Banner Logo


Sermon Graphic

Fourth Sunday of Easter
Light of Christ Anglican Church
The Rev. Jeffrey O. Cerar, April 26, 2015

That We May Speak Your Word with Boldness

TEXT: Acts 4:23-37

Whenever I get discouraged about the challenges of being a Christian in our modern world, I think of the first disciples and their remarkable example. In this morning’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we encountered Peter and John after they had just participated in a great miracle. They had prayed over a man who had been crippled from birth. He was carried to the equivalent of the town square every day so that he could beg. And Peter told the man, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” (Acts 3:6) And the man was healed on the spot. In response to the awe of the crowd that had witnessed this, Peter preached about Jesus, and two thousand people were saved that day.

The town fathers didn’t like it one bit. They put Peter and John in jail overnight and called them on the carpet the next morning. They couldn’t decide what to do with them. The miracle was undeniable, and many had witnessed it. So the rulers and elders ordered the two disciples not to teach or preach in the name of Jesus anymore. (Acts 4:18-22) And the disciples’ reply was, “We cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” The rulers and elders threatened them some more and let them go.

Once they were released, Peter and John went to be with their friends, and told the story of what had happened. And then they prayed together. And what did they pray? They went before the Lord and said,

And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus. [Acts 4:29-30]

We call this “the believers’ prayer.” Instead of asking for protection or an end to the threats, they asked for boldness to proclaim God’s Word.

In this prayer, they quoted from Isaiah:

“‘Why did the Gentiles rage,
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers were gathered together,
against the Lord and against his Anointed’—

Things are very much the same today. Does the word “Jihad” mean anything to you? Does the name ISIS ring a bell? The sands of Africa and the Middle East are soaked in the blood of Christians as the kings and rulers have gathered against the Lord and his people.

The believers’ prayer went on to say that God’s own people conspired with Herod and Pontius Pilate and the Gentiles against Jesus. “Look upon their threats,” the prayer says. Today we face threats from our own neighbors, and our own Pilates and Herods:

• Threats of daily fines for violation of laws that require paying for your employees’ abortion.

• Threats of ruinous internet campaigns,

• Debilitating lawsuits against Christian bakers, photographers and florists who refuse to participate in same-sex weddings. Just two days ago, a court in Portland, Oregon fined Melissa and Aaron Kline $135,000 for refusing, on religious grounds, to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.

The disciples in Jerusalem in the first century faced that same kind of persecution. And what did they pray for? They prayed “Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness....” And they prayed that God would stretch out His hand to heal, and perform signs and wonders in the name of Jesus.

And how did God answer their prayer? He shook the place in which they were staying, and they were filled with the Holy Spirit. And they spoke the Word of God with boldness.

What if they had not? What if the threats had shut them up and they had kept the Good News to themselves? We know what would have happened. The church would have withered away in one generation. And yet, because they were bold in their proclamation, the Church grew, and spread, and the Word of God passed down from generation to generation.

Throughout the centuries, people have been saved by the billions, and wonderful societal things have come about. Universities and hospitals are a product of the Christian faith. Johannes Guttenberg invented the printing press so that the Word of God could be mass-produced. Biblical values became the basis for much western culture. Our own nation was founded upon Biblical values.

But something dramatic is happening. The ground is shifting under our feet. Day after tomorrow, on April 28, the Supreme Court of the United States will hear oral argument on whether the states can, under our Constitution, define marriage as between one man and one woman. Is marriage, the fundamental institution of society, about to be redefined?

You have seen the insert in today’s worship booklet. Today, churches around the country are observing “Stand for Marriage Sunday.” We are preaching and praying about marriage as God ordained it in the beginning. The Book of Genesis lays it out for us:

• In Genesis 1, God tells us that He created man in His image and likeness. (Genesis 1:26)

• He made us to think and to love and to choose.

• He created us male and female. (Genesis 1:27)

• He declared that it is not good for the man to be alone, and so He created woman, and God declared that the two would become one flesh. (Genesis 2:24)

• And He decreed that we should multiply and populate the earth. (Genesis 1:28)

God shared with us the beautiful privilege and the awesome responsibility of creating life together with him by the union of man and woman. And the context in which He decreed that this would be so was in marriage. So from the very beginning, God ordained the marriage of a man and a woman and the family they would produce as the fundamental basis of society.

What we are experiencing today in our society is a complete breakdown in God’s order.

• Today, instead of waiting for marriage, the majority of couples live together before they get married. Many are having babies and not getting married.

• In 2012, 41% of all births were out-of-wedlock

• Half of all children are being raised in single-parent homes.

• And those single parents often have two or more jobs to make ends meet.

• That means that millions of children are growing up unsupervised by parents.

• Adultery is rampant, and has undermined the trust and stability of marriage.

• Half of all marriages break up in divorce.

• Teenaged girls are becoming pregnant in record numbers.

• Some are having their babies and some are aborting them. And the millions of babies killed each year by abortion are a devastating spiritual cost on our culture.

• And our society is reeling in confused sexuality. Twenty years ago, 70% of Americans strongly opposed marriage between two people of the same sex. Today, a majority thinks same-sex marriage is acceptable.

• Children are being introduced to homosexuality in schools across the country, being told how to experiment so that they can determine their sexual orientation.

