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June 11, 2022
We Will Not Be Silenced (The Apostles) Courage To Defy The Government
Pastor Philip De Courcy
Acts 5: 17 - 35

Purchase the CD of this sermon.


In the new series, Profiles in Courage, Pastor Philip explores the lives of biblical figures who exemplify God-given courage. From Genesis to Revelation, these profiles of courage will inspire us to take a stand for righteousness and unwavering faith.
Courage is not limited to a select few; it is a quality all believers must cultivate. It involves putting ourselves at risk, sacrificing comfort, and persevering in the face of opposition. It demands a firm commitment to truth and an unwavering determination to do what others cannot or will not do.

More From This Series


Take your Bible and turn to Acts chapter 5. We’re back in our series Profiles in Courage. It’s been a burden of mine to challenge you and myself as men to be courageous and strong—like God said to Joshua, like Paul said to the Corinthians: “Act like men.” I think our day calls for bravery. I think our day calls for boldness.
In fact, just recently, I received this text from one of our young men who’s at medical school at Yale University. And this was a text that a friend of his sent him. They were working on some social get-together. After they had worked that out, here’s what this other young man said to this young man from our church: “Also, total side note, but I’ve been meaning to thank you for what you said in the PR session with Dean Angoff and Dr. Hurst about abortion. I’m sorry that Dean Angoff reacted to it. I really admire that you stood up for what you believe in despite being in a room full of people who believe the opposite. I am pro-life but was really nervous to say anything, and I hope that one day I can stand up for my beliefs too. Also, one of our other group members was totally on your side but too afraid to say anything. So, anyway, awesome job. I’ve been meaning to tell you for months but keep forgetting. You did God’s work when you defended the rights and humanity of the unborn.”
Too afraid to speak up. That’s the day we’re in. That’s where many are in the church.
So, how timely this series, Profiles in Courage. We’re going to preach from Acts chapter 5, where we’re going to be taught this morning the courage to defy the government when it forbids what God commands or commands what God forbids. It’s a message I’ve entitled “We Will Not Be Silenced.”
We’re not going to take time to read the whole passage right now because we’ll work our way through it. But, if you want, here’s the highlight of chapter 5: The apostles continued to preach God’s Word. They had been arrested and then supernaturally released by God by means of an angel. And the angel gave them a fresh commission to go back to preaching, which they did, which meant the rearrest. And as they’re hauled before the Jewish Council, here’s what we read in verse 28 of chapter 5 of the book of Acts: “‘Did we not strictly command you not to teach in this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this Man’s blood on us!’ But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: ‘We ought to obey God rather than men.’”
“We Will Not Be Silenced.” Acts 5:17–42.
In his book Hitler’s Cross—which is a study of the corruption of the gospel and the co-opting of the German church by Nazism in World War II—Dr. Erwin Lutzer tells of Hitler’s contempt for Protestants. Here’s what Hitler said: “You can do anything you want with them. . . . They will submit . . . They are insignificant little people, submissive as dogs, and they sweat with embarrassment when you talk to them.”
That’s what Hitler thought of Protestants. Now, one man who didn’t fit that description was a German Lutheran pastor and theologian called Martin Niemöller. He was a man that would not bow. He was a man that would not bend to the dictates of the dictator. That shows up in an infamous and famous encounter between Hitler and some Protestant ministers. It was January 25, 1934. Hitler reproaches his guests, treating them with a tirade about how they have misunderstood him. They need to get behind him and not in front of him in his efforts to achieve peace and prosperity in the German nation. With certain contempt, Hitler says to them, “You confine yourself to the Church. I’ll take care of the German people.”
As the clergymen left that meeting, Martin Niemöller looked for an opportunity to speak his mind, and he carefully chose his words. And he did get a moment with Hitler as he left the room. He said this, “You said that ‘I will take care of the German people.’ But we too, as Christians and churchmen, have a responsibility toward the German people. That responsibility was entrusted to us by God, and neither you nor anyone in this world has the power to take it from us.’” Well, you can imagine that Hitler really appreciated that rebuke. Before the night was done, eight Gestapo ransacked Niemöller’s rectory. A few days later, a homemade bomb exploded in his hall. But he wasn’t to be deterred.
