Robert Jeffress - The Church In The Kettle
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress and welcome again to Pathway to Victory. In many parts of the world Christians are openly persecuted for their faith. But what about countries like the United States that were built on Christian principles and values? Today, I'm going to explain that all around the world and even in the United States the persecution of Christians is subtly and steadily growing just as it did in the first century. My message is titled The Church in the Kettle on today's edition of Pathway to Victory.
Back in 1990, Christian pollster George Barna wrote a bestselling book entitled "The Frog in the Kettle," and he was warning organizations including churches to be aware of subtle changes in the culture. And he used this famous analogy, "If you take a live frog and place it in a kettle filled with boiling water, the frog will immediately jump out to save itself. But if you take that same frog and put it in a kettle of tepid water and just gradually raise the temperature the frog won't realize what's happening around it until it's too late". That's true for every organization. It's certainly true for the church when it comes to persecution. As we're going to see today. Persecution against the church doesn't come immediately. It comes gradually, incrementally, but it's important that we be aware of the environment in which we exist.
That's the theme of the passage we're going to look at today. Turn to acts 5 as we discover what happens when the church is in the kettle. Acts 5. Now remember where we are in this study of acts. Peter and John have gone up to the temple area in acts 4 to heal in the name of Jesus and to preach in the name of Jesus. And the religious authorities were irate about that. They arrested them, tried to intimidate them but they wouldn't back down. And finally they let Peter and John go and the result was the church was filled with boldness and courage to preach the message of Jesus Christ.
And then we get to chapter five and there's a seemingly unrelated story there about this couple named Ananias and Sapphira. They were members of the Jerusalem church, by all indications saved and baptized in the church. They made a pledge that they were going to sell a piece of property and give all the proceeds to the church. But you remember what happened? They kept back a portion of the proceeds. The problem was not that they kept it back but that they told everybody they were giving it all to the church. And when Peter confronted them about their sin of lying not just to other people in the church, but in essence lying to God, God struck them dead right there on the spot. And when the whole church saw it the Bible says "They were filled with great fear," I imagine so.
Just imagine seeing a couple letter out of your church in the most dramatic way possible. I mean, they were dead on the spot and I imagine it was a motivation for the rest of the members of the church to clean up their own act seeing how seriously God takes sin. But this is not an unrelated story. This is a story about the purification of the church. Before God can use any of us individually or together as a church he needs to purify us, remove sin from our life. Now, we'll never be perfect, but we can be pure. You know, in biblical times if craftsman wanted to fashion a piece of gold Jewelry he would use a process that is still in effect today called the Miller's process by which gold is heated up until it reaches a molten state. And in that molten state, the impurities in the gold rise to the top, the craftsman scrapes it off the top and then the gold can be fashioned into a piece of Jewelry.
Now, the Miller process can only achieve the highest element of purity is 99.5%. It's not perfect, but it's pure. That's what God is doing in your life and my life right now. In fact, it's that same imagery that Paul or Peter uses in 1 Peter 1:6,7. Look at this. "In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while if necessary you have been distressed by various trials". Trials come into our life, various trials, that word various, means various, it's the word we get polka dot from. Trials come in different shapes and different sizes into our life. Sometimes the trials we face are a result of God's discipline when we sin, that can be a trial. Sometimes it's adverse circumstances like illness or financial problems. Sometimes it's persecution. But regardless of the shape, size or even source of our trial, God uses it verse seven, "So that the proof of your faith being more precious than gold, which is perishable, even though tested by fire may be found to result in the praise, glory and honor of Jesus Christ".
See that, he's using that gold imagery. That's what God is doing in your life right now. He's doing in the life of this church. He's allowing various trials to come into our life, not to destroy us, but to strengthen us so that we can be used by God. And now that the church was refined the church not only Ananias and Sapphira who removed but the whole church filled with fear got itself right with God. Now they were ready to receive two important things. First of all, they were ready to receive blessings from within the church. Look at verse 12 of chapter five. "At the hands of the apostles, many signs and wonders were taking place among the people and they were all of one accord in Solomon's portico". That was a part of the temple area. The apostles were doing great things.
Remember, these signs weren't for the sake of doing miracles, they were a way to authenticate the message of the apostles that it really was God's message about Jesus Christ. "There was a unity of spirit, and not only that". Verse 14, "And all the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women were constantly added to their number". Here's one interesting study in the Book of Acts the number of times the word numbers is used. Have you ever heard, "Oh, God doesn't care about numbers". Of course he does, numbers represent people, and one sign of God's blessing is that he causes something to grow. That doesn't mean everything that's big is of God and everything that's small is not of God. But it means healthy things tend to grow.
