sermon: Hebrews: Its Background (Part Four)
John W. Ritenbaugh
Given 28-Jul-18; Sermon #1444; 70 minutes
John Ritenbaugh, suggesting that most of us resemble the Samaritan woman in our understanding of the value of our calling, maintains that our relationship with God is our sole protection from carnal human nature and the deadly pulls of the world. Whatever consumes our time has the power to either edify or distract us. Faith and works are interchangeable components in our salvation, demonstrating a cause-and-effect relationship. The apostles Paul and James preached the same message, approaching the faith-works coin from different sides. Faith grounded in truth produces works in agreement with truth. Faith without godly works resembles an automobile without an engine. As a minority religion, God's Church appeared on the world scene in the midst of cultural upheaval. Peter's message on Pentecost led not only to exponential growth, but also to vicious persecution. As God stirred the cultural pot then, so He is doing today, on the cusp of Jesus' return. The frightful conditions during the First Century are only typical of the horrific times yet to come. To weather these horrendous conditions, we will need the encouragement of the Epistle of Hebrews.
At the beginning of the previous sermon, I expounded about focusing upon appreciating the awesome, eternal value of what we have been freely given directly by our Creator and what a treasure it is when compared with other gifts that we might have received. We are going to begin in a place that has nothing to do except it is part of the same book of the Bible—the book of John. I want you to turn with me to John the fourth chapter because there is a personality there that is somewhat similar to what we are like whenever we are called.
John 4:10 Jesus answered and said to her, . . .
This was the woman who was at the well as He was coming through Samaria; in this particular occasion He was by himself. The apostles who were traveling with Him had gone into the town to get some food, and Jesus was there by Himself, and He picked up a conversation with a Samaritan woman, and that was kind of unusual. We will not spend a lot of time on that, just the fact that Jesus said something to her: Let us go back to verse eight:
John 4:8-9 For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. Then the woman of Samaria said to Him, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans. Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who it says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.”
I chose this woman because when we are called, we are in somewhat the same circumstance as the Samaritan woman. She really did not know Christ from a hole in the ground, practically. She only knew Him as being a Jew. She was completely mystified regarding what He said. He wanted a drink of water. Her understanding of the water Jesus spoke of went no higher than the water in the well. When Jesus spoke of living water, He was speaking of the Holy Spirit and all that could be produced in her in terms of the fruit of the Spirit and ultimately toward eternal life.
To her He was speaking—this was her thought—of Jacob's well. He was not. He was just using it as an occasion to find out what she was thinking of. She had no idea who He really was and that He was the very God who created her and the Author of salvation.
When we are called, we generally know more than this lady does at this point in her life. But both she and we know far less about the value of our calling than we will a bit later on. The value of our calling is something that we must learn over a fairly long period of time in order to more deeply understand what Jesus is saying to her here. As far as we know, she never really learned, that is not explained within the pages of the Bible.
She later became excited about what He was saying because He was telling her things about her life, reading her mind I guess, is what He was doing. As far as getting into anything spiritual, the Bible does not go into that, only that he spent two days there, which was something that was not planned. I would have to say that He was generally pleased with what He found in that Samaritan city.
What about the gift that we have been given, right out of the blue, by God? Its value lies in that, if given the opportunity it can radically affect, what the Bible terms, as our heart. This is important because metaphorically, our heart is the bottom line of our decision-making processes.
Today, what we are going to do is to continue our march through the background of the writing of the epistle of the Hebrews. Why did it get written? It was very badly needed at the time that it appeared to be of aid to the church but at the time that I am talking about at the beginning of this sermon, it was not written yet.
We will do this, because what the epistle to the Hebrews communicates to us is vitally essential to our salvation, and this is because its communication affects our relationship with Jesus Christ a great deal if its counsel is used. People have a tendency to consider Hebrews as a difficult book. It is not really all that difficult but it is very much needed in our relationship with Jesus Christ; because it tells us things on how to maintain a good relationship with Jesus Christ.
