Enduring Witnesses (Acts 5:17-42) | Jared Betts

Contra Mundum

Not many weeks ago we discussed the certainty of suffering for all those who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus.[1] Let us recall Paul’s words to the Philippians when he said:

29 To you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.”[2]

Suffering as a believer is a reality because in order to stand for the faith once for all delivered to the saints the church has to stand Contra Mundum.[3] That is to say that the church has to stand against the world. Of course, this proves to be problematic for those who are expressly commanded by Christ to not to be conformed to it.[4]

As was said the last time we discussed living in this world that is not our home, the world will only tolerate that which conforms to it. Non-compliance to its standards and practices are a punishable offense. Refusal to conform is not an option. Such violators should, therefore, be mocked and ridiculed, laughed to scorn, threatened, beaten, imprisoned, or even put to death. From the world’s perspective those who do not comply are unfit for society. What was it that Paul said to the Corinthians but that “we have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things, even until now.”[5]

As Jesus said, “In the world you have tribulation.”[6] He said:

18 If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.”[7]

He was emphatic, “You will be hated by all because of My name.”[8] He did not come to bring peace, but a sword. Matthew 10:35:

35 For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; 36 and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household.”

It was the 19th century poet and minister, Horatius Bonar, who correctly said that:

“The road to the Kingdom is not so pleasant, and comfortable, and easy, and flowery, as many dream. It is not a bright sunny avenue of palms. It is not paved with triumph, though it is to end in victory. The termination is glory, honor, and immortality; but on the way, there is the thorn in the flesh, the sackcloth, and the cross. Recompense later; but labor here! Rest later; but weariness here! Joy and security later; but here endurance and watchfulness – the race, the battle, the burden, the stumbling block, and oftentimes the heavy heart.”

Truly, all who love Him and desire to live for Him will experience some degree of turmoil for their testimony.

There is one clear thing the Scripture tells us in Christ to do when we unjustly suffer for His sake, and that is to endure. We as Christians are called to endure hardship.[9] For us as believers to stand Contra Mundum we need endurance. Though the word is nowhere found in our text today, we can clearly see the concept of endurance among the apostles.

What exactly is endurance? Simply put, endurance is the ability to withstand suffering and adversity. It is being able to bear difficulties, to stand through all circumstance, and to triumph in tribulation. Biblically speaking it is to remain or abide in. Not to recede or flee. It is to persevere under trials and misfortunes. It is to hold fast to ones faith in Christ no matter the cost. To bravely and calmy bear any and all ill treatments. Like rocks along our coastland withstanding the crushing power of the waves upon them, we are to endure the ebbs and flows of the torrent of this world upon us. For us to endure is to be:

“Afflicted in every way, but not crushed. Perplexed, but not despairing. Persecuted, but not forsaken. Struck down but not destroyed.”[10]

We should rejoice when we experience difficulties for our faith because it is a means through which God perfects us. Like stones in a river being slowly smoothed by the constant and cruel current, God uses tribulations to conform us to Christ. This is the exact point James made to his audience when he said:

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”[11]

Paul made a similar statement to the church at Rome saying that we should:

“Exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”[12]

Suffering shame for His name is not only a sanctifying tool in the hand of the Sovereign, but also an evidence that you are His. As Peter says:

14 If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.”[13]

In Romans 8:16-18, Paul says:

16 The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him. 18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”

Enduring for the faith is a critical matter because after Jesus assured His followers that they would be hated for His name, He said, “But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.” The evidence of saving faith is enduring hardship for it. True faith does not wither and die under the scorching heat of persecution. It perseveres through it. It is not faith found in hearts that are likened to shallow ground that when seed fell upon it, it merely sprung up for a time giving an appearance of life only to have the searing heat of the sun kill it, thus proving there was no real life to begin with. Such hearts are exposed through suffering. As Jesus says of such people in Mark 4:16-17:

“When they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy; 17 and they have no firm root in themselves, but are only temporary; then, when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately they fall away.”

They completely repudiate the faith. They renounce everything pertaining to Christ, thus demonstrating that though they went out from us they were never of us.[14] Though they had the outer appearance of being Christ’s followers and gathered among the church, they were neither apart of it nor did they belong to Jesus. Suffering for the sake of Christ exposes the self-deceived. Endurance does not earn salvation. It evidences it. Truly, as Jesus says in Luke 21:19, “By your endurance you will gain your lives.”

