This morning is the last lesson in our series on “Called to Boldness”. So far, we’ve been spending our time in Acts chapter 4, but this morning we’re going to be looking at chapter 5 if you want to go ahead and be turning there.
We saw in the first lesson of this series how God gives ordinary people extraordinary boldness. Peter and John had a tremendous boldness as they stood before the Sanhedrin even though they were “uneducated, common men” (Acts 4:13). And then, we talked about bold prayers and we saw the prayer of the Christians in Acts 4 who prayed first of all for more boldness, but then secondly, they prayed for God to work and to do some powerful things around them.
And then, last week, we talked about bold speaking, because, as I said, we speak boldly about what we believe deeply. And we saw that the early Christians believed so deeply about the resurrection of Jesus Christ, Peter and John said to the Sanhedrin, “it is impossible for us not to speak about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:20)
This morning, as we finish up this series, we’re going to be talking about bold obedience. Let me spend just a few minutes setting the scene for our text this morning. If you haven’t been with us for the past few weeks, we have seen that Peter and John were bold. They very boldly preached about Jesus, and the Sanhedrin didn’t like what they were doing and so they threatened them and said, “You’ve got to stop!” But they kept doing it.
God gave them the ability to take a man who had been crippled for forty years and heal him. And that put the religious leaders in a bind because they wanted to keep the apostles locked up, but they couldn’t do that because everybody knew that they had performed this amazing miracle. And as we move into chapter 5, we see that even more people were being healed and the apostles were casting demons out, and people by the hundreds were becoming Christians.
And all of this got to be too much for the Jewish leaders. They finally reached the point where they said, “We’ve got to do something to shut this thing down!” We pick up now in Acts 5:17, “But the high priest rose up, and all who were with him (that is, the party of the Sadducees)…”
Now, it makes sense that it would be the Sadducees who felt like they needed to take some action. There were most likely both Pharisees and Sadducees in the Sanhedrin (I guess they were the equivalent of the Republicans and the Democrats in our government), but it would have been the Sadducees who would have been most upset at what was going on with the Christians because remember what their message was – Jesus Christ and rose again from the grave three days later.
The Sadducees didn’t believe that anybody could rise from the dead. They believed that resurrection was impossible, and so the more Jews who converted over to Christianity because of the resurrection of Jesus, the more it would have bothered the Sadducees.
So, “the high priest rose up, and all who were with him (that is, the party of the Sadducees), and filled with jealousy..” When I read this, I thought it was rather strange that jealousy would be the motivation for these leaders getting upset. I suppose you could make an argument that they were jealous that the apostles were getting all of the attention, but I don’t think that’s what’s going on here.
A couple of translations say that they were “filled with indignation” and that perhaps does a better job of describing what’s going on, but the word that’s used here is clearly “jealous”. It’s the Greek word “zelos” which is sometimes translated as “jealous” and other times, it is translated as “zealous”. Which can be very confusing, because we are told in the scriptures that we’re supposed to be very zealous for the things of God, and we’re also told that we shouldn’t be jealous. But the same Greek word is used for both of them, and only the context can determine which one it is.
While it may not seem obvious at first, jealousy and zeal are very closely related. They both signify a burning passion. Jealousy is a burning passion or desire for what someone else has. Zeal is a burning passion to keep something that is very precious to me. In both Galatians and Philippians, Paul talked about the zeal that he had when he was a Jew. In Galatians 1:14, he said that it was a zeal to keep the traditions of his fathers.
And I think that’s what’s going on here in Acts 5. These Jewish leaders were jealous, or we might say that were zealous to keep everything just the way it had been for centuries. And these apostles were messing all that up, because people were starting to believe in the resurrection and they were leaving Judaism for this new religion. That was turning everything upside down. They had to do something about it.
So, “the high priest rose up, and all who were with him (that is, the party of the Sadducees), and filled with jealousy, they arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison.” (Acts 5:17-18)
But that didn’t last long. In verse 19, “But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, ‘Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life.’ And when they heard this, they entered the temple at daybreak and began to teach.” (Acts 5:19-21)
The apostles boldly obeyed what God commanded them to do. The Jewish leaders had told them not to speak any more in the name of Jesus, but God told them to keep preaching, and they did. That took a lot of courage, a lot of boldness on their part.