I have never spent so much time on a book's background but on the other hand, neither have I done so on a book dedicated to maintaining our relationship with our Savior, without whom we can do nothing. He is that important and the book of Hebrews, the epistle written to the Hebrews, tells us how to maintain that relationship.
That relationship is the major, major key to our being able to live by faith, and salvation is by grace through faith. The central purpose that motivated its author to the writing of the epistle to the Hebrews is maintenance of this absolutely vital relationship.
In the previous sermon of this series I did not even really get into the book of Hebrews but spent the entire time exhorting us to make sustained efforts toward developing a greater appreciation of the treasure of our calling, freely given, right out of the blue, by God. We did nothing—absolutely nothing—to earn this great inestimable value.
Once received, however, we must understand our heavenly calling needs protection from the influences of two persistent and relentless enemies, to progress toward growth and appreciation, and of right use. These enemies that I am going to be speaking about briefly here are close at hand. I mean, really close; so close that there is no total escaping of their negative influence.
The first influence against our fulfilling our responsibility of rightly using and developing this gift is our already inborn and onboard carnality that we have from birth, and is focused on that which is earthy. I want you to turn with me to Colossians 3 because it gives us a pretty good description of this enemy:
Colossians 3:1 If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God.
I just said about two minutes ago, that our carnality is focused on things that are earthy. Here we are receiving something diametrically opposite that we must do:
Colossians 3:1-5 If then you were raised with Christ [that is raised out of the waters of baptism and give life], seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory. Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth . . .
Of course Paul does not mean literally death. He means put them out of the way, so that they do not bother us anymore:
Colossians 3:5-10 Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them. But now you yourselves are to put off all these [besides the ones already listed and stated]: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him.
What we have there is a very clear listing of the kinds of things that our carnality is interested in, and focuses on, and have to be beaten back. Otherwise we waste this wonderful gift from God of a calling into His Kingdom. Now Go back to Colossians 2, because I said that there are two evil influences—the one is our carnality.
Colossians 2:8 Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.
That second evil influence is the world. We have the carnality within us that focuses on things that are earthy and then there is the world. The world, in this context, is the anti-God system designed by Satan and his companions to be very attractive to our self-centered carnality, thus distracting our attention from the time of our calling that this should be our first order of business.
Keep that attraction level to the world down. The world, as it is mentioned here in verse 8 might be understood as the container holding those activities. They are out there and they are alive and well, as it were. These activities may not be directly and overtly evil in and of themselves, but they can become that because we allow what is in the world to consume our time. Our life is consumed within time. These things are out there and our nature is attracted to them. Perhaps the world's gravest danger to us is its power to distract us from what should be getting our attention. Jesus also briefly mentions the heart in Matthew.
Matthew 6:21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Jesus also briefly mentions the heart in Matthew 6 as being most likely to be affected by evil influences from these two enemies. A while back, I gave a series of sermons on the heart, and what I just said there is taken from that series. Thus Jesus admonishes us to make sure that we make efforts to place our attentions on the correct treasure. That is the lesson in Matthew 6:19-21. We are admonished to make sure that we give our attentions to the right treasure.
Treasure is used metaphorically to indicate that on which we place a great value. Will it be our heavenly calling, or the attractive but earthy self-centeredness of this world? It is our choice. We control the direction we go in. That is completely and totally our responsibility. Christ can teach us, which He does every Sabbath, what the enemies are but we have to use our heart in order to make the decisions to go in the right direction. The heart is used metaphorically in the Bible to describe the means buried unseen within a person, but containing our decision-making capacity, and thus giving direction on how we use our life and our gifting.
Biblically, the heart contains such things as our intellect, memories, feelings, desires, fears, emotional makeup, understanding, habits, will, and age. These factors all impact on our decision-making process and in many cases, they go through our mind just like that, very quickly, and we come up with an answer or decision. Is that right? We need to think about that. These factors can affect the course of our decision making.
