It is the season of the year when we find ourselves celebrating the birth of our nation. Whether you want to or not you will more than likely find yourself the recipient of some fireworks somewhere in your community or even in your neighborhood.
Instead of a patriotic message today or even a message extolling the virtues of our country and its historic and well documented founding on Judeo/Christian principles, I am going to talk more about how we are to live as Christfollowers in a nation like ours.
Depending on your perspective and how you see things I think most of you would agree with me that our Country is in a mess. Change has come to our world in light speed over just the last fifty to sixty years and is increasing at an ever accelerating pace.
The church or the body of Christ on this earth has for the most part ignored the changes around them and continued in a pace and style that reflects the comfortableness of our nation in the 1940’s and 50’s.
The case has been made by many writers and authors that we are now truly a post Christian nation. Attempts in the last few years to be political activists have largely been failures and gone silently away and out of the eyes of the mainstream media. The so-called “Moral Majority” is no more. It was shut down in the late 80’s.
The columnist Cal Thomas was an early figure in the Moral Majority who came to see the Christian American movement as fatally flawed in theological terms. "No country can be truly 'Christian'," Thomas says. "Only people can. God is above all nations, and, in fact, Isaiah says that 'All nations are to him a drop in the bucket and less than nothing'."
In the face of the current politically correct climate that exists today what should be our approach to living in the United States of America?
Interestingly enough we find our answer in our continued trek through the Book of Acts and our series on the Holy Spirit. The First Century church faced a culture that certainly was not a friend to the message of Jesus Christ. While they enjoyed the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit they also found themselves in hot water for sharing the message and preaching and teaching about Christ.
As we look at this story found in Acts 5:12-42, we find that the disciples were enjoying doing ministry through the power of the Holy Spirit. They had gone from being stumbling and bumbling followers to empowered and energized disciples. Without question a majority of the difference in their lives was the active presence of the Holy Spirit.
What we are looking at today is a pattern for our own behavior in a nation that has strayed away from most godly things and embraced all things ungodly. We are living as Christfollowers in a time when everything from the sanctity of marriage and the sanctity of life has been questioned. We live in an age of materialism that has largely crept into the lives of Christians just like it has of those who make no profession. People are often financially strapped because they live above their means and then wonder why they can’t be faithful in tithing or helping others around them. The Bible has largely become a sentimental book from our childhood that is being taught to Christian university and seminary students as a book to question instead of believing by faith.
Let’s look together at this passage and see what conclusions we might draw from this story. Remember we are looking for the Holy Spirit’s work as well in the story and lives of the disciples.
1. We are to be a visible presence in society
12 The apostles were performing many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers were meeting regularly at the Temple in the area known as Solomon’s Colonnade. 13 But no one else dared to join them, even though all the people had high regard for them. 14 Yet more and more people believed and were brought to the Lord—crowds of both men and women. 15 As a result of the apostles’ work, sick people were brought out into the streets on beds and mats so that Peter’s shadow might fall across some of them as he went by. 16 Crowds came from the villages around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those possessed by evil[a] spirits, and they were all healed. Acts 5:12-16 NLT
Not unlike what it is like to be a genuine Christfollwer in our country today the early disciples were consistent in their meeting together. Every now and then I listen to people try to make the point that they can be a Christian and not go to church. I suppose there is some truth to that from a technical point but it is questionable at best. Christian’s are to be the body of Christ not an army of one. We are at our best when we work and function together in unity.
What you will notice in our study of the early church and the presence of the Holy Spirit is an increase in persecution that would last for decades and also would be beyond anything we have ever had to imagine. In the midst of this you will also notice that they did not shy away from being the visible body of Christ nor did they try to blend in to the culture around them.
We are to be the visible presence of God in our society.
2. We will face viable opposition
The high priest and his officials, who were Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. 18 They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail. Acts 5:17-18 NLT
This may seem to have nothing to do with you and me at this time in our history but it is current for many Christians around the world. In certain places even in our nation it becomes increasingly difficult to articulate your faith without being thought of as intolerant.
I have just a little news for all of us. If you are a believer in the Bible as the Word of God and you believe it to be inspired and inherent you will be intolerant of much of what is going on in the world we live in. When you believe that there are absolutes about anything in a tolerant society you will be viewed as an enemy of diversity and political correctness.
This opposition will continue to be viable (growing) in the future.
3. We can expect victory and deliverance
But an angel of the Lord came at night, opened the gates of the jail, and brought them out.
