Sermon: Supernatural Boldness
Scripture: Acts 8: 2-3
Date: May 8, 2016
A couple of weeks ago, I talked about the extraordinary number of Superheroes (by one count 30,000) that there have been down through the last 150 years or so, and I said that there have been a corresponding number of Supervillians (in fact more) through that same amount of time. It seems as though just as soon as a Superhero appears on the scene some villain arises and becomes the arch nemesis of that Superhero. For instance, Superman made his debut in the comics in the 1930’s. The first Superman comic was published in 1938 and in 1940 his arch nemesis, Lex Luther appeared on the scene. Batman first appeared in 1939 and though he has battled a lot of Supervillians down through the years, the one that has been his greatest enemy is the Joker, who first appeared in 1940. For Spiderman it’s the Green Goblin. Thor has his half brother Loki. And the list goes on.
And Peter and the Disciples had Saul of Tarsus. You see, just as soon as the Disciples left the Upper Room after the coming of the Holy Spirit, they were met by opposition. First there were the Jewish leaders, the same ones who were complicit in the crucifixion of Jesus, trying to convince the crowd that the Disciples weren’t supernaturally empowered, but that they were just drunk. And then as they began to go beyond the Upper Room, into the whole world, the opposition mounted. And that’s when this Saul of Tarsus appears on the scene. Saul was uniquely qualified to serve as the arch nemesis to these Super(Natural) Disciples. He was of Jewish lineage, grew up in a Jewish household and was educated in the school of the famous Jewish Rabbi, Gamaliel. But he was also considered a Roman citizen probably because his father had been granted citizenship in some way. And so Saul became the chief opposition, sanctioned by both the Jewish leaders and the Romans, the supervillain opposite these Super(Natural) Heroes. Now Luke gives us a sense of the intensity of the growing opposition to the Disciples when he tells of the stoning to death of one of the early converts named Stephen and in the course of telling that, Saul of Tarsus is introduced. Here is what Luke says about Saul:
Acts 7: 54- 8:3
You see, the Jewish leaders had thought that with the crucifixion of Jesus, these meek Disciples who had scattered and hid after Jesus was arrested, and who huddled in fear in the Upper Room in the days after the crucifixion, would now just melt away, go back to their old lives. But what they didn’t anticipate is that these Disciples would be transformed by the Holy Spirit and that they would emerge from the Upper Room with Supernatural Powers, ready to take on any opposition that their opponents could throw at them to keep them from their mission to save the world. So two weeks ago we talked about the Super(Natural) Power of Devotion. (Show Chart) And we said that Disciples were the ones whose devotion to Christ and His Church fell in this fourth quadrant. That Supernatural Devotion meant total devotion. And it was that total devotion which then enhanced the other powers that Disciples are given by the Spirit. And last week we said that totally devoted disciples were ones who exercised the power of Supernatural Proclamation. Sharing our faith is how we can save the world. Now last week I told the story about the pastor having the somewhat surprising opportunity to share his faith with a stranger on a plane. Kathy Swango is going to come and share for a moment this morning. Now in the course of their conversation, the pastor I talked about last week ended up giving his Bible to his new friend and recommended starting to read at the Gospel of John. And so one of the things that pastor learned from this experience was to always carry an extra Bible with him in case he had the opportunity to give one away. Well, I got to thinking about that this week and I ordered some copies of the Gospel of John for us to carry with us and give away. I’ve placed them here at the Altar and at the end of the service I would encourage you to come and kneel here and let God place in your mind someone that needs you to share your faith with them and then pick up one of these copies of John’s Gospel, write your name and phone number on the front cover, and then give it away this week along with your witness. That’s the Supernatural power of proclamation. It turned Peter from one who denied He knew Jesus into one of the great proclaimers of the faith in just a matter of days. So Super(Natural) Heroes have the supernatural power of devotion and the supernatural power of proclamation.
Now in the time we have left we are going to think about a third Supernatural Power and that is Super(Natural) Boldness. This is the power to stand up for Jesus even in the face of the world’s opposition. It’s the power to not let the villains out there weaken our devotion or silence our witness. To save the world Disciples must be Supernaturally Bold in the things we share and the way we live. And in the third and fourth chapter of Acts, Luke gives us three stories to illustrate how the power of boldness is evident in the Disciples.