The sum and the substance of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 6:19-21 is that the value we place on what we consider, in an overall sense, what is important to us, that is our treasure. It may be different for every person in this room. We decide that and we control the decision-making processes.
Most important of all decisions are those involving moral and spiritual issues. How does one prove to God and to himself that he has placed high value on his calling and it has become the treasure of his life? In one sense, the answer is quite simple. It is by means of what the Bible calls a person's works. Let us so in the book of James.
James 2:14-16 What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have the works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?
Christ is asking. What kind of work is that? When you say you believe God?
James 2:17-19 Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and [James says back:] I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and [they] tremble [before God]!
I added, before God, I think you see that, but that is what is meant: They tremble before God. James is asking, without actually saying it, do we tremble before God? The demons do!
James 2:20-22 But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect?
There is a false belief, held by far too many people sincerely calling themselves Christian, that the apostle Paul was a fully confirmed teacher of faith as being the primary source of one’s salvation. The apostle James, contrary to the apostle Paul, was of works as being the primary source of salvation. Let me tell you right out brethren. That is idiotic. James and Paul had exactly the same Teacher, our Lord Jesus Christ. Was their Teacher double minded?
They are not opposed to each other regarding these two necessities for salvation to be given by means of God's grace. Rather, James and Paul are two sides of exactly the same coin. I will illustrate it in this way: James and Paul were not face to face fighting against each other; they were back to back fighting enemies of both faith and works regardless of whether the others were arguing that one was championing the faith-camp while the other was championing the work-camp. The differences between Paul’s and James’ teaching is the context in which their teaching appeared and demanded that they emphasized the one above the other in each other’s specific contexts.
Here is a true principle. This is very simple. True faith is correctly believing God's truths will produce works in agreement with the truth. Did you get that? True faith and true works cannot be separated. That is what James is teaching here in the book of James and that is exactly what Paul believed as well. Brethren that is the very reason they preached God's truth. Consider this logic. Their preaching was attempts to persuade people to believe God's truths, so that those who heard and believed would be equipped and prepared to deliberately choose to perform the right works. Did you get that? That is so simple.
The very reason for preaching repentance is so hearers will produce good works in obedience to God's truth. Brethren that is so simple! If a person emphasizes faith but has no works accomplished to exhibit what he says that he believes, then that person's faith is similar to an automobile without an engine. Everybody acts, takes action to do things for the very reason that they believe it is the right action for them to take at that time and occasion. They act because that is what they believe.
If they do not do so, they are outright hypocrites putting on a show in order to deceive. If a person claims to be doing many works but does not believe some of the critical doctrines of God, he is like an automobile with an engine but no gasoline to empower the engine. That is, to be a force in doing the works. This person claims to have faith but it is a faith with no power to bring glory to God, except momentarily, because ultimately the power to accomplish true spiritual works is given by God through the person's spiritual connection to Him.
Recall what Jesus said. This is one of those statements that makes me gasp; that helps me to understand how much I need a relationship with Him. It helps me to understand how much I need the book of Hebrews. Remember John 15:5-6? What did He say there? “Without Me you can do nothing.” Zilch! Nada! He is talking about doing the right kind of spiritual works. It takes a relationship with Him to produce those works. He is the One who empowers us to enable us to do it. Without me you can do nothing. What glorifies God are the fruits of the Spirit being built within us and in order to do that it takes a relationship with Jesus Christ.
Claim of works without true faith is nothing but a vanity. It is an outright hypocrisy. One of the major reasons I am being so detailed regarding these introductions that I am giving here on Hebrews is because I want us to clearly understand that the church does not exist, live, and operate in a vacuum. We are being impacted by the world all around us. Look, we are being impacted by plastic straws, or the lack thereof! Do you understand what I mean? The church exists in the world. The church acts in the world. It is being impacted by the world constantly. This is why our carnality has to be overcome and we do not fall trap into all the traps that are out there in the world.