In June 1937, Niemöller preached his last sermon during the days of the Third Reich. He said in part, quote, “We have no more thought of using our own powers to escape the arm of authorities than had the Apostles of old. No more are we ready to keep silent at man’s behest when God commands us to speak. For it is, and must remain, the case that we must obey God rather than man.” The story of Dr. Martin Niemöller is another profile in courage. Here’s a man willing to lose friends, jeopardize his own family, expose his family and his wife to jeopardy. Here’s a man who, in the tradition of the apostles, faced with the choice of obeying God or man, would rather obey God than man.
Continuing in our series Profiles in Courage, I want to turn to the passage that Dr. Martin Niemöller alluded to when he talked about the apostles of old and the need to obey God rather than man. I want to turn you to Acts chapter 5, where we find the apostles as a group bravely defying civil authorities. Here’s another biblical example of courage, namely courage to pursue civil disobedience.
The apostles had been forbidden to preach and teach the gospel in public, but Christ had commanded them to go into all the world and preach the gospel. Therefore, given the choice, they decided to obey God rather than man (vv. 28–29). You see, they were witnesses that Jesus had commissioned to go into Jerusalem, Samaria, and out into the world (Acts 1:8).
This is an act of courage that has been duplicated throughout church history and one that the church in America will increasingly be called to reenact given the change in culture, given the changing climate. Do I need to tell you this morning that there are forces at work in our culture seeking to cancel the name of Jesus from the public square? Just like in Acts chapter 5. A federal judge threatened jail time—yes, jail time—for students in Texas who led a commencement ceremony in prayer. The ruling was reversed on appeal, but there was a judge that threatened students in America with jail time for mentioning God in public prayer.
The senior citizen center in Port Wentworth, Georgia, was told that they could no longer pray before meals because the food they were praying over was partially subsidized by the federal government. Minnesota, Florida, Massachusetts, and elsewhere: Senior citizens living in federally subsidized housing projects have been told they cannot discuss the Bible, sing Christian carols, or even display Christian decorations on the doors of their private apartments. Department of Veteran Affairs officials at the Houston National Cemetery have banned the words “God” and “Jesus” from funeral services for military veterans and have required that prayers be submitted in advance for approval. No, we’re not talking about Stalin’s Russia or Hitler’s Germany. We’re talking about the United States, the land of the free and the home of the brave.
In 2005, a federal district judge, in a case called Hinrichs vs. Bosma, ordered the Indiana House of Representatives to stop opening with “sectarian prayers.” The judge defined sectarian prayers as prayers offered in the name of Jesus. A prayer offered by a Muslim Imam in the name of Allah, however, was permissible under the ruling. In Houston, Texas, five pastors received subpoenas for their sermons to be turned into the city government for review. Only after tremendous pressure from Christians and even non-Christians in Houston and around the nation did the city of Houston withdraw the subpoenas.
Do I need to remind you what goes on in primetime television? Do I need to remind you that Joy Behar of The View said of Mike Pence’s religion, “It’s a mental disease”? Have you been following the story this week about the Tampa Bay Rays players who wouldn’t wear the pride pen? On primetime ESPN television this week, an analyst called Sarah Spain went on an anti-Christian rant without censorship. She’s never apologized. She called them bigots. She said that their use of religious liberty was BS, and that should be taken out of the constitution because Christians use it to cover their bigotry and their sectarianism. Primetime sports television. Guys, it’s repeated; it’s regular.
I’m just giving you a little taste of what’s going on all around us. Given the hostility of corporate America, BLM, CRT, big tech, academia, the political left, and the Democratic party to religious liberty and Christianity in general, you and I need to brace ourselves for further censorship and cancellation. It’s going to take an extra measure of courage in days to come to defy civil authorities when they trample our God-given rights and where they limit our desire to fulfill the Great Commission under the authority of Jesus Christ.
So, let’s come to Acts chapter 5. Here we have a growing church facing a growing opposition. It’s always the case. The Day of Pentecost, 3,000 are saved. A few weeks later, 5,000 are saved, and the number keeps multiplying. But with the growing church, there is this growing opposition. As the church expands, there’s seen and unseen, religious and secular, natural and supernatural forces who seek to contract the church’s influence.
In fact, in the chapter preceding the one we’re looking at, the disciples were hauled again before the Jewish authorities, and they were threatened not to speak in Jesus’ name. They return to the church, and they all get on their knees and pray that God would give them boldness in the face of these civil threats to be a witness for Jesus Christ. And, in chapter 5, their prayer is going to be put to the test. Will they continue to be bold in the face of continuing threats? Guys, put it down. We’re always ministering into a headwind.
