Sermon: Easter 4, 22 April 2018, Bishop Ross Nicholson, St Alban’s

Acts 4:5-13

-Over the next couple of weeks leading up to Pentecost we’ll be looking at the Book of Acts.

-The extended title of the book is commonly known as the Acts of the Apostles,

-Which is probably not unreasonable given the story unfolds the spread of the church across the known world,

-As those early followers of Jesus go and do what Jesus commanded,

-Being a witness to him,

-And making disciples from Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth.

-But another suggestion has also been made,

-That the book could more accurately be called the Acts of the Holy Spirit.

-Luke begins his narrative with the introduction;

“In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen.” Acts 1:1-2

-That first book was the Gospel of Luke,

-And as you read it it’s obviously about Jesus,

-His birth, ministry, death and resurrection.

-But Jesus’ last words in Luke clearly indicate that this story is not yet finished;

“Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” Luke 24:45-49

 

-There’s a tantalising phrase that Jesus speaks to Nathaniel after he’d declared;

“Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” John 1:49

-Jesus answered;

“Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” John 1:50

-‘You will see greater things!’

-Jesus was obviously referring to the miracles that he’d do,

-And ultimately to his death and resurrection.

-But as tantalising as that word was to Nathaniel,

-There was an even greater one given to the gathered disciples at the Last Supper;

“Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.” John 14:12

-It’s amazing to think that the followers of Jesus are told,

-That they will do greater works than Jesus himself.

-How could the disciples possibly do greater works than Jesus?

-But if you read through the book of Acts you get a glimpse of what Jesus meant by that,

-As the apostles and other disciples start sharing the good news of Jesus,

-And the church grows and grows and grows.

-Jump forward 300 or so years and the Christian faith becomes the religion of the Roman Empire,

-Through the proclamation of the Emperor Constantine.

-And if you want a more contemporary example,

-Billy Graham was said to have led more than 3.2 million people to faith in Christ through his ministry.

-Greater works indeed.

 

-But before we get too cocky,

-Or maybe a bit intimidated by others’ ‘greater works’,

-Just take to heart these opening word from Acts1;

“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

-Note carefully the order,

-You will receive power,

-And then you will be witnesses.

-Unless the disciple,

-Unless any follower has received power from the Holy Spirit,

-Then they cannot be a witness.

-The apostles do some incredible things in the book of Acts,

-But as you read each story,

-You’ll notice that they are just the human vehicle used by the Holy Spirit to transform lives.

-That should be a humbler if you’re cocky,

-And an encourager if you’re hesitant.

-Whether your crazy bold like Peter,

-Or a quiet encourager like Barnabas,

-It’s the power of the Holy Spirit through the authority of Jesus,

-That brings salvation to the lost,

-Forgiveness to the sinner,

-Healing to the sick,

-Life to the dead.

 

-And we see that in our reading for today.

-In Acts 3 we hear of Peter and John going up to the Temple to pray.

-At the Beautiful Gate they meet a crippled man begging.

-He asks them for money,

-But Peter replies;

“I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.” Acts 3:6

-When the man is healed and runs around leaping and praising God a big crowd assembles,

-And is obviously trying to figure out what had happened,

-Because Peter asks;

“You Israelites, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk?” Acts 3:12

-Peter reminds them of the death and resurrection of Jesus,

-And then declares the real origin of the healing of the paraplegic;

“By faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong. . .” Acts 3:16

-Peter recognises that this healing wasn’t because of his efforts,

-But rather the authority and power of Jesus.

 

-In the ancient world a name was more than a personal identifier,

-A name expressed the character of the person.

-It also conveyed the status, authority or power of that person.

-If you recall the Christmas stories,

-The angels tell Mary to give her child the name ‘Jesus’,

-When the angel brings that message to Joseph he says;

“You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” Matthew 1:21

-To Mary, the explanation of the name is that;

“He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.” Luke 1:32

-And for the apostles in Acts the name of Jesus stands for his presence.