Today we want to first examine the account of the Apostles enduring hardship for the sake of Christ. After this we will touch upon why we must endure as believers, and then how we endure in this hostile world.

The Disciples Enduring Witness

This narrative beautifully sets the stage for us to see endurance at work. Keep in mind that the apostles have already been arrested for preaching Christ crucified and risen again for the forgiveness of sins and the hope of eternal life for all who turn from themselves in repentance and cling to the living Christ through faith. They have been commanded to no longer speak in the name of Christ. If we may briefly recall, they responded to this  in Acts 4:19-20 by saying:

“Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; 20 for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

They were further threatened by the Sanhedrin not to and released. The disciples then prayed that God would take note of their threats and grant them the boldness necessary to defy their order and speak His word with all confidence.[15] God of course answered this prayer and they began to speak the word with all the more boldness resulting in not only the spiritual growth of the body of Christ, but the numerical growth of it. Multitudes of men and women were constantly being added to the number of the believers.[16] Jesus continued to build His church through His people proclaiming the message of life in Him.

Since the church was striving to live to the glory of Christ, suffering found them out. Hell sought to prevail over the church. Luke records for us that the same people who threatened to no longer speak or teach in the name of Christ, that is the high priest and his associates, were filled with jealousy. The fact that people were flocking to the church filled them with rage because it revealed their power over the people was eroding. This spurned them to be contentious. As Luke says, 18 They laid hands on the apostles and put them in a public jail.” The apostles did not comply with the worlds standards, so they must pay the penalty for noncompliance.

As Luke says:

19 But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the gates of the prison, and taking them out he said, 20 “Go, stand and speak to the people in the temple the whole message of this Life.” 21 Upon hearing this, they entered into the temple about daybreak and began to teach.”

We can see that the disciples did not loose heart. They were not surprised by the fiery ordeal that came upon them as though it were some strange thing.[17] Jesus had told them exactly what to expect. They were to be hated by all for His name. Notice that this did not cause them to shrink back from living obediently to their commission. They had already been imprisoned and threatened, and yet they still spoke being unconcerned of the consequences.  

The angel says, “Go, stand and speak to the people in the temple the whole message of this life.” So they entered into the temple about daybreak and began to teach. They were freed by God to fulfill their commission which brought about their chains. They continued to do that which demanded their suffering, and through it all they endured without hesitation or complaint.

            Acts 5:21-28 says:

“Now when the high priest and his associates came, they called the Council together, even all the Senate of the sons of Israel, and sent orders to the prison house for them to be brought. 22 But the officers who came did not find them in the prison; and they returned and reported back, 23 saying, “We found the prison house locked quite securely and the guards standing at the doors; but when we had opened up, we found no one inside.” 24 Now when the captain of the temple guard and the chief priests heard these words, they were greatly perplexed about them as to what would come of this. 25 But someone came and reported to them, “The men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people!” 26 Then the captain went along with the officers and proceeded to bring them back without violence (for they were afraid of the people, that they might be stoned).” 27 When they had brought them, they stood them before the Council. The high priest questioned them, 28 saying, “We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name, and yet, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” 

We should understand by now that the world will always be perplexed when God’s people refuse to comply with its demands upon their faith in the face of suffering. The world thinks more highly of itself then it ought to. It constantly seeks to usurp Christ’s authority over His people.

Those, however, who know their God display strength and take action in the face of adversity. Undaunted by their intimidation, the apostles boldly declare:

29 We must obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a cross. 31 He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him.”

What is endurance? It is the ability to withstand suffering and adversity. It is being able to bear difficulties, to stand through all circumstance, and to triumph in tribulation. It is to remain without receding or fleeing in the face of trouble. It is to persevere under trials and misfortunes. It is to hold fast to ones faith in Christ no matter the cost. To bravely and calmy bear any and all ill treatments. This is what lives that have counted the cost of following Christ look like. This is true endurance. The boldly and unashamedly stand for Christ regardless of what comes of them.