Acts 14:22 reminds us it’s through much tribulation we will enter God’s kingdom. So, as we come to this passage, for the time that remains, three things in terms of just courage in the face of threats, courage to defy civil and government authorities when necessary, when they command what is forbidden or forbid what’s commanded. Are we going to have the courage to speak? Are we going to have the courage to stand? And are we going to have the courage to suffer? That’s what’s coming out of this passage.
Number one, courage to speak. Back in chapter 4, they’d been forbidden to speak in Jesus’ name in public. Here’s what we read: “So, they called them [the apostles] and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered and said to them, ‘Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot but speak . . .’” (Acts 4:18–20). Oh, for Christians like that who cannot but speak because the Word of God is burning in their bones, because they know what’s at stake. Woe is me if I preach not the gospel. So, they’d been forbidden to speak. And, as intimated a few moments ago, the apostles at that time commended and communicated that that was an impossibility given that they were disciples of Jesus Christ who had commissioned them to go into all the world and make disciples of the nations. You can’t do that without speaking, for faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God spoken.
So, it was inevitable that they would fall foul of the authorities, and this is where we pick up the story in verse 17: “Then the high priest rose up, and all those who were with him (which is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with indignation, and laid their hands on the apostles and put them in the common prison.” They were driven by anger because the apostles had disobeyed them. Another rendering of the word “indignation” is “jealousy.” They were driven by jealousy in the face of the popularity because they had filled Jerusalem with this doctrine, and people had come for healing, which was one of the abilities of the apostles of Jesus Christ. Driven by anger in the face of their disobedience, driven by jealousy in the face of their popularity, driven by evil in the face of good. You know how bad these Jewish leaders were? You know what triggered them? The healing of a particular man. They condemned that and opposed that.
So, we read in verses 19–20 that that night, “an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, ‘Go, stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this life.’” When they had heard that, “they entered the temple early in the morning and taught” (v. 21).
Now, here’s the thing you don’t want to miss. After being imprisoned, an angel sent from heaven leads a jailbreak, accompanied by a fresh commission to preach and teach. Now, here’s the irony, by the way. The Sadducees denied the supernatural, and so God plays with them by sending an angel to release his servants. The irony, though, is this, that they were being asked by the angel to get out of prison and go back to doing the very thing that put them in prison. That required boldness, and that required courage—a boldness and a courage they showed immediately, as we just read. “When they heard that, they entered the temple early in the morning and taught.” They didn’t second-guess that. They didn’t think through its implications. They just embraced that fresh commission and showed boldness and courage and went back to preaching the gospel.
And then they are rearrested after the council finds that they’re missing (v. 21). An APB is put out, and they are found in the temple precincts preaching. So, they were brought before them. We read in verse 28, “‘Did we not strictly command you not to teach in this name?’” That leads to a mini-sermon. Verse 30: “‘The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging on a tree. Him God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are His witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him.’ When they heard this, they were furious.”
I don’t have time to develop this. If I had a class of preachers before me, I’d take time to unfold this. But I just noticed in reading the text that they displayed a courage to speak and their preaching was enthusiastic. “‘Go, stand in the temple and speak to people all the words of this life’” (v. 20). I think they spoke the words of life with life. We see their passion down in verse 42: “And daily in the temple, in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.” In fact, they filled Jerusalem with this doctrine. They were enthusiastic.
Secondly, their preaching was emphatic, and they were unafraid. They were bold. They were courageous. They didn’t fall over their words. They didn’t sweat, as Hitler describes Protestants before authorities. No, they were emphatic. They filled Jerusalem with their doctrine and were intent in bringing this man’s blood on us. They were evangelical in their preaching. I mean, you look at those verses, 30, 31, and 32. There’s a description of the person and work of Jesus Christ prophesied in the Old Testament: a Prince and a Savior, died in atoning substitution and death on a cross, rose again, was exalted at the right hand of God. And He has commissioned His saints to preach that gospel.
They’re preaching, enthusiastic, emphatic, evangelical, empowered. They were preaching in the power of the Holy Spirit. It wasn’t too long ago these apostles were in hiding. But, on the Day of Pentecost, the Spirit of God comes, indwells them, and empowers them. The courage of the apostles is contrasted with the fear of the soldiers. Did you notice that in verse 26? “The captain went with the officers and brought them without violence, for they feared the people, lest they should be stoned.” So, it’s the authorities who are tentative and the apostles who are courageous.