So, if you have your Bibles, I want us to walk through those two chapters with out Supernatural Heroes. First, Luke says, that some days after Pentecost, Peter and John are on their way to the Temple for a prayer meeting. Now think about that for a moment. It was the priests of the Temple who had orchestrated the crucifixion of Jesus and who were now doing all that they could to stir up the opposition to the Disciples and so where do the Disciples choose to have their prayer meetings. In the Temple courtyard. Into enemy territory. And Luke says that they weren’t meeting there in secret. Instead he tells us it’s the middle of the day. Three o’clock in the afternoon. The Temple would have been filled with pilgrims at that time of the day. And further more, Luke says they walked right through the main gate. We know that it would have been the main gate because that’s where the beggars gathered for maximum impact. It was called the Beautiful gate. The favorite gate by which persons would enter the Temple. So the Disciples, using their Spiritual Power of Boldness, rather than hiding from the opposition, walked right through the main gate of the Temple in the middle of the day to hold a prayer meeting, right in the center of the opposition to them. And as Peter and John made their way into the Temple, one of the beggars, one who had been crippled from birth, called out to them for some money, a handout. And Peter and John say to the beggar, “Look at us. Do we look like we have any money to give you. Eugene Peterson, in The Message puts it this way. “Peter said, “I don’t have a nickel to my name. But what I do have is the name of Jesus. And in Jesus name, get up and walk.” It was Spiritual Boldness for Peter to call on the name of Jesus, believing that would heal this man. To claim the promises of Jesus that Peter could do all things in His name. To do miraculous things in His name. Last week, in talking about the power of proclamation, we talked about Peter’s first sermon after the coming of the Holy Spirit and in that sermon Peter had said that one of the ways that people knew Jesus was through the miracles they had witnessed. And now Peter is boldly claiming that same power for himself. It is the boldness to claim the power of Jesus’ name. Disciple power comes through the boldness to claim the power of Jesus’ name. And this Peter who only days before was hiding in fear from the Jewish leaders, now had the boldness to reach out to this beggar who was lame from birth, who had to be carried everywhere he went, at the main gate of the Temple, in front of those same priests and a great crowd of people, and heal him in the name of Jesus. And I love what Luke says next. “When Peter saw that a congregation had gathered” he delivered his second sermon. The power of boldness and the power of proclamation. I wonder if Peter was thinking about the last time he was in the Courtyard it was in the dark of night, and Jesus was on trial for His life, and how he stood out there and denied that he even knew Jesus. And now He has the Spiritual Boldness to call on the name of that same Jesus for the miracle of healing. When the Spirit comes, Disciples are given the Super(Natural) Power of Boldness. The Boldness to claim the power of the name of Jesus. (Show Chart) So, I’ve got to ask. When it comes to Spiritual Boldness, where are we on the chart? Do we have the boldness to call upon the name of Jesus in all circumstances and expect miraculous things to happen? Do we have the boldness to heal and do miraculous things in the name of Jesus? Do we have the boldness to call on His name in the Temple Courtyard? Or at the Courthouse? Or in the school? Or even at home in front of our children? In a very real sense the world, society, human culture, is the arch nemesis of Disciples of Christ. And Jesus knew that would happen. He did not come to conform to the world, to appease the culture. He came to change the world. To save the world. And when the Spirit comes to us that becomes our mission too. You can’t be a timid supernatural hero.
