With the Olympics coming up in a few short weeks, there have been many current and former athletes celebrated in recent days. One such athlete was a dominant force in ancient Greece, as in thousands of years ago. He was such a good athlete that he was celebrated by his town for winning the games and his fellow countrymen built him a monument! What a tremendous honor. As with any person/story, though, there’s always someone who doesn’t like the main character. In fact, one man hated this victorious athlete so much that he went to the monument night after night trying to figure out a way to destroy it without getting caught. Eventually, one night, he had devised a plan and was ready to pull it off. As he finally got the monument to topple off of its platform he was ecstatic… for about 2 seconds. The heavy, marble monument fell right on top of him and crushed him.
What was the downfall for this individual? It was his pride and jealousy! He couldn’t stand the victor and wanted to see his statue fall down. Did you know that there are people who feel the same way about things today as well? Jealousy is a real problem that we all combat from time to time. Maybe we’re not going to tear down a statue or someone’s home, but maybe we’re jealous of what someone has and we resent them for it. Maybe we look at someone else’s life or circumstances and it can be easy to become jealous and envious because they might have things a little easier or better than we do! While it might be easy to become jealous, we all know that jealousy is a slippery-slope that leads to a dark place.
In Scripture, we come across several people who are jealous of another person for a variety of reasons. Cain was jealous of God accepting Abel’s offering and not his own. Joseph’s brothers were jealous that he received unique dreams from God and a colorful coat from his father. We know in the New Testament that there were many people who were jealous of Jesus and His power. Likewise, in the book of Acts, we read of the Jewish leadership often being jealous of the new, uneducated, yet powerful Christians. Why is this the case? Why are some people jealous of Christians? Is it because Christians don’t go through difficult moments? No. Is it because Christians don’t experience opposition or failure? No. Why then? Because even in the difficult moments, failure, hard times, and doubts, the Christian is the one who has the Holy Spirit walking with them through the fire. We have hope and confidence - friends - not in ourselves, but in our Christ! Are you following and trusting in Him today?
17 Then the high priest rose up. He and all who were with him, who belonged to the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. 18 So they arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail. 19 But an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail during the night, brought them out, and said, 20 “Go and stand in the temple, and tell the people all about this life.” 21 Hearing this, they entered the temple at daybreak and began to teach. When the high priest and those who were with him arrived, they convened the Sanhedrin—the full council of the Israelites—and sent orders to the jail to have them brought.
The Cost of Following Christ (17-18)
The Cost of Following Christ (17-18)
As Christians, we often think of the benefits of following Jesus Christ. We have hope, purpose, joy, community, and so many other things as well! It is so important for us to remember these things in the mountains and in the valleys because there is also a cost to following Jesus Christ. Jesus Himself said as much!
24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone wants to follow after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.
That sounds like a cost to me, doesn’t it? What must we do to follow after Jesus Christ? We have to deny ourselves, put our old self to death, and follow Him as a new creation. As we do this, we change in lots of ways. Think of some of the things that you do today that you wouldn’t do if you weren’t a Christian. Like who in their right mind would get up early on a Sunday morning for Sunday School/Worship instead of soaking up some extra sleep in the comfort of a home? Yet, if you’re a Christian, you desire to be with your church family. If you weren’t a Christian, would you have the same motivation to turn the other cheek or to go the extra mile for a stranger or someone who has wronged you? Probably not - after all, even for Christians this is very difficult! However, we know that these are things that Christ expects of us.
In our text this morning, we see that the Jewish leaders arrest the apostles and put them in jail. Why do they do this? Verse 17 tells us that they are filled with jealousy. Again, we are all tempted to be jealous from time to time and we know that jealousy leads to serious problems if we don’t repent. Why would the Jewish leaders be filled with jealousy over the apostles? What were the apostles doing? Last week we studied how the apostles were teaching about Jesus Christ and they were healing others in His name. Do you see how this might have made the religious elites in Jerusalem a little bit upset and jealous? They were the big bad dog on the block and everyone had to come through them in order to practice their religious beliefs. Now, though, you have these apostles of Jesus Christ who are healing people miraculously and teaching about how Christ rose from the dead and how He offers salvation to all who repent and trust in Him! It makes sense as to why these people were jealous - especially considering that Luke tells us in verse 17 that these were the Sadducees. What did they reject? The miraculous - they denied that there would be a resurrection and they even denied the existence of angels. You could say that they were the theological liberals of their time and the Pharisees were the theological fundamentalists. Both are rebuked time and time again by Christ and, as a result, these groups are not fans of Christ’s followers.
There are times in life where people don’t exactly like us. How do we respond in such moments? There are some people who don’t really care what other people think and they simply continue on with their life. There are others who care far too much about what other people think and they are unable to continue on in their life after they discover that someone does’t like them. How should we respond in such moments? Should we care too much? Should we not care at all? There are dangers on both extremes, as is the case with most things. Christ calls us to
31 The second is, Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other command greater than these.”
Loving our neighbor requires us to care for our neighbor. Whenever we care for others, we extend grace to them, we love on them, we help them out, and we also listen to them whenever they have something on their mind. We care about others, even when they might not agree with us or even like us.
