April 03, 2016

Pastor Mark F. Bartels

First Lesson; Revelation 1:4-18

Gospel Lesson; John 20:19-31

Sermon Text; Acts 5:12

                        Acts 5:17-32

It's kind of a rare treat. Our selected readings every week come from The Old Testament, or The Gospels, (which are Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John), or The Epistles, (which is one of the letters of The New Testament). Very rarely do we have a scripture reading on a Sunday morning from the book of Acts, because the book of Acts doesn't fit into those three categories of Old Testament, Epistle or Gospel. So, it is a treat today to be able to preach from the book of Acts, chapter five, verse 12, and then verses 17 through 32. This is in Jesus' name.

Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon's Portico. But the high priest rose up, and all who were with him (that is, the party of the Sadducees), and filled with jealousy they arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison. But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life.” And when they heard this, they entered the temple at daybreak and began to teach. Now when the high priest came, and those who were with him, they called together the council, all the senate of the people of Israel, and sent to the prison, to have them brought. But when the officers came, they did not find them in the prison, so they returned and reported, “We found the prison securely locked and the guards standing at the doors, but when we opened them we found no one inside.” Now when the captain of the temple and the chief priests heard these words, they were greatly perplexed about them, wondering what this would come to. And someone came and told them, “Look! The men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people.” Then the captain with the officers went and brought them, but not by force, for they were afraid of being stoned by the people. And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man's blood upon us.” But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging Him on a tree. God exalted Him at His right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him.”

These are Your words Heavenly Father. Lead us in the way of truth. Your Word is truth,


The book of Acts is actually a historical book. If you look at Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, they are all the history of the life of Jesus. Then, we come to the book of Acts. The book of Acts picks up after Jesus has died, and risen from the dead. The book of Acts begins with the ascension of Jesus into Heaven. Then, the book of Acts talks about the history of the spread of the early New Testament church. It is called the book of Acts because it is either referring to what we call, “The Acts of the Apostles” or, “The Acts of the Holy Spirit”. Probably it is best to look at it as both. It is “The Acts of the Holy Spirit” as He acted through the Apostles. One of the first things that happens in the book of Acts is Judas had hung himself, so there were only eleven Apostles. The Apostles chose, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, a twelfth Apostle by the name of Mathias. He had been a witness of everything Jesus did, beginning with His ministry, all the way through His resurrection.

What we discover in the book of Acts is that these Apostles were, (what I am going to call them), “Easter People”. These Apostles had Easter Joy!

       -These were men who were convinced in their heart that Jesus' resurrection was absolute proof that Jesus is none other than God, Himself. They were filled with Easter Joy!

       -They had this Easter Joy of knowing Jesus' resurrection from the dead is absolute proof our sins have been paid for. God has accepted that payment.

       -And, Jesus has power, not only over our sin, but its consequences – death and Hell.

       -These were people who were filled with the Easter Joy of knowing, “Because Jesus rose from the dead, someday I, too, am going to rise from the dead.” These were people who were filled with Easter Joy.

       -They had Easter Joy that had transformed them into people who wanted to live for Jesus, because of what Jesus had done for them.

So, these Apostles now begin to carry out what Jesus had instructed them to do. The last thing He said, before He left this world, visibly was,

“Go therefore,

and make disciples of all nations.”

And so, these Apostles are eager to go out, and start to tell other people about this saving Gospel Message. And, that is exactly what we find them doing in the books of Acts.

Interestingly, it was that same Jesus who sent out the Apostles, and told them to preach the Good News to all creation who told them,

“If they persecuted me,

they are going to persecute you.”