As we take a look at their boldness, I want to share with you three principles this morning that we will experience when we boldly obey God.
1. Bold obedience often triggers opposition
Verse 18 says when the apostles kept preaching about Jesus, “they [the Jewish leaders] arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison.”
This is the second time that these two men were arrested within a very short period of time. And I don’t think they were surprised. Surely, they remembered what Jesus said to them in John 15, “A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” (John 15:20)
And so, I think they surely expected some opposition when they obeyed God. But, living as a Christian in our society today with what is often a very casual view of what Christianity means, we don’t expect any persecution. We don’t expect any opposition. In fact, we often expect that if we do what’s right, that only good things will happen to us.
We think, “I’m obeying God. I mean, I go to church several times a month, as long as I don’t have any other responsibilities that get in the way. I donated some school supplies to Manchester. I invited my neighbor to church. I listen to a Christian radio station.
And so I expect for only good things to happen to me. My kids should never get sick. And I should make an ‘A’ on my exam in school. And my car won’t break down, and everybody will always be nice to me, because I’m a good Christian.”
That’s how we tend to think. The reality, though, is that when you boldly obey God, you will often face opposition.
In I Peter 4:12, Peter wrote, “Do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” Now, Peter’s not talking here about just any kind of suffering. A few verses later he says, “If anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.” (I Peter 4:16)
Peter says if you’re a Christian and you’re doing what God wants you to do, don’t be surprised if you suffer as a result. It may come in the form of slander, reproach, mockery, scorn, put-downs, verbal abuse, social ostracism, and even some places in the world today, physical torture and martyrdom.
Persecution isn’t something we should pray for, it’s not something we should desire. But Peter says it’s something we should expect. Don’t be surprised when it happens. Paul went so far as to say in 2 Timothy 3:12, “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”
And not all of the opposition will come from those out there in the world. Sometimes the opposition comes from family. It may even come from someone inside the church who doesn’t appreciate your whole-hearted commitment to Jesus Christ. Some of the greatest opposition I’ve faced in my life came from my family when I made the decision to become a preacher.
If you intend to boldly obey God, don’t be surprised if opposition comes! And I don’t know that means for you. Maybe you’re sick and tired of being in debt. Everybody around you is in debt, everybody is living beyond their means, everybody is struggling financially. And you say, “You know what? I’m sick of this! We’re getting out of debt!”
And so, you pray that God would lead you to look at your finances through a spiritual lens. And God may lead you to do something crazy. And so, you drive around an old clunker instead of borrowing money, or maybe you downsize into a smaller home and everybody is like, “What are you doing? Don’t do that! Stay with us, all of us people who live beyond their means! Stay in debt, that’s what we do! Buy bigger stuff, buy more than you can afford! Borrow money!”
If you obey God, you’re going to get resistance. God may call you to do something weird when you’re raising your kids. Maybe you decide to have more than the “normal” number of two kids because you believe it’s a blessing to have more children to love, and to have the opportunity to raise them to know and love God. Maybe you even decide to foster or adopt children. If you don’t believe that will provoke opposition, talk to Amber and Chris. They can tell you some stories.
Or maybe you believe that it would be best for you to home-school your children where you can have a godlier influence on them. Expect some opposition. Or maybe you decide not put them in that sports league where they play on Sundays because you want to send a message to your children that worshiping God is more important than sports. Expect some opposition.
Or maybe you make a commitment to keep yourself pure until you get married, or you make a commitment not to go out to the club with everybody else and get drunk on Friday night. And all of your friends think that you’re just plain weird. As Peter says in I Peter 4:4 (NLT), “Your former friends are surprised when you no longer plunge into the flood of wild and destructive things they do. So they slander you.”
When you make the commitment to obey God, don’t be surprised when you see opposition, because bold obedience often triggers opposition.
2. Bold obedience leads to God doing some amazing things
When you make the commitment to fully obey God, you can expect God to show up and work in your life in an amazing way. In verse 19, we read, “But an angel of the Lord came at night, opened the gates of the jail, and brought them out.”
