“And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand. On the next day their rulers and elders and scribes gathered together in Jerusalem, with Annas the high priest and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. And when they had set them in the midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, 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. This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. 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.” Acts 4:1-12 ESV
It doesn’t take much to offend some folks today. Just post your opinion on any one of several social media platforms and I promise someone will be offended. Unfortunately, many struggle with being civil when online discussions turn political, religious or even moral. In many ways, that’s the story at the heart of our text today. The Jewish religious leaders are offended by Peter’s sermon, but why? What’s so offensive in his words that they arrested Peter and John? The passage tells us that they were “greatly annoyed” because Peter and John were teaching and proclaiming the RESURRECTION of the dead in Jesus.
Their message was the cross of Christ and His resurrection. Are you offended, now? Maybe not. I suspect you might wonder why they would be offended by the Apostles’ teachings regarding these things. If you consider the reasons for these teachings then it becomes clearer. The cross of Christ was offensive, and still is, because it declares the truth regarding sin, guilt and judgment. At first glance, it clearly declares the sin, guilt and judgment of the Jewish leaders because they declared an innocent man guilty on false charges and demand the death penalty. But upon closer examination, it also declares our sin, guilt and judgment. Let’s take a look…
The cross of Christ is not just a Jewish miscarriage of justice that has captured the hearts and minds of some first century religious zealots (the Apostles) and become the subject of religious fervor and hype by their followers (past and present day Christians). That’s what the Jewish religious leaders wanted the crowds to hear and what modern skeptics would like you to believe. But the historical fact of Jesus’ resurrection points to something much, much deeper and significant. If the resurrection is fictional then the skeptics are right and the significance of Christ is reduced to a mere philosophical proposition that can be easily discounted and controlled. But if the resurrection is TRUE then the life, teachings and, even more significantly, the death of Christ MUST be understood and the implications and results MUST be applied to our lives.
When we understand the implications of Christ’s death then the truth of Peter’s sermon becomes clear and the offensive nature of the gospel begins to emerge. Peter has declared that Jesus is the Holy and Righteous one, the promised Messiah of Jewish scripture. These Jewish leaders specifically rejected Jesus because he didn’t meet their expectations of the Messiah. They had read the Old Testament prophecies and they expected the Messiah to come as a glorious King and deliver them from their enemies, the Romans. They longed for a Messiah who would resolve the political conflict of their existence, restore their rule over their homeland, and drive out and destroy their political enemies. Sound familiar? Sounds like the rhetoric of last week’s pre-election political promises and the post-election lament of both of our political parties.
However, they had discounted or glossed over all of the prophecies of the suffering Servant/Messiah and Jesus came and declared that the greatest enemy was not political but was their innate sinful nature, the idolatry of their selfish desires and their rejection of the absolute rule of God over their lives. In other words, the REAL problem wasn’t a hostile political climate or even the reality of political oppression but the problem was their sinful rejection of God. THAT was the offensive message of the gospel of Christ and still is. The problem isn’t “them”, the real problem in your life is you and your sinful nature. The issue isn’t what THEY are doing to you but what YOU are doing to God and how you are rejecting Him as Lord and God over your life.
You see, we have become very adept at creating a culture of victimization. What I mean is that we’ve created a false sense of always being the victim of someone else’s actions or failures. In other words, the problems in our lives are almost always someone else’s fault or the result of their failure to be kind, moral and just towards us. As a result, we look for someone to blame and even punish for our pain and struggles. Instead of seeing my sin and my selfish desires and actions as major contributing factors in my circumstances it becomes easy to blame culture, Congress, the President, the bully at school or at work, the boss, the ex-spouse, or the religious zealot/terrorist.
