He raised up a few hundred people, followed him. He thought he was something. People thought he was something. Then he died or came to nothing. You might remember Judas, the Galilean. Time of the census, he rose up. People followed him, thought he was something. Then he died. Everyone scattered… nothing. So then, verse 38, take a look at what Gamaliel says, chapter 5 verse 38.

So in the present case, I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone. For if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail. But if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God.

So they took his advice, what they do when they took his advice, and when they called the apostles, they beat them, charge them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. We have raw gospel opposition. We have reasonable gospel opposition. But it’s all opposition, isn’t it? So we’ll just let these guys go if it doesn’t come to anything, then no loss, no foul. I just want to say common sense and good theology won’t save you. That’s kind of what Gamaliel says, isn’t it? Common sense and good theology won’t save you. The faith in Jesus, because in the end they still tell them not to preach the name of Jesus, they’re still rejecting God’s Messiah. So I guess my warning is, I don’t know, you might be angry. You might have raw gospel opposition shaking your fists at God. Good on you for being here today if that’s the case. Or you might have reasonable opposition to God. You’ve got lots of arguments of why you’re not believing in the gospel.

But if you live apart from the Lordship of Christ Jesus, then you will not know eternal life. In fact, you will face punishment. Please listen. Then they left, verse 41, “the disciples left the presence of the council rejoicing. Rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonour for the name.” That is amazing, isn’t it? They’ve just received 39, they’ve been whipped 39 times each on their back. So it was 40 lashes minus one, in case they lost count and accidentally went over 40 lashes and disobeyed the Old Testament law about not beating someone more than 40 times. So very legalistic. 39 lashes, backs lacerated, bleeding, bruised. And they are declaring praises to God. Thank you, Lord, that we have been counted as one of yours. Thank you that we’ve been recognised as one of yours. That is amazing, isn’t it? I winge if something doesn’t go my way. What are you doing, Lord? These guys are experiencing great pain. And look at what?

And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that Jesus is Christ.

I want to say that if you are dealing with people with nothing to lose, then they are a formidable enemy. The disciples know we’re willing to die for this. Nothing you threaten us, with death, big deal, we go to heaven. You can’t defeat us. That’s our promise, too. We have eternal life, no matter what the world does, you can’t beat us. In fact, Christians standing up for the gospel, actually living it out, make a massive difference to the watching world. This is Tertullian, he’s speaking to the Romans who are in the midst of some full-on persecution:

The oftener we are mowed down by you, the more in number we grow.

We’re like weeds. You mow us, you cut us off, we’ll grow back bigger and stronger.

The blood of Christians is seed.

And elsewhere he said, “The seed of the church is the blood of the martyrs.” What makes the church grow is people dying for the cause, people being willing to suffer for the cause of the gospel. And throughout church history, you just see that China is about to become the largest Christian nation in the whole world and it’s actively illegal to be a Christian in China. Persecution breeds growth. You know the worst thing for mission? The number one worst thing for mission? Comfort. Comfort. It’s the worst thing for your growth in faith as well, comfort. The seed of the church is the blood of the martyrs. It is a powerful testimony when God’s people live out God’s word under persecution and rejection. Now this is not Tertullian, it’s got his name up there, it’s not him. One of my Bible college lecturers in Acts, he was saying, as you read through Acts what you see is that God often buries his messengers but never his message. That is true. The gospel keeps going on. The last word in Acts is unhindered. The message keeps going.

Here’s a guy I met in Budapest, that’s Ayman. The guy with the orange jumper, other ugly guy’s, me. He grew up in Egypt and when he was seven his dad tattooed a cross on his wrist, right wrist, and so he’s got a little cross tattooed on his right wrist. They’ve been through a lot of persecution over in Egypt from time to time. A number of years ago there were some Easter bombings in the Christian churches and it came to, if you went to church, you had to show your tattoo to get in because that was that permanent sign that you’re a follower of Jesus. So the believers knew that they were safe. But imagine growing up in that country. You know what? He loves the Lord Jesus, delights in him. You can see it in his face. Look at him. Just look at him. You want to smile. You talk to him. His story is amazing. His testimony is amazing. The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. Jesus says, “I have said these things to you that in me you may have peace.” He’s talking to his disciples on the night before he’s betrayed.

In the world you will have tribulation, but take heart I have overcome the world.

If we suffer for the gospel then we have been identified with Christ. He has overcome the world. We have eternal life. To the praise of God.

Let me finish. We survive. The church will survive turbulence through the power of God according to the plan of God to the praise of God and that is our confidence. Amen?