With that in mind, we cannot care so much about others that we forget our ultimate purpose or get bogged down and believe something contrary to Scripture because it’s what someone else tells us. This is a fine line to walk down! Christ had people who didn’t like Him. These early Christians had many Jewish and Roman leaders not like them. We should expect people to not always like us or agree with us
18 “If the world hates you, understand that it hated me before it hated you.
Does this mean that we purposely go out and pick up fights got the sake of making people hate us? Absolutely not! But whenever people don’t like us, whenever people are jealous of something about us, or whenever people disagree with us about something and they lie or slander us, we shouldn’t get too bent out of shape about it. This is simply the cost of following Jesus Christ.
Did you know that for centuries, Christians have experienced exactly what these apostles experienced? Did you know that today there are over 340 million Christians living in places where they experience high levels of persecution and discrimination? This isn’t just a minor threat for many, it is life and death!
In high school, my dad served as the youth pastor at FBC Ozark and he made this statement often during Wednesday night youth service: If you were on trial for being a Christian, would the opposition have enough evidence to to convince the judge? If you were going about your normal week, would people think that you are a Christian? In our country, nearly everyone claims to be a Christian, but only 37% of Americans attend church on a regular basis. Sure, we are all sinners, but any Christian should be able to honestly say that Jesus Christ changes the way that we think and act! Are we acting like Christians? If so, there will without question be a cost. Will we be thrown into jail like these Christians were? Probably not, but there’s a chance that might change in the future!
In Jerusalem, the powerful, ruling, group (Sanhedrin) were opposed to Christ and they were also opposed to His followers. We are so blessed to live in a country where we have the freedom to worship and practice our beliefs. We have so many blessings that we can be tempted to take for granted if we are not careful! We have to keep in mind that there is a cost to follow Jesus Christ. It might not be that we are thrown into jail, it might not be that the government tries to put us on trial, but it could be that people look at us a little funny whenever we talk about waking up on Sunday morning and going to church in the middle of a busy season of life. It might be that people ask us some questions about why we believe in God in difficult moments. It might be that people make fun of you because you go to church and believe in the Bible. There is a cost, but understand, friends, that following Jesus Christ is always worth it! Regardless of what comes our way, He is able and He is faithful
24 He who calls you is faithful; he will do it.
Are you trusting in Him during both the mountaintop moments as well as the dark, gloomy valleys? As the Psalmist puts it, “The Lord is my Shepherd… I shall not want/I have what I need.” Even though it’s not always easy, count the cost, look to the cross, and follow Christ.
The Purpose in Following Christ (19-21)
The Purpose in Following Christ (19-21)
Whenever we follow Christ, we are not guaranteed success, prosperity, health, or even divine rescue from our opposition. We see numerous examples in Scripture of faithful followers of God not receiving healing (Paul), experiencing suffering (Job), being persecuted (David), being killed (Stephen), and countless others who experience hardships. On the flip side of this, we see many examples in Scripture of people who are faithful followers of God and they do experience the breakthrough. We see God deliver His people from massive armies, physical boundaries, sickness, doubt, and oppression and these aren’t isolated events by any stretch! This is the norm more than the exception! Our God literally moves mountains.
With that in mind, should we only follow God whenever we are assured that the physical result will be for our benefit? The purpose in following Christ is not so that you live a worry-free life or only experience good things or have your get out of hell free card, rather the purpose in following Christ is to honor Him and to point others towards Him. This is exactly what we see in our text. The early Christians knew that teaching others about Jesus would get them in trouble. Did they back down? No. They doubled down! What is the result of their faithfulness? They get thrown into jail. However, that’s not where our text ends. In verse 19 we see that an Angel of the Lord opens the door of the jail and brings them out. God miraculously delivers His faithful servants and He gives them a purpose.
Whenever God saves you, He does so with a purpose in mind. Did you know that God has a unique purpose for your life? You have unique relationships and abilities that other people might not have and you are saved to serve Him in a capacity that looks a little bit different from the person to your left or right and that is amazing! For these Christians, God’s purpose included them going through hard times so that His power could be magnified - isn’t that how things work often in our lives as well? We go through hard times, yes, but as we go through them we know that there is a purpose behind them and that God is at work in sanctifying us to be like Him and in making Himself known to those around us.
Job talks about this very truth with his wife after many things had been taken away from him, he says:
10 “You speak as a foolish woman speaks,” he told her. “Should we accept only good from God and not adversity?” Throughout all this Job did not sin in what he said.
Just as God allows His servants to go to prison, it is the same God who sends His Angel to deliver them from the prison! Why did this have to happen, though? If God is all-powerful, which we know that He is, then why allow them to go into prison in the first place? This is a good question. In the ancient world, there were stories of famous people breaking out of prison unexplainably and these stories became extremely popular - understandably so! Some atheists look at Acts 5 and other places in Scripture and they say that the Bible is just copying other ancient stories and making it seem as though God is the one who saved these people. After all, how do you explain what happened here? Next week we’ll examine this miracle more in depth in the verses that follow as we read that the jail was securely locked, the guards were in place, yet the apostles were simply not there. How can we explain this? Remember who the audience is here. Who brought these apostles into prison in the first place? The Sadducees. What do they not believe in? They don’t believe in the miraculous and they don’t believe in Angels. Do you see the irony here? The same people who don’t believe in Angels, imprison these Christians and the Christians are broken out of said jail by… Angels. God has a funny sense of humor! Luke, the devoted historian as he was, can’t tell the story of the early church without highlighting the Sovereignty and Providence of God.