We have to be living our lives with eyes and ears wide open about what is going on and what we are going to do, should situations arise, if we want to keep in obedience to God. The church affects and is in turn affected by the culture that is within. It is impacting on us every day. What are we doing with it? This is why I gave you, about two sermons ago in a previous introduction, the five parallels between what we are now experiencing in our culture and what Christians were experiencing in the Judean culture following Jesus’ resurrection and the giving of the Holy Spirit.
The Judean experience was exceedingly more intense. The book of Acts makes clear that outright violent persecutions were taking place. Stephen, you remember, was even murdered at the behest of the Jewish religious leadership and the persecutions were led by the man who, when converted, became the apostle Paul.
Our cultural experiences appear headed to an intensity far higher than exists now, and it is being largely directed against sincere people who believe they are indeed Christians, while at the same time, those persecuting the ones who believe they are sincere Christians also believe that the ones they are attacking are Christian. Those people who went to jail; those people who had the pay fines; those people whose names were in the newspaper, day after day because they refused to decorate a cake or refuse to do this, that or the other thing. They are being persecuted.
What was going on in Judea was far more intense. We will get to that in just a few minutes.
In many cases, those who are being persecuted, and their persecutors, are both wrong regarding whether or not the people are really Christian. Just for an example: How many of those people really keep the Sabbath? Jesus did! Jesus kept the holy days; all of the festivals of God, and on and on it goes. There is so much that is missing from what they consider to be Christian.
They practically do away with the Old Testament. It is not done away! On Jesus’ own statement: “Don’t think that I came to get rid of the law.” He did not. These people, in many cases, have been deceived into thinking that because they are going to church on Sunday, that they are Christian. We will let God be the judge.
Just looking from our standpoint, we see that God still requires the keeping of the Sabbath. You understand what I mean here? Here are these people who sincerely believe that they are Christian and they may not be, and here are these other people who are the persecutors, who think that these people are Christian and they are not. True Christianity has always been a minority religion. I believe that within today's news, the things that we are hearing, everything from straws to all kinds of political things, we are receiving fair warning from our High Priest to make sure of what we believe, that is have faith in, because as the intensity of the time ramps up, what we believe is going to dominate our actions.
I am going to get back on my main theme: That was the introduction. (I am getting as bad as Richard.) As we return to the main theme of these introductions to the epistle to the Hebrews, let us all make sure that we give serious thought to our evaluation of the worth of the treasure that God has given us.
It is very interesting that Jesus was born into a Judean culture that was already simmering with tension. There was a time that the Bible suggests pretty clearly when the expectations for the arrival of the Messiah were fairly high among the religious Jews and of course, the Jewish culture already existed under the thumb of the heavy-handed Romans. These two factors together: the expectation of the arrival of the promised Seed, the Messiah, and the Romans added to the cultural tensions in Jewish life at the time.
There is also no doubt from the Bible that God drew attention to Jesus' birth by means of the heavenly signs and the wise men, thus moving people to talk about the unusual activity that took place in Bethlehem. The tension was sufficient that it helped motivate Joseph and Mary to flee to Egypt. They had to get out of there in order to save the baby Jesus’ life. The cultural pot, I just went into that so that you will know that after the Holy Spirit was given and Jesus went to heaven, the tension that arose had already been going on for thirty years as Jesus grew up, aged, and began His ministry, and then was crucified.
By the time that Jesus was crucified, the tension, in Jerusalem especially, was pretty high. The cultural pot in Judea was kept simmering for thirty years as Jesus matured and began preaching the truth of God's awesome purpose, that is, the gospel of the Kingdom of God. It did not take long, even without any advertising assistance from radio and television, to attract large crowds of people listening to His messages. Even more attention was focused on Him when the news of His miracles was added into the mix of the conversations held about Him and the fantastic claims made by Jesus as to whom He really was.
