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The Pressure Of Life And The Power Of God
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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