God raised Jesus from the dead and exalted him to his right hand as Leader and Saviour, from where he gives repentance and forgiveness to his people. This means that Jesus must be proclaimed as Leader and Saviour to all; because recognising Jesus is a matter of obedience to God.
I want to address tonight a question. It’s a question I believe is answered by the verses we read in Acts chapter 5. The question is this: What is a Christian view of the world? Now that is an enormous question, and in many ways if you are a Christian, your entire life will be spent working out the answer to that question. So let me focus it a little bit more: what is at the heart of a Christian view of the world?
We see from what we read in Acts chapter 5, that the fact of the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus is at the heart of a Christian view of the world. It would be very helpful if you could have your bibles open at Acts 5. I’m going to focus particularly at verses 29-32. And in particular the apostles’ worlds in vv30,31 are a marvellous summary of what is at the heart of a Christian view of the world.
‘The God of our Fathers raised Jesus from the dead – whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Saviour that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel.’
Now you might be asking, or be interested in the question of what is at the heart of a Christian view of the world for one of two reasons. It might be because you are not a Christian and you are interested in knowing what it’s all about. It might be because you are a Christian and you rightly want to continually change your mind to bring it more and more in line with the way God would have you think. Well, these verses can really help us do that.
Let me try to set the scene. We are in the book of Acts. Acts is the sequel to Luke’s gospel, and it relates how Jesus’ apostles began spreading the message about him throughout the whole world. We are in this passage a matter of weeks after Jesus’ resurrection. The apostles, whom Jesus has appointed to do this spreading of the message are on trial. What they are charged with is contempt of court, because a short time beforehand they had been in the same place, again accused of stirring up trouble. At that point they had been ordered not to preach in the name of the Lord Jesus. They had flatly ignored that command, and had gone on preaching about him. So here they are, back before the Sandhedrin (which is the Jewish ruling council). And here’s the accusation, in v28:
‘We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name... yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching.’
That is the scene, and the apostles’ defence is what we shall be looking at. Why have they carried on teaching in Jesus’ name when they were commanded not to?
I have three points to make.
1. Proclaiming and Believing in Jesus is a matter of obedience to God v29
Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than men!”
The answer is quite simple. You can command what you like, but if God has commanded the opposite, we will obey him and we won’t obey you. This was very specifically true for the Apostles. They had a very particular command; if we were to go back to chapter 1 we would find the Lord Jesus commanding them to speak about him. And so they had to obey what he told them, because they are convinced that he is the Son of God.
But obedience goes beyond the apostles. Look at v32, how they end their little speech. They are witnesses of these things (we’ll look at the things themselves in a moment), and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him. Other people are to obey God too. Obedience for them will mean believing the message the apostles and the Holy Spirit witness to. In other words, proclaiming and believing in Jesus is a matter of obedience to God. If you do not believe in the name of Jesus, as the apostles preached him, you are disobeying God himself.
We need to think about the implications of that (we’ll go on later to why they think that, but let’s just observe for now that that is what they are saying). Our society insists that religious opinions are really a matter of personal preference. “No-one is in a position to tell us that we should believe one thing and not another”. But according to Jesus’ apostles here, that is totally untrue. God himself requires – and demands – that we and everyone else believe what the apostles have to tell us about Jesus. To refuse to believe in Jesus is not to make a valid personal religious decision; it is an act of defiance against the one true God, the ‘God of our Fathers’, as Peter calls him.
Let me spell out what that means:
Perhaps you were brought up believing another religion or no religion. You are most welcome here tonight if that is the case. Now I don’t know why you’re here. Perhaps you’re considering changing religion; or just here out of interest. Please realise that on God’s terms the decision whether to be a Christian or anything else is not a neutral one. It is not like choosing your washing powder in Tescos, where there are any number of options and it really doesn’t matter which one you choose. God commands you to believe in Jesus, and to stop believing in whatever you believed in before. To do anything else is to defy the one true God.
Perhaps you think of yourself as ‘not the religious type’. You don’t have anything against Christianity; it may even be true in your opinion; it’s just that it’s not really you, not really the thing that you’re into. Unfortunately that isn’t an attitude which is allowed by what the apostles say here. If believing in Jesus is a matter of obedience to God, our only two options are to obey or disobey. There is no middle ground.
What about those who are Christians? We need to notice that Christians have an authority from God, indeed a command from God, to proclaim the name of Jesus.
Now, I want us to note that it’s the name which is the issue here. Look at v28.
‘ “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name.”’
The Sanhedrin’s problem was not teaching about the values or the morals or the ethos of Jesus. It was the name of Jesus that they objected to. Now that is very similar to today. It is very rare for anyone to object to the values or morals or ethos of Christianity. What people object to is Christians talking about the name of Jesus and saying that we must believe in him. But that is exactly what Christians must do.
