SERMON: Ordinary Confidence
TEXT: Acts 4:1-31 (ESV)
SPEAKER: Josh Hanson
It’s good to be with all of you this weekend at Gateway Church. And one thing I want you to know — and it doesn’t matter if it’s your first time with us or if you’re worshipping at our North Main campus — one thing I want you to know is that God loves you and I love you too.
And we’re finishing up our series in the first few chapters of the book of Acts today. And we’ve titled this series “Ordinary” — as we’ve seen that God’s in the business of using ordinary people to be His witnesses in the world. So if you feel pretty ordinary — know that you’re in good company — because God loves to use ordinary people just like you.
ANNOUNCE THE TEXT
And if you have your Bible please turn with me to Acts chapter four. We’ll be looking at verses one through thirty-one together today.
And, if you’re a guest with us, something we like to do at Gateway is let you ask questions. So if you have a question during the sermon, you can text your question in to the number printed on the bulletin or you can submit it on the Gateway app.
And while you’ve finding Acts chapter four, let me remind of you of where we are in the book of Acts. The book began with an introduction where we learned that Luke — a doctor — was hired to do an investigation into the life of Jesus and the early church. And our book — the book of Acts — is part two of his investigation. So Luke was hired to do research, to verify facts, to make sure that the stories circulating about Jesus and the church were reliable — and we have his findings in the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts.
Next we saw the ascension of Jesus. As I’m sure you’ve heard, Jesus was crucified on a cross, but death could not keep Him in the grave. And for forty days He appeared preparing His disciples for the mission He was about to give them. And on the day of His ascension — the day He went up to Heaven — Jesus said His last words on earth.
And with His last words Jesus, “ordered them (His followers) not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” (Acts 1:4b-5 ESV)
And then He said, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” 9 And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.” (Acts 1:8-9 ESV)
Jesus gave His disciples their mission and He promised them that they’d be given the power needed to accomplish their mission — they would be empowered witnesses when the Holy Spirit comes upon them.
Next we saw the disciples find a replacement for Judas and we learned that being a nobody for Jesus isn’t a bad thing — that being a nobody is actually a great thing — because Jesus loves to use a nobody for His glory.
Then we saw the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise — in Acts chapter two — the Holy Spirit comes upon the disciples. And they’re filled with the Holy Spirit to be empowered witnesses for Jesus. Then Peter stood up to preach his first — but very ordinary — sermon. And the crowd of people — from all kinds of nations — respond to Peter’s sermon. And a new community is formed. An ordinary community united together through a common faith in Jesus.
And we’ve seen these ordinary followers take advantage of ordinary opportunities to tell others about Jesus — as they help others see what their greatest need really is — that they need a Savior — that they need Jesus. That’s what we saw last week in the story of the crippled man’s healing.
The man thought he knew what his greatest need was — he needed money from people because he couldn’t work — so he had to beg — and he thought that money was his greatest need. But when Peter and John saw him — they saw his real need — his greatest need — and through the witness of two ordinary men — this crippled man received the gift of faith in Christ as they pointed him to Jesus.
And our story today — in Acts chapter four — is the continuation of our story from last week. So the crippled man has just been healed. He’s been leaping around and praising God because of the amazing gift of faith he’s been given. A crowd has formed to see this strange sight. Peter has shared with them how and why the man was healed — he’s been very clear as to why they’re seeing what they’re seeing.
And in verse one of Acts chapter four we read, “And as they (Peter and John) were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, 2 greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.
Now notice what annoyed the religious leaders. They’re annoyed that Peter and John were teaching and proclaiming about the resurrection of Jesus. I bring this up to remind us that we’re not the first generation of Christians to have opposition to our faith. People today don’t want us talking about Jesus in the public sector — keep your faith private — they say. Other religions are allowed in the public sphere — the religion of politics — the religion of sexual identity — the religion of Americanism — but Christianity — well keep that religious stuff to yourselves. Anyway, back to our story. Verse three.
3 And they (the religious leaders) arrested them (Peter and John) and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. 4 But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand.
A great reminder as to why we can’t keep our faith private. Without hearing about the resurrection of Jesus people won’t believe in the resurrection of Jesus. People need to hear our Good News so they can believe it. We cannot remain silent. Verse five.
5 On the next day their rulers and elders and scribes gathered together in Jerusalem, 6 with Annas the high priest and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. 7 And when they had set them (Peter and John) in the midst, they inquired, "By what power or by what name did you do this?"
