Acts 4:1-22, “No Good Deed Goes Unpunished”

Jeff Garrison

Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church

Acts 4:1-22

June 14, 2015

 

We all know the saying, “No good deed goes unpunished.” That’s what happens to Peter and John.  If you remember from last week, they go to the temple for prayers and as they enter find a man who has never walked.  The man asks for alms and having nothing to give, they give him what they have, the ability to call upon Jesus who heals the man.  People are amazed when they see this guy leaping around. This sets up an opportunity for Peter to give his second sermon that’s recorded in Acts.  Peter, with the guy who’d been healed holding on to his sleeve, addresses a crowd that has gathered around them on a patio or porch off to the side of the temple.  We heard all that last week.

Today, as we continue our journey through the Book of Acts, we learn what happens next.  Peter’s sermon is cut short when the temple authorities show up.  They thought they had done away with all this talk about Jesus when they conspired to have him nailed to the cross.  But now they learn that Jesus’ followers are continuing his ministry and this is upsetting to those in power.  Read Acts 4:1-22

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One of my all-time favorite movies is the Blues Brothers.  I’m sure many of you have seen it.  Jake, who has just been released from prison, joins up with his brother Elwood and the rest of their band as they strive to make enough money to pay off a tax lien on the orphanage where they’d grown up.  They finally get it together and have a large hall filled with paying guests anxious to hear the “Blues Brothers” and their hopping band.  But they are not the only ones who are there to meet the Blues Brothers.  Also in the crowd is another band, from whom they stole a gig, Jake’s ex-fiancé who is carrying a grudge of having been left at the altar, and a score of law enforcement officers.  The latter have guns, night sticks and handcuffs, and have blocked every entrance to the hall.  Jake and Elwood sends the crowd into a frenzy, forcing the police to stoically wait for an opportunity to pounce.  But it doesn’t happen that way, for Jake and Elwood escape through a tunnel that runs under the stage and, after a high speed chase across the state of Illinois, are only arrested after they have paid the orphanage’s taxes.

Now think about Peter and John in our story today.  Peter is in the middle of his sermon as the temple authorities along with the Sadducees, much like officers in the Blues Brothers, file onto the porch and cover every exit.  Of course, they don’t wait for the sermon to be over.  With the place secured, the Captain of the Temple and his henchmen step forward and arrest the two Apostles.  As it is at the end of the working day and who has time for bail (besides, we know they were out of cash when they’d been asked for alms), so the authorities toss Peter and John into jail.  But if they think they have done away with this Jesus’ menace, they are mistaken as Luke tells us that 5,000 people believe their message.  And it appears that they believe despite the messengers being under arrest.

The church is growing at an astonishing rate.  Because God is behind it, there is nothing the authorities can do to stop it.  But that doesn’t mean they don’t try.  After all, the devil doesn’t have to go after those who are bad…  But those who are a threat, like Peter and John, are singled out and persecuted.  No good deed goes unpunished.

The next day Peter and John along with the man who was healed are brought before the temple authorities for questioning.  They want to know how this man was healed, by what power or name they asked.  They set themselves up for an answer they won’t like.  Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, begin to speak and tells them the man was healed by Jesus…  but he doesn’t stop there, going on to make the point that Jesus was the one that they had crucified, but whom God has raised from the dead.  Then, to emphasize this point, he quotes a Psalm, the stone rejected by the builder has become the cornerstone.”[1]  He ends his defense by declaring that salvation can be from no other source.

The image Luke draws for us with his words in verse 13 is humorous.  Peter and John are bold, yet it is evident that they do not belong to the learned guild of those who are in authority over the temple.  They are fishermen.

Not knowing what to say to these two disciples and the healed man who is before them, they do what most good lawyers do (at least the good lawyers in courtroom dramas on TV), they call for a recess and gather in private to discuss the matter.  Since there is nothing they can come up with to punish Peter and John (and people would revolt if they punished someone who had helped one in such a need), they decide they’ll let them go but tell them to stop talking about Jesus!