Now that’s important for us, because many of us will be in jobs where we are quite at liberty to talk about the values or morals or ethos of Christianity, but not to talk about the name of Jesus. That might well be the case if you are a teacher, or a doctor, or any number of other professions. It is considered to be professional misconduct to talk about the name of Jesus. The pressure is always ‘It’s fine, you talk about the values, but leave the name out of it’. Well, that will never be acceptable to Christians.
Now we don’t know what is going to happen to the attempt to put an ‘incitement to religious hatred’ law onto the statute books. But if it gets there it has the potential to be used to outlaw ever saying that believing in Jesus’ name is the only way to obey God. Well, Christians must say that, and if the day comes when it is illegal to do so, then they must continue to do so regardless.
Believing in Jesus is a matter of obedience to God. I know that that is very contentious. So why do Christians say that? Why should we believe in this one particular man?
2. This is because God has raised Jesus from the dead, and exalted him to his right hand
Look at v30:
‘The God of our Fathers raised Jesus from the dead – whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree.’
The Sanhedrin thought they had a very good reason to think that Jesus was not in God’s good books and was not anyone significant. The reason was this: the Old Testament Law had said that anyone who had died by being hung on a tree (or a cross, the distinction didn’t matter) was under God’s curse. So how on earth could God approve of this man Jesus?
The apostles’ answer is very simple. Yes, he did die under God’s curse; but, not for his own sin. And how do we know? Because God has raised him, v30. God has declared emphatically, finally, indisputably that this man is righteous. He died under God’s curse but he did not deserve that curse. God has totally vindicated him. That is the first thing that his resurrection means. But it means even more than that. Look what happened next, v31: God exalted him to his own right hand. That is a concept which requires some explanation, so let me fill in.
When we say a person is someone’s ‘right hand man’ we mean that he is his second in command, his deputy; the person who is always there with him and who holds that person’s delegated authority. Well, this means something similar to that. What Peter and the apostles are saying is that God ‘exalted’ Jesus; he lifted him up and gave him all of his own delegated authority, over all of creation.
If you know anything at all about Christianity you will know that Jesus said repeatedly, and Christians have always believed, that Jesus is God as much as God the Father is God; while at the same time he is a different person, God the Son, not God the Father. Now being God he has always had authority over creation. But this verse cannot be talking about that. Here the Apostles speak of God (the Father) exalting him at a point in history – lifting him up, giving him authority, in way which he didn’t have before.
So what is it talking about? Well, while Jesus had always been God, he had not always been man. He became a man at the point when he was conceived in Mary’s Womb. From that point on he has been both God and man. It is as a man that God has exalted him. Let me explain what that means.
When God created the world, he created man with a unique role: to rule over all of the rest of creation on God’s behalf. Adam, the first man, had a foretaste of that in the Garden of Eden. But when Adam rebelled against God he lost the rule he had over the garden; and he never received the rule over the whole of creation that mankind was supposed to have.
But as the Old Testament goes on, again and again there is a promise that one day there will be another man, like Adam, but who will be totally obedient to God; and so who will really receive total authority from God to rule over all creation. Who would be what man was always supposed to be. And perhaps you noticed in Psalm 16 when we read it earlier, which is a prophecy about that man, that the thing which would mark him would be that he would not be abandoned to the grave, and his body would not decay.
Coming back to v31, when God raised Jesus from the dead, he said, ‘This is that man. This is the man who has done what Adam never did, nor anyone else: he has been completely obedient to me, supremely by obeying my command to go to death on the cross. Therefore I am giving him the total authority over all creation which I always intended mankind to have’. That is what Peter and the apostles mean by ‘God exalted him to his own right hand’.
So, on the first Easter Sunday morning this world had, for the first time ever, a man ruling over it , completely and indisputably, with all of God’s delegated authority. That man was Jesus Christ. When God raised Jesus from the dead he was both making and declaring Jesus to be his chosen man to rule over all creation for ever.
Let me say two things to make what the apostles said here clearer. First, what they say assumes that Jesus is still a man. Jesus has not risen from the dead just as a spirit or a ghost; it is not just that his soul lives on even though his body died. No, he has risen to be a true man; he is just as human as he was before his death. He could still be touched, he could still be recognised, he could still eat. Luke (who wrote Acts) made that very clear back in his gospel. But he is nevertheless very different from before; he is never going to die again. Jesus has a human body; but it is a totally transformed human body which will never grow old, die or decay. As a real man he reigns with God’s authority for ever.
And that is why believing in Jesus is a matter of obedience to God. Because God has made this man his right-hand man, the indisputable and unchallengeable King of the Universe. Jesus is now a human authority high above the British Government, or the European Court of Human Rights, or the Capitol in Washington, even the United Nations. Jesus, the man who has passed beyond death, is ruling today, and God allows him no rivals. So obedience to God demands that Jesus is both recognised as and proclaimed as King.
Let me give two implications of that.
1. Jesus’ Resurrection simply destroys every other way of looking at the world. It is the final answer to all non-Christian religions; to all agnosticism and atheism; and to all forms of pluralism. Any view of the world which does not recognise the ultimate authority of Jesus Christ has been demonstrated by God by the resurrection to be totally wrong.