Okay, so look at how this story unfolds. Peter delivers his second sermon in the middle of the Temple, at a place called Solomon’s porch, where many of the great Rabbis hold their schools, and he so angers the Priests that they throw him and John in jail overnight. And the next morning they take them before the Sanhedrin, the same group of people who had condemned Jesus to death less than two months before. And they say: What business do you have preaching your blasphemy in the Temple? And Luke says, “Peter, full of the Holy Spirit, lets loose on them. ‘How dare you place us on trial simply for helping a sick man be healed. Let me be completely honest with you. I’m tired of hiding from you. It is by the name of Jesus (the one you killed on the cross) that we do these things. And if that makes you mad, consider this. Salvation comes by no other name than the name of Jesus. Only He can save you.” Now, of all the claims made about Jesus in scripture, that statement might be the most controversial one in all scripture. “Salvation comes by no other name than the name of Jesus.” How insensitive that is. How exclusive. How offensive that is to all of the other religions of the world. But Jesus meant it in just the opposite way. He came to open up heaven to all people. So Peter, standing before the high priest and all of the leaders of the Jewish Faith, telling them that the only way to salvation is through the power of the name of Jesus. The power of Spiritual boldness. People of faith today too often fail to use their supernatural power of boldness that the Holy Spirit gives to every disciple. We give in to our arch nemesis – the world. And so we lament that we can’t utter the name of Jesus in public. And we can’t pray in schools. And we can’t read the Bible. You see, the opposition, the modern day Sauls, want to completely silence the name of Jesus. But that can only happen if we let it happen. If we refuse to use our Spiritual Power of Boldness. When I was in Campus Ministry, the university chaplain would occasionally ask me to pray at a special event. And one year he came and asked me if I would have a prayer at the summer graduation. And he said, in issuing the invitation, please keep the prayer completely ecumenical. Remember there will be persons of all different religions and some without any beliefs at all there. So you shouldn’t use the name of Jesus in your prayer.” And I said to him, “I am a Christian. And when I pray, I pray in the name of Jesus. If you don’t want that, then don’t ask me to pray.” So after Peter let’s loose on the Sanhedrin in such a bold way, they realize that so many witnessed the miracle with the lame man that they can’t really do anything to Peter and John without inciting a riot, and so they decide to let them go. But they tell them, “if we let you go you can never utter the name of Jesus again in the Temple. And if you do there will be dire consequences.” And Peter says, “you do what you want to us, but we can’t, we won’t, keep quiet about Jesus.” Spiritual Boldness is the power to proclaim the name of Jesus in all circumstances no matter what the opposition or the consequences. Totally devoted disciples can’t do anything less. And so they let Peter and John go and they immediately return to the other Disciples and tell them everything that had happened. And a prayer meeting breaks out. And while they are praying, Pentecost happens all over again. Luke says, “while they were praying, the place where they were meeting trembled and shook. They were filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak God’s Word with great boldness”. Disciples have the Supernatural power of Boldness. So we see the evidence of that in the ability to heal and act in miraculous ways. And in the continual proclamation of Jesus name no matter how intense the opposition might become.
And finally Luke tells us that the Spirit gave these Disciples the boldness to act as one. Here’s what Luke says: The whole congregation of believers was united as one – one heart, one mind! They didn’t even claim ownership of their own possessions. No one said: That’s mine; you can’t have it. They shared everything. And grace was on all of them. And so it turned out that not a person among them was needy. Those who owned houses sold them and brought the price of the sale to the church and made an offering of it. The apostles then distributed it according to each person’s need. Now you may be thinking what has that to do with Spiritual Boldness. Well, everything I think. Because It is the Supernatural Power of Boldness that enables us to devote our whole life to Christ. There is a lot in this world that sits in opposition to our faith. And often times the easiest opposition to deal with is the opposition of external forces. It’s easy to recognize the Sauls when they come into our lives. But I have learned that the most difficult opposition to deal with are the internal villains. Villains like selfishness. And the fear of failure. And greed. And even hatred. Totally devoted disciples are the ones that have the boldness to be all in. To give all of our time, talents, resources to God no matter what demands the world makes of us. To be of one mind, one heart – united in our love for and service of and witness to the grace of God in our lives. It is only through Spiritual boldness that we have the power to be totally devoted to Jesus and His church in our prayers and our presence and our service and our gifts and our witness. When the church is filled with totally devoted disciples acting with Spiritual Boldness, Supernatural Heroes, no one will be in need, the church will have all the resources it needs. All the servants it needs in ministry and outreach. The sanctuary will be overflowing every time we worship. And miracles will be evident to all. When each one of us lives our faith out boldly in spite of whatever opposition might stand in our way, either internally, or externally, then we will be the church of Jesus Christ, making disciples for Him. We will save the world. So come and receive the Super(Natural) Power of Boldness today. Let the Holy Spirit fill you this very moment.