Overcoming Obstacles to the Gospel
TITLE: Overcoming Obstacles to the Gospel
TEXT: Acts 4
TASK: To encourage believers to implement biblical principles effective in overcoming obstacles to the Gospel.
TEACH: In its early days, Christianity faced severe persecution and resistance from the Roman Empire, which viewed it as a threat to its power and unity. Despite the hardships, early Christian communities persevered and continued to spread their message, often facing persecution, imprisonment, and even death. They held secret underground meetings, worshiped in catacombs, and relied on clandestine communication to sustain their faith. The early Christians remained steadfast in their beliefs, even under the threat of persecution, and their commitment eventually led to the conversion of many prominent individuals within the Roman Empire, including Emperor Constantine.
Where did these believers find such an example of faithfulness? One such example is found here in Acts 4, let’s take a look. (Read Acts 4)
TRUTH: Jerusalem was a bustling and significant city. According to Josephus, the populations of adult male scholarly sects were as follows: over 6,000 Pharisees, more than 4,000 Essenes and "a few" Sadducees. New Testament scholar Cousland notes that "recent estimates of the population of Jerusalem suggest something in the neighborhood of a hundred thousand".
Here are more interesting facts about the city….
1. Religious Center: Jerusalem was the religious center for Judaism, with the Temple as its focus. The Temple, which was central to Jewish worship, played a pivotal role in the lives and practices of the people. The Apostles continued to worship at the temple because they saw Christ as its fulfillment.
2. Multicultural and Multilingual: Jerusalem attracted people from various regions and cultures due to both its religious significance and its political importance as the capital of Judea. As a result, the city was a melting pot of different languages, traditions, and customs.
3. Pilgrimages: Jerusalem drew Jewish pilgrims from near and far, especially during religious festivals like Passover, Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles. These pilgrims would come to the Temple to offer sacrifices and participate in religious ceremonies.
4. Tensions and Political Unrest: Jerusalem was under Roman rule during this period, which often resulted in tensions between the inhabitants and the occupying forces. The Jewish population longed for independence and resented foreign control.
5. Opposing Religious Sects: Jerusalem was home to various religious sects, including Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes, which often differed in their interpretations of Jewish law and theology. Conflict and debates among these groups were not uncommon.
6. Apostolic Activity: Jerusalem played a central role in the early Christian movement, particularly after Jesus' resurrection. The apostles gathered and preached in Jerusalem, attracting both Jewish converts and a growing number of Gentile believers.
7. Events and Persecutions: Jerusalem witnessed significant events like the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, and the subsequent persecution of early Christians at the hands of religious and political authorities.
8. Roman Influence: While Jerusalem had its own distinct Jewish identity, it also experienced influence from Roman culture and practices. Roman soldiers were stationed in the city, and Roman laws often impacted daily life.
Understanding the context of Jerusalem in the days of the apostles helps to provide a backdrop for understanding the challenges and opportunities faced by the early Christian community as they shared the message of Jesus Christ.
One such obstacle the Apostles needed to overcome is found in Acts 4. Here Peter’s sermon, which was a summons for Israel to repent (3:12-26) is met with hostility from the current leadership in Israel (4:1-3) who objects to their theology (4:2). Many had responded to the gospel, but the religious elite saw this as a threat to their man-centered religious practices.
Some refer to this as the first persecution of believers in Acts.
I. Scene One: The Religious Elite Arrest the Apostles (1-3)
a. There was a sudden interruption. Apparently, the temple authorities had been watching the growing crowd with increasing apprehension and had caught parts of Peter’s message, which angered them greatly. They were determined to put a stop to it.
b. The captain of the Temple was a important Jewish official. He would have only been outranked by the High Priest. The Sadducees were a key Jewish sect in New Testament times. Even though few in number, they were aristocratic, wealthy, and influential. As a matter of fact, the High Priest was usually drawn from their ranks. They were politically motivated and collaborated with the occupying Roman power.
c. “Wherever the Sadducees appear in history, in the Jewish state they are always bargaining, compromising, welcoming and supporting the alien conquerors in order to keep themselves rich and affluent, and in the leadership among the nations.” (Criswell)
d. However, in their theology they denied the supernatural, which meant, they denied the resurrection of Christ. The first rejection of Christ was at the hands of the Pharisees and now the second rejection of Christ by Israel is at the hands of the Sadducees.
e. Rather than confess their failure they instead chose to persecute the Apostles. It was about 3 o clock in the afternoon when all this went down. Hours had gone by, and now it was evening. Because it was getting late the authorities locked them up. The preachers were arrested but the Word of God was not bound. By this time the word of thousands saved would have reached the Apostles.
f. (5000 saved) “The insertion of this parenthetical statement in the narrative suggests in the most striking and exhilarating manner God’s sovereign independence even of his chosen and most highly honored instruments.” -J.A. Alexander
II. Scene Two: The Political Elite Confront the Apostles (5-12)
a. This was the gathering of Sanhedrin (means: Session). It was convened in the council chamber in the building west of the Temple. What a crowd gathered to confront two street preachers who were also Galilean fishermen.
b. The Sanhedrin was composed of seventy-two members -the High Priest being the presiding leader of the court. Annas was the previous High Priest. He had held the office for nine years. Caiaphas was the son-in-law of Annas, he was the one who handed Christ over to Pilate.
c. Then the question comes: “by what name”? Peter boldly proclaimed, “You want to know where the power came from the make a lame man leap? It came from the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.” Peter did not stop there, but continued, “You crucified Him.” This is same Peter who shuttered before a little girl in his denial of Christ. Yet, we see the power of the infilling of the Holy Spirit.
d. One can see the wonderful exaltation of the name of Christ in poetry.