He did not hide from them who He was: He told them, “I AM” and they picked up rocks to throw at Him. That was just one occasion; He told them other times exactly who He was, even in John the third chapter, which was very early in Jesus ministry, Nicodemus said: We know You are from God! The Sanhedrin knew He was from God and yet they practically denied it for another twenty-five years. Even more attention was focused as He moved toward the end of His ministry when news of His miracles happened; Martin went through that when Jesus resurrected Lazarus and the Sanhedrin plotted to kill them both.
As Christ approached His crucifixion, Judea was teetering on the edge of exploding into outright violence. As I neared the end of that first introductory sermon, I had reached the point of time that Jesus’ ministry was completed. The church had been founded by Him. He had been crucified and resurrected and the Holy Spirit given. However, though He was stopped as a man, there was no stopping what God had begun in Judea.
The stage is set for the church to begin its work because God was about to stir the cultural pot even more vigorously. Even though Jesus had returned to heaven, the die on earth was cast, and the preaching of the gospel would be continued by the apostles. However, open warfare did not break out between the Jews and Romans for several decades. It was always teetering on the edge, but open warfare did not begin until late 60s AD and early 70s AD when the Temple was destroyed. Neither did it entirely ever cool off as people, mostly Jews, began to become converted to Jesus and the gospel’s message.
By the time we are in my thoughts, there was going to be another thirty years before the epistle to the Hebrews was written and made available for helpful instruction within the church. They still had to get along pretty much without it. It is thought that the book was written about 65 AD. An awful lot happened between 31 AD and 65 AD. Some of that is recorded in the book of Acts.
That is why I said it was going to be another thirty years before the epistle to the Hebrews was written and made available for helpful instruction within the church. That instruction was needed because the church was having its own internal problems, somewhat paralleling what was going on in the world. Many Jews were converting, and the unconverted Jews were reacting with growing violence almost immediately after the Holy Spirit was given on Day of Pentecost. Thus both within and without the church Judea was teetering, culturally on the edge of exploding.
You will recall, from biblical accounts, that just before Passover on which He was crucified, crowds in Jerusalem wanted to proclaim Jesus as King. Jesus encouraged this in a limited way when He fulfilled a scripture by riding a donkey into Jerusalem. It was not yet the right time for His Kingship to occur, but things really exploded two months later. The fuse that exploded the tension was lit whenever God gave His Holy Spirit publicly and the general population became aware that something unusual was occurring in the Temple area. People wanted answers and thus they heard Peter’s sermon regarding what they were witnessing. Do not let this thought get out of your mind. God Himself was stirring the pot; He was the One giving out the conversions and people were being converted left and right.
We are going to follow an overview as events occurred, given in Acts, and it will eventually help us understand, from both biblical and profane histories, more clearly some of why the epistle to the Hebrews was written and given as a magnificent spiritual guide for the church.
We are now in Acts the second chapter. The book of Acts is reporting the crisis. In a way you almost have to think of a radio broadcast that is going on here that takes a little while to unfold. At the beginning, here, Peter, in the book of Acts, is reporting the building cultural crisis that the church has to operate within. God did not take it easy on the church. They had to face the anger of the Jews:
Acts 2:12-16 So they were all amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “Whatever could this mean?” Others mocking said, “They are full of new wine.” But Peter, standing up with the eleven, raised his voice and said to them, “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and heed my words. For these are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel.”
Peter's sermon is psychologically exceedingly well organized for acceptance by the eyewitnesses who were all Jews and they were reasonably aware of what Peter was quoting from the Old Testament. Peter begins explaining what the people were witnessing by tying the giving of the Holy Spirit disturbances first of all, to the prophecies in Joel. He then ties it directly to the murder and subsequent resurrection of Jesus Christ. He then ties Jesus to King David, who was so important to Israel's history and David's own prophecy concerning David's line of kings ultimately producing the Messiah and King of kings.