Guys, we salute their disregard for their safety. We salute their commitment to gospel advancement. We salute their boldness before men of authority. You’ll study the book of Acts—chapter 4 verse 31 is a prime example—and you’ll see that gospel boldness is one of the engines that drives the church forward in the book of Acts. Boldness is the speaking of God’s Word before men with courage and confidence. Let me say that again. Boldness—which we are called to, which is an apostolic benchmark—is the speaking of God’s Word before men with courage and confidence. So proud of that young man from our church at Yale University, in a class full of people who opposed his view, who stood up and defended the rights of the unborn. That’s what boldness is. It’s speaking God’s Word before men with clarity, courage, and confidence. And our day requires it.
Look at the inverted value of tolerance. Tolerance, tolerance, tolerance. That’s all we hear until you preach the gospel, and, all of a sudden, tolerance vanishes. Our day requires it, given the pluralism and the belief that all beliefs are equal. But we say Jesus is the truth, the life, and the way. And no man gets to the Father but by Him. The political left and its Marxist authoritarianism will demand boldness of us. BLM and its demonization of Christianity as a Western colonial plague will require boldness from us. Postmodernism and the denial of truth and objectivity will require boldness from us. LGBTQ politics and the denial of binary reality will require boldness of us. And these are just some of the crosswinds in our culture that you and I will have to deal with, which will require boldness in teaching Christ exalted, preaching repentance to all men. I hope we’re up for that.
I heard about a famous preacher by the name of Peter Cartwright. He became one of the leaders of the Second Awakening here in America. According to some records, he baptized over 12,000 people during his ministry. He was a circuit rider preacher. He spent most of his time in Kentucky, Tennessee, and he was known not to beat around the bush. He was famous for telling it like it was. In 1830, Cartwright was preaching a revival at a church in Washington, DC.
Word got out to the church leaders that there was a possibility that President Andrew Jackson would be attending this Sunday, and they started connecting the dots. Peter Cartwright: he’s a bit of a loose cannon. So, they pulled Cartwright aside, and they said, “Listen, Peter, the president is going to be here on Sunday, and we know that sometimes you can kind of be offensive. Would you mind toning it down a little?” Sure enough, the president did attend the morning service. Peter stepped up in the pulpit, and he said, “I understand the President of the United States, Andrew Jackson, is with us this morning, and I have been asked to be guarded in my remarks. But the truth is, Andrew Jackson is going to hell if he doesn’t repent.” Now, you might think that offended Andrew Jackson, but, being an Ulster Scot, he’s made of tougher stuff than that. He grabbed Cartwright’s hand at the end of the sermon and said, “Sir, if I had an army of men like you, I’d whip the world.”
Well, we have the courage to speak. Speak graciously, smartly, but speak boldly the gospel into the midst of pluralism, gender distinction, and men and women created in the image of God into the LBGTQ conversation. Speak up for the rights of the unborn and the weakest among us. Let’s be men who are not frightened to speak. Courage to speak.
Secondly, courage to stand. They had the courage to speak. Test one, they passed it. They had the courage to stand. Test two, they passed it. That is, courage to stand against the powers, civil and governmental and even religious, whose desire it was to neuter and neutralize the church’s public witness for Jesus Christ. Look at verse 28: “‘Did we not strictly command you . . .?’” Yes, you did, but we’re not listening. There’s a higher authority. All authority on heaven and earth has been given to Him, namely our Lord Jesus Christ, head of the church. And He has commanded us to go to all the world and preach in public, to live out our faith demonstrably in the public square. Therefore, we must obey God rather than man.
The New Testament apostles were like the Old Testament prophets in their fearlessness before kings and men of great earthly power. Do we need to go back and reread Elijah before King Ahab? It might do us well to turn the pages back to Nathan confronting King David.
These were words of defiance. These were words of civil disobedience. We need to remind ourselves this morning that sometimes obedience to God means being involved in disobedience to man. There are occasions where being submissive as a dog is weak and wrong and wicked.
Now, you don’t need me to tell you—or, hopefully, you don’t need me to tell you—that government is ordained by God, and it has authority in its sphere. There are three spheres that God operates in and delegates authority and mediates His authority: that’s government and the civil powers; that’s the family and the husband as the head of that family; and it’s the church governed by godly men, a body of elders.
Each sphere of authority has its own commission and mission statement, and each sphere of authority should respect the other and stay within its boundaries. It’s not the job of the government to raise the family. It’s not the job of the government to govern the church. So, the government is ordained by God and has authority within its sphere (Rom. 13:1–7; 1 Pet. 2:13–17). Obey the authorities as ordained by God. But the government doesn’t govern the family or the church. The Lord Jesus is the one true head of the church (Eph. 1:22; 5:23; Col. 1:18). It’s not the Pope of Rome. It’s not the queen of England. And it’s certainly not the governor of California.