Acts 5:19 NLT
It is ironic that we preach and teach this as a fact when there is another side that we must keep in mind. While we can expect victory and deliverance from God there is a victory that might not seem so desirable.
If church traditions are correct, Matthew knew the reality of angelic presence when he suffered martyrdom by the sword. So did Mark when he died in Alexandria after being dragged through the streets of the city. Luke experienced the same when he was hanged on a large Olive tree in Greece. It was John’s realization when he was scarred in a cauldron of boiling oil and lived his last days banished on an island. So it was with Peter as he was crucified upside down in Rome, James as he was beheaded in Jerusalem, James the Less when he was thrown from a high pinnacle and beaten to death with a club, Philip when he was hanged, Bartholomew when he was scourged and beaten until he died, Andrew when he was bound to a cross and preached at top of his voice to his persecutors until he perished, Thomas who was run through with a lance, Jude who was killed by executioners’ arrows, Matthias who was stoned and then beheaded, Barnabas who suffered the same fate at Salonica, and Paul who was beheaded in Rome. On and on it goes.
All of these died knowing that God can deliver his people anytime He wants yet in their case God chose to deliver them by allowing them to die. In death they experienced the ultimate deliverance and victory. Sometimes God opens doors and sometimes He shuts them but always He gives us victory.
Then he told them, 20 “Go to the Temple and give the people this message of life!” 21 So at daybreak the apostles entered the Temple, as they were told, and immediately began teaching.
Acts 5:19-21 NLT
The main point here is that we called to one thing and one thing alone. We are called to fulfill the mission Christ gave the church to do. While you may engage in the political process this should never take the place of knowing being and doing the will of Christ on earth. Our passion must be to fulfill Christ mission and vision to make disciples and baptize them as well as teaching them to obey the things He has commanded.
The idea is to stay focused on God’s mission and not be sidetracked by lesser issues.
We have already looked at this but now we see it in the story. When those that jailed Peter and John went to get them and realized they were gone they were baffled to say the least. At that point someone comes in and tells them that the two disciples are back at it on Solomon’s porch preaching and teaching about Jesus Christ.
The captain went with his Temple guards and arrested the apostles, but without violence, for they were afraid the people would stone them. 27 Then they brought the apostles before the high council, where the high priest confronted them. 28 “Didn’t we tell you never again to teach in this man’s name?” he demanded. “Instead, you have filled all Jerusalem with your teaching about him, and you want to make us responsible for his death!”
29 But Peter and the apostles replied, “We must obey God rather than any human authority. 30 The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead after you killed him by hanging him on a cross. 31 Then God put him in the place of honor at his right hand as Prince and Savior. He did this so the people of Israel would repent of their sins and be forgiven. 32 We are witnesses of these things and so is the Holy Spirit, who is given by God to those who obey him.”
33 When they heard this, the high council was furious and decided to kill them. Acts 5:26-33 NLT
They were fearless and walking in the footsteps of great saints such as Daniel and his friends. Listen to the answer of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego when they stood before Nebuchadnezzar:
“O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if He does not, we want you to know, O king that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” Daniel 3:16-18
There is something compelling and inspiring about serving a God that people have been willing to die for. Too often we throw our lives away on things that are meaningless or offer a few moments of fickle pleasure when there is a cause much greater and higher.
6. We have a valuable Resource
32 We are witnesses of these things and so is the Holy Spirit, who is given by God to those who obey him.” Acts 5:32 NLT
Now we find the Holy Spirit referenced. I just need for you to simply look at this sentence and understand that to receive the fullness of God’s Spirit we must live in obedience to His word. In our world today the majority of religious teaching is that Christfollowers must succumb to living lives of miserable disobedience rather than living out the righteous lives we are called to live in the Bible. What a convenient “truth” yet I believe it to be false doctrine.
The Holy Spirit was given to enable us to live out the principles and commands found in the Bible. He is the ultimate resource for Holy living. Again in our humanness people like to follow the gifts associated with the Holy Spirit but not pay much attention to the purity ascribed to His coming.
7. We should realize that we are part of a valid point
34 But one member, a Pharisee named Gamaliel, who was an expert in religious law and respected by all the people, stood up and ordered that the men be sent outside the council chamber for a while. 35 Then he said to his colleagues, “Men of Israel, take care what you are planning to do to these men! 36 Some time ago there was that fellow Theudas, who pretended to be someone great. About 400 others joined him, but he was killed, and all his followers went their various ways. The whole movement came to nothing. 37 After him, at the time of the census, there was Judas of Galilee. He got people to follow him, but he was killed, too, and all his followers were scattered.