I know a soul that is steeped in sin,
That no man’s art can cure;
But I know a Name, a Name, a Name
That can make that soul all pure.
I know a life that is lost to God,
Bound down by the things of earth;
But I know a Name, a Name, a Name,
That can give that soul new birth.
I know of lands that are sunk in shame,
Of hearts that faint and tire;
But I know a Name, a Name, a Name,
That can set those lands on fire.
There is a name I love to hear,
I love to sing its worth;
It sounds like music in mine ear,
The sweetest name on earth.
- Fredrick Whitefield
Observation: In the face of formidable opposition, we must proclaim the name faithfully.
e. Yes there is power in the name of Jesus. It’s a name that will bring healing to our hearts and to our weary souls. When we have affliction, we should proclaim His name. When we receive a negative diagnosis, we should proclaim His name. When you are frustrated, proclaim His name. When you feel helpless, proclaim His name. When you are tempted, proclaim His name. His name is the name above every name.
III. Scene Three: The Resolution of their Examination (13-22)
a. There was no denying the power of Peter in proclaiming the gospel. Peter used the Scripture like a surgeon scalpel dissecting their hearts. They knew they had an authority higher than that of the Sanhedrin, which caused them to stand boldly in the face of the nations richest, ablest, most aristocratic, educated and powerful. It was the nations Supreme Court. Yet, they stood as ambassadors of the courts of heaven.
b. Nor was the any denying that these men had been with Jesus. They walked with him; they talked like him. No higher compliment could ever be paid to these men. Their enemies identified them with Jesus.
c. Amazingly enough, the lame man -healed was still with Peter and John, identifying himself with those who had led him to the Lord. He could have easily had slipped away in the crowd after being healed, but he did not! He wanted to be with the Lord’s people. Without saying a word he added his testimony.
d. Here we have the first account of civil disobedience in the NT. The authorities thought they could stifle the Apostles, or Christianity as a whole by merely making it illegal to mention the name of Jesus. They could not have been more wrong. Believers must be willing to draw the line. Peter put the decision back on them.
Observation: In the face of obstacles, we must posture ourselves spiritually.
IV. Scene Four: The Communities Reaction (23-31)
a. Peter and John now relate to the whole body of believers what had happened. Perhaps, they had hoped for the whole nation to repent and believer, but that would not be the case. Here we begin to see the church separate from Judaism.
b. The whole congregation of believers now gave themselves over to prayer and praise. They praised God for being the omnipotent creator of the universe. Thus, from their perspective the Sanhedrin had no power. Their threats were weak.
c. They also praise God for being omniscience by highlighting His prophetic foreknowledge. The quotation is from Psalm 2, which is a messianic psalm to further display the utter futility of their actions. Everything that has transpired is according to the predetermined plan of God.
d. However, praise soon gave way to prayer. The future looked dire for this early congregation. They had seen what the Sanhedrin was capable of (they crucified Christ), their future contained beatings, imprisonments, and death. They simply asked God to give them courage.
e. The answer to their prayers was instantaneous. The Holy Spirit was present in power, and the whole meeting place shook.
f. “Their actions corresponded to their praying. They plunged into a world of paganism, idolatry, imperialism, slavery, and depression with indescribable zeal. They were unafraid as they challenged the Roman government itself, and even the whole system of world religion. They did this all under the mandate of heaven.” – (Criswell, pg. 167).
Observation: In the face of obstacles, we must pray fervently.
f. This was not all the early congregation did. They also united. It’s here that we see the real work of the Spirit. The motivation was Christian love and community. There is not a better demonstration of the unity of the Body at work.
g. They had mutual care, concern, and compassion for one another. No wonder people wanted to be a part of it.
h. The only principle that works every time is love.
Observation: In the face of obstacles, we must participate in community lovingly.
TAKE-AWAY: In order to overcome obstacles to the gospel…..
1. We must proclaim His name faithfully.
2. We must posture ourselves spiritually.
3. We must pray together fervently.
4. We must participate in community lovingly.
TIE-UP: The Edict of Milan in 313 AD, issued by Emperor Constantine, marked a significant turning point when Christianity was officially tolerated within the Roman Empire. This tolerance eventually led to the conversion of Constantine himself and the eventual establishment of Christianity as the state religion.
The early Christians' resilience, commitment to their faith, and refusal to renounce their beliefs in the face of adversity played a crucial role in the expansion of Christianity. Despite the persecution, their unwavering dedication led to the solidification and eventual dominance of Christianity within the Roman Empire and beyond.
This example from church history showcases the power of conviction and demonstrates how individuals can help shape the course of religious history, even when faced with overwhelming challenges.
 Darrel L. Bock, Baker Exegetical Commentary: Acts (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007), 184.
 W.A. Criswell, Commentary on Acts (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), 151.
 J.A. Alexander, The Acts of the Apostles (Edinburg: The Banner of Truth, 1857), 130.
 John Phillips, John Phillips Commentary: Acts (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1986), 80.
 Criswell, 161.
 Ibid., 82.