If you have a little baby, if that baby doesn't grow, something's wrong with it, right? It's supposed to grow. God meant for the church, an organism, a spiritual organism to grow. It's only natural that if a church is being blessed by God it's going to be witnessing and winning people to the faith in Christ, the church is going to grow. That's what happened to the early church. In fact, verse 15 says, "To such an extent that they even carried the sick out into the streets and laid them on cots and pallets so that when Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on any one of them". What in the world is that about?
Now, there's no evidence that anybody was ever healed by Peter's shadow. The point is, all of the unbelievers saw what was happening in the church that people were being healed, they wanted to have a part of it so they brought their sick even to be touched by Peter's shadow. What they really needed was spiritual healing. And so God used these miracles to attract them to hear the gospel that would transform them their lives. And many of them were being saved. The church was experiencing unusual blessings. But remember this, whenever and wherever God is working, Satan is also working. He hates for the church to grow not just numerically but in its influence for the gospel. And he will do everything he can to stop it. And that's the second thing that being refined and purified allowed the church to receive and endure and that was persecution from without the church.
Look what happened, verse 17 of acts 5, "The high priest rose up seeing the church growing. The high priest rose up along with all of his associates, that is the sect of the Sadducees, and they were filled with jealousy and they laid hands on the apostles and put them in a public jail". Why were they so enraged by what the apostles were doing? Three reasons:
First of all, they were jealous of the apostle's popularity. They couldn't stand to see the apostles getting this attention. It was just sheer sheer jealousy.
Secondly, they were offended by the teaching of the apostles. Remember, the Sadducees were the ruling elite. They didn't believe in the supernatural. They didn't believe in heaven. They didn't believe in angels. They certainly didn't believe in the resurrection. And they were offended by the apostles' belief in angels and certainly by their preaching that Jesus had been raised from the dead.
And thirdly, they were fearful of losing their power. You see, the Roman government, even though everybody was under the Roman boot, under Roman authority, the Romans left the Jews alone as long as they could maintain peace among themselves. But whenever there was a dispute among the Jews, the Romans stepped in and the Sadducees, the Sanhedrin were afraid that the teaching of the apostles about the resurrection would cause an internal dispute in Judaism and would cause them to have to relinquish their authority to Rome. For all of these reasons, they decided to try to silence the early church by jailing the apostles.
Now what happened? Look at this in verse 19, the apostles are in jail but it says "During the night an angel of the Lord opened the gates of the prison". To me that's so funny. Angels, which the Sadducees didn't believe in, freed the people that the Sadducees had put into jail and took them out of the jail. Now, this is the first of three times we see the apostles miraculously released from jail. Here, acts 12 when Peter had a similar experience and then acts 16, when Paul and Silas were in the jail in Philippi and were released. "The angel released them and said," verse 20, "Go stand and speak to the people in the temple the whole message of this life". We underline the word life.
Did you know that's what Christianity is about? It's not about some cold set of facts or cold doctrine that is unrelated to our existence. Christianity is about a life. It's about a way of life that is completely different than anything we can experience apart from Christ. Jesus said, "I'm the way, the truth," the what? "Life". Jesus said, "I have come that you might have" what? "Life". "And have it more abundantly". That was the message of the gospel the whole message of this life. "Go stand in the temple the angel said, where everybody can hear you and preach about this life. And upon hearing this, they entered into the temple about daybreak and began to teach".
Now, if you don't think God has a sense of humor watch what happens next beginning in verse 21. "Now, when the high priest and his associates came they called the Sanhedrin together, even all the senate of the sons of Israel and sent orders to the prison house for the apostles to be brought to them. 'go get those apostles we arrested earlier,' but the officers who came did not find the apostles in prison. And they returned and reported back saying, 'we found the prison house locked quite securely and the guards were standing at the doors but when we had opened up, we found no one inside'".
Do you remember that game we used to play as children where you'd take your fingers and intertwined them one another and you'd say "Here is the church, here is the steeple. Open the door. Here are the people". Well, the Jews had their own version of that. They said, "Here's the jail, here are the guards. Open the jail cell. And where are the apostles"? They had vanished. They couldn't believe what they saw. And now verse 25, "While these leaders were still scratching their heads trying to figure out where in the world those apostles had gone, a man comes running into the room breathlessly and saying, 'hey, you know those apostles you were looking for? They're out in front of the temple preaching the Word of God'".