Civil powers cannot overstep their boundaries and intrude upon the membership, management, and message and mission of the church. When they do—when they meddle, when they overstep, when they restrict our God-given liberties—they must be rejected and rebuked. I appreciated it when Dr. John MacArthur stood in his pulpit at Grace Community Church on August 9, 2020, and he said, “I’m so happy to welcome you to Grace Community Church’s peaceful protest.” I’m so proud of this leadership at Kindred because we went back to public services around that time ourselves. We’d come to the conclusion there was overreach. We’d come to the conclusion that the state was now beginning to govern the church in a way that was unbiblical.
Listen to these words by James Madison, one of the architects of our Constitution: “It is the duty of every man to render to the Creator such homage and such only as he believes to be acceptable to him. This duty is precedent, both in order of time and in degree of obligation, to the claims of Civil Society. Before any man can be considered as a member of Civil Society, he must be considered as a subject of the Governor of the Universe: And if a member of Civil Society, who enters into any subordinate Association, must always do it with a reservation of his duty to the General Authority; much more must every man who becomes a member of any particular Civil Society, do it with a saving of his allegiance to the Universal Sovereign.”
But the state told us when we can meet. In principle, God commands us to not forsake the assembling of ourselves together. The state told us when we could sing. In principle, the Bible tells us to sing to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. The state told us to keep distance from one another when we’re told to embrace one another and give one another a holy kiss and be near and intimate in love and help and service towards one another. When the civil powers overstep their boundaries and intrude on the membership, management, message, and mission of the church, they are to be rejected.
Now, for a few minutes, let’s go with that. There is a place for civil disobedience. You ask, “In what areas?” Good question. I anticipated it. I’m going to give you five. I did some studying. I think this is historically true. I think it’s theologically accurate.
Here’s the first reason. Here’s the first context in which you can civilly disobey. Number one, when ordered to do something God forbids. That’s why the Hebrew midwives disobeyed Pharaoh when he commanded them to kill every Israelite baby boy. When Saul commanded his servants to kill the priest of the Lord, they refused. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were commanded to bow down before a graven image in violation of the second commandment. They refused. Herod ordered the magi, the wise men, to report to him the location of the baby Jesus, but they didn’t and went home a different way. Number one, when ordered to do something God forbids, we disobey the civil authorities or religious authorities.
Number two, when forbidden to do what God commands. We’re turning this inside out. We’re flipping it on its head. Daniel was commanded to stop praying for a month, and he refused. You ever think about this? That Daniel would rather die than not pray? Most of us die at the thought of prayer. Peter and the apostles were ordered to stop preaching in the passage we’re in, Acts 5, and they refused to comply.
Here’s a third area: when part of government contradicts another. It’s very important. This is a good one, with a special relationship to the United States, given our liberties and the beauty of our Constitution and the separation of powers. The third area is when part of government contradicts another. In the Old Testament, we find an example of this principle in the life of Queen Esther, who appealed to the king, a higher authority, in order to overcome the malicious intent of a lower authority, Haman. Centuries leader, Hushai pretended to serve Absalom, an illegal authority, in order to obey the rightful authority, King David. Paul appeals to a higher authority in the book of Acts. At the local level, he was being treated a certain way, and he said, “Hold on. You can’t treat me like that. I’m a Roman citizen. I’m appealing to Caesar.”
As I’ve said, this principle demonstrates something with a great application to the context of legal authority and legislation here in the United States. There are appropriate checks and balances. When we made a decision to go back in 2020 as a church, in defiance of the existing orders of the state of California, we were willing to face legal prosecution and to go and appeal that at the court level with checks and balances. We reminded ourselves that the governor himself is subject to the Constitution and the law of the United States. So, you get that? You can play one part of the government against another. You can appeal your grievance to a part of the government that can’t redux the other.
Number four, when ordered to be silent in the face of evil. The prophet Nathan confronted David. Elijah confronted Ahab. The prophet Jeremiah was incarcerated because he refused to give a good report about what was happening in Jerusalem. John the Baptist called out Herod for his incest and adultery.