Look at how intuitive the religious leaders are. They know something is at work here, but they’re not sure what. So they want to know by what power and by what name Peter and John are doing these miracles. And — I don’t want to steal Peter’s thunder here — but I’m going to steal his thunder — the power — is the power of the Holy Spirit — and the name — is the name of Jesus. I’ll let Peter explain it to you. Verse eight.
8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit (remember there are two ways to be filled with the Holy Spirit. The first is when a person initially puts their faith in Jesus. The Holy Spirit then fills you — takes up residence in you — lives in you. The second filling is sort of a spiritual boost — some extra Holy Spirit power — that’s what we’re seeing here — Peter’s getting a boost of power from the Holy Spirit and he...), said to them, "Rulers of the people and elders, 9 if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, 10 let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well. 11 This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. 12 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved."
Peter’s preaching the same sermon we saw him preach a few weeks back when we looked at Acts chapter two. He’s a one sermon preacher. It’s a simple sermon. It’s pretty ordinary. It’s not flashy. But it gets straight to the point. And Peter’s point is Jesus — “I’ve got to get these people to Jesus if there’s going to be any change happening here.”
And verse thirteen is where the title of this series comes from. Verse thirteen is a great verse. It’s an encouraging verse to all of us ordinary people. Look at verse thirteen.
13 Now when they (the religious leaders) saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.
Look at how Peter and John are described. The religious leaders look at them and what do they see? They see uneducated, common men who had been with Jesus. Two translations of the Bible — the New Living and the New English — translations describe Peter and John as “ordinary” men. The NLT says, “they were (what? They were...) ordinary men with no special training in the Scriptures.” (Acts 4:13b NLT)
I like what one pastor imagined about this verse. He imagined Luke letting Peter and John proofread a copy of Acts — they were friends — and remember Luke’s a doctor — so he’s the smart well-educated guy — and Peter and John read this sentence and think “Luke — dude — really? Did you just call us stupid?”
Now I don’t usually talk about the Greek or Hebrew language because I want you trust that the English Bible is more than sufficient in telling you what God’s Word says — but I once heard a pastor use the Greek here in a fun way — not really how the Greek language is supposed to be used — but it’s definitely memorable.
The Greek word translated as “common” and “ordinary” is this word — idiotes. Now — even if you’re not familiar with the Greek language — I bet you can figure out what English word we get from this Greek word — the word “idiot,” right?
So let’s take this whole being ordinary one step further. If you — not only feel ordinary — but if you feel like an idiot sometimes — you’re a perfect candidate to be used by God. That’s good news, right?
But — and this may be troubling to some of us — if you know any idiots — instead of looking down on them — or judging them — here’s something new to try. Think this about them instead, “They’re a perfect candidate to be used by God. Because God loves to use ordinary people — even idiots — to be His witnesses.” And maybe — for some of us — what we need is a little less sophistication and a little more ordinariness — a little more idiotes — in our lives — so we’re better witnesses for Jesus.
So the religious leaders are astonished because Peter and John are ordinary men — and continuing in verse fourteen...
14 But seeing the man who was healed standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition.
Can you imagine their frustration as they look at Peter and John and see — standing next to them — this dude with a goofy smile on his face all like “Look at me. I’m walking guys. I’m walking. I used to be paralyzed — but now — I’M WALKING!!!” Make all the judgments you want about Peter and John’s ordinariness, but you can’t deny that a man — who couldn’t walk for the last forty years — is standing in front of you.
15 But when they had commanded them (Peter and John) to leave the council, they conferred with one another, 16 saying, "What shall we do with these men? For that a notable sign has been performed through them is evident to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. 17 But in order that it may spread no further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name."
Even with undeniable proof — a notable sign that’s evident to the people of Jerusalem — a guy being healed — the religious leaders still want to find a way to put a stop to all of this. They’re so caught up in their own system of beliefs that even a miracle doesn’t change their mind. So be careful — if you’re someone who says — “well if I saw a miracle with my own two eyes — like a paralyzed person being able to walk — that I’d believe in Jesus then — but unless I see a miracle I’m not going to believe.” Because there’s a thread of arrogance there — a thread of “I’m more in tune with things than these religious leaders are” because we see them — with undeniable miraculous proof — refuse to believe. And here’s the plan the religious leaders come up with.
18 So they called them (Peter and John) and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. (They give Peter and John some very clear instructions.) 19 But Peter and John answered them, "Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, 20 for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard."
And Peter and John give a very clear response. “We’ve got to obey God,” they say, “not you.” And this is a very tempting response to have when we disagree with others. But can I ask a favor of you? Please make sure it’s God that you’re actually obeying.
