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THE SCANDAL OF CHRISTIANITY: Acts 4:1-31

THE SCANDAL OF CHRISTIANITY: Acts 4:1-31

By Ted Schroder,
August 30, 2015

Have you ever been punished for doing a good deed? Have the consequences of doing what you considered the right thing to do, the Christian thing, the loving thing, been an unexpected and unwelcome surprise to you? Have you been criticized for witnessing to your faith in Christ? Why do people resent helping people in need? Why do people in power try to censor those who have different opinions from themselves? Why do those who value their freedom of speech want to deny it to others? Why are you not allowed to dissent from the prevailing orthodoxy? How do you respond when you are told not to share your convictions?

These are some of the questions that come to my mind when I read Acts 4. Peter and John are put in jail overnight and then brought before the religious leaders: the rulers, elders and teachers of the law of their nation to be questioned about healing a crippled forty year old and preaching in the outer court of the Temple. This is the same group that cross-examined Jesus before sending him to Pontius Pilate. It would have been a formidable and frightening group. Peter and John were there on that occasion (John 18:15) also so they knew what to expect. But it was a different Peter this time. He was not going to deny Jesus a second time. Instead we read that he was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke up in explanation for his actions.

"Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. He is 'the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone.' (Ps.118:22) Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved."

The officials were taken aback by the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, uneducated, ordinary men -- fishermen. They were astonished and took note that they had been with Jesus. Here is the scandal of Christianity: it is counter-intuitive. You don't have to be highly educated, graduate from the top schools magna cum laude, to show acts of kindness, give people a hand up, be a healing presence. All you need is to be filled with the Holy Spirit and to have been with Jesus.

In fact reliance on too much secular education, too much administrative power, too much being deferred to, without the filling of the Spirit and the presence of Jesus, can quench the Spirit and turn you into the anti-Christ. That is what had happened to these people. They were blinded to God's revelation in Jesus by their unbelief. That is what has happened today in many denominational leadership and academic circles. They simply cannot recognize the work of the Spirit when it happens. They cannot recognize the Son of God when he stands in front of them. They become one of the major obstacles to the growth of the true Church. They claim to be God's representatives, or the guardians of truth, but in fact they oppose God and his truth. Emil Brunner writes,

"Not the hostility of the unbelieving world, but clerical parsonic ecclesiasticism has ever been the greatest enemy of the Christian message and the brotherhood rooted in Christ." (Emil Brunner, The Misunderstanding of the Church, p.117)

I know of denominational leaders who reject candidates for ministry that do not fit their psychological profile. They refuse to allow gifted, Spirit-filled godly ministers to officiate in their churches because they do not have, what they consider, the right qualifications. Our universities, magazines and news-outlets are dominated by "cultured despisers" who scorn belief in Christ and reject his claims. But the test of the enduring truth of these secular and denominational leaders is the court of history. Who do we remember today from this encounter with the finest minds of Jerusalem? Caiaphas, Alexander and the other members of the high priest's family with the anonymous rulers, elders and teachers of the law, or Peter the Rock and John the Beloved disciple?

What does the world do with these men? Shut them up? Tell them to stop doing acts of kindness and healing people? Try to limit their influence by shutting down discussion? Prohibit matters of faith and morality from the public square. Eliminate Christians from serving the community because of their convictions. But Peter and John and all those who have followed them to this day will not be silenced. "We cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard." St. Paul, who was likely a member of this group and was present on this occasion, later wrote, I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel." (1 Cor.9:16)

If we have been with Jesus, and experienced his healing in our lives, his forgiveness, his love, his grace, his salvation, his presence and are filled with the Spirit, we cannot help speaking about it and sharing the gospel with others.

After being threatened Peter and John are released to return to their people. They have a prayer meeting acknowledging the sovereignty of God in creation over all rulers who oppose him, for he is the God of history and of revelation. Secular leaders may conspire against Jesus but God is still working out his purposes. The apostles prayed for the protection and power of God to witness to Jesus. They were all given the filling of the Spirit and boldness to speak the word of God.

Two of the most effective preachers of the nineteenth century were Charles H. Spurgeon and Dwight L. Moody. Neither had a theological seminary education or were ordained in a denomination. Moody traveled more than a million miles and addressed more than 100 million people despite his unschooled want of grammar and his colloquial abruptness. Spurgeon drew thousands to his church in London when he was only 21 years of age. Newspaper correspondents and editors called his preaching a "prostitution of the pulpit", a "vulgar colloquial varied by rant" in which "the most solemn mysteries of our holy religion are by him rudely, roughly, and impiously handled," "insolence so unblushing, intellect so feeble, flippancy so ostentatious, and manner so rude." They complained that his congregation consisted of people who are not in the habit of frequenting a place of worship." Spurgeon responded, "Hail reproach, and welcome shame." He could rejoice because "the devil is roused, the Church is awakening, and I am now counted worthy to suffer for Christ's sake."

You don't have to possess a doctorate of divinity to be effective for the Gospel. You need not be intimidated by those who do, or who occupy positions of power and influence. You do have to be filled with the Spirit and to have spent time with Jesus. If you seek to be obedient to God he will give you the courage and boldness to do a good deed, say the right thing, witness to your faith in Christ, be faithful to the truth, and share your convictions even when you are in a minority. If salvation is to be found in Jesus and no one else, then we should feel compelled to speak about what we have seen and heard of him.

(Ted's blog may be found at www.tedschroder.com)

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