• People are even confused about whether they are male or female. Society seems more and more comfortable with seeing gender as a matter of choice, rather than in terms of biblical and biological terms “male and female.” The parents of young children are giving them the freedom to choose whether they want to be boys or girls.

How has all this happened to our nation, founded upon Biblical values? There may be a number of reasons, but high on the list has to be the timidity of Christians, who no longer boldly proclaim the truth of God’s Word. Increasing opposition to God’s Word has driven many Christians into bunkers. But in a world that has always been opposed to God, every Christian has to be a witness. Boldness demands that we not be ashamed to proclaim that there is an unchanging truth, and that truth is found in the Word of God. And according to that truth, some things are right and some are wrong, because everything is either within God’s supreme will, or it is against God’s will.

Why, people ask, should Christians feel they can impose their values on non-Christians? The answer is that there is only one God, and He is sovereign. This is His world. He has revealed to us in the Bible what He commands of us. And He has said that when we disobey His command, things will go badly for us, individually and as nations. The worse things get, the more people turn and blame God and lash out at those who stand for God’s truth. Jesus told us plainly to expect opposition and difficulty, threats and even death.

• Jesus said that all people would hate us because of Him. (Matthew 10:22)

• He said that people would insult us and persecute us and falsely say all kinds of evil things against us because of Him. (Matthew 5:11)

• He said we would be betrayed even by our loved ones. (Luke 21:16)

• He said we would be hauled before governors and kings and forced to stand trial. (Luke 21:12)

All this came to pass right away, as we see in the Book of Acts. And the same is happening today in our own country. You have heard me speak about Barronelle Stutzman, that florist in Richland, Washington who is fighting in court for her economic livelihood. She is the one who told a long-time customer that she could not do the flower arrangements for his same-sex wedding, because her Christian belief is that marriage is only between a man and a woman. The couple sued her for discrimination. The Attorney General of Washington imposed a fine under Washington Law and sued not only Barronelle’s business, but her personally. This was the first time the state had ever sued an individual under that law. A judge has now ruled against Barronelle Stutzman and ordered her to pay the fine, as well as the attorney’s fees of both the couple who sued her and the State of Washington. These lawsuits are happening all over the country.

This is an earth-shaking development. It demonstrates what happens when God’s order of things is disregarded or turned on its head.

Many Christians who know that same-sex marriage is totally at odds with God’s Word have been hiding in their churches, saying, “This isn’t going to affect me.” Many who oppose abortion have done the same thing, thinking, “As long as I am clear on my moral choice, why should I tell anyone else what to do?” But it isn’t that simple. Now Christians are being told their livelihoods are in the balance if they don’t go along with the new cultural perspectives. Not only must you tolerate ungodly behavior, but you will soon be forced to celebrate it.

There is only one thing that can reverse this trend. It’s called a moral transformation. And it can happen. One of the things God has revealed about Himself in His Word is that He is the God of transformation. And the way God brings about transformation is through spiritual awakening. Spiritual awakening happens when believers seek the power of the Holy Spirit in prayer, and proclaim the Word of God with boldness. The Holy Spirit shook the place where the first believers were praying, and He can shake up this nation.

And not only will the Holy Spirit give us boldness. He will also give us love. For we must speak the truth in love. Remember, God made us in His image and likeness. And God is love. (1 John 4:8) That is why He commands us to love our neighbors. He loves them so much that He sent His only Son into the world to die for their sins, just as He did for yours. He offers them eternal life, just as He does you. We are not going to prepare the ground for God to transform our culture by being nasty or hateful or shrill. We are going to have to speak the truth in love. Speaking God’s Word with boldness means to show people that no matter who they are or what their circumstances, God loves them, and stands ready to forgive them, and to transform their lives. We believers are called to display that by the way we live.

Baronelle Stutzmann has demonstrated love all through her ordeal. This man whose wedding she wouldn’t do was a long-time customer. She had sold him flowers for nine years. She knew he was gay, and she had always treated him as a valued friend. When he asked her to arrange the flowers for his wedding, she took his hands in hers and spoke lovingly to him and said how sorry she was that she couldn’t do that because of her faith. She referred him to a nearby florist whom she was sure would arrange the flowers for him.

Clearly, Barronelle paid the price. The man misunderstood love. His partner was angry enough to sue. The Attorney General wanted to make a point. And a vicious Facebook campaign was waged against her and her business. But she has stood firm. God bless her. And God bless the many others around the country who are standing firm as well.

And that is the message for all of us this morning.

• If we love the Lord, we will be His witnesses, as He commanded.

• If we love our country, we will pray and speak and act for a spiritual awakening.

• If we love our neighbor, we will speak the truth in love.

We can expect to pay a price. And if we do, we can “count it all joy;” for it is a privilege to suffer for boldly sharing God’s love. It is a privilege, because the God in whose image and likeness we are made suffered us. And because God loves us, He will be there for us, and He will be there with us. Jesus promised us that, even if we lose our life, like those brave Christians standing firm for Him in Iraq and Egypt, not a hair on our head will perish. “By standing firm,” He promised, “you will gain life.” (Luke 21:18-19)

Stick to the story.

It’s a good story.

It’s the right story.

It’s the true story.

Tell it with boldness.

Tell it in love.

It really matters.

© Jeffrey O. Cerar 2015

Return to top

Sermon Archives