The Third Sunday of Easter
April 15, 2018
Easter is Our Confidence!
Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “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.’ Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved. When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” (NIV1984)
Dear fellow worshipers of our living Lord and Savior,
I ran across an article on the Internet last week that I think ties in very well with our sermon text for today. The title of the article is, “Trump Administration’s religious liberty guidance a ‘license to discriminate’ report says.” A group called the Center for American Progress (which the article itself describes as a “liberal think tank”) produced a report which is very critical of both President Trump’s May 2017 executive order “Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty,” and Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ subsequent guidance, “Federal Law Protections for Religious Liberty.” The Attorney General’s guidance states, “Except in the narrowest circumstances, no one should be forced to choose between living out his or her faith and complying with the law. Therefore to the greatest extent practicable and permitted by law, religious observance and practice should be reasonably accommodated in all government activity, including employment, contracting, and programming.”
I won’t speak for you, but I like both the President’s executive order as well as the Attorney General’s guidance for implementing that executive order. The Center for American Progress, however, describes it as an “’extreme rewriting of the concept of religious liberty’ that allows ‘religious beliefs to be used as a weapon against minorities.’” The CAP report also states, “There is ‘serious danger’ that the DOJ guidance will result in ‘lopsided protections that shelter conservative religious beliefs about sex, marriage, and reproduction while failing to similarly protect progressive faith communities or religious minorities.’”
Why do I bring this to your attention this morning? How does this article tie in with our text for today? I, at least, am convinced that the “core beliefs” of the Christian faith— including not only the Bible’s teachings on “sex, marriage, and reproduction” but also the Bible’s teaching on the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ— have constantly been under attack! Because of these secular attacks against the Christian faith many Christian churches have simply raised a white flag and no longer stand up for the Truth. Because of the “onslaught” of people and groups who are aggressively attacking the basic tenets of the Christian faith many individual Christians have simply gone silent when they have an opportunity to defend the Truth.
Today, my friends, as you and I continue our celebration of Easter we are going to continue looking at the account of the cripple who was miraculously healed by the apostle Peter in the Temple of the Lord in Jerusalem. This morning let’s use this portion of Acts chapter four to see that: Easter is Our Confidence! First, let’s look at the confidence which Easter gave to Peter. Then let’s see why we need and how we can have that very same Easter confidence today.
In the opening four verses of Acts chapter 4 we are told that the priests, the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees were not happy with Peter and John. In fact, we’re told that these men were “greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead.” (Acts 4:2) For this “crime” Peter and John were put in jail. The next day Peter and John were brought before the top religious leaders in Israel and asked one question, “By what power or what name did you do this?” Did Peter and John shrink back when such powerful men demanded to know how they had healed this cripple? After spending a night in jail were Peter and John hesitant to stand up for the Truth? Not in the least! Look once again at the opening portion of our text for today, “Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: ‘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.’”
You can’t help but feel the confidence contained in these words! Peter knew that he was speaking to the “rulers and elders” of God’s people. Peter knew that kind of power and influence these men had among God’s people. How could Peter be so confident? There are two reasons. First, from a purely human perspective Peter knew that the rulers and elders had absolutely no reason to be upset. What had Peter and John done? They showed “an act of kindness” to a cripple! That was hardly something worthy of jail time! Secondly— and most importantly— Peter’s confidence was based on the reality of Easter! If these powerful men really wanted to know how this cripple was healed Peter was more than willing to tell them: “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.”
Notice, my friends, how Peter once again confidently proclaims both God’s Law and God’s Gospel. Peter was standing before the Sanhedrin— Israel’s religious Supreme Court. This is the same court which proclaimed that Jesus of Nazareth was “worthy of death” (Matthew 26:66) because Jesus openly proclaimed that He is “the Christ, the Son of God.” (Matthew 26:63) These were some of the same men who persuaded/ forced Pontius Pilate to release Barabbas and have Jesus executed. (Matthew 27:20) These men needed to hear the full force of the law of God— “It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified … that this man stands before you healed.”