Number five, when ordered to turn yourself in. You don’t need to go like a submissive dog. Jonathan ignored his father’s order to kill David and helped David hide. Obadiah hid the prophets of God from Jezebel. Joseph and Mary fled from Herod to protect the life of the baby Jesus. Saul fled from Damascus to avoid capture.
So, there you have reasons for civil disobedience, biblically sanctioned: when ordered to do something God forbids; when forbidden to do what God commands; when part of government contradicts another; when ordered to be silent in the face of evil; when ordered to turn yourself in.
I want to tell you something. We need to regain our heritage. The heritage of the church and God’s people is a thrilling, daring tradition of civil disobedience: the midwives of Israel; the trouble-making prophet Elijah; the unbent and unbowed friends of Daniel; the politically incorrect John the Baptist; the non-compliant Lord Jesus in the face of the Pharisees and their ridiculous rules; the irritating apostles before the Sadducees and the Sanhedrin; not to mention Polycarp; Chrysostom, Athanasius; William Tyndale, who said to a church official one day, “I defy the Pope and all his laws”; Martin Luther, “Here I stand”; Samuel Rutherford, who refused to appear before the British Parliament; Anabaptists; John Bunyan; believers today in the Middle East, China, Russia, North Korea.
It’s a tradition I’ve come to believe we set aside during COVID when lockdowns lingered past anything that was sensible and that the data demanded. Restricted liberties continued long past the initial emergency. It wasn’t our finest hour as the church. Samuel Rutherford, author of the Lex, Rex—which was a challenge to absolute authority, of kings and queens and civil manuscripts—was famous for this statement: “Truth to Christ cannot be treason to Caesar.” Truth to Christ cannot be treason to Caesar, because Christ is Lord of all. If the church is obedient and the government is obedient, then there shouldn’t be a problem. But when government gets out of its lane and forgets that it’s God’s servant, problems arise with God’s servants. In those cases, the church must obey God rather than man. Kings are meant to serve the King of kings and the Lord of lords.
One of the books I used extensively for my preparation was a book called God vs. Government by Pastor Coates and Professor Nathan Busenitz. Excellent, excellent. In the chapter dealing with Acts 5, Nathan Busenitz—and I believe this was part of a message he preached at Grace Community—brought us back to this idea of evangelical Protestantism. Now, if you’re asked, or if I’m asked often what am I or what denomination am I, we’re kind of baptistic here at Kindred. But I usually answer, “I’m an evangelical Protestant,” because that has historical weight.
The word “evangelical” was a term that Martin Luther used to describe churches of the Reformation. It comes from the Greek term “good news.” It was turned into an adjective, and the Reformers believed that the church was to be evangelical. The church was to give itself to declaring and dispersing the true gospel of Jesus Christ, in contrast to the Roman Catholic errors of the day. William Tyndale brought the term into English in 1531. To be an evangelical, at least historically speaking, was to be characterized by a commitment to the gospel, both in its declaration and in its defense. So, an evangelical is a person who understands the gospel, has been saved by the gospel he has come to understand, and has committed to its dissemination among the nations as the only message that brings life.
The word “Protestant” is interesting. If the word “evangelical” speaks to what we are for, the word “Protestant” speaks to what we are against. As far as we know, the term emerges around about March 1529. The second Diet of Speyer convened to determine whether or not the government of the Holy Roman Empire would grant religious tolerance to Luther and the evangelical church. When the Diet of Speyer ruled to ban Luther’s teaching and reject the reforms, a group of German princes who were evangelical wrote a letter of protestation and appealed the decision. As their letter of protestation made clear, they rejected the imperial ruling because their consciences were bound like Luther to follow the Scriptures. They were willing to disobey government edicts in order to obey God.
So, the word “Protestant” historically comes out of this protestation. Now, significantly, their protest was not against or aimed at the Roman Catholic error, although that was a certain factor in underlying reality. It was a protest against the imperial government and its threats to interfere in biblical doctrine and church worship. To be Protestant, then, was to say to the emperor and to the imperial consul that we will not submit to decrees that prevent the worship of God and the preaching of the gospel. I hope you’re excited about using the term “evangelical Protestant” the next time, because that’s what we are. We are men unashamed of the gospel, and we have courage to speak. And we have courage to stand against government overreach.
