Can't help speaking about Jesus

Acts 4:1-31

6 February 2005

Woodley Baptist Church

Morning service


Please turn to Acts chapter 4 in your Bibles.

But just for a change, I'm not going to start by reading the Bible, but with a little quiz. Here are the slogans or vision statements for some organisations. Who can tell me who they belong to?

Companies often have corporate slogans too. What about these?

Even churches have vision statements these days. Can anyone tell me what ours is? Here's a clue: it's on the front of Take Note: "United in knowing Jesus and making him known" It bears a striking similarity to our former church's vision statement "To know Christ Jesus and to make him known", only I guess we weren't so united.

Organisations, companies and even churches use these slogans to encapsulate their distinctive values and set themselves apart from the rest. So it's interesting to ask, what would have been a suitable corporate slogan for the early church we find in Acts chapter 4?

I'm going to suggest that the slogan that pretty much encapsulates the distinctive character of that church is, "We can't help speaking about Jesus", which comes almost word for word from verse 20. So let's go through the passage and you can see whether you agree with me.

The story so far is that soon after the day of Pentecost Peter and John were going up to the temple which they were still in the habit of attending when they saw a crippled man. They healed the man in the name of Jesus and Peter made use of the attention this generated to preach a gospel message. We come in at the beginning of chapter 4 just after Peter has begun to make his final appeal to his hearers.

Because this is quite a long reading I'm going to read it scene by scene as we go, so it will be useful if you have a Bible to keep it close at hand. We start with an introductory scene, a prologue.

[Read verses 1-4ref]

So, the Sadducees have precipitated a crisis.

The presenting issue is that the Apostles were preaching about the resurrection of Christ, which offended the Sadducees' theology as they didn't believe in the resurrection of the dead. But they clearly suspected that there was more at stake as they considered it necessary to lock up Peter and John overnight.

The religious leaders wanted to find out just what sort of people this group of Christians was. Were they a simply a Jewish sect, that is, would they submit to the authority of the Sanhedrin? Or were they something quite different that couldn't be contained within the boundaries of the temple?

What exactly were the distinctives of this brand new faith? Let's find out by looking at the rest of the passage.

Enabled by the Spirit

So to scene 1 where we find that enabled by the Holy Spirit they couldn't help speaking boldly about Jesus

[Read verses 5-14ref]

Remember what Peter was like when he last had to give an account of himself in relation to Jesus? A servant girl looked at him and said "This man was with him." But he denied it. "Woman, I don't know him"ref. He answered a mere servant girl with a hot denial. And he did it two more times as well. What will he say now, confronted by this intimidating collection of high priest, former high priest, rulers, elders and teachers of the law?

When they ask him "By what power or what name did you do this"ref, Peter has a choice. He can deny again—it would be easy to say "It was by the power of Yahweh" , a half truth that would upset no-one. But he doesn't. Confidently, boldly, he answers in verse 10 "know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed."ref He could hardly be more specific or more provocative, could he?

And he doesn't stop there: he uses the opportunity to move from the healing of one man to salvation for all who believe, unable to miss a chance to preach the gospel.

What has come over him?

Well, the passage is clear in verse 8. Peter couldn't help speaking about Jesus because he was filled with the Holy Spirit.

This is a fulfilment of the promise of Jesus in Luke 12, When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should sayref.

What impressed the religious rulers was that Peter and John were unschooled, ordinary menref. That is, that they were not theologically trained. That Peter could speak like this—capably quoting the Old Testament, brilliantly moving from the healing of a man to the offer of salvation in Christ—is proof of the Spirit's power and enabling. If you knew only the Peter of the gospels you'd never have predicted this, would you? It's a great encouragement for us, isn't it? Enabled the Spirit he couldn't help speaking about Jesus.

Now, there is a lot of foolishness talked about what it means to be filled with the Holy Spirit, but the Bible is quite clear. With one exception, on every occasion in the Bible we are told that someone was filled with the Spirit what they were enabled to do was to speak, and to speak boldly. The sole exception is the craftsman Bezalel in the book of Exodus who is filled with the Holy Spirit to enable him to make fixtures and fittings for the Tabernacle of God, which is a specifically Old Testament way of bringing him glory. In the New Testament era we bring glory to God when we speak his word, and the content of the Spirit inspired word is always the message of Jesus.