Can't you see those Sadducees going, "Aye, ya, ya, ya. They're out? Go arrest them again and bring them here". "And so they bring the apostles again to the Sanhedrin and say, we told you to stop preaching in the name of Jesus. And now what are you doing? You have filled all of Jerusalem with this teaching". Ain't that a great compliment by a group of infidels? "You have filled the whole city with the teaching about Jesus". And so they tell Peter, they threaten him. "You've got to quit doing this". Did Peter call a prayer meeting with the apostles? "Oh, what should we do about this"? No, he didn't have to think twice. Acts 5:29 "Peter and the apostles answered we must obey God rather than men".
Now I'm going to say something here that's not going to be very popular with some of you and some of you watching, but that's okay. I'm not paid to be popular. I'm here to tell you what God's word says. The Bible says that our relationship to government ought to be one of obedience. That's what Paul said in Romans 13. He said, "Let every one of you be subject to the governing authorities for every governing authority is established by God and he who resist governing authorities resists God himself".
Now, that's an amazing statement that Paul wrote in Romans 13 to say that "Every governing authority has been established by God". It's amazing when you realize who the emperor of Rome was when Paul wrote those words, Nero, the most evil emperor in history, the one who used Christians as human torches to light up his gardens at night. And yet Paul was saying "A, Nero wouldn't be there if God hadn't put him there. He was established by God. And not only that, we're to obey what Nero tells us to do". Christians through the ages have always been known for being good citizens. And so the default position for a Christian ought to be to obey what the government tells us to do with one exception, and here's the exception, whenever government ask us to do something that violates not our political views, not our personal preferences, but whenever government asks us to do something that violates the commands from God's word, we are to say no to government and yes to God. And that's what this principle is here. We must obey God rather than men.
But Peter didn't let it rest there. He went on, he doubled down. Verse 30, "The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you had put to death by hanging him on a cross. He is the one whom God exalted to his right hand as prince and as Savior to grant repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses of these things and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him". And what was the response of those Jewish leaders? Look at verse 33, "When they heard this, they were cut to the quick and intended to kill the apostles". What a contrast to earlier in acts 2 when Peter preached at Pentecost. And remember the Bible says, "And the people who heard him were pierced through the heart with the message and they cried out, 'what shall we do'? And Peter said, repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins and you shall be saved. And they repented".
Here, instead of asking "What would God have us do"? These leader says "This is what we are going to do. We're going to murder the messengers. We're going to silence the message". They hardened themselves against God's word and would've annihilated the apostles right there had it not been for a man who stands up named Gamaliel. Gamaliel was the one of two most respected rabbis in this time. In fact, one of his disciples was a young Jewish zealot named Saul of Tarsus, whom will meet in a couple of chapters. But Gamaliel was highly respected and as the leaders were about to kill the apostles, Gamaliel stood up and said, "Wait just a minute before you overreact and you make a bad situation even worse, let's get some perspective here. This isn't such a big deal. Somebody claiming that somebody else is the Messiah.
Remember Theudas? Theudas claimed to be the Messiah. He gained about 400 followers," Gamaliel said, "But he ended up being executed himself, nothing happened. Or remember Judas from Galilee? He got a couple of dozen followers but nothing came of that either". And then in verse 38, acts 5 Gamaliel says, "So in this present case, I say to you, stay away from these men and let them alone for if this plan or action is of men, it will be overthrown. But if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them or else you may even be found fighting against God". Isn't that an interesting perspective from an unbeliever? "If it's not of God, it will fail. If it is of God, there's not one thing you're going to do to stop it".
How did they respond to that piece of advice? Look at verse 40. "And so the leaders took Gamaliel's advice and after calling the apostles in they flogged them and ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus and then they released them". Flogging was a light beating. They gave them a light beating. They gave them the perfunctory, "Don't ever do this again" and sent them on their way. And how did the apostles respond? Look at verse 41. "So they went about on their way from the presence of the council rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for his name and every day in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ".
One noted commentator likens these apostles to those funny birthday candles you get as a gag for a birthday cake. You put 'em on the cake, you light them, they look normal but the honoree tries to blow them out and he can't do it. You can't blow out these gag birthday cake candles. That's the way the apostles were. As much as the unbelievers threatened them, tried to silence them, extinguished their message, they were unsuccessful, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.
Now what does this have to do with us today? Remember, the Bible says, "All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution". That's true for you individually and it's true for us as a church. If you are living a God-honoring life you are going to face persecution. And there are four practical principles about persecution I want you to write down and remember this because you're going to need this at some point to remind yourself of this truth. First of all, first truth about persecution. Persecution is inevitable, expect it. It's inevitable, so expect it. Whenever you have an unstoppable force like the church moving in the opposite direction as an immovable object, like the world value system you're going to have a fiery collision, you just are. Because the value system of the world which is under Satan's control is totally opposite of the value system of God.