38 “So my advice is, leave these men alone. Let them go. If they are planning and doing these things merely on their own, it will soon be overthrown. 39 But if it is from God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You may even find yourselves fighting against God!” Acts 5:34-39 NLT
The point is that you and I as Christians have joined a succession of people that have continued from the time of Jesus Christ until now. They continue with no sign of quitting. There are times when the church has had to go underground around the world but it always thrives and grows when challenged. It always weakens and becomes stale when life is easy.
At this time of the year when flags are waved and fireworks are exploded, (over a billion dollars worth last year) we must come to grips with how do we live in the good old USA when it is not so good and not very Christ centered.
What role do we play as Christfollowers in the daily motions of society and our Country? May we be filled with passion not so much for our nation but for the work of Christ. Patriotism, flag waving and fireworks all have their place and certainly are fun but ultimately as Christians we must come to grips that may not always enjoy safety and security. We must come to understand that life is not meant to be 100 percent happiness all the time. I know this is not what you hear from happy go lucky TV preachers with great crowds of people. Of course they have great crowds the Bible clearly warns of such preaching and teaching in the last days. The message of the Bible is not a collection of happy thoughts. It is powerful and meaningful and calls us from lives of apathy to lives of servanthood, sacrifice, self denial and strength.
Metaphor: Hang the flag on the cross. We are Christian first and Americans second. We surrender our rights to pursue life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We walk and live how the Bible tells us to walk and live and we go where Christ instructs us to go. We are called to pursue spiritual life, and promised liberty where the Lord is. As to the pursuit of happiness let me remind you that in God’s word we are told,
“. . .pursue righteousness and a godly life, along with faith love and perseverance and gentleness.” 1 Timothy 6:11 NLT
“Run from anything that stimulates youthful lusts. Instead, pursue righteous living, faithfulness, love and peace. Enjoy the companionship of those who call on the Lord with pure hearts.” 2 Timothy 2:22 NLT
I love the words of Paul to a young pastor by the name of Timothy:
I solemnly urge you in the presence of God and Christ Jesus, who will someday judge the living and the dead when he appears to set up his Kingdom: 2 Preach the word of God. Be prepared, whether the time is favorable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching.
3 For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will reject the truth and chase after myths.
5 But you should keep a clear mind in every situation. Don’t be afraid of suffering for the Lord. Work at telling others the Good News, and fully carry out the ministry God has given you. 2 Timothy 4:1-6 NLT
8. We must maintain a Godly view
41 The apostles left the high council rejoicing that God had counted them worthy to suffer disgrace for the name of Jesus. 42 And every day, in the Temple and from house to house, they continued to teach and preach this message: “Jesus is the Messiah.” Acts 5L41-42 NLT
When Richard Wurmbrand was in a Romanian prison his tormentors ripped chunks of flesh out of him and he had the scars to prove it. He was sentenced to solitary confinement and for weeks or even months on end no one would speak to him in his tiny cell. Amazingly, during all of that there were times when he was overcome with joy. He would actually stand up in his weakened state and dance around his cell, confident that the angels were dancing with him.
He was released from prison unexpectedly, and as he left the prison dressed like a scarecrow, with his teeth rotted and in terrible shape, he met a peasant woman on the road carrying a basket of beautiful strawberries. When she offered him one, he started to take it but then said, “No thanks. I am going to fast.” He went home to his wife, and they prayed and fasted as a memorial to the joy he had experienced in prison, asking God for the same kind of joy outside of prison.
Often Americans will go to great expense and length to find pleasure and power. We will do all kinds of things to avoid negative circumstances yet it is often in those circumstances that we find God to be the strongest and closest to us if we look His direction.
24 year old Danny Simpson was sentenced to 6 years in jail for robbing a bank. Danny got 6 years in the clink for stealing $6,000. But the gun he used in the robbery ended up in a museum.
The .45 caliber Colt semi-automatic turned out to be an antique made in 1918 by the Ross Rifle Company. His pistol was worth up to $100,000 on the collectors market. If Danny Simpson had known what he had in his hands, he would not have ended up in jail.
Many Christians live like this. They spend their lives searching for God’s power and presence, not realizing it’s already in their hands.