This shouldn't surprise us, because the Spirit's work is always to point to Jesus. He never draws attention to himself. The Holy Spirit's sole desire was revealed to us in Acts chapter two, that Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.ref He always points to Jesus: he is God's signpost, and he makes us his signposts too.

So a spirituality where the Holy Spirit appears to be more prominent than Jesus—such as we see in some churches today—has got to be an unbalanced spirituality, hasn't it? We'd think a cult of worshipping a signpost, but never going to where it points very strange, wouldn't we, but that's where many are today.

No, If we have a true Holy Spirit spirituality we will find that we cannot help talking about Jesus! It's the mark of the truly spiritual person. It is what we do when God gives us the opportunity to speak for him—in the office or canteen at work, on the bus into town, when friends pop round to see us, over the garden fence with our neighbours—it is our readiness to talk about Jesus whenever we can that reveals the true measure of our spirituality.

The question is, how do we become that spiritual person? If we are not to focus on the Holy Spirit, as I believe the Bible encourages us not to, then how are we to become filled with him? And if we are not filled with him, how are we ever going to be able to speak boldly about Jesus?

These are good questions, and I'm going to put off answering them for a little while. Before that I want to look at the next section of the passage. If in the first scene the disciples couldn't help speaking about Jesus because they were enabled by the holy Spirit, then in the second scene we find that they were enthralled by Jesus.

Enthralled by Jesus

Enthralled by Jesus they couldn't help speaking boldly about him.

[Read verses 15-22ref]

The Jewish council, the Sanhedrin, were worried about this new movement which was gaining so much support and interest, but they still thought they could keep a lid on it, so they used their religious authority to command the Apostles to stop teaching or even speaking in the name of Jesus.

So, once again, Peter and John have a choice. Keep quiet and remain under the authority of the Jewish institutions, or to speak up and establish the distinctiveness of the new Christian church.

Their response, Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God's sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heardref.

Through their experience of life with Jesus—what they had seen and heard—they had become convinced that their message about him was the message of God.

Literally the verse reads "We are not able not to speak about what we've seen or heard". So, the apostles are enthralled, literally enslaved, by their experience of Jesus. They've shared their lives with him. They've become convinced of the truth of who he was, the very Son of God himself. They've witnessed his death. They've seen his resurrection. And they've understood the urgent, vital importance of these events for the entire world. They simply cannot keep it to themselves.

And if we are Christians our knowledge of Jesus is just as real as theirs. We may not have literally seen him with our eyes and heard him with our ears, but we are convinced that he lives within us. We have experienced his death and resurrection power in our lives. We have known the burden of our sins lifted as Jesus bore them on the cross. We have felt the joy of new life as we are united with him in his resurrection. We experience Jesus no less fully than Peter and John, and their words should be ours as well: "we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard" .

Let me tell you about a friend of mine, who comes from Pakistan where he was brought up as a Muslim. A few years ago he came to London as a student and read the Bible. As a result he became a Christian. My friend now had a problem. He could profess his Christian faith, in which case his family would certainly reject him, and it was extremely unlikely that he could ever return to Pakistan. He would lose everything. Or he could keep quiet about his new-found faith, and continue to live outwardly as a Muslim, while privately living as a Christian. What do you do?

Well, you know the the decision he made, otherwise I wouldn't be telling you his story. My friend knew that what Jesus had done for him was so important, so significant, that keeping quiet about him was not an option. He could not help speaking about Jesus, whatever it cost him, and it has cost him everything he has. He literally faces death if he ever returns to his home; he'll likely never see his family again.

Few of us will ever face a choice so stark. But when we do face the choice to speak or not to speak we will find that in fact we have no choice at all. If we truly know Christ we will be enthralled by him, simply not able not to speak of him. It is just not possible to be a hidden Christian, a silent Christian. Jesus is too good not to share!

All this matters, because the true message about Jesus will always be opposed, whether by religious people as in this case here, or by the world at large.

