March 17, 2019
Pastor Jeff Struecker
I want you to think back to the first time you were on a roller coaster or a water slide. I want you to think about what was going through your mind before you left the platform and went down that water slide for the very first time. Were you terrified? Were you hanging on to someone or to something for dear life? Were you freaking out about what was about to happen? Can you think back to the very first time that you went down a roller coaster or a water slide? When you start to think about going down that water slide or that roller coaster, it’s a bit thrilling, but it’s also a bit terrifying.
Look at this picture. Did some mom or dad really just take a picture of their son like this? That’s the worst parent in the world because this child is terrified about going down this water slide. He’s freaking out about what’s about to happen to him next. The only thing worse that a parent could possibly do than to snap a photo like this and put it on Instagram this morning is to allow their child to do something like this…
I don’t even know what this picture is. I was searching on the Internet for people who were hanging on for dear life, and then this picture came up. Now I’ve got fifty questions about this photo because I’m trying to figure out, what on earth could she possibly be doing? It apparently looks like everybody else in the photo is having a good time, but not this girl. She’s terrified and hanging on for dear life. In fact, I was thinking to myself, Are those donkeys on a gym floor? If this is a school class, what class could possibly put donkeys on a gym floor? If she’s getting a letter grade for this, I’m certain this girl is going to get an F, because she’s terrified about riding these donkeys across the gym floor. I think I would be too. She’s the only one in the room who knows what’s going on. Everybody else is having a good time.
Let’s just be honest for a second, can we? Sometimes grabbing ahold and hanging on to control is not just something that we do as little children. We still do this as adults. In fact, sometimes we get older in life, but we still hang on, and we still try to control circumstances just like we did when we were children. You probably know people who are still trying to control things that are way out of their control, still trying to control people they have no control over. I just really want to ask you this question: When stuff starts to spin out of control in your life, which is harder? Is it harder to hang on and grab ahold for dear life? Or, when stuff is really going bad, is it harder to just let control go and trust things into God’s hands? Which is more difficult to do?
I would like for you to commit this to memory, or a least remind yourself because this week, my guess is you’re going to be in one of those circumstances where stuff isn’t going the way you want it to go. Now you have to decide, is it tougher to just let go, or am I going to sit there and hang on to things that I don’t have any control over? I will tell you, the truly strong woman, the really strong guy, is the one who learns to have enough strength to let go and to turn over the circumstances or the people that you really have no control over.
We’re studying through the book of Acts. Today we’re going to be in Acts chapter five. I deliberately split last week’s sermon in half because today you’re going to see an epic battle for control. Today, you’re going to see two groups of people, two groups of men, that are trying to learn how to handle control. You’ll see the apostles and how they deal with this. Then you’ll see the religious leaders in Jerusalem and how they try to handle control. I think there are some things that we can learn today from these two groups.
My challenge for all of us is to let go of areas of your life that you don’t have any control over. Just let go of those areas. If you’re saying, “Jeff, that’s a lot easier said than done.” I get it. I realize that. So, let me see if I can break this down into three smaller steps. If you can do these three smaller steps, then maybe it will help you do the big thing, which is giving control back to God of the areas of your life that he deserves control over.
I. Let go of fame
Let go of your reputation. Let go of all of the people and their opinions about you. If you were with us last week, I talked about those haters that will say some ugly, hateful things about you on social media. I hope some of you took the challenge last week and deleted your social media accounts and ignored what other people think about you. Today in the Bible, when you see a group of guys who are getting serious about reaching their community for Jesus, their reputation is on the line.
In fact, the apostles have a lot more than just their reputation on the line. When you and I start to do this, when we start to get serious about reaching people for Jesus, it will impact our reputation. It may even cost you more than your reputation. Look at what it cost these apostles to talk to people about Jesus. Look at the sacrifice they had to make.
When the high priest and those who were with him arrived, they convened the Sanhedrin—the full council of the Israelites—and sent orders to the jail to have them brought. 22 But when the servants got there, they did not find them in the jail, so they returned and reported, 23 “We found the jail securely locked, with the guards standing in front of the doors, but when we opened them, we found no one inside.” 24 As the captain of the temple police and the chief priests heard these things, they were baffled about them, wondering what would come of this.
Last week the apostles of Jesus were in the Temple. They were teaching and preaching that Jesus is the only way to heaven. The religious leaders got so mad that they arrested them and threw them in jail. But last week, God supernaturally rescued his people by sending an angel to deliver them out of jail and set them free.
Now, please don’t rush over this last phrase in verse 24 because it’s talking about what would come of this. If you were a Temple police officer or the chief of the Temple police, what you’re reading right now is a capital offense, and they would say something like this: “We arrested these guys and put them in jail. We expected you by your own life to make sure that these guys stayed in jail. Now you’re telling me that the guys are no longer there. You messed up, and this should cost you your head on the chopping block for the fact that these guys are no longer in jail.”
