>The following was preached at Veedersburg and Hillsboro UMC on Sunday, April 11, 2010. The text for this week’s message is Acts 5:27-32.

As you probably remember, and have no need for me to remind you, last week was Easter. And at Easter we remember what has to be the most significant event in all of human history – the resurrection of Jesus. Now, I don’t think that I’m blowing it out of proportion by calling it the “most significant event in all of human history” because, let’s face it, whether a person believes that it really happened or not, that person’s life has been affected by what has happened in the world since.
The world as we know it would not be the same if it had not been touched by the presence of Christianity, and Christianity as we know it would not exist had the resurrection never occurred. What happened in the weeks, months, years and decades following the events of that first Easter morning would leave a massive footprint in the pages of history. It created a seismic shift in the direction of the world.
Ironically enough, if you type in “seismic shift” into a search engine, like Google, you won’t find a lot of information on earthquakes. What you will see is a lot of metaphors referring to significant changes in the way something is done in the world, but not a lot of geology.
A seismic shift is a movement that literally transforms the earth. It occurs when something deep within the earth moves, or shifts, and in some cases, it sets off a chain reaction. The most obvious sign of a seismic shift is an earthquake. We’ve heard of a number of earthquakes all ready this year – Haiti, Turkey, Chile and Los Angeles are just a few of the areas that have been affected by movements within the earth. However, a seismic shift is not always a natural disaster just waiting to get reported on the news.
I looked up the average number of earthquakes that happen every year, and the number might astonish you. Between 2000-2008, there was an estimated average of just over 28,000 earthquakes each year. An overwhelming majority of these are so low in magnitude, or in areas so remote, that they aren’t even noticed. In fact, only about 120 total in that same time span registered higher than a 7.0 on the Richter Scale. I think it is important to point out that these shifts are happening everyday. One source I looked up said that there could be as many as 50 earthquakes each day.
It’s important for us to realize that things change after an earthquake. The devastation following the earthquake in Haiti has shown us that much. Buildings can collapse, roads can be damaged, and lives can be lost or changed forever. But perhaps of all the significant changes that have taken place in this world, there have been none with more of an impact than the resurrection.
Over the next three weeks, we are going to look at three events that happened after the resurrection. Today, we’ll look at the changes that happened in the disciples themselves. Next week, we’ll see how one man’s life was drastically changed by coming into contact with the risen Christ. And to close out the series, we’ll see how one of the most important aspects of the Jewish faith was changed. We’ll be spending a lot of time in the Book of Acts over the next three weeks, and what we will see are some shifts that made a major impact in the world. I know there has been a lot of background to this point, but I think it’s important that we set up where we are going this week, and then we won’t have as much in the next couple of weeks. Before we really dig into today’s passage, I’d like to look at a little background on the Book of Acts.
Acts is the second of a two-volume work in the New Testament, written about 62 A.D. The first volume is the Gospel of Luke. Both books are dedicated to a Theophilus, which could be a person’s real name, or it could be a code name, because Theophilus in Greek means “friend of God.”
Acts begins by following the stories of the disciples, or apostles, after the resurrection, but just a few chapters in, a new person is introduced and Acts transitions into telling this person’s story. That person is Saul, or Paul, who becomes a key figure in the movement of the early church. And we’ll look more at him next week.
The reason why Acts spends so much time tracing the story of Paul is not because the other disciples are irrelevant, but because Luke himself joined Paul for parts of the book. If you read carefully, you’ll come across a few sections where the first person plural “we” is used, which indicates that the author is a part of the story. But perhaps what is most important to know about Acts is that it gives us the roots of our history as Christians.
This is a story that informs us of where we come from, as far as our faith is concerned. It is a story of those who have gone before, and it is a story of encouragement as we set out to share the gospel in our own context. It is a testimony to the faithfulness of God in the midst of uncertainty. Today, we pick up that story in Acts 5.
We start this passage on the run. The disciples, now referred to as the apostles (I’ll use those terms interchangeably from here on out) are arrested for a second time in as many days. The previous day, they are thrown in prison and an angel releases them in the middle of the night, telling them to go to the Temple to share the gospel. They are arrested once again and brought before the Sanhedrin, which is the Jewish Council – the same Council that condemned Jesus to death. And, make no mistake here, the apostles are on trial. The language that is used points to it, and the way that things are conducted highlights it.
Luke tells us that they are standing in front of the Council. It was common practice for the Council to sit, and the accused would stand before them. They are then questioned by the high priest. The Council was the legal entity of the day. They were in charge of making judgements on those who were deemed to break the law, and they could sentence people who broke the law. The only exception is in cases involving the death penalty. In those cases, the Roman governor had to make the call, which is why the Council brought Jesus to Pilate prior to the crucifixion.
