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  • Writer's picturePaul Cottington

Rejoice and be Glad - You See?



 

“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved." Acts 4:12


Acts 3, which we looked at two weeks ago, two men were addressing a crowd of people. Their names were Peter and John. This was the very early days of what the Bible calls ‘the church’. It was the beginning of a new age. Previously, God had revealed himself to a specific group of people. These were descendants of a man named Jacob. Jacob was a ruinous man. He was a deceitful character who made some very unwise life choices. Like all of us, he was a sinner. In his life he had fallen far short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).


If I was God, and I was going to choose a person to single out from all other human beings, and speak to them directly, and tell them that I was going to use them to carry out my greatest plan for humankind, I would not choose Jacob. No-one would. But God did. It reminds me of Isaiah’s prophecy. In Isaiah 55:8-9, the Lord God ‘declares’ this, ‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways… As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’ God chose Jacob. God changed Jacob. So great was that change that it warranted a change of name.


In the first book of the Old Testament in our Bibles, which is called ‘Genesis’, we have the account of God appearing to Jacob (Genesis 35:9-12). ‘God appeared to him again and blessed him. God said to him, ‘Your name is Jacob, but you will no longer be called Jacob; your name will be Israel.’ So he named him Israel.’ Jacob was to be new man, with a new name. In whose name was this going to happen? God’s name. ‘And God said to him, ‘I am God Almighty; be fruitful and increase in number. A nation and a community of nations will come from you, and kings will be among your descendants.’ Jacob is then promised that his descendants, who we know as the Children of Israel, would be given a land to live in – the land of Israel.


In the years that followed, God, time and again, spoke to the Children of Israel through prophets that he sent to them. His main theme was that of rescue. God promised that he was sending someone. That someone would rescue God’s people. Isaiah 19:20 says that, ‘the Lord Almighty… will send them a saviour and defender, and he will rescue them.’ The problem was that the vast majority of the Children of Israel had misunderstood God’s message. They expected this ‘saviour and defender’ to make a grand entrance. They were looking out for God’s ‘anointed one’, but the reality of what they expected, did not match God’s reality.


An acronym is a word that is used, where each letter is the initial letter of another word. At work, I might receive an email in which someone says, ‘I need a reply ASAP’. What do they mean? ‘ASAP,’ stands for As Soon As Possible. If you follow football or, indeed other sports, you have probably come across the acronym, ‘GOAT’. In the sport of men’s American Football, the GOAT is almost universally agreed to be a person called Tom Brady. In proper football(!), there is more of a debate. Is the GOAT Christiano Ronaldo, or is the GOAT Lionel Messi? Because ‘GOAT’ stands for Greatest Of All Time. Many discussions on this subject have taken place, because we love to delight in excellence. The Israelites were no different. When God told them that he was sending a ‘ruler’ (see Genesis 49 10), they thought that he would look, outwardly, visibly, like a ‘GOAT’. They thought that this king-type figure was going to appear out of nowhere, looking more kingly than any previous king. Surely he would look like the greatest of all time, they supposed. Preconception meant that they completely missed God’s ‘one and only Son’ (John 3:16) when God ‘gave’ him to the world.


Jesus Christ of Nazareth’ (Acts 4:10) had come into the world. He hadn’t strolled out of the mist, into view, looking more glorious than all before him. He wasn’t born into wealth and privilege. He hadn’t lead Israel to victory against the occupying power of the Roman Empire, and set up an earthly kingdom. In fact, before Jesus died, when he was dragged before Rome’s representative, the governor of Judaea, named Pontius Pilate, he told him just that. In the record of John 18:36, Jesus said, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.’ God wasn’t sending his Son to defeat earthly enemies. His mission was greater than that. He came to defeat our greatest enemy. When Jesus died upon the cross at Calvary he defeated sin – our shortcomings and failures, which would, otherwise, have kept us separated from God for ever.


Now, a new message was going out into the world. That is what the book of Acts is about. Peter and John were two people who had been trusted to proclaim this message. That is what they were doing in Jerusalem that day. In Acts 3:13, they spoke to a crowd, made up of Israelites.