Calling the Apostles back before them, they order Peter and John not to speak or teach about Jesus. Peter and John respond, essentially asking them who is in charge and saying that they can’t stop talking about what they’ve seen and heard.  The authorities let them go with a warning, but they go out praising God.  At the end of Chapter 4, we learn that the man healed at the beginning of Chapter 3, who had never walked in his life, is over 40 years old.  This guy who is leaping around isn’t, for this era, a young man.

It is interesting that nothing has been resolved.  If the powers that be thought this would end the teachings of Jesus, they were mistaken.

There are two things I want you to take from this passage.  First of all, it is a classic example of what happens when those who are in power are threatened.  The Jewish leaders felt threatened by Jesus.  Now they could have welcomed him and we could imagine how different the world might be, but that wasn’t what happened.  They stuck to what they felt was right, unwilling to look at what was happening before their eyes.

Are we not like that?  This is church, after all, and sometimes it is hard to get a church to change its ways of doing things.  I know, I have been the one designated to help lead change.  The best illustration that I’ve came up with in my last pastorate to describe this work is that trying to change a church is like steering a battleship with a canoe paddle.  It takes a while for the momentum to build up and the ship begins to turn.  Organizations fear change, but we need to remember that change is natural.

We change as we grow up and then as we grow older.  Technology changes, music changes, communication styles change, leadership changes, it’s natural.  So let’s not fear change.

Jesus gave the church its marching orders 2000 years ago.[2]  We are to make disciples.  And for all that time, the message remains the same, but the means to carry it out changes.  There were times people would sit for two, three or even four hour sermons (you’re thinking about your poor bottoms and I’m thinking about the poor preacher).  But that’s changed.  What do we need to change around here to reach people for Jesus Christ?  How can we be more effective?  What might we as individuals need to sacrifice in order to draw in new disciples?

Recently I was talking with some of our staff and this phrase came to me.  “Mission drives all that we do.”  We are here, not to maintain the status quo, but to be about God’s mission.  That was a lesson the authorities in Jerusalem didn’t understand in our reading today.

The second thing I want you to take from this passage is an understanding that when things are going in the right direction, there will be opposition.  From my experience, this seems to be the norm instead of the exception.  It seems as if Satan or the forces of evil don’t like things that are moving forward for good.

When there is excitement in the air and the spirit seems to be moving a congregation forward, it always seems that a wrench is tossed into the gears and things begin to flounder for a while.  What’s important when we face such challenges is that we not give up, or even let up.  We continue in faith, praying and encouraging one another.  There are those who don’t like the idea of change who will immediately jump up and say, “I told you so.”  If they have their way, the church’s movement in the right direction will stall.  If that had been allowed to happen 2000 years ago, the message would have never made it out of Jerusalem.  Because this is a God movement, it succeed.  As Jesus told the authorities on Palm Sunday, if the crowds didn’t shout, God would raise up stones to shout.[3]  If we don’t do God’s work, someone else will.

When I began this series on Acts, I told you it was about a journey.  As the church, we’re still on that journey.  William Easum, a church consultant, wrote a book a number of years ago titled, Sacred Cows make Gourmet Burgers.[4]  You know what a sacred cow is, don’t you?  It’s a program or a thing that’s holding us back but because someone has a vested interest—like the temple authorities in today’s reading.  Nobody is to challenge a sacred cow and it continues to drag the church down. With that in mind, we need to ask ourselves a few questions.  What is it that we need to be doing in our worship to attract new people?  How should we configure and utilize our buildings to make Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church appear open and welcoming to our community?  What groups of people on Skidaway Island or even across the bridge could benefit from our missionary outreach?  You see, it ain’t about us, it’s about reaching out and thereby, as Peter and John did when they left the temple, glorify God.  Amen.

 

©2015

[1] Psalm 118:22.

[2] Acts 1:8

[3] Luke 19:40

[4] William M. Easum, Sacred Cows Make Gourmet Burgers: Ministry Anytime, Anywhere, by Anyone (Nashville: Abingdon, 1995).


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