Acts 2:29-30 “Men and brethren, let me speak freely to you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Therefore, being a prophet [did you know David was a prophet?], and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that of the fruit of his body, according to the flesh, He would raise up the Christ to sit on his throne.”
I can remember really feeling, in a way, almost choked up when I realized that the Messianic prophecy in Genesis 3:15 was going to be fulfilled in David’s life. That Person was going to come from his line. David was practically wordless, choked with emotion as God told him what was going to happen. Let us go to verse 31. He would raise up Christ to sit on his throne, that is, on David's throne.
Acts 2:31-32 “He, foreseeing this, spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ, that His soul was not left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption. This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses.”
Remember Peter is preaching this to these unconverted Jews:
Acts 2:33-35 “Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear. For David did not ascend into the heavens [It was Christ who ascended into the heavens], but he says himself: ‘The Lord said to my Lord [that is God the Father said to Jesus Christ], “Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool.” ’
Peter is hitting these unconverted people with these truths.
Acts 2:36-37 “Therefore, let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” And now, when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?”
You have to give them credit because they were beginning to see it, to understand and grasp what they had done.
Acts 2:38-43 Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.” And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation.” [He is pretty bold!] Then those who gladly received his word [Peter’s word] were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles.
What Peter was reporting is truly historically significant. This was only the beginning of the cultural impact of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ and of the early church that they had on Jerusalem. It was exciting for the church members but I also think that it might have been intensely scary for them, wondering, where is this headed?
Acts 3:6 Then Peter said, “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.”
We are going to have a healing here of a man who had been lame and could not walk from birth.
Acts 3:7-9 And he took him by the right hand and lifted him up, and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength. So he, leaping up [from cannot walk to leaping], stood and walked and entered the temple with them—walking, leaping, and praising God. And all the people saw him walking and praising God.
You think God is not stirring the pot? You think that is not going to attract the attention of an awful lot of people crowded around, listening to what Peter is saying and comparing it scripture by scripture with the Old Testament?
Acts 3:10-14 Then they knew that it was he who sat begging alms at the Beautiful Gate of the temple; and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him. Now as the lame man who was healed held on to Peter [he was probably holding on for dear life] and John, all the people ran together to them in the porch which is called Solomon’s, greatly amazed. So when Peter saw it, he responded to the people: “Men of Israel, why do you marvel at this? Or why look so intently at us, as though by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified His Servant Jesus, whom you delivered up and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he was determined to let Him go But you denied the Holy One and the Just, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you. And you killed the Prince of life, whom God raised from the dead, of which we are witnesses. And His name, through faith in His name, has made this man strong, whom you see and know. Yes, the faith which comes through Him has given him this perfect soundness in the presence of you all. Yet now, brethren, I know that you did it in ignorance, as did also your rulers. But those things which God foretold by the mouth of all His prophets, that the Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled. Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that He may send Jesus Christ, who was preached to you before, whom heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began.”
I want you to notice as we went through that section, that the gospel is being preached with vigorous authority, including miracles by the apostles.
Acts 4:1-4 Now as they spoke to the people, the priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees came upon them [here comes trouble], being greatly disturbed that they taught the people and preached in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they laid hands on them, and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. However, many of those who heard the word believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand.
In the last chapter, it was three thousand. Now, in a matter of a couple of days, five thousand converted people are walking the streets, running the streets, talking about doing their own preaching or whatever in a matter of just a few hours. God is really stirring the pot. What is that going to do to the church? What is going to happen in the United States of America when the church begins preaching God’s Word as they should? That time is not yet but as I said a little bit earlier, I think that our High Priest is giving us time to make sure that we know what we believe, so that we will be acting on faith. Let us drop down to verse 13 same chapter:
Acts 4:13 Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus.