I love how Luke tells this story in such a matter-of-fact way. If it was me, I would have written, “You’re not going to believe this, but this angel came in. He was nine feet tall with wings, and carried a sword that could kill an elephant. And he just walked up to the prison door and ripped the door off its hinges and tossed it aside.”
But, to Luke, an angel of the Lord appeared and opened up the door. It’s no big deal, just a very casual statement. And I think maybe it’s because when you walk in obedience to God, you’re not surprised by what God does. And that’s an exciting thing to think about.
When you commit yourself to fully obey God, you’re not surprised when God shows up and does something amazing. Now, I’m not saying that nothing ever goes wrong when you follow God. Keep in mind that these guys were in prison and that wasn’t a pleasant thing to have to go through. But right in the middle of their bad day, God showed up and did something amazing.
Don’t be surprised when God comes through. We shouldn’t be, but we often are.
A couple of weeks ago, I talked with you about praying bold prayers. It was right about that same time that Joey was almost finished getting our foundation pad ready. We only needed four more loads of dirt. The foundation guy said that we needed a good heavy rain to help compact the pad. The problem was, we needed four more loads of dirt and if we had a heavy rain, they might not be able to get the trucks in to deliver the dirt.
I talked with several of you, and I said that we needed to pray a bold prayer. I joked that maybe we needed to pray that God would make it rain on top of the pad, but not on our driveway just a few feet away. That’s not what happened, but what did happen was that it rained hard in Sanford that night which means trucks couldn’t deliver to the job sites there and all those trucks were available to bring us our dirt when we needed it.
When you walk in obedience to God by faith, you’re not shocked when God does something amazing. Craig Groeschel asked a question on his Facebook page, “Tell me, what has God done to bless your obedience?” and he got back several responses.
One of them came from a Christian woman named Meredith. Two years before, she found out that her husband Corey was having an affair, which is about the worst thing that can happen to a marriage. He wasn’t interested in God and refused to come to church with her and the kids and she wanted to leave him.
But what she wanted more than that was for her husband to come to Christ. She felt like God was telling her that if she wanted that to happen, she needed to be obedient to God and demonstrate forgiveness to her husband. It was one of the hardest decisions she ever had to make, but she chose to obey and she forgave her husband.
A couple of months later, he started attending Life Group with her and then he started attending worship services. About a year after the affair, he made a decision to follow Christ and to be baptized. He now he attends faithfully and is involved in a ministry and their whole family now serves Christ together. She wrote, “God’s reward for my obedience was beyond anything I could have ever imagined. “
And I would imagine that we could go around the room here and tell our own stories, because obedience often results in God doing some amazing things.
So, first of all, bold obedience often triggers opposition. Secondly, it often results in God doing some amazing things, and thirdly,
3. Bold obedience always requires faith
Every single time God prompts you to do something, it’s going to require faith on your part to obey him. In verse 20, the angel of the Lord tells Peter and John, “Go to the Temple and give the people this message of life!”
Basically, the angel said, “Go back and do what has already gotten you arrested twice. Go back and do what the people who have the power and the authority to take your life told you not to ever, ever do again.” That’s going to require some faith.
And whenever God prompts you to do something, it’s going to take faith on your part. Some of you may be like me. You’re like, “I want to know some details! Give me some details!” And I guarantee God will usually say, ‘You want details? You can’t handle the details! Because if I told you everything, you couldn’t handle it.”
I was 17 years old when I made the decision that I was going to spend the rest of my life preaching the gospel. If God had given me the details of what that would mean, I probably would have run off to another country because the details haven’t always been very pleasant. But you just do what God leads you to do, and trust that he’ll be with you along the way.
And you don’t always get to see where things are going to end up. The Bible says that God’s Word is a lamp unto our feet. And if you have a light shining on your feet, you may be able to see the next step or two; but not twenty steps down the road. But if we obey God step-by-step, then guess what? That lamp shows us the next step or two and as we continue to obey, God continues to reveal and we move along step-by-step. You just do the next thing God tells you to do and you obey by faith! Because without faith, it’s impossible to please God.
This year has been one of the biggest faith challenges of my life. At the beginning of this year, we had an opportunity to buy a piece of land and build a church building. And we had an important decision to make – is this what God wants us to do? We talked it over as a church and the elders talked it over. And we all came to the conclusion that this is something that God wants us to do. Not so that we can have a big building that we can be proud of, but so that we will have the ability to do even more to serve this community and to bring honor and glory to God.