Notice a couple of things about Peter and John’s response. First, they didn’t go solo in their answer — they replied together. And that’s something we should all do if we feel that we’re in a “I can’t obey you, I must obey God” situation. Don’t trust only yourself — ask other Christians to weigh in on your situation and decision — seek counsel. The reason I say this is that all too often — as a pastor — I see people who say, “I’ve got to obey God here, not man” and then they go and do something that’s contradictory to the Bible.
I’ve had guys tell me, “God’s told me to leave my wife.” And I’m like “What?” And then after probing a bit I find out they’ve got a girlfriend on the side that they’re moving in with. And I’ve yet to have a guy say, “You know what. It’s not God I’m listening to. I’m just wanting to sin.” Not once.
I’ve spoken to good folks from our church who’ve met with me to say, “God’s moving us on from Gateway.” And when I ask why they say, “Well we’re not really connected here — our teens aren’t connected — and so we know this is God’s way of saying it’s time to find a new church.” And then I start to ask questions like, “Well how often do you attend our worship services? Are you in a life group? How often do you bring your kids to youth group? And — even — what’s your family worship time like?” And do you know the kind of response I get?
“We’ve been to worship like three or four times this year. And we tried a life group a couple of years ago, but our schedule kept us from attending, so we dropped out. And our teens don’t go to life group — they say they don’t like it — and I know — they don’t go so how would they know if they do or don’t like it — and we don’t really do anything at home — as a family — spiritually speaking.” Actually, they never say that — they get defensive — and offended that I’d even ask such questions.
All I’m saying is make sure it’s God you’re obeying and not your own sinful desires. I don’t know about you, but I get offended when people say I’ve said something that I didn’t say. How much more do you want to face God and have Him say, “So about that time you said I told you to — fill in the blank” — and then God says — “Just so we’re clear — we both know that wasn’t Me.” I’m trying to save you from having that conversation.
Back to our story. Having heard Peter and John’s response...
21 And when they (the religious leaders) had further threatened them (“You better not heal any more paralyzed people, or deaf folks, and if we see one person who died last week alive tomorrow because you raised them from the dead — especially if it’s my mother-in-law...we’re coming for you”...after further threatening them...), they let them go, finding no way to punish them, because of the people, for all were praising God for what had happened. 22 For the man on whom this sign of healing was performed was more than forty years old.
And I love that — there’s the goal for us — the win — even with the threats — people were praising God because Peter and John took advantage of an ordinary opportunity to be a witness for Jesus.
And now we’re in sort of a second scene of our story. We’ve gone from Peter and John being on trial and now they’re released. Here’s what we read in verse twenty-three.
23 When they were released, they went to their friends (other Jesus followers) and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24 And when they (Peter and John’s friends — when they) heard it (the report of “we’ve been told to stop speaking and teaching in the name of Jesus”), they lifted their voices together to God and said, "Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, 25 who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit, "'Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? 26 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed'— 27 for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. 29 And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, 30 while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus."
In response to hearing Peter and John’s report — “we’ve been threatened — we’ve been told to stop speaking and teaching in the name of Jesus” — look at what the other believers do. They respond to these threats with prayer.
In verse twenty-four, they begin by acknowledging that God is sovereign — that He’s in control of all things — even these threats against them. How would your view of life change if you believed that God is in control of all things and that He has a purpose for everything you’ve gone through, are going through, and will go through? Where — when a problem arises — even a threat because of your faith — you think “God, You’re in control, and I trust that You’re using this situation for Your glory and my good.” Where you pray, “God use this situation to make me into a better witness for You.”
Second, we see that as they prayed, they interpreted their life experience — being threatened — by the Bible. Just like good preaching, good praying and good Christian living takes life experiences and intersects them with the Bible. They quote the Old Testament while praying. That tells us that they knew their Bible well — it’s hard to pray using God’s Word if you don’t know God’s Word — but the Bible influenced how they prayed. I love the quote, “Know the Scriptures so well that when life cuts you, you bleed God’s Word.”
They pray using the Bible and then — in verse twenty-nine — they don’t deny the threats, but instead pray for God to give them boldness — all of them — not just Peter and John — but for all of them to have boldness so they continue speaking and teaching about Jesus. Jesus was their Savior and they had confidence in Him and wanted others to believe in Him. So they asked God to use them — as His witnesses — so many might believe in Jesus and find everlasting life — even while being threatened by the people they were witnessing to.
And look at the results of their prayer.