The religious authorities still really do not understand what is going on. But they do see that people are reacting to Peter, primarily, because he was the spokesman for them at that period of time, a spokesman for the church. The religious authorities see that people are repenting and people are changing their minds regarding their religious understanding and they are getting it from the apostles of Jesus Christ. Several days had gone by; the religious authorities did not realize that Peter and the others had been with Jesus. Now they knew: There is the target.
Acts 4:14 And seeing the man who had been healed standing with them, they could say nothing [against it.]
They were still down struck; they did not know how to respond yet, because they knew that the man had been healed. It was not a fake. He had been sitting there for years. Everybody in the city knew him. You think God was using his ‘bean’ up here? You better believe that He was! They healed the right person which attracted all the attention to the message that Peter and the apostles were giving because there was Power associated with it that everybody recognized. It was not in the men. It was in God who gave the power for people to be healed.
Acts 4:15-16 But when [that is the religious authorities] they had commanded them to go aside out of the council, they conferred among themselves, saying, “What shall we do to these men? For, indeed, that a notable miracle has been done through them is evident to all who dwell in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it.
Just like with Nicodemus, they knew that people were changing because of the preaching, first of Jesus and now of those that He taught.
Acts 4:16 “What shall we do to these men? For, indeed, that a notable miracle has been done through them is evident to all who dwell in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it.
It is no wonder Nicodemus came by night. He did not want all his fellow members of the Sanhedrin to come down on him.
Acts 4:17-21 But so that it spreads no further among the people, let us severely threaten them, that from now on they speak to no man in this name.” So they called them and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.” So when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way of punishing them, because of the people, since they all glorified God for what had been done.
The apostles were corralled there for a while, but this time only given a warning. Chapter 5, a few more days have gone by:
Acts 5:14 And believers were increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women.
Acts 5:17-18 Then the high priest rose up, and all those who were with him (which is of the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with indignation, and laid their hands on the apostles and put them in the common prison.
The authorities were having trouble getting a handle on that in Acts 5, so the only thing they could do was imprisoned them. The real issue brethren was not the apostles, it was God's truth: They just happened to be preaching it.
Acts 6:1 Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying . . .
Do you see that there? The book of Acts is reporting to you and me that they are not only just getting a few conversions, a thousand here? Now the converts were multiplying! How many? Acts does not say but God has really stirred the pot.
Acts 6:1 . . . there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution.
Let us drop down to Acts 7. What has happened in between what I just read there in Acts 6:1 and now in Acts 7 is that the intensity of the persecutions has really gotten hot. I am just going to read a portion of what Stephen said to the religious authorities at the time that he was put on trial. He did not hold anything back at all.
Acts 7:51-54 “You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers, who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it.” When they heard these things they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed at him with their teeth.
Far different than the common man on the street, the religious authorities, as they did with Jesus, they got rid of him. They are just about that close to get rid of these men.
Acts 7:54-5 When they heard these things they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed at him with their teeth. But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and said, “Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” Then they cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord; and they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep [he died].
Acts 8:1-3 Now Saul was consenting to his death. At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him. As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison.
Brethren, are we seeing a preview of coming attractions? It is going to happen when people begin to realize that they have not been told the truth about the doctrines of the Bible. They are going to really be upset, just like these Jews were. They are going to be accusing people of not telling the truth regarding what we are to do with our lives. Steven's murder, at the hands of local authorities, raised the intensity even higher.
At this point in this sermon, we are not going to go any further, even though Acts recounting of the growth of the church continues on. But what I have given you provides a fairly clear overview showing things were pretty tumultuous culturally.
But things did not stop happening in individual lives as converted people wrestled with meeting the adjustment needs to this new religion. Let us be briefly reminded of what Jesus admonished people regarding becoming a disciple, because He foresaw this would happen. That is where we will pick it up, with what Jesus foresaw, and we will continue through with giving a little bit of a preview as to what may occur, maybe even in our lifetime.