The idea of God providing as only He can do is found throughout the early church and it is found in the church today as well. Whenever I reflect on a personal level about God providing, I immediately think of Morgan Baptist Church and how God provided a way for a former professor at SBU to send my resume to you all. There is no other way to explain what happened outside of the providence of God. You all I’m sure can think of examples in your life and in the life of this church where God simply provided whenever there seemed to be no solution or no answer in sight. God makes a way, friends! He made a way for the Israelites to cross the Red Sea and Jordan River on dry ground. He made a way for Jerusalem to be saved from the brink of annihilation. He made a way for the Israelites to return from exile. He made a way for the Gospel to be proclaimed not through a prophet or mouthpiece, but instead through His own Son! He provides - sadly, we don’t always take note when He does.
Just as these men were saved for a purpose, we are as well. They are saved to, as verses 20-21 share, go and tell the people all about this life. What exactly does this mean? The Angel of the Lord tells them to go back to doing what they were doing. Go back to the Temple and preach the exact same message that you were previously. Preach about Jesus Christ. Preach about the resurrection. Preach about how there is salvation only found through Jesus Christ and not through works or any other religious system. It’s Jesus or it’s nothing! Preach and teach that message. We’re good with this, right? We’re all onboard because this is what we are called to do as well… But I can’t help but think of what I might’ve said. Think for a moment here. Why’d they end up in prison? Because they were teaching about Jesus Christ. What is the Angel telling them to do? Go back and preach about Jesus Christ. What will that do? Probably lead us right back to prison, right? If you read ahead in Acts 5, you find that they are apprehended and brought back before the Sanhedrin.
Why would the Angel tell them to go and do this, knowing that they’ll simply be brought back to the authorities? As one commentator puts it, “God frees them physically in order to free others spiritually.” Isn’t this why we are saved as well? Isn’t this our purpose? To share how we have been set free by the grace of Jesus Christ! To teach about what Christ has done and how there is salvation through Him and through Him alone - see the message that they proclaimed is the same one that we are called to proclaim today! Jesus lives. Jesus saves. Repent and trust in Him. Rinse. Wash. Repeat.
But what if it means that we are imprisoned? It’s ok. What if we are made fun of? It’s ok. What if we break a rule by talking about Jesus Christ? Acts 5:29 tells us that, “We must obey God rather than people.” Don’t think of the consequence of following what the Bible says we must do. If the Bible says it, that settles it. We are saved to serve and proclaim the name of Jesus Christ and that is what these people do in our text - they leave the prison, enter the temple, and teach about Jesus. How could they have this type of boldness in the face of oppression and opposition? Because they knew that the King of Kings was on their side. They knew that He had saved them. They knew that He had a purpose for them.
What is God’s purpose for your life? I’m not telepathic and I’ll never claim to be, but I do know that God has a purpose for your life. We live in a world where many people say that our purpose is to simply do whatever makes us happy and to call that good. As people who know their Bible, you at Morgan Baptist Church reject such a notion. Why? Are we simply saved to do whatever floats your boat or flips your chickens? No. We have a higher purpose than to simply twiddle our thumbs or do whatever we think is right. We are saved to serve the King of Kings. We are saved to show others what our God has done. We are saved to share that there is salvation graciously given by Jesus Christ and that there is no other way one can be saved.
Consider the story this morning in Scripture. Consider your story today. Is it only worth it to share about Christ in the good times? Like, if God gives me healing/prosperity/good vibes or whatever it is that I want, then I will do what He asks. Is that how we are to operate? Consider another example of a Christian in prison and what they did… In Acts 16, Paul and Silas were in prison
25 Around midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening.
Later on, in Acts 16, we will see how God once again miraculously rescues these followers from prison much like what happened in Acts 5. When do Paul and Silas sing, though? Do they sing after the deliverance? Yes. In verse 34 we read that they rejoice, but they are singing while they are in prison. Follow me here, church, when should we praise God? When should we seek to fulfill our God-given purpose? After we are delivered, healed, promoted, or in a good situation? No. We should praise Him then, but we are also called to praise Him in the in-between. In prison, we praise God. In moments of weakness, we praise God as Paul does in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 as He reflects on God’s power in His life. In moments of despair, we praise God because He is holy and good. In moments where we are prone to wander and worry, we praise God because He has a plan that is for our good and He declares the end from the beginning. Nothing catches the King by surprise!
Trust in the Providence of God
Trust in the Timing of God
Teach others about Christ
Even if the victory doesn’t come, Praise Jesus for what He has done
Let us be a people who remember what our God has done and who don’t take our eyes off of our calling. Give Him thanks and praise today!