At the same time, my friends did you hear the Gospel in those words of Peter? Peter said concerning Jesus, “…but whom God raised from the dead….” That’s Easter! That’s what gave Peter the confidence to stand before the religious Supreme Court of God’s people and boldly proclaim the Truth! That’s what gave Peter the confidence of proclaiming the Truth that even some so-called Christian churches are either unwilling or unable to confidently proclaim today: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” Only Jesus of Nazareth, only Jesus “the Christ”, only our crucified and risen Lord and Savior has the power to save sinners— sinners like us! Easter is what proves that Jesus has that kind of power! Easter is what gave Peter the confidence to proclaim that glorious Truth— regardless of the consequences!
Do we need to have the confidence that only Easter can give to us, my friends? Yes, we do! Why? Let me give you three examples. Example number one: A while back there was an article in the newspaper which cited a report from a Florida State University professor who theorized (without substantiation) that Jesus did not walk on water as the Bible maintains. Rather he speculates that some mysterious meteorological phenomena caused the Sea of Galilee to freeze over so Jesus actually walked on ice. Nothing miraculous about that! Would you have the confidence to stand up to a university professor and tell him that he’s all wet? Would your children? Your grandchildren?
Example number two: Have you ever heard of the “Gospel of Judas”? The “Gospel of Judas” was supposedly written long after Judas ended his own life after his betrayal of Jesus. This document contends that Jesus told Judas to betray Him as a part of some clandestine scheme to validate the ancient prophesies concerning the events that were to take place in the Garden of Gethsemane. In other words, Jesus was trying to “manipulate” the Old Testament Messianic prophecies to make it look like He was the fulfillment of those prophecies. Would you have the confidence to stand up and say that according to the Bible the reason Judas betrayed Jesus was greed and the reason Jesus allowed Himself to be betrayed, the reason Jesus allowed Himself to be crucified was so that He could fulfill His Father’s Plan of Salvation for this world, the Plan that was gradually unfolding over the centuries that we call the Old Testament era?
Example number three: Do you remember the book, “The DaVinci Code”? It was eventually made into a movie. In the book, Jesus is supposedly married to Mary Magdalene and becomes the father of several children. It doesn’t take much to see how this undermines and destroys the entire Christian faith. Would you have the confidence to tell the people in the break room at work or the kids in the lunch room at school that even the suggestion that Jesus had children with Mary Magdalene is blasphemous and that anyone who actually believes that lie can not be saved?
Yes, my friends, I am convinced that there has been and still is a constant attack on the basic tenants of the Christian faith as it is recorded here in God’s holy Word. Why the Christian faith? Why don’t other faiths face this same type of attack? Because Satan knows, my friends! Satan knows that Peter was and still is absolutely correct when he told the Sanhedrin, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” Satan knows that if he can undermine your faith in Jesus as your risen Lord and Savior that he can quickly fill your mind with all kinds of “professor-like” ideas and all kinds of “block buster big screen” lies— all of which are designed to divert your focus away from the cross on Calvary’s hill and away from the empty grave in the garden!
How can you thwart Satan’s insidious schemes? How can you maintain the confidence of Easter all year long? Look at the closing verse of our text, “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” Peter and John did not have a college or seminary education. They were fishermen by trade! Therefore, the confidence and the courage that these men openly displayed in their lives did not come from deep within themselves. No, the confidence and courage that these men openly displayed in their lives was given to them! How? These men spent time with Jesus. It’s that simple! It’s that important! In the very same way when you and I spend time with Jesus on a regular basis, when worship, Bible class, Sunday school and prayer are an important part of our admittedly busy schedules then, my friends, then like Peter and John the confidence that Easter gives to us will be evident to those around us.
It would be completely naïve for us to think that Satan’s attacks against our Christian faith will somehow diminish over the course of time. In reality, the exact opposite is true! Satan will only increase his attacks against our faith— using whatever opportunities and whatever means he can! May God grant that no matter how often and no matter how hard Satan attacks our faith that you and I will consciously strive to make sure that we spend time with Jesus on a regular basis so that we will always have the joy of knowing that Easter is our confidence!
He is risen! He is risen indeed!
To God be the glory!