What blows my mind today is the Bible is telling us, not only are these guys not in jail, not only did the angel rescue these guys, not only did the angel unlock the doors, but apparently he locked the doors behind them, and the guards that were standing at the doors didn’t even notice as all of the apostles are let go. If you are the chief of the Temple police, you’re freaking out because you’re thinking you’re going to lose your life for the fact that these guys are no longer in prison. If you’re the high priest and the Sanhedrin, you’re starting to feel pretty silly about yourself right now because you just condemned a group of people, sentenced them to jail, and they’re not there right now. Now you’re starting to look pretty silly in front of the crowds. In other words, your reputation is now starting to be impacted or affected by this whole thing.
They decide to have this emergency session, this convening of the Sanhedrin. Think about it like an emergency session of Congress where the Supreme Court and the President show up, except for this one is more urgent than border security. This one is trying to figure out, “What are we going to do about these guys who are preaching a message and it’s undermining our authority?” Listen for a second. One person didn’t get invited to this Sanhedrin meeting. One person wasn’t on the invite list, and that one person was the Holy Spirit.
Today, what you cannot miss from the Bible is, the only voice that matters is the voice of the Holy Spirit. It doesn’t matter what all of these religious leaders think. It doesn’t matter what everybody else is saying about me. That’s the only voice that matters. These religious leaders are trying to figure out how to control the masses, and in the process, they end up on the wrong side of what the Holy Spirit is doing and how the Holy Spirit is speaking to his people. The only thing that matters in your life tomorrow and next week is listening to the Holy Spirit, even if it’s going to cost you your reputation.
It takes great courage to do what you see the disciples doing. In fact, I want to challenge you this week. Don’t listen to the other voices that are trying to get your attention. Don’t give in to those voices. There’s only one voice that matters. -the voice of God’s Holy Spirit. Listen intently to what he’s saying. Let the chips fall where they may. Let the fame go to King Jesus, and don’t worry about what other people have to say about you.
II. Let go of the games
Let go of the control that is the game of religion. Now, if you’re new to church, let me just explain it to you this way: If this is your first day ever walking into a church in your life, religion is a game that is rigged to cause you to fail. Ultimately, all religions fall into this one category of setting rules to try to make you be a good boy or a good girl. “Do this, and you’re good. Don’t do that, and you’re a good person.” Ultimately, religious leaders try to control people by setting rules. The problem with that is, Jesus came to do away with the rules. In fact, if you understand the New Testament, you know that Jesus came to eliminate the desire or even the hope of following the law. You can’t accomplish the law. He came to give you one rule: Love God with every fiber of your being, and love your neighbor as yourself. One rule: You do that thing, and you just accomplished all that you’ve been asked to do.
So, I think I really want to say it to you this way before we even look at what verse twenty-five has to say next. Listen to me, and please don’t forget this: Religion comes to set rules, but Jesus set me free. A religion is designed to create some rules to cause you to be a good boy or a good girl. Jesus, on the other hand, came to accomplish all of those rules for you and to set you free from having to try to follow them yourself.
Someone came and reported to them, “Look! The men you put in jail are standing in the temple and teaching the people.” 26 Then the commander went with the servants and brought them in without force, because they were afraid the people might stone them. 27 After they brought them in, they had them stand before the Sanhedrin, and the high priest asked, 28 “Didn’t we strictly order you not to teach in this name? Look, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.”
Picture this in your mind: You were arrested last night for preaching that Jesus is the only way to heaven in the Temple. You were thrown into prison. God supernaturally rescued you from prison and sent you right back to the Temple with the same message. When they look for the apostles, they can’t find them because the prison cell is empty. You can imagine how frustrating, how mind boggling it is when somebody walks into the Sanhedrin and says, “Hey, y’all! You know the guys that we were looking for? They’re right back in the same spot where we arrested them, doing the exact same thing that we arrested them for. If you want to find them, that’s where you need to go.”
Is it any wonder, then, that when they get the apostles, they kind of carefully, delicately, ask them politely to come stand before the Sanhedrin?- because now they start to get scared. What happens if this crowd turns against us?
Now is where you see this epic battle for control, because the religious leaders are setting some rules here, and Jesus’s followers are just not playing the game. The high priest said, “We ordered you with all of the power and all of the authority that comes with the religious leadership of our day. We ordered you not to do what you guys were doing. We arrested you for it, threw you in jail for it. Now you’re doing it all over again. You’re filling all of Jerusalem with this guy’s teachings.”
Now I’m glad that I wasn’t in the room because I think if I were one of the apostles, I would’ve just started giggling at this point. Like, “Ha ha ha ha. You thought you were criticizing us, but really, you just complimented us because that’s exactly what we’re trying to do. We’re actually trying to fill all of Jerusalem what Jesus’s teachings.”
