Acts 5:27-42

Words are interesting things. Take the word “pressure” for instance. We
put air in our tires and check the pressure. When we were students, we
often said, “I work better under pressure.” Or, dealing with many
obligations, we say, “I am under so much pressure.” Pressure can either
work for us or against us. In our text today, pressure revealed the
power of God.

The setting for Acts 5 is in Jerusalem a short time after the death and
resurrection of Jesus. Thousands of people had become His followers.
This situation did not go unnoticed by Jewish leaders. In fact the
apostles had been arrested and warned not to speak any more in the name
of Jesus. They faced both religious and political pressure. However,
not all Jewish leaders were strident in their opposition. Gamaliel, a
teacher of the Law, suggested toleration. Being considered of no real
significance by the culture carries with it pressure of a different
kind. Then there was violent opposition. The apostles were punished by
the method of flogging. Victims were whipped across the back with
“forty lashes save one.” Some died from the experience.

But these early disciples did not crumble under the pressure that came
against them. Why? The answer may be found in a three-letter Greek word
in verse 29. The word is translated in English as “must.” This word
carries with it the idea of compulsion. The apostles said, “We must
obey God rather than men.” What about us? We too face opposition in our
culture. Our text today reveals several values that can come from
pressure.


I. Pressure can clarify our priorities. (v. 29)

Priorities are those things to which we give the most attention. They
receive our time, money, and devotion. Sometimes our priorities are
formed by those things that are most pressing. At other times our
priorities are misplaced. We value the wrong things. Priorities can be
fundamentally self-serving.

Pressure can clarify our priorities. It did for the apostles. Faced
with religious and political pressure to stop witnessing, they were
compelled to obey God rather than men. Their highest priority was not
national loyalty, but allegiance to God. During World War II a German
pastor and theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, was faced with the same
decision. Like the apostles, Bonhoeffer was compelled to obey God
rather than the German government. Other concerns find their rightful
place when obedience to God comes first.


II. Pressure can focus our message. (v. 30-31)

Pressure has a way of sharpening, bringing something elaborate into simplicity. Pressure brings focus.

Standing before the Jewish Sanhedrin, the apostles spoke the gospel in
succinct words. They spoke of God, Jesus’ death and resurrection, his
role as savior, the requirement of repentance, and the forgiveness of
sins. Some time ago Karl Barth, a renowned theologian, was asked about
his deepest theological insight. He responded, “Jesus loves me this I
know, for the Bible tells me so.”


III. Pressure can occasion our joy. (v. 40-41)

Pressure can provide an occasion for joy. From the world’s perspective,
this is an oxymoron. An oxymoron is a combination of contradictory or
incongruous words (i.e., cruel kindness). From a Christian perspective,
joy in suffering is a paradox of gospel truth. The Christian experience
of joy is not mere happiness based on favorable circumstances. Rather,
it is a deep sense of satisfaction that comes from doing the will of
God.

The apostles were flogged and ordered not to speak in the name of
Jesus. Rather than become angry and embittered, they rejoiced that they
had been considered worthy to suffer for His name.


IV. Pressure can foster our determination. (v. 42)

Pressure can heighten our resolve. Rather than succumb to the order of
the Sanhedrin, the apostles kept on teaching and proclaiming Jesus.

When communism overtook China, Christian missionaries were forced to
leave the country. Many Chinese pastors and leaders were beaten and
thrown into prison. Some were killed. Despite opposition, the church
grew exponentially. Meeting in secret, believers volunteered to be “the
marketplace Christian.” At great risk, this person would stand in the
local market and provide information about when and where the house
church would meet. Sometimes this person was discovered by the
government and was imprisoned or executed. During these turbulent times
the church never lacked volunteers for “the marketplace Christian.”

Pressure cuts both ways. We can give in and be defeated or face it with
divine compulsion. Opposition against Christians is growing worldwide.
We can stand the pressure of life with the power of God. Are you
willing to be a “marketplace Christian?” Let us stand with the apostles
and say, “We must obey God rather than men.”

_________________
Sermon brief provided by: Mike McGough, Professor of Preaching, Canadian
Southern Baptist Seminary, Cochrane, Alberta

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