Because I am the one with the most time available, I’ve been the one making contacts with people along the way. I can tell you that it has not been an enjoyable process for me. I get very uncomfortable in situations outside my familiar territory. Over the past six months, I’ve talked with plumbers about plumbing (something that I know nothing about). I’ve had conversations about foundation plans (something else that I know nothing about). Contractors have refused to talk to me, and the ones that do talk all but laugh in my face. Every week brings more challenges and more obstacles.
But I continue to do what needs to be done because I believe this is what God wants us to do. I believe this is what God has called us to do. And so, I step out in faith, taking one step at a time. If I had known six months ago what these six months would have been like, I probably would have run away to a cave somewhere and come out when you had the building built. But every week, I take another step or two by faith.
At this point, we have accomplished a lot and we are well into this project, and we still don’t know how it’s going to be financed. We do not yet have a bank that has agreed to lend us the money for this building. But we continue to move ahead by faith, because we believe that this is what God wants us to do. And we believe that God will provide. And already, over the past six months, we have seen God provide time and time and time again, giving us just what we needed at just the right time.
I want you to know that bold obedience requires faith. Hebrews 11, that great faith chapter tells us in verse 8, “by faith, Abraham obeyed”. And it was by faith that Abel obeyed and Noah obeyed, and Moses obeyed, and Rahab obeyed.
And if you’re going to obey God, it’s going to require faith as well. Some of you, maybe God’s leading you to serve in a particular ministry, maybe one that is already in place, or maybe another ministry where something needs to be done that’s not getting done. It’s going to require faith on your part to step out and get involved.
Or maybe you need to try to make reconciliation with someone that has hurt you, or maybe someone that you’ve hurt, and your relationship has suffered. It’s going to require faith on your part to step out and obey.
Or maybe you need to get out of a relationship that’s not good for you spiritually, a friend or a group of friends that are pulling you down. It’s going to take some faith to obey. It always takes faith to obey God.
In verse 21, notice what the apostles did: “At daybreak the apostles entered the Temple, as they were told, and immediately began teaching.”
Notice, they didn’t delay. They didn’t procrastinate. They went out and immediately began teaching. Obedience is not saying you’ll get around to it one of these days. Obedience is not a matter of good intentions. Obedience is doing what God has called you to do.
So, the apostles obeyed and because of their obedience, the religious leaders brought them back in and unleashed on them a third time. In verse 28, they said, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.”
And, to that, Peter and the other apostles said: “We must obey God rather than men.” They said, “We don’t have a choice. When it comes down to doing what you want us to do or what God wants us to do, that’s a no-brainer. We must obey God rather than you.”
Because when you know Christ like we know him, when you’ve seen what we’ve seen and you’ve heard what we’ve heard, we can’t help but talk about him, because we speak boldly about what we believe deeply. And this isn’t an option for us. It’s not an if, it’s not a maybe, it’s a “must”!
And when you fall so in love with Jesus, you won’t care what anybody else thinks, what anybody else says, how foolish it makes you look. It’s what you feel compelled to do. No matter what you say, you can’t stop us. You can threaten to kill us, you can lock us up, you can beat us, but we’re not going away! Because we must obey God rather than men!
Bold obedience always requires faith.
Pray with me:
Father, I pray that your Spirit would fill our lives, that we would be bold enough to obey you, to follow you, to put you first in our lives. Help us to grow in our faith, because as our faith grows, we know that will lead to greater boldness on our part. God, make us in love with your Son Jesus, so much so that the world would be amazed by our boldness and they would take note that we have been with Jesus.
Some of us here this morning would say, “I’m not that bold, I’m sometimes slow to obey.” Father, I pray that we would come to the place where we don’t care what anybody says, what anybody thinks, so that when you prompt us, we will obey, even when we don’t understand, even when there’s opposition, and especially when it requires faith to step out. And God, when we follow you, we won’t be surprised by what you accomplish in our lives.
Father, please lead us to a fully surrendered, obedient life, living boldly for the one who gave his life for us. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.