Calvary is trying to be a church that teaches Jesus and Jesus’s blood alone is what can make a man or a woman right with God. We don’t preach self-help and “be a good person” around here. That dead religion doesn’t accomplish anything. Not only are we trying to teach it in this room, we’re trying to take it to every corner of the Chattahoochee Valley and all over the world. I would have laughed in their faces, “Yes, of course, we’re filling Jerusalem with this man’s teachings. That’s exactly what we were trying to do.”
Now you see the real battle for who’s setting the rules, which I guess makes me wonder, who sets the rules in your life? Now, please don’t take this question too lightly because it is supremely important. Who has the final say so in the way that you live? Is it the Supreme Court of the United States? Is it your boss at work? Or if you’re in college, is it your professor? Do they have the final say in how you live your life? Or how about somebody in this church? Is it the pastors and the elders of this church who have the final vote on how you live your life? When you get up tomorrow, who has the ultimate authority to set the rules of your life?
Because the truth is, if you’re listening to any other voice, you’re listening to the wrong voice. I’m going to say it to us again. Religion sets rules and tries to control people. Jesus came to set people free, and God knows we need to be set free from people who are trying to control your life, from religious people who are trying to set some rules on your life.
Can I be honest with you? When it comes to persecution, you don’t play by the rules anymore. Look, you can claim to be a good religious person all you want and try to follow those rules, but when it starts to hurt bad, the rules go right out the window. When you start to suffer for what you believe, there’s no faking it anymore. Persecution is where religion goes to die because people will ultimately, always behave what they believe when they start to have to suffer for it. In the Bible, what Jesus is challenging us to do is to turn control over to him and don’t play by the games of dead religion. Don’t listen to how those religious leaders are trying to control you.
III. Let go of shame
I need to do a Bible word explanation because in the Bible, you have the word shame. Then you have the word guilt. In the last verse, the religious leaders are saying, “Hey, you apostles are trying to make us guilty of this man’s blood.” In just a second, you’re going to see they’re going to try to shame the apostles into no longer teaching about Jesus. The apostles turn the tables on the very discussion and make sure that the religious leaders know who’s ultimately guilty.
Let me explain it to you this way: In the Bible, the word shame always refers to one person trying to shame another person. But in the Bible, the word guilt is always in connection with you or me and our sin. In other words, shame is between person to person, whereas guilt is between person and God. The religious leaders are going to try to shame the apostles to see if that will cause them to stop teaching about Jesus.
Peter and the apostles replied, “We must obey God rather than people. 30 The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had murdered by hanging him on a tree. 31 God exalted this man to his right hand as ruler and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 32 We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.”
Peter is saying, “We are on the side of the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit himself will testify that what we’re saying is true.” Now Peter is comparing and contrasting. He’s turning the tables. “You’re trying to shame us to stop us from talking. Let me tell you about your guilt, religious leaders. You sentenced an innocent man to die. But he wasn’t just a man. He was the Son of God. You murdered him and had him publicly disgraced on a cross. God exalted the one who you killed and raised him up as the Savior of all the world. We don’t have a choice. This is easy. We must obey him, and that means we must disobey you. This is an easy decision for us.”
I’m so glad that Michael just sang that short chorus “Trust and Obey” a few seconds ago. The truth is that that chorus is backwards. Did you know that real trust comes after obedience? Really the hymn writers should have said, “Obey and trust is the only way to be happy in Jesus,” because it’s as you start to obey him, that he starts to show you how trustworthy he is. The more that you obey, the deeper your trust goes. It’s through obeying that you start to trust him more.
Peter is saying, “I have no choice.” The apostles are saying, “You made this really easy on us. If obeying God means disobeying you, then we’re going to have no choice but to just obey God here, and that means to disobey you.” This is how their relationship with Jesus grows deeper and deeper through obedience.
I’m going to remind you of something. When God saved you, it wasn’t just because you believed in something. He chose you, saved you, rescued you so that you would become someone. Here’s how it works: First, he calls you out of your sin. Then he starts to challenge you and change you by obeying him. Ultimately, he molds you and changes you into a new person, and you become somebody totally different. This is exactly what you’re seeing in the Bible today. Please, for your sake, don’t let somebody shame you. Don’t listen to the voices of other people. Simply trust and listen to the voice of Jesus and Jesus alone. Trust Jesus, and let the chips fall where they may, which is exactly what you see from the apostles.
• I have never totally surrendered to Jesus. Today, I turn it all over to him for the first time.
– I am struggling with control. Pray that I will surrender control to Jesus this week.
+ I will be bold for Jesus this week.
- Is there anything over which you will have total control tomorrow? Be specific.
- Can you trust someone totally if he or she has hurt you in the past? Explain your answer.
- Is it wrong to want other people to like you? At what point does the desire for approval become unhealthy?
- Can you point attention to yourself and to Jesus at the same time? Explain your answer.
- Read John 14:15: a. Why does Jesus link obedience to love? b. Can you say you love Jesus and knowingly disobey him at the same time?
- Is there a difference between practicing a religion and following Jesus? If so, explain the difference.
- Pray for a deeper trust in Jesus through greater obedience this week.