            Luke tells us that when the council heard this, they were cut to the quick. The Greek word here seeks to convey these men begin mentally sawn in two or rent with vexation. In other words, they were overcome with such frustration that they intended to kill them. It is as the Psalmist said:

“The wicked plots against the righteous and gnashes at him with his teeth…The wicked have drawn the sword and bent their bow to cast down the afflicted and the needy, to slay those who are upright in conduct…The wicked spies upon the righteous and seeks to kill him.”[18]

As Luke records:

34 But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the Law, respected by all the people, stood up in the Council and gave orders to put the men outside for a short time.

Gamaliel is said to have been the most prominent rabbi of at the time. Not only was he a respected teacher of the Law, but he was the very man who trained the Apostle Paul in the Law.[19]

Gamaliel presents them men of Israel with a couple instances where men influential men had gained a following for a time while the men where alive, but soon dissipated after their deaths. He said:

35 Men of Israel, take care what you propose to do with these men. 36 For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a group of about four hundred men joined up with him. But he was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. 37 After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census and drew away some people after him; he too perished, and all those who followed him were scattered. 38 So in the present case, I say to you, stay away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or action is of men, it will be overthrown; 39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God.”

Now, these men did not need to wait to see if they were fighting against God. The Apostle’s message to them revealed that they already were fighting against Him. He gave His only Son and they killed Him, but God raised Him to life again. Jesus had already been killed and Gamliel knew this because he was a part of the council that contrived the plan to kill Jesus and successfully carried it out. The question is if Jesus is dead, why is His following growing and not dissipating? Because Jesus was raised back to life on the third day never to die again. Another fact this counsel is aware of. Remember, the world is often unmoved by irrefutable evidence. Unless the Spirit regenerates them they will remain in their unbelief and hostility towards God and His people.

Luke says that:

40 They took his advice; and after calling the apostles in, they flogged them and ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and then released them. 

What was the Apostles reaction? Acts 5:41-42:

41 So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name. 42 And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.”

They persevered through persecution and continued to preach Christ. They endured it all.

Christ, The Epitome of Endurance

We should understand that the Christian life is not a sprint. It is not done in a matter of seconds and requiring but a brief exertion of our energy. It is a long-distance run. One that requires much exercise and endurance. It is a life filled with trials that are taxing to the heart and mind, as well as body and soul.

We endure knowing that it pleases God. In 1 Peter 19-20, Peter says:

19 For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God.”

Why, however, do we ultimately endure? Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:12 that “we endure all things so that we will cause no hindrance to the gospel of Christ.” He said to Timothy:

10 For this reason I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory.”[20]

Throughout this world Jesus Christ has lost who must hear His voice and come into His fold.[21] For their sake we endure all things. We strive, as Paul says, to give:

No cause for offense in anything, so that the ministry will not be discredited, but in everything commending ourselves as servants of God, in much endurance, in afflictions, in hardships, in distresses, in beatings, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in hunger, in purity, in knowledge, in patience, in kindness, in the Holy Spirit, in genuine love, in the word of truth, in the power of God; by the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and the left, by glory and dishonor, by evil report and good report; regarded as deceivers and yet true; as unknown yet well-known, as dying yet behold, we live; as punished yet not put to death, 10 as sorrowful yet always rejoicing, as poor yet making many rich, as having nothing yet possessing all things.”[22]

By now the question is how do we endure?  Where do we find the strength to stand in the midst of suffering? The answer is simple. Look to the Author and Finisher of your faith who will sustain you till the end.[23] He who began a good work in you will perfect it.[24] He is working all things after the counsel of His own will.[25] He is at work in us both to will and to work for His good pleasure.[26] He is working all things together for our good so that we might be conformed to His image.[27] Fix your eyes on Him!

The Scripture tells us that for the joy set before Him, He endured the cross. We must consider Him who withstood such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that we might not grow weary and lose heart.[28] 1 Peter 2:21-23 says :

21 For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, 22 who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; 23 and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously.”

Recall Isaiah’s account of the One we are to follow:

“He was oppressed and He was afflicted,
Yet He did not open His mouth;
Like a lamb that is led to slaughter,
And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers,
So He did not open His mouth.”[29]

He gave His back to those who struck Him, and His face to those who ripped out His beard, and He did not hide His face from humiliation and spitting.[30] The One who did not regard equality with God a thing to be held onto, humbly emptied Himself of all divine privilege and became a Man;[31] and for the joy set before Him, He further humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death even upon the cross where the Lord caused the sin of us all to fall on Him.[32] He bore our sin upon His body on the cross, and He was pierced through for it.[33] He was chastened and crushed for us. His life was cutoff for our lives.[34] He interceded for us by bearing our iniquities and pouring out Himself to death.[35] He both epitomizes endurance and exemplifies it.