Has anyone ever said to you, ‘I’ve got some good news and some bad news – which do you want first?’ I think most of us, confronted with that question would make the same choice. Peter doesn’t ask the question. He knows what these people need. He gives the really bad news first. These people had been complicit in a terrible act. Not only had they been guilty of, passively, not recognising God’s ‘servant Jesus’, when he arrived, but they had, actively, ‘disowned him’ and ‘handed him over to be killed’. Then comes the good news. This is the ‘rescue’ that the Old Testament prophets were promising. God planned this all along, says Peter. ‘…This is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Messiah would suffer.’ His suffering for sin is the solution. It is the only solution. ‘There is no other’ (see Acts 4:12). What must these people do? Very little. The good news just keeps getting better. Peter tells them two things. They are both rooted in believing the truth of Peter’s message. He says, ‘Repent, then, and turn to God…’ (Acts 3:19). What does ‘repent’ mean? By now, should have realised that I love dictionaries! It’s the Oxford dictionary this week! To ‘repent’ is to ‘view or think of an action or omission (so, something we have, actively done, or something we have failed to do when we should have done it) with deep regret or remorse.’ Put simply, they needed to change their minds. ‘…and turn to God’. Then they needed a change of heart.


Peter was telling them to review the past; their past; to recognise that they had completely missed the reality of who Jesus was; to accept God’s reality and turn to him by believing that, when Jesus died on the cross, he died for their sins. The conclusion of Peter’s argument is the best news ever. What is the consequence of believing in Jesus as the Saviour of your sins? What good reason is there to ‘repent, then, and turn to God’? Peter says, ‘so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.’ Peter is reaching out to his audience with earth shattering news. Sin, and its consequence, which is death, can ‘be wiped out’; exchanged for eternal life. What proof was there to this claim? Peter told them – Jesus rose from the dead. Peter and John had just healed a man who had been lame from birth. How? Peter told his audience the story of Jesus; his sufferings and death, and then arrived at the climax, ‘but God raised him from the dead.’ Flowing directly from that resurrection is healing power. Peter continued, ‘by faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has completely healed him’ (Acts 3:15-16). Now, we come to chapter 4.


When I was younger I had a cassette recorder. Those that are still ‘younger’ won’t have a clue what I’m talking about! Before Spotify; before mobile phones; before MP3 players; before CD’s; there was the cassette recorder. Music, and even early computer games, could be recorded onto a magnetic strip of ‘tape’ in analogue form. The digital age hadn’t been invented yet. Imagine that! Back in the mists of time, when I was a boy, the Stone Age had just passed, but the digital age hadn’t yet arrived. The technology wasn’t perfect. My cassette recorder used to speed up and slow down. Sometimes, it would go fast, at other times it would go much slower. It’s like the book of Acts. The whole book covers a thirty year period, full of detail about the activity of the early Christian church; those people who believed the same message that Peter spoke, about the saving power of Jesus. Between some of the chapters there is an interlude of several years. We might turn to a following chapter and find that we have moved really fast in time – it’s now three years later, for instance. But, here, as we move from chapter 3 into chapter 4, we haven’t even moved forward one day. In fact, we haven’t shifted by more than a few minutes. Chapter 4:1 tells us that Peter and John were in the middle of that conversation with the Israelites - ‘while they were speaking to the people’.


So, what happened, ‘while they were speaking to the people’? Actually, it’s something really, really significant. It is the first appearance of something that continues throughout this book. In fact, it’s the first appearance of something that will continue, wherever the good news of Jesus is proclaimed, until his promised return. That something is opposition. That opposition is something that Jesus promised would happen.


Peter reacts to this opposition by pointing out that, essentially, what he and John had just done, in healing that lame man, was, surely, a good thing. In verse 9, he points out that, ‘we are being called to account today for an act of kindness…’ How similar is this to those that opposed Jesus himself? When we get to Acts 10, we are still with Peter. The message of Christ is going beyond the previous boundary of Israel’s people. A non-Israelite comes to faith. He was a man of authority in the occupying armed forces; a Roman centurion called Cornelius. Peter had been invited to deliver the gospel message to Cornelius and a group of ‘his relatives and close friends’ that he had ‘called together’. Peter told them about the inherent goodness of Jesus (Acts 10:38-39), ‘how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.’ What was the result of Christ’s ‘doing good’? Was he received with open arms? Was he universally praised? Was he given a title in the New Year’s Honours? No. Peter explains the result – ‘They killed him by hanging him on a cross.’


Jesus was opposed. He, who brought the wonderful ‘light’, of God’s saving plan into the world, was opposed. Why? What verdict should we reach? The one which we find in John 3:19 – ‘this is the verdict: light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.’ Jesus warned his followers that this state of affairs was not going to change any time soon. In John 15, our NIV translators have titled a section, ‘The world hates the disciples’. I think we can be confident that they aren’t going to have to amend that title in future editions. In that section, Jesus says this – he refers to something that he previously told them when he lovingly washed their feet in John 13:16 - ‘A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me.’