Finally, courage to suffer. Their faithfulness led to fury, right? Verse 33: “When they [that is, the council, the Sanhedrin along with the Sadducees] heard this, they were furious and plotted to kill them.” The message of life in Christ triggered murderous thoughts on the part of the council. By killing them, they thought they could silence their message, but the killing was killed by the pragmatism of Gamaliel. I’m not going to spend much time on verses 34 and following. We’ve got this insertion here where he talks the council out of killing the apostles—certainly an element of providence here and an element of pragmatism. He refers to several Jewish uprisings and movements that have kind of petered out and died their own death, and he puts Christianity into that camp. And he says, “You know, if this is of God, it’ll remain. If it isn’t and it’s like these other movements, it’ll come and go.” We could say more about that, but I don’t want to.
Verse 40: “And they agreed with him, and when they had called for the apostles and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name. And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ” (Acts 5:40–42).
Got to love it. In the place of a burial, they were given a beating. In the place of a funeral, they were given a flogging. By the way, it was no picnic. More than likely, it was 39 lashes by a whip, either just with leather or with leather with bone fragments tied on the end. It wasn’t a pretty sight, and it wasn’t a small thing. Deuteronomy 25:3 tells us it would be 39 because a flogging was not to exceed 40 lashes. What we have here is just another example of the world’s hatred and hostility towards God’s people, especially by governing bodies. Throughout human history, hostile governments have primely been the prosecutor of God’s people: the pharaohs of Egypt; the apostate kings of Israel and Judah; Herod, who executed James; the Roman emperors, including Nero. In the end, we’ll have the anti-Christ declaring himself to be God and demanding submission.
The Lord Jesus warned His followers that they may be mistreated. He warned them in John 15:18–21, if the world hates you, you know that it first hated Me. What we have here is another example of that. That’s why, if you and I are going to be faithful disciples of Jesus Christ, it always must be safety second. Safety second. The kingdom of God, the fulfillment of the Great Commission first. That must always be a baseline for Christian missions and ministry. We cannot take up the cross, and we cannot burden the yoke of Christ if our desire is safety at the same time, because the cross is an instrument of death. The yoke is an instrument and an implement of toil. The cross suggests blood. The yoke suggests sweat. When you follow Jesus Christ, you need to be ready to die for Him or be ready to work sacrificially for Him. In Acts 15:25–26, we read of these apostles that they were men who risked their lives for the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Listen to Elisabeth Elliot in a devotion I came across a while ago called “The Lust for Security,” and just rewind the tape of the last couple of years and even where some churches are to this moment:
Once we have set ourselves to be pilgrims and strangers on the earth, which is what Christians are meant to be, it is incongruous for us to continue to insist upon the security the world tries to guarantee. Our security lies not in protecting ourselves from suffering but in putting ourselves fully into the hands of God. The desire for physical and material security makes us sly and hard. No. We must be like little children. The child in its father’s arms is not worried. It lies quietly at rest because it trusts its father.
We disobey sometimes because we say it is impossible to do what God asks. Impossible? Perhaps what we mean is impossible to do that [what God asks] and keep our security, impossible to obey without tremendous cost or at least tremendous risk. Where, then, will we find safety? Is it likely that we will find it elsewhere than in the arms of the Father?
There’s been a lust for security in the life of the church and Christians of late. It’s not going to serve us well if we’re going to fulfill Acts chapter 5.
Be courageous to speak. Be courageous to stand against authorities that infringe upon our God-given rights and responsibilities. It’s not going to serve us well when we’re called to suffer. In fact, that was one of the rationales, along with others, that our elders thought through when we went back to public services in late 2020, because there are bigger fights coming in California in regards to religious liberty and Christian responsibilities. If we roll over and play dead, like many of us did during COVID, I don’t know how you’re going to stand up against militant atheists, BLM activists, the woke crowd, and the overreach of Democratic politicians in the state of California. COVID was a dry run. How do you think we fared? I think there’s blood in the water, and they can smell it. The lust for security.
So, as we close, I want you to see their attitude and end on a really positive and challenging note. “So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing . . .” (v. 41). Can I read that again? “Rejoicing”? Thirty-nine lashes. They probably didn’t lie on their back for a while, but they rejoiced. Not in the suffering. There was nothing pleasant about that. But they rejoiced that they were “counted worthy to suffer shame for His name.” Wow.
What does Philippians 1:29 say? It is not only being granted to you. It’s not only your privilege to believe in Him but to suffer for Him. It’s a privilege. It’s a joy, given His suffering for us that’s redemptive and atoning and eternally beneficial. If we can turn around and fellowship with Him in His suffering, is it not a privilege? God’s got all of eternity to make it up to us.