Our message is an offensive message. The message of Jesus is offensive because it starts by telling people that they are bad and need saving: You crucified him, as Peter puts it in verse 10. The message of Jesus strikes at peoples' pride, their most treasured possession.

And the message of Jesus is an exclusive message: salvation is found in no-one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be savedref. This is deeply offensive to people who invest their time and energy and lives in other imagined ways to God.

No wonder the Apostle Paul says of the messenger of the good news of Jesus, we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task?ref Which of us wants to risk being the stench of death among our colleagues, our friends, our neighbours, our families? Yet that is the only way in which we we can bring the fragrance of life to those who are being saved.

If we are enthralled by Jesus then, like the Apostles, we'll find that we can't help talking about him. It's rarely easy, and our message will be opposed wherever we speak it. In the face of this there's only one thing to do, isn't there? And that is exactly what the Apostles did next: they gathered the church together and prayed. And as they did so they found that entrusted by God the Father they couldn't help speaking boldly about Jesus

Entrusted by God

[Read verses 23-31ref]

The new Christian church was able to defy the Jewish leaders because they answered to a higher authority. They were convinced that God was now working through Jesus, not through the old way of things. The Jewish leadership's acts in conspiring against God's Anointed One had revealed that they were not on God's side at all: they had joined allegiance with the pagan nations who appear in the quotation from Psalm 2.

Sovereign Lordref, they begin their prayer, and it oozes with God's sovereignty, doesn't it? Even the death of Christ had been his initiative, not the world's. So they could trust God that the opposition they faced was also not outside his sovereign control.

This church was so convinced of the sovereignty of God that they trusted him not only to enable them to speak for him, but also to give them the opportunities on which to do so. The occasion of this particular opportunity had been the healing of the crippled man, and they pray to God that he would continue to work powerfully and miraculously to give them more and more opportunities to talk about Jesus. Not miracles for their own sakes, but miracles to support the message of Jesus. They prayed to God's agenda, not their own.

And as they put their trust in God, so God put his trust in them. He entrusted them with his message so they couldn't help speaking about Jesus.

How do our prayers as a church compare with this? Convinced of his sovereignty, do our prayers reflect God's agenda or more often our own?

If our prayers reflect God's agenda then they will centre around bringing his message to others. We will pray for ourselves to be enabled to speak his word, and we will pray for the opportunity to do so.

Now, this is the answer to the dilemma of how to be filled with the Spirit that I mentioned earlier, isn't it? If you long to be filled with the Holy Spirit then this is the way to go about it. This newborn church didn't pray to be filled with the Spirit as an end in itself—that would have been to totally misunderstand his work. What they prayed for was to be enabled to speak the word of God boldly. When their focus was completely on doing God's will it was then that they found that God filled them with his Spirit.

And that's the dynamic of true spirituality. As we become enthralled by Jesus, our heart's desire will be to tell others about him. When we bring our heart's desire to God in prayer he will entrust us with this work, and enable us to do so by filling us with his Spirit. In turn this will make us all the more enthralled by Jesus and so the dynamic builds. This is how to become a more spiritual person.

Actually, this is how to become a more spiritual church. Just in case anyone is tempted to think, "it's all very well for the Apostles, but it doesn't apply to me, does it" , have a look at verse 31: They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldlyref. The ministry of speaking about Jesus is not for some spiritual elite, but for any of us who knows him. If we are enthralled by Jesus and we trust in God he will entrust us with this work and enable us to do it by his Spirit.

But verse 31 contains a warning. As they prayed the place where they were meeting was shakenref. Are we prepared to be shaken up by God? Because that's what could happen if we start to pray prayers like this and mean them.


So, what about that slogan? Do you agree that the slogan "we can't help speaking about Jesus" encapsulates the character of this early church? Let me know if you have a better one.

And what about us? Our vision statement is "united in knowing Jesus and making him known". Wouldn't it be fantastic if that worked itself out in practice as Woodley Baptist Church—enabled by the Spirit, enthralled by Jesus and entrusted by God—becoming known as the church that can't help talking about Jesus?