Sunday, April 3, 2016, 5:00 a.m. – The Lord Jesus put in mind the song, “Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken.” Speak, Lord, your words to my heart. I read Acts 4:1-22 (ESV). Opposition (vv. 1-12) And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand. On the next day their rulers and elders and scribes gathered together in Jerusalem, with Annas the high priest and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. And when they had set them in the midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well. This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Jesus said that just as he was treated, so we will be treated. If they hated and persecuted him, they will hate and persecute us. Yet, who were Jesus’ strongest opponents? They were the religious leaders in the temple of God. Likewise, our fiercest opponents may be those in leadership within the institutional church, or those in leadership within the government who claim to be Christians. Such is the case today here in America and in other parts of the world, too. Many church leaders, and professors of Christianity within our human governments, presently stand in strong opposition against the gospel as taught by Jesus and by his New Testament apostles, and thus they are opposed to all who propagate such a gospel as what Jesus and his NT apostles taught. The message these false shepherds are spreading is one which unites all religions and all people of all walks of life together as one body, but not the body of Christ. They preach a message of tolerance, but not tolerance toward those who stand on the Word of Truth, who do not deny their Lord, and who preach the gospel of death to sin and living to righteousness. If we preach that faith in Jesus Christ means being crucified with Christ in death to sin, and being resurrected with Christ in newness of life, “created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness,” then we are called hateful, bigoted, intolerant, selfish, unloving and extremists who must be silenced. The same is true if we preach that Jesus Christ is the only way to God the Father and to eternal life in heaven, and that it is only by God’s grace, through faith in Jesus Christ that we can be saved. Yet, we must be encouraged. If we are being led and empowered by the Spirit of God in the preaching of the full gospel message, God will use his message to reach people’s hearts, and to produce a harvest of righteousness. During times of great persecution of the church, both past and present, people are humbled before God, they realize their need of a Savior, and they trust Jesus with their lives. So, God will turn what Satan meant to harm us into something good to effect lives for his eternal kingdom. And, that gives us cause to praise! Recognition (v. 13) Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. People are going to watch our lives, and they will judge us based on our profession of faith in Jesus Christ. They will be looking to see if we should be numbered among the hypocrites or if our walk matches our talk. Now, I know that some people think that a claim to faith in Jesus means a claim to sinless perfection, and so if we fail to meet that expectation, they will automatically tag us as hypocrites, but we shouldn’t let that disturb us. Being a follower of Jesus Christ does not mean we now live in sinless perfection, but what it should most certainly mean is that we have been crucified with Christ so that WE no longer live, but it is Christ who lives in us. In other words, there should be evidence in our lives that a spiritual transformation has actually taken place, and that we are no longer living our lives to please our sinful flesh, but we are now conducting our lives according to the Spirit (See: Ro. 8:1-14). If we do sin, we should confess it, then turn from it, and continue walking in the Spirit. I have always loved this passage of scripture. It is one of my favorites. I like how the religious leaders recognized that the apostles had been with Jesus. Isn’t that how it should be for us, too, that people should be able to recognize by how we live our lives that we have been with Jesus? Now, I know there are people who know little about Jesus, and many have their own concepts of who Jesus really is, and so they may not recognize that we have been with Jesus, even if we have, and for lack of knowledge or because they have the wrong notion of who Jesus is and what he is about. But, shouldn’t our lives reflect Jesus so much that if the people did know who Jesus was, and what he was really about, that they would see Jesus in us? Shouldn’t our lives be so different in stark contrast to the people of this world that the people of this world should be able to tell that there is something about our lives that identifies us as followers of Christ? This should serve to challenge our hearts. Persecution (vv. 14-22) But seeing the man who was healed standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition. But when they had commanded them to leave the council, they conferred with one another, saying, “What shall we do with these men? For that a notable sign has been performed through them is evident to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. But in order that it may spread no further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.” So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” And when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way to punish them, because of the people, for all were praising God for what had happened. For the man on whom this sign of healing was performed was more than forty years old. Remember with me here that these were not agnostics who were persecuting the apostles, but they were leaders in the temple who claimed faith in the same God whom the apostles served. And know, if you don’t already know this, that there are religious leaders today within the Christian church who are trying to silence those who are preaching the full gospel of salvation. Why are they doing this? Because we serve as a threat to their human kingdoms. We are telling people that faith in Jesus Christ is the only way to God and to heaven, and we are telling them that faith in Jesus means death to sin and living to righteousness (See: 1 Pet. 2:24; Ac. 26:16-18; Ro. 6:1-23; Ro. 8:1-14; Eph. 4:17-24; and Gal. 2:20). And, that doesn’t work with their modern church growth marketing schemes. They don’t want to offend people, and so they dilute the gospel message to make it more acceptable and pleasing to the people of the world, so the world will want to come back. So, we may even be asked to leave some church congregations under the guise that we just “don’t fit,” and they think we should find someplace else to go where we might be a “better fit.” Or, they may just threaten us in some way or another to try to intimidate us into compromising the gospel message. One of the big tactics today is to teach that holiness, godly living, living to please God with our lives, and walking in the Spirit is works-based salvation, and thus it must be discarded. They even teach against repentance and obedience to Christ, because they say that is works-based salvation. Basically, they have reduced faith in Jesus Christ to a mere intellectual assent to what Jesus did in dying for our sins or to a get-of-jail free card which leaves the sinner still dead in his sins. They have forgotten that James said that even the demons believe, and they shudder. Yet, we should not fear their threats or their expulsions or rejections, but we should keep on preaching Christ crucified, buried, risen from the dead, ascended to the Father, and coming again one day to judge, to receive his bride, and to reign on the earth. We should continue preaching salvation in no one else but Jesus Christ. And, we should keep on teaching that Jesus died that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. We should teach that when we come to faith in Jesus Christ that we die with Christ to sin, and we are resurrected with Christ to new lives to be lived in his righteousness. We should tell them that if they continue living in sin, that they don’t know God, and they don’t have the hope of eternal life with him in heaven. And, we should not be afraid to preach that if we continue in sin we will die without Christ, but if by the Spirit we are putting to death the deeds of the flesh, we will live. Bottom line is, we must obey God rather than man, too. So, don’t give in to threats! Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken / Henry F. Lyte / Mozart/ Arr. Hubert P. Main Jesus, I my cross have taken, all to leave and follow Thee; Destitute, despised, forsaken, Thou, from hence, my all shalt be. Perish every fond ambition, all I've sought, and hoped, and known; Yet how rich is my condition, God and Christ are still my own! Let the world despise and leave me, they have left my Savior, too; Human hearts and looks deceive me; Thou art not, like man, untrue; And, while Thou shalt smile upon me, God of wisdom, love, and might, Foes may hate, and friends disown me; show Thy face, and all is bright. Man may trouble and distress me – ‘Twill but drive me to Thy breast. Life with trials hard may press me; Heaven will bring me sweeter rest. Oh, ‘tis not in grief to harm me, while Thy love is left to me; Oh, ‘twere not in joy to charm me, were that joy unmixed with Thee. Go then, earthly fame and treasure! Come, disaster, scorn, and pain! In Thy service pain is pleasure; with Thy favor loss is gain. I have called Thee, Abba, Father, I have stayed my heart on Thee; Storms may howl and clouds may gather; all must work for good to me.