Please, please, please don’t misunderstand me here. I’m NOT saying these people are innocent and their actions are justified. I’m not saying the bully is justified in his/her bullying actions. I’m not saying your ex has no accountability for their actions or choices. I’m certainly not saying that our culture and politicians have not contributed to the mess we are in, because they have and do contribute, greatly. I AM saying that when we lose sight of our own sinfulness, when we develop a sense of personal superiority, when we become the product of a series of chemical, biological and cosmological accidents, when a just and holy God is no longer a factor in our lives then we reject the message and messenger of the gospel. When we reject the notion of personal sin then we fail to see ourselves as part of the problem. When we fail to see ourselves as part of the problem then we have no need of Jesus’ sacrificial death and we certainly have no need of forgiveness or the new life promised through the resurrection and then everyone and everything else is to blame for our circumstances and failures.
Peter and John weren’t arrested because they preached a message of social injustice or political failure. They were arrested because they preached a message of personal injustice and personal failure (what the Bible calls sin or rebellion against God’s authority over your life) that Jesus’ death confirms and His resurrection overcomes. That’s the message I need you to hear today. Jesus hasn’t come to make you happy or feel better. In fact, He didn’t even come to establish a democratic, personal freedom based political state. He came to restore life to your dead soul. He came to eradicate your sin and transform your thinking.
Jesus came to openly declare our sin and rebellion against God and to provide a pathway to restoration and forgiveness. That’s the offensive gospel; your life is broken by sin. That includes personal sin, corporate or social/shared sin, and even nature, biology and culture that’s corrupted by our sinful state. We’re broken and we live in a broken world. I’m fairly certain that statement doesn’t come as a shock to you. G.K. Chesterton once wrote, “Certain new theologians dispute original sin, which is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved.” His point ought to be obvious, the reality of the brokenness in our world. None of us disputes the brokenness of our world but we often argue the cause or source. The offense of the Gospel or the stumbling block, as Paul calls it, is that your personal sin and mine are factors in the brokenness of our world.
This offensive gospel is the one Peter shared on that day and the one for which he and John were arrested, and it is the same one I share with you, today. My sin and yours, the sin of our fathers, ourselves and of our sons, our sin is the cause of the brokenness in our world. It is easy to blame the sins and failures of others, it cuts much deeper when we recognize ourselves in that same sin. It is easy to blame the sin of slavery on ignorant men of the past, but it cuts deep when those same attitudes are recognized today in the virtual slavery of millions of Chinese factory workers who labor to satisfy our electronic gluttony. I say that even as I write these words on my iPad and anxiously await the arrival of the newest model. See, I told you it was offensive…
I will finish with one final observation from our text, one final issue that causes offense with the gospel. Peter observes that Jesus is not only the rejected stone that has been made the cornerstone, certainly offensive words to those who had rejected Him, but that He’s the ONLY source of redemption for man’s sin problems. Literally, there is salvation in no one else. In our pluralistic society of cultural relativism and tolerance, those words are highly offensive. In fact, they just might be more offensive to your ears than the issue of personal sin.
Many today have bought into the false notion that all religious views are of equal value and truth. However, truth is, by its very nature, an exclusive claim. To say that something is true is to expressly say that other things, thoughts or words are false. Our culture wants to make truth relative, your truth and my truth, and then they apply this same idea to religious beliefs. They say, all religions hold a nugget of truth but none of them has the full truth. But, in doing so, they are making an exclusive truth claim, the very thing they say we cannot do. They are claiming to know the real truth about religious beliefs while those who hold those religious beliefs are truly blind to the full truth (Google: Indian parable of the blind men and the elephant, for an example). In this parable, these religious men blindly grope the “elephant” of religious beliefs, but our cultural elite are able to discern the truth regarding religious beliefs.
Why is the message of Christ different and why are Christians so sure we are not blindly groping for God (like the men in the Indian parable)? Because Christ is not merely another human prophet declaring his version of a “path to God.” No, He is the very Son of God, the creator of the universe in human flesh, and the truth of the resurrection is the proof. That’s why Peter can emphatically proclaim, “there is salvation in no one else.” Other religious spokesmen may try and tell us what they’ve learned or experienced regarding God, but Jesus is God. When He speaks we hear God and when He acts we see God. That may be why some are offended, but it is also why our salvation is sure and our future secure. You can be offended or you can be redeemed, your choice.
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