In this final thought, the apostles are captured by the greatness and glory and worth of Jesus Christ. If living for Him, if preaching the unsearchable riches of Christ in the gospel, comes with a price tag, then the price is a privilege—because the privilege is always greater than the price when you have the worth attached to Jesus that He deserves. Back in Philippians 3, what does Paul say? I’ve suffered a lot, and I’ve lost a lot. It’s cost me to be a Christian, but that’s okay. I count that all as “rubbish”—in the Old King James, “dung.” It’s a dunghill. All of that’s just dung, rubbish, nothing compared to knowing Christ in all His excellency. Therefore, I count it loss for the joy of knowing Him. The word counts there. You see the value that Paul has put in on Jesus?
When you and I are not wanting to stand up for Jesus and count persecution a privilege, it’s because Jesus has somehow been depreciated in your life. He’s not the glorious Savior He is. He’s not the living Lord He is. He’s not the retuning King He is. He’s not the friend of sinners He is. Have you forgotten that? Is He not worthy of your obedience and faithfulness? If that comes at a cost, then, like the apostles, rejoice that you were counted worthy to suffer for the One who is worthy of it all. They were consumed with Christ. Look at verse 42. They just continue to talk about Jesus.
Let me finish with this story. I’m calling you as men to not be silenced, to have the courage to speak, to have the courage to stand, to have the courage to suffer. And I’m going to give you an example of a woman that will help you do that. Read the life of Helen Roseveare, an English missionary who went to the Congo. She spent her latter years in my home country of Northern Ireland, where she eventually went home to be with the Lord. You can look her up. There’s some really great YouTube interviews and conversations with her. I sent a few of them to my daughters this week, just going back over her life.
She was Mama Luka. She went to Congo in Africa to reach people with Christ through medical missions. But, while she was there, the Simba uprising took place, and government soldiers came to her bungalow. They ransacked it, they grabbed her, they beat her, they obviously kicked her. She lost her back teeth to the boot of a rebel soldier. They broke her glasses, and they raped her twice. I’ll let her speak:
Then one at a time, two army officers took me to my own bedroom and raped me. They dragged me out into a clearing, tied me to a tree, and stood around laughing. And while I was there, beaten and humiliated and violated, someone brought out the only existing hand-written manuscript of a book I had been writing about God’s work in the Congo over an eleven-year period. They put it on the ground in front of me and burned it.
I asked myself, Was it worth it? Eleven years of my life poured out in selfless service for the African people and now this? The minute I expressed that, God’s Holy Spirit settled over that terrible scene and He began to speak to me.
“My daughter, the question is not ‘Is it worth it?’ The question is, ‘Am I worthy?’ Am I, the Lord Jesus who gave His life for you, worthy for you to make this kind of sacrifice for Me.” And God broke my heart. I looked up and I said, “Oh Lord Jesus, yes, it is worth it, for You are worthy!” When you ask the right question, you’ll always know that He is absolutely worthy of anything you can give Him or do for Him!
Guys, the question is not, “Is it worth it?” The question is, “Is He worthy?” You know the answer.
Father, we thank You for this great passage in the telling of the church’s advance, in the telling of the church’s brave and bold steps in accomplishing the Great Commission. We want to be part of Acts 29.
We want to continue to write that story of bold disciple-making, of bold, unapologetic proclamation of the gospel, of protestation against governments that forget they are God’s servants and ought not to menace with God’s servants or God’s gospel or Jesus’ church. Lord, help us to pick up that mantle of Protestantism and evangelicalism. Help us to be compelling, attractive, fearless, smart evangelical Protestants in this nation whose social heritage is that very thing. Our founders were Protestants, and they shaped this nation’s laws and thinking. They ran from the state church. They longed for a new expression of government.
Today, those liberties are being rolled back, and our politicians are more Marxist than Christian. We’ve detailed some of the vitriol and the violence that they have promised against Your church. Lord, we will find recourse in the law where that’s possible, but one thing’s for sure: we won’t bend, and we won’t budge. We will continue to preach the whole counsel of God. We will continue to command all men everywhere to repent and bow the knee to Jesus. We will remind this bloated government of its limitations and its own accountability before its maker.
So, Lord, today, help us to be bold and brave witnesses for Jesus Christ. Help us, like Elijah, to take sides. Help us, like Nehemiah, to keep going. Help us, like Joshua, to step up. Help us, like Joseph, to say “no” to sexual temptation. Help us, like the apostles, to defy the government when the government asks us to defy God. For these things, we ask and pray in Jesus’ name, for His glory, given His worth. Amen.