-The greater things they do are done in the name of Jesus,

-Because they know Jesus is with them.

 

-Before he ascended to heaven Jesus said to his disciples in the Great Commission;

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:20

-In this very Trinitarian statement Jesus acknowledges his own authority,

-It’s total and complete,

-‘All authority in heaven and on earth.’

-It’s the basis for his command to his followers that they’re to make disciples everywhere.

-Jesus has the authority to call all people to acknowledge him as Lord and Saviour.

-And just listen again to that last sentence;

“And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:20

-Jesus is guaranteeing his presence with his followers right up to the point of his return.

-And it’s through the Holy Spirit that all followers know and experience the presence of Jesus.

-It’s through the Holy Spirit that the authority and power of Jesus is expressed in the world.

 

-Well the implications of the healing of the cripple ripple out to the religious authorities,

-Who are disturbed by the apostles proclaiming that Jesus had risen from the dead.

-They arrest Peter and John and put them in prison overnight.

-But despite this,

-The church grows another five thousand believers.

-The next day the religious hierarchy get together and question Peter and John,

-And listen closely to the words they use;

“By what power or by what name did you do this?” Acts 4:7

-Remember those words of Jesus in the opening chapter of Acts?

“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

-Well look down at v8ff on your service sheet;

“Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, ‘Rulers of the people and elders, if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed, 10 let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead.”

-Peter is filled with the Holy Spirit,

-What Jesus promised occurs,

-He receives power and he witnesses to the death and resurrection of Jesus,

-He points back to Jesus and the power of his name.

-Peter and John were obedient to the command of Jesus to be witnesses to him.

 

-Luke makes specific mention that it was the Sadducees who accompanied the temple police in the arrest of Peter and John.

-The Sadducees were a party within Judaism at the time who didn’t believe in the resurrection.

-They also didn’t believe in angels or spirits.

-They were the religious materialists of their day,

-Not unlike some moderns who claim to be Christian but deny any supernatural works,

-Even to the point of denying Jesus’ divinity and the resurrection.

-But as hostile and resistant to the evidence of Jesus’ resurrection as they were,

-The Sadducees were unable to explain a crippled man walking,

-Because he was standing in good health right there with them.

-The risen power of Jesus was indisputable.

-And in v16 they have to admit it;

“‘What will we do with them? For it is obvious to all who live in Jerusalem that a notable sign has been done through them; we cannot deny it. 17 But to keep it from spreading further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.”

-Unable to refute the truth,

-The Sadducees scheme to stop the apostles from preaching Christ.

 

-But that’s an impossible demand to place upon a follower of Jesus.

-To obey those human rulers would have meant disobeying Jesus,

-Which Peter and John recognise immediately;

“Whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; 20 for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.” Acts 4:19-20

-The apostles had spent three years with Jesus.

-They had seen his miracles,

-They had heard his teaching,

-They’d experienced his compassion.

-They were with him in that Upper Room when he promised he would send the Holy Spirit.

-They were on that mountain when he commissioned them to make disciples,

-And be a witness of all that he’d done.

-It can be no surprise then that they proclaimed unequivocally;

“There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:12

-Such was the power they knew in the name of Jesus,

-And his presence through the Holy Spirit.

 

-If that power and presence had ceased with the apostles,

-Then we would not be here today.

-It’s because of the ongoing faithfulness of disciples right down through history to obey the Great Commission,

-That we gather each week.

-And it’s the same call that the Holy Spirit makes upon us,

-To make disciples,

-To go out into our worlds and be a witness to Jesus,

-Sharing even in tiny and incremental ways the grace, mercy and love we receive each day in him.

-If you are a follower of Jesus,

-If you believe in his name,

-Then you are also the recipients of his promise,

-That you will be clothed in power to be a witness to him.

-That’s a great promise to have in a world where the Christian faith is challenged, critiqued and criticised.

-And it’s a promise we can rely on,

-In whatever circumstance we found ourselves in,

-As the situation and the Holy Spirit prompt us to speak of Jesus and his love for our world.