It was that same Jesus who said,

“A day is coming,

when people who kill you,

will think they are offering a service to God”

It was Jesus who said, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves.” And so, Jesus foretold or prophesied that when the Apostles went out, and started to spread the Good News, they would be persecuted. Because Jesus is God, and those are the words He said, we know that actually had to happen. And, that is exactly what we find happening in the book of Acts. Right away, in the book of Acts, when the disciples go out with this Easter Joy and start spreading this message, we find they start to get persecuted for spreading the saving Gospel Message of Jesus. In Acts chapter 3, and chapter 4, we find out Peter and John get arrested, because they had healed a crippled man. A bunch of people gathered, and Peter and John started talking about Jesus, forgiveness, and the resurrection of the dead. And, once they started talking about the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, they got arrested, and put into prison. They were told by the leaders of the people, “Stop talking about Jesus. Stop talking about the resurrection of the dead.”

They released Peter and John, and warned them not to talk about Jesus. Of course, Peter and John said, “We cannot help but speak about what we have seen and heard.” They had Easter Joy, and they had to talk about Jesus!

And so, they kept talking about Jesus, the resurrection of the dead, and the promise of forgiveness in Christ.

Now, again, in Acts chapter 4, and chapter 5 we find the Apostles, now all twelve of them, get arrested, and thrown into prison. They are being persecuted for having this Easter Joy, and talking about Jesus, their Savior.

While they are in prison, an angel comes, and lets them out of prison, telling them, “Go back to the temple, and speak this Good News of life!”

And so, undeterred, these Apostles who had been threatened, and told not to talk about Jesus, go right back to the temple, and they start preaching this resurrection joy, this Easter Joy. They are in the temple talking about Jesus, talking about the resurrection of the dead, talking about the forgiveness of sins, when the leaders find out they are in the temple. They call the Apostles together, and tell them, “Stop talking about Jesus.”

Now, we get a little glimpse into why people sometimes persecute Christians. You know, I love hotdogs. I love 'em! Once in awhile, I have had somebody say to me, “Do you know what is in a hotdog?”

And, I tell them, “Don't tell me. I don't want to know, because I love hotdogs.” You see, I don't want to know the truth about what is in hotdogs. I just want to like hotdogs, and I don't want anybody to tell me the truth, because the truth might make me change some things.

These men told the Apostles, “You are making us guilty of this man's blood.” The Apostles were accusing the religious leaders of sin, the sin of putting Jesus to death. And, the religious leaders did not want to know the truth. They didn't want to hear the truth. They wanted the disciples to stop talking about the truth. If they admitted they were sinners, then their world would come tumbling down, because they thought they were people who didn't need a Savior. They didn't want to hear the truth about their sin, therefore they didn't want to hear the truth about Jesus. They were trying to quiet the Apostles.

But, the Apostles said,

“We must obey God

rather than men.”

They were released from prison, and what did they do? They went right back to spreading that Easter Joy. They couldn't keep it to themselves. They loved other people so much, unbelievers so much, that even if it were to cost them being put into prison, and maybe cost them their lives, they wanted other people to know the way to get to Heaven.

Over time, we discover that in the next chapter of Acts, the persecution grows. In Acts, chapter six and seven, the first Christian in The New Testament Church is stoned to death for testifying about this Easter Joy. His name was Stephen.

Then, soon after that, we find out that James, who was the first Apostle martyred, or put to death for his faith, was put to death with a sword.

Over time, each of these Apostles, one by one, history tells us, died confessing their faith in Jesus, as their Savior. They had this Easter Joy, and it bubbled over, and they were persecuted. The only Apostle who didn't die for his faith was John the Apostle who was imprisoned on the Island of Patmos, because of his testimony about Jesus.

The fact that this group of men who were just bubbling over with this Easter Joy, had this Easter Joy in their heart, the fact they were willing to be persecuted, the fact they were willing to suffer, they were willing to give up their homes, their families, give up their very lives, because they had this Easter Joy is a very powerful testimony to three things.

1.     It is a very powerful, (we would say) proof of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. These twelve men claimed to have seen the risen Lord Jesus Christ. Now, if it wasn't true, if they were making it up, they would have known, “This is a lie. The resurrection of Jesus is a lie.” I don't know anybody who is willing to give up their family, their lives, and everything, for a lie. These men were so convinced they had seen the risen Jesus from the dead that they were willing to go to their graves to testify to the risen Jesus.      