We should not expect the world to give us a fair trial. Just look at what they did with our Friend. As He said, “In this world you will have tribulation.” We should, however, find hope and take courage because our Friend has “overcome the world.” We can endure knowing that He will never leave us nor forsake us.[36] We continue on knowing that He will be with us even to the end of the age.[37] 2 Timothy 2:11-13 states that:

“If we died with Him, we will also live with Him;
12 If we endure, we will also reign with Him;
If we deny Him, He also will deny us;
13 If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.”

In the end we should understand that God is the gracious producer of our perseverance.[38] He is the One who enables His people to endure the severest of trials. He is the One who has supernaturally empowered people, both men and women whom the world is not worthy, to withstand mocking’s and scourging’s, and chains and imprisonments, and torture for His name.[39] He has enabled people to endure stoning’s, and being sawn in two, and put to death with the sword. He has granted to people the ability to persevere while brutally being torn apart by dogs, and being barbarically burned alive. He has given comfort to those who have faced the cruelty of crucifixion for His name just as He did. He graciously sustained His people through it all. Not one was snatched out of His hand.[40] Not one was ever separated from His love.[41] If God is for us, who is there to fear? No one. What is there to be afraid of? Nothing.

 To us it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe, to suffer. May God give us the ability to endure whatever trials we face both as individual believers, as well as a body. He calls us to cast our anxieties upon Him because He cares for us.[42] He beckons us to come boldly to His throne of grace so that we might receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need.[43] As the author of Hebrews says, we can “confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. What will man do to me?’”[44] Greater is He who is in you then he who is in the world.[45]

As the apostle’s did, may we lean upon the Living God in all things and through every circumstance. May He grant us perseverance through all forms of persecution, and may we in turn rejoice for the blessing we are given to be considered worthy to suffer shame for His name.[46] If I may end by again quoting Horatius Bonar when he spoke of the Christian life saying:

“The road is rugged, and the sun is hot. How can we be but weary? Here is grace for the weariness – grace which lifts us up and invigorates us; grace which keeps us from fainting by the way; grace which supplies us with manna from heaven, and with water from the smitten rock. We receive of this grace, and are revived. Our weariness of heart and limb departs. We need no other refreshment. This is enough. Whatever the way be – rough, gloomy, unpleasant – we press forward, knowing that the same grace that has already carried thousands through will do the same for us.”

[1] 2 Timothy 3:12

[2] Philippians 1:29

[3] Jude 4

[4] Romans 12:2; Ephesians 4:17-25; 1 Peter 1:14-16

[5] 1 Corinthians 4:13

[6] John 16:33

[7] John 16:18-19

[8] Mark 13:11

[9] 2 Timothy 4:5

[10] 2 Corinthians 4:8-9

[11] James 1:2-4

[12] Romans 5:3-4

[13] 1 Peter 4:14

[14] 1 John 2:19

[15] Acts 4:29

[16] Acts 5:14

[17] 1 Peter 4:12

[18] Psalm 37:12,14,32

[19] Acts 22:3

[20] 2 Timothy 2:10

[21] John 10:

[22] 2 Corinthians 6:3-10

[23] 1 Corinthians 1:8; Hebrews 12:1-2

[24] Philippians 1:6

[25] Ephesians 1:11

[26] Philippians 2:12-13

[27] Romans 8:29

[28] Hebrews 12:3

[29] Isaiah 53:7

[30] Isaiah 50:6

[31] John 1:1,14; Philippians 2:7

[32] Isaiah 53:6

[33] 1 Peter 2:24; Isaiah 53:5

[34] Isaiah 53:8

[35] Isaiah 53:11-12

[36] Hebrews 13:5

[37] Matthew 28:20

[38] Romans 15:5

[39] Hebrews 11:35-38

[40] John 10:28-29

[41] Romans 8:31-39

[42] 1 Peter 5:7

[43] Hebrews 4:16

[44] Hebrews 13:6

[45] 1 John 4:4

[46] Matthew 5:11-12; Acts 5:41

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