31 And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.” (Acts 4:1-31 ESV)
The place where they were gathered was shaken — they’re filled with the Holy Spirit — and they continue to speak with boldness. This echoes back to Acts chapter two when the Holy Spirit first comes upon the disciples — there was a violent wind — and we see this kind of experience — in the Bible.
When Jesus died — there was an earthquake. At His resurrection — there was another earthquake. And now here — again — there’s a shaking.
You see — their world was shaking around them. There are threats against them — “you better not speak about Jesus anymore or we’ll come after you” — and that’s enough to shake any of us up. But as they prayed — and as God’s Spirit fills them — the place they’re in is shaken.
And here’s a little secret for us followers of Jesus. When God comes — when the power of God’s Spirit fills us — the more the room shakes — the less we’re shaken by the power of our enemies. They more confident we are in God’s power the less shaken we are by the power of the world.
And throughout the rest of the book of Acts, we see ordinary Christians walk in ordinary confidence — in Spirit empowered boldness — under threats — while being persecuted — even while facing death — because their ordinary confidence is in an extraordinary Savior — Jesus.
A Savior who understands the need for confidence to do what God has called us to do in the midst of threats and dangers. Just before He was arrested, Jesus prayed to His Father. He first prayed that if there was another way for God’s will — of offering salvation to us — if God’s will could be accomplished in any other way — for God to choose that way. But after praying — in knowing that there wasn’t another option — Jesus submitted Himself to God’s will — and walked toward those who were threatening His life — those who will kill Him.
His enemies mocked Him — even though many had been witnesses to the miracles He had done — they questioned Him and were angry that He — like Peter and John — they were angry that He wouldn’t submit Himself to them, but insisted on doing God’s will even though they didn’t recognize it as God’s will.
And then they crucified Him. Nailing Him to a tree after beating Him nearly to the point of death. Not knowing they were fulfilling a promise made by God — that by His wounds we would find healing. And that through His sacrifice and death — we would find forgiveness and life.
Jesus became the ultimate witness of the love and power, justice and mercy, forgiveness and grace of God. So that we — people saved by God’s grace through faith in His Son — might be ordinary witnesses to the love and power, justice and mercy, forgiveness and grace of God.
Jesus is our example, but He’s also our Savior. He’s the One we follow, but He’s also the One who carries us when we’re too weak to walk behind Him. He’s the One who’s faithful to us, even when we’re unfaithful to Him. He’s the One who always does the will of God — of saving and rescuing God’s people — even when we fail to be the witnesses we’ve been called to be.
Jesus isn’t just the One we are witnesses for — He is the faithful witness for us. And as we look to Him, we’re given the confidence we need to know that God loves us. Is protecting us. Is strengthening us. Is preserving us. And is preparing for us — an eternal home — where we will experience the joy of His will being accomplished — the joy of Jesus’ words “It is finished” being fully realized.
But it’s so easy — isn’t it — to walk in cowardiceness — instead of confidence? So this week — instead of doing the easy thing — and being silent when you know God wants you to be a witness — why not say something? Leave the results to Him, but the witnessing is in your court.
Take advantage of an ordinary opportunity that God interrupts you with this week. Start simple — and ask the person if you can pray for them right then. It doesn’t have to be a complicated prayer. You don’t have to know everything going on in their situation to pray. Just offer to pray. If they say yes — then pray — and thank God for the opportunity to be a witness. If they say no — ask them in a few days how the situation is going and offer to pray again.
Go introduce yourself to that neighbor who moved in a few weeks ago. I know, you’ve been meaning to stop by, but haven’t gotten around to it. Do it this week. Walk to their front door with confidence knowing that God is with you. That He loves you and them. And invite them over for dinner to share your story — and be sure to include Jesus in your story.
The ways to be an ordinary witness for Jesus are limitless and the confidence needed to be a witness has been provided. So what are you waiting for — what are we waiting for? Let’s go and be sent as the witnesses for Jesus — the ordinary witnesses — that God is calling us to be. Let’s pray.
PRAYER OF APPLICATION
Heavenly Father, thank you for providing us with the confidence we need to be Your ordinary witnesses. That like Peter and John — and the other disciples — we can live with great boldness because of who You are and what You have done for us. That — humbly — and with grateful hearts — we can say to those who disagree with us — and in the midst of life shaking situations — the right thing to do here is to trust and obey God — so that is what I must do.
Father, help us to be Your ordinary witnesses — filled by Your Spirit — confident that You are in control of all things. So others might believe in Your Son and find the hope, forgiveness, and life that is only found in Him. In His name we pray. Amen.