2.     It is one thing to say, “I saw the risen Jesus”, and believed that in your heart. They could have kept it to themselves, though, couldn't they? The fact they couldn't stop talking about the risen Jesus is evidence of the fact that they deeply understood there is only one way to be saved. There is no other way to be saved. And unless you know Jesus crucified, and risen from the dead, you cannot be saved. They were so filled with love for lost souls that they were willing to give up their own lives to spread that saving Gospel Message. What a testimony!

3.     Their willingness to be persecuted for this Easter Joy shows they had this absolute faith that, “Someday, even if lose my life for Jesus, I will be raised from the dead”. They clung to that. St. Paul is the one who said, “I don't want you to be ignorant brothers about the hardships we endured”. He was really persecuted for his faith. He said, “We suffered hardships far beyond our ability to endure, so that we even despaired of life itself. In fact, we felt the sense of death written in our hearts”. But then he said, “These all happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on Christ who raises the dead”.
They were convinced, “Even if they take my life, I am going to rise from the dead!”

What a powerful testimony – the persecuted church to the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead!

I don't know if you are aware of this, but in the early days of the Christian Church, when people would think about becoming a member of the Christian Church, they would go through instruction Class, similar to our Catechism Class. Going through the class, when they professed, “I believe in Jesus, as my Savior”, they would go through what was called, “The Rite of Confirmation”, just like we have “The Rite of Confirmation”. They would stand up in front of the other believers, and they would confess their faith, publicly. One of the questions that would be asked of people in the early, New Testament Church was what we call, “The Martyr's Question”. “The Martyr's Question” is a question we still ask today, two thousand years later. Here is “The Martyr's Question”.

       “Do you promise, to be faithful to Jesus, and suffer everything, even death, rather than give up your faith in Jesus? If so, answer, 'Yes, with the help of God'”.

These early Christians would answer that “Martyr's Question”, knowing, “Believing in the risen Savior, and having this Easter Joy, I could end up losing my life.”

Down through the centuries, many, many, many Christians have been persecuted for their faith in Jesus. Even today, throughout the world, there are many, many Christians who are persecuted for having this Easter Joy, and this faith in a risen Savior.

We are pretty much in a kind of protected island, here in the United States of America. But, we should all be fully aware, and none of us should be blind to the fact, some of our brothers and sisters in Christ, around the world, undergo very severe persecution for having this Easter Joy, and faith in Jesus, the risen Savior. I would really encourage you to go to a couple websites. One is called, “Open doors USA”, and another one is called, “Voices of the Martyrs”. They are some websites where you will find some amazing statistics about the persecuted church. These are our brothers and sisters in Christ. They are part of the body of Christ.

I want to tell you a couple examples.

       -Last Sunday was Easter Sunday. In Lahore, Pakistan a bunch of our brothers and sisters were celebrating the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, and what that means in their life. A bomb went off, and killed 34 of them, and several hundred of them were seriously injured by this bomb.


for faith in the risen Lord Jesus Christ.

       -I was reading the other day about a man in Bangladesh. I believe his name was Hassan Ali. In his town it was a real no-no to be a Christian. He was converted to Christianity. When his wife found out, she tied him up for three days inside their house. Then, she and their children brutalized, and terrorized this husband and father, because they did not want him to be a Christian.

For several months he would go to work, and the place where he worked didn't pay him a penny. They refused to pay him, because he was a Christian. Over time, his love, his Christ-like love for his family, (who had persecuted him), and his employers (who persecuted him), won his family over, and his family became Christians.

He was seen as a dangerous person in that town, because he was winning people for Christ.

And so, about a week ago

this man was brutally, brutally put to death

for sharing this joy of the resurrected Savior.