Having the apostles now stand before the Council is a complete reversal from where we see them during the night of Jesus’ arrest. If you’ll remember, on the night that Jesus was arrested, he told his disciples that they would all fall away. And in spite of the objections that Peter and the rest of the disciples put up, when the time came, they all fled. But on this side of the resurrection, instead of falling away, the apostles are standing. There was a significant shift that changed their world.
The high priest emphasizes that the Council had already strictly commanded the apostles to not teach any more about Jesus, but they have continued to “fill Jerusalem with their teaching.” As I was reading this, I couldn’t help but think of the prophet Jeremiah. In Jeremiah 20, he is lamenting the fact that he must share the words of the Lord because if he doesn’t, they burn within his heart so much that he can’t shut them up inside. He couldn’t help but relay the message of God, and that’s where the disciples are right now.
They couldn’t help but share the gospel with the people. They were just in prison for sharing the gospel; they are miraculously released; and they go right back to sharing it in the Temple. Now usually, I don’t know this from first-hand experience, but if a person breaks out of prison, they are gone. You don’t see them at the coffee shop across from the prison when the search begins. But the disciples couldn’t help it. They had to share the gospel. They were compelled to share the gospel. This also stands in complete contrast with where the disciples were right after the crucifixion.
Right after the crucifixion, the disciples locked themselves away so that the authorities couldn’t find them. Now, they are teaching right on the doorstep of the very people who are trying to arrest them. Not only are they standing when they once fell away, but now they are teaching in the open when before they were keeping silent behind a locked door. Again, there was a significant shift that changed their world.
Perhaps the biggest change that we see in the disciples comes across in Peter’s response to the high priest. Peter doesn’t hesitate in responding to the high priest, and he doesn’t hold back either. Peter looks right at him and says, “We must obey God rather than men.” In other words, “It doesn’t matter what you tell us to do, we have to listen to God and do what He says.” Peter then goes on to not only talk about Jesus being raised from the dead, but he points his finger squarely at the Council and says, “Jesus, you know who I’m talking about. The guy you killed by hanging him on a tree.”
Peter is very bold in what he says, which is totally unlike another pre-resurrection story in which Peter is questioned by a slave girl and denies knowing Jesus at all. You’re familiar with that story. After Jesus is arrested and while he is being questioned by this very same Council, Peter is in courtyard, and he denies Jesus three times. But now, when the stakes are so much higher – his very life is at stake – Peter is bold, even defiant in the face of the Council.
Peter says that God raised him from the dead and lifted him up, or exalted him, while the Council had him hung from a tree, which according to Deuteronomy 21:23 means he was cursed. And yet, in spite of this curse, which came upon Jesus for our sake, God raised him from the dead and exalted him so that we might be led to repentance and have forgiveness for our sins. And suddenly, we see the source of this shift.
This whole story has been about a remarkable turn around in Peter and the disciples. No longer do they fall away, no longer do they hide behind a locked door, no longer do they deny Jesus, but now they are standing in front of the Council, teaching in the wide open and boldly proclaiming Jesus’ name in spite of warnings and commands to do otherwise. You don’t just make changes like these in your life unless some major prompts it. There was a shift and that shift was the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
What we see in the disciples is a change that is not beyond our grasp. How many times in your life do you feel like you are hiding behind a locked door when it comes to your faith? How many excuses have we all come up with over the years that help us justify why we haven’t shared the gospel with those around us? How many times have we fallen away?
The good news is that there is no need to continue living like that because there has been a significant shift that has changed the world, and that shift is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Repentance and forgiveness are available because of what he has done on the cross. There is the possibility of a new life when we turn to the resurrected Christ.
And none of this is available without a significant shift in how the world works. You see, before Jesus, forgiveness was only temporary. All the animal sacrifices in the world could not atone for even a single sin. But in Jesus, one death atoned for all the sins of the world. That, my friends, is a significant shift.
After the resurrection, everything changed. The world changed. Because no longer were the old rules in effect. No longer was the religious heirarchy the way to get to God, but the path was open and through Jesus Christ one’s relationship with God could be restored. And here’s the most important thing to remember: that path is still open.
We can still be restored to a proper relationship. We can have forgiveness because the world has been changed. Because one event in human history a seismic shift took place, and the aftershocks are still reverberating today. May we all have the boldness to proclaim the name of Jesus because he has created a seismic shift in our own lives. May we all be so significantly affected by the resurrection of Jesus Christ that our lives will never look the same again.
Next week, we are going to look at a story of redemption that was brought about by the resurrection. We are going to see a man who was a zealous murderer turn into one of the greatest missionaries of all time. The story of Paul is one that shows us that a seismic shift can happen when and where we least expect it.