Jesus spoke truth. He was truth. Here, in Acts 4, we have the beginnings of open opposition to the message that Christ’s followers were taking into the world, in the new activity of Christianity. People were ‘greatly disturbed’ (v.2). It is often the case. If you really want to upset people, tell them about the exclusive claims of Jesus of Nazareth. As Peter says to his interrogators in verse 12, ‘Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.’ If what Peter claims is true, then no other religion is going to bring you into true relationship with God Almighty. Even claiming to be ‘a Christian’ and trying to follow some moral code for living will not save you. Only ‘faith in the name’ (Acts 3:16) will save you. Often it is the exclusive claims of Jesus that is the primary focus of people’s objection to the gospel message. But here, it is something else. This band of men, led by those described as ‘the Sadducees’, were ‘greatly disturbed’ by ‘the apostles… teaching’ and ‘proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead’ (v.3). Why this particular objection?


Well, Judaism, the religion of the Israelites, seems to have had two main branches, or ‘sects’, at that time. One group were called Pharisees, and they are the principal opponents of Jesus in the accounts of his life. There is less mention of this other group, the Sadducees. Whereas the Pharisees grasped the reality of a spiritual, everlasting dimension to human life, the Sadducees did not. We find this in Acts 23:8, where the apostle Paul is then in a similar position to Peter and John here. He is in front of the ruling Jewish council proclaiming Jesus to these two Jewish groups. There we are told, ‘the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, and that there are neither angels nor spirits, but the Pharisees believe all these things.


The Sadducees’ world view was essentially materialistic. In fact, many religious world views are, in actual fact, the same. ‘God’ may be named by people. People may claim to follow God. But all they really follow is the best possible life that they can achieve. The Sadducees believed that it was important to follow a moral code. Following this would guarantee success; and health, wealth and happiness… until your dying day. End of! That was the end, according to their worldview. When you died the TV was switched off and never turned back on again. There was no eternal sequel to life’s series.


In Mark 12:18-27, the Sadducees come to Jesus with a question. They know that Jesus is teaching his view on the everlasting soul. They want to trip him up, and quote a part of Old Testament scripture, Deuteronomy 25:5-10, which they believe supports their argument. What they had actually done was take an idea to God’s word and moulded God’s word until it fitted their idea. What they should have done; what we should always endeavour to do, is take our preconceived ideas to God’s word, and allow that word to mould and re-shape our thinking. Jesus told them that they were ‘in error’ – ‘in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God?’ He concludes with this sharp rebuke, ‘He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken!


I was mistaken. When I started my preparation for this message, I thought I would get well into chapter 4. I’ve been a bit like my old tape recorder on a bad day – a bit slow. Hopefully, next time, I’ll be like that device on a good day, and we’ll really make some progress. You only have yourselves to blame! Earlier, you sang ‘Tell me the old, old story, of Jesus and his love’. Hopefully, we’ve had something of that this morning. It has felt like I’ve gone over some old ground, but when the old ground is good, firm ground we won’t go far wrong. I hope it’s a story that we never tire of hearing.


So, how should we finish? Let’s peek ahead to what’s coming up! Later in Acts 4, when Peter and John return to the other believers, they report the opposition that they had faced. Were the believers saddened by this news? No, they seem gladdened. They realised that this opposition was promised in the Old Testament writings. They must have been reminded that Jesus had said that it would be so. They rejoiced because it proved that, when God speaks, it will surely come to pass. He is always reliable. He is eternally reliable. In Acts 5, there is something no less striking in the reaction of the apostles to opposition. The Jewish council confronts them again. They are frustrated that they cannot seem to stop this message, about Christ crucified, being preached. They step up the fight. ‘They called the apostles in and had them flogged.’ Surely, this would finally dampen their fireworks? But no, we read that ‘the apostles left the (Jewish council) rejoicing’. Why? ‘Because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.’


They were glad. They so believed in the power of Jesus name, and in the power of the resurrection that is in Jesus Christ that, despite real suffering, they continued to rejoice.


The Sadducees were angry and frustrated. They didn’t believe the resurrection story. Do you? If you don’t – if you can’t, then you are in the same situation as them. That’s the Bible’s message. If you don’t believe in the resurrection power of Jesus, you’ll be ‘Sad, you see?’ (Sadducee). And so my finishing exhortation is that you believe these wonderful, saving, truths.


Don’t be Sadducee – be Glad - you see? Isaiah prophesied about this day, this age, and its accompanying opportunity. I’ll finish with Isaiah 25:9 – ‘In that day they will say, ‘Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us. This is the Lord, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.’

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