       -I was reading the other day about a man who lives in Algeria, northern Africa. He is married, and has children. He was converted to Christianity. When he was converted to Christianity, the rest of his family was Muslim. His in-laws took him to court. The judge ordered that he either renounce his faith in the risen Christ, or his wife would be forcibly divorced from him, and his children would be force-ably removed from underneath his guardianship, and he would no longer be their father.

Well, he confessed his faith in Jesus,

the risen Jesus,

with the joy in the risen Jesus.

As a result,

he has now lost his wife and children.

These are powerful stories about people who have this faith in the risen Savior, and undergo this persecution. They are wonderful testimonies of the depth, of the treasure, that can be found in Christ alone.

But, doesn't it make you wonder about yourself? It makes me wonder about myself. I heard a pastor recently talking about persecution, and asked the question, “Why do you think here in the United States we don't really get persecuted very much for our faith?” He speculated, “Some people say maybe it is because Christians here in the United States are too willing to compromise the truth. All you have to do is change one little word, and it is easy to keep yourself from being persecuted. Here is the word. From saying, 'Jesus is the way', to saying, 'Jesus is a way'. To go from saying, 'Jesus is the truth', to saying, 'Jesus is a truth'. As soon as you do that, you remove the offense of the cross. But, you also remove the power of the cross. Because, if Jesus is one of many ways of salvation, then you don't need the cross, and you don't need forgiveness.”

Another pastor speculated, “Maybe we are not persecuted in the United States, because the Lord knows the shallowness of our faith. He knows, if He permitted persecution to come, maybe we would be like the seed that Jesus talked about. It was scattered on shallow ground, so it had shallow roots. And when persecution came, it fell away. It withered away. Maybe the Lord wants to spare us from losing our faith, if persecution comes. Ultimately, what all of this does is cause me, (and it should cause all of us), to repent at the weakness of our faith.”

What if I were persecuted, and I recognized, “Lord Jesus, I have a weak faith. Jesus, I need you to forgive me for all of my sins, including my weakness of faith, shallowness of faith. Jesus, I am so glad you forgave Peter, when he did not have the courage to stand up for you. He denied his faith, and yet you freely forgave him. Jesus, I need you to forgive all of my sins, and all of my weaknesses. Jesus, I need you to assure me that I am saved by faith. It is not the strength of my faith that saves me. Thank God for that! The Bible does not say, 'God so loved the world, that He gave His One and only Son, that whoever believes in Him (with a really strong faith) will be saved', but it says, 'whoever believes in Him will be saved'. Thank you, Jesus, that even weak faith is saving faith!”

But then we pray, “Jesus, strengthen me. Prepare me for the day, if it were to happen, that I were to be persecuted, or we were to be persecuted.”

How do we get strengthened? Do you know what they did in Martin Luther's day, when they were fearful the Turks may invade Germany, and they would be persecuted? They, in their families, learned the Catechism. They taught their children The Six Basic Truths of Christianity. They memorized them. They memorized Bible verses. They memorized hymn verses, so that if their churches were gone, their pastors were gone, they still would have The Word in their heads and in their hearts. Then they could be kept, and strengthened in their faith.

So, now is the time to really study, and apply yourself to the Word of God.

Ultimately, I want to close with this thought. There was a man by the name of Richard Wurmbrand, who wrote a book, “Tortured for Christ”. He was tortured in a Communist country, some years ago, as a Lutheran pastor. He saw Christians brutalized in ways that are almost indescribable. They were beaten, tortured, and killed. He saw this all happen. He saw the persecuted church. Here is what he said. “I have seen the bride of Christ, (the church), at her most beautiful. When she looks ugliest to the world - beaten, mocked, spit on, weak - I have seen her at her most beautiful, because I have seen how much she loves her Savior, and how dear the resurrection of Jesus is.”

Jesus is God.

Our sins are forgiven.

Heaven is ours.

Someday we will rise from the dead.