2. We’ve heard a lot in the news in the last few weeks about how religion and politics must be kept separate. They operate, we’re told, in different spheres. Now the issues here are complicated and I don’t have time to begin to deal with them. But we do have to say that a Christian will never admit that there is any sphere of life in which Jesus is not King; and that includes politics. Let me put that in a slightly different way: the number 1 political issue at the forthcoming election is whether Jesus’ name is recognised as the King. Now I’m sure that none of the parties will put that in their manifestos; but it doesn’t mean that Christians should not recognise it to be the case.
3. The Risen Lord Jesus is Leader and Saviour (v31)
The authority of the risen Lord Jesus is total. But there is more to say. Look at what Jesus has been exalted to God’s right hand to be, in v31
‘God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince (although that is better translated as ‘Leader’) and Saviour, that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel.’
The point about the word Leader (the word translated ‘Prince’ in the NIV) is that it means ‘one who goes before’; who leads. Jesus was not raised from the dead as a one off. Rather, he was raised as a Leader: so that many others would follow him and be raised from the dead just like he was. Think of the captain of a football team leading his team out onto the pitch. The moment you see the captain appear in the mouth of the tunnel, you know that there are ten men behind him who are wearing the same strip and are running out to do the same job. It is like that. Jesus, at his resurrection, was the number 1 person to rise from the dead. But there will come a day when every Christian will rise from the dead just like he did. They will come out of their tombs just like he did. They will have their bodies back, just like he did; and their bodies will be gloriously transformed, just like his was, so that they will no longer grow old or die or decay.
That’s why, when we said the creed earlier on, we said we believed in the resurrection of the body. Christians have always been convinced that when they die, that is not the end; it is not even the end of their bodies. We will rise again, like Jesus did.
So Jesus is a leader; but he is also a saviour. The risen Lord Jesus is able to save people from God’s judgment.
So the picture is that Jesus has been exalted to God’s right hand; but he is using his power not only to lead them to eternal life but to save them from God’s judgment. That is precisely why he has risen from the dead.
To see that even more clearly, look at what Jesus gives people in v31. He gives repentance, and he gives forgiveness of sins. That is, he takes people in this world who start off not wanting him and not wanting God, and he enables them to repent, to turn around, and to be forgiven for having done that. He can do that because he died under God’s curse; the curse that they deserved, and he didn’t.
So let me summarise what I’ve said.
We must believe in Jesus
Because God raised him from the dead and exalted him to his right hand
So that he can save people from their sin and death.
Now that, in a nutshell, is Christianity. That is at the heart of a Christian view of the world.
I want to close by telling us how that applies to us. There are two ways. It depends on one thing. Look at the end of v31:
‘...that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel.’
By ‘Israel’, they are referring to the fact that God has a chosen people, who are not the whole of humanity. And it is those people who gain these things: repentance and forgiveness of sins. Now throughout the Old Testament and up to this point that has been the nation of Israel.
But the whole message of Acts is that now anyone can join Israel, and so gain repentance and forgiveness, but believing in Jesus. So the issue for us is: are you in that group? Or are you out of it?
Let me start by speaking to those of us who are in it, who are Christians. If that’s you, the resurrection of Jesus must be at the heart of your thinking. You must focus your mind on the risen and ascended Lord Jesus, who is reigning at God’s right hand.
Are you lacking confidence that God has forgiven you for your sins? Then remember that the risen Lord Jesus is today in heaven, giving forgiveness of sins to his people. Are you lacking confidence to believe in and speak about Jesus, because society around us gives us so much pressure not to? Then remember that the risen Lord Jesus is today in heaven, and no-one can overturn his authority. Are you afraid of sickness and death? Then remember that the risen Lord Jesus is today in heaven, having been raised beyond death, with a body which will never decay or die, and if you are one of his people then when he returns, you will rise again too, in exactly the same way.
What if you are not a Christian, that is, you are not a member of Israel, God’s chosen people?
Firstly notice that there is a warning here. If you have not believed in Jesus, it makes no difference at all to the fact that he has risen; it makes no difference to the fact that God the Father has exalted him as the ultimate authority in this universe under himself. All it means is that he will not be your leader or saviour. You will still have to face him on the day of judgment; but you will face him as someone who has no hope of escaping that judgment.
But the great news is that you can benefit from Jesus’ resurrection; you can receive repentance and forgiveness of sins. What do you have to do?
You have to believe in him. You must trust that his death has taken away God’s curse on you, and that in his resurrection he has been appointed God’s King forever. In other words, you need to become a Christian. If you do that Jesus promises that you will receive eternal life; you will rise again on the last day; you will receive the life that he received from the Father at his resurrection and which has given to his people ever since.
God has raised Jesus from the dead; it is a fact. Let us be obedient to God and believe in the risen Lord Jesus, and proclaim him to others.