We are before the Sanhedrin, the senate and Supreme Court, the rulers, elders, scribes, lawyers, and chief priests. These are the most important people in Israel. These are the most educated, the wealthiest, the people with the best upbringing and most advantages in life. These are the people who have the positions of power and influence, people who are looked up to, respected. These are the people the media listens to and looks to for answers. These are the people whose opinion matters. These are the people who are supposed to have the solutions to our world’s problems. Peter has just boldly proclaimed the resurrection of Jesus, he refused to submit to the court order to stop, and he had cut them to the heart with the charge that they had murdered the Messiah. The apostles had thrown down the gauntlet and defied the Sanhedrin’s authority. Not exactly your “how to win friends and influence enemies” kind of speech. Things are escalating. It started with theological annoyance then envy and jealousy and now we are at rage with murderous intent. They have moved from a verbal warning to a violent warning. Two things are driving this escalating conflict and response. The incredible growth of the church and the boldness of the apostles as they fill Jerusalem with their teaching. By boldness we mean courage, conviction and clarity about sin and Jesus. Remember this as we move to consider the wisdom of Gamaliel and whether it really is wisdom.
Last week Luke told us how the infant Christian church was flourishing, it was growing in numbers, people were coming to salvation, they were together in worship and prayer, gifts were being used to the glory of God, people were being generous, loving, caring, the apostles were preaching with great power and authority, God was doing miracles every day, Christ was being proclaimed and exalted. It was a glorious season of the pouring out of the Holy Spirit. But. That’s how our text begins. But. Why does it seem like in the midst of good times there has to be a but? Such is life on this side of heaven, life where there is an enemy of all that is good. Luke is an honest writer and an honest historian. He doesn’t just paint a rosy picture for his friend Theophilus. Luke’s history is filled with troubles, trials and prisons. In some ways the book of Acts reads like a police blotter of arrests, beatings, torture and harassment. There is a price to be paid for bearing witness to Jesus Christ, the price is suffering. The servant is not above the master. Jesus suffered for doing good, so will His followers. Everywhere the apostles and followers of Jesus went they stirred up trouble. Just their presence incited reactionary anger and protests from the ungodly. There will be reactions in an increasingly hostile and ungodly culture. Those with bad consciences will always try to silence whatever or whoever pricks their conscience. Luke isn’t just writing to Theophilus, he is writing to 21st century American Christians, preparing us for the trials and storms ahead. Luke wants to show us how to navigate those waters. Whether it’s baking cakes or selling flowers, whether it’s students wanting to host a Christian group on campus or sponsor a Christian speaker, whether it’s Bibles in hotel rooms, whether it’s churches wanting to worship in a country where there are hostile governments, whether it’s Christians protesting killing babies or exercising their freedom of speech, whether it’s Facebook and Twitter censoring Christians who post what Scripture teaches about certain ethical and moral issues, whether it’s subtle digs or discrimination from co-workers, relatives or friends.
Nine years ago Patrick and I went on a road trip to a church conference in Moscow, Idaho. Patrick drove using his GPS. When we got to Pullman the GPS sent us on a route that I knew was wrong and had to talk Patrick into turning around and going a different way. We have had GPS arguments ever since. On-line there are whole websites devoted to GPS disasters. A woman in England following her GPS drove her $175,000 Mercedes into a river. Three Japanese tourists in Australia drove their rental car down a gravel road into the Pacific Ocean. A retired couple in Germany followed their GPS off the road and literally right into a church. People have followed their GPS onto railroad tracks, down flights of stairs, and up such a narrow mountain path they had to be rescued by helicopter. And yes, there have been several deaths from blindly following GPS. You can end up going where you don’t want to go if you don’t pay attention to the signs. Paying attention to signs is important even when you have GPS. I John is a book of signs, three signs actually, that tell us if we are on the right path going the right direction. We will see all three signs in chapter two, but they reappear in later chapters as well. The first sign is the moral sign in 2:3-6. This sign is about obeying the commands of God. The second sign is the social sign in 2:7-11. This sign is about loving the people of God. The third sign is the doctrinal sign in 2:18-27. This sign is about having faith in God. So these three signs in John can be our GPS to help us be sure we are on the right path going the right direction, signs that we are a Christian and that we are on the path of Christ.
How many of you remember the Miracle on Ice in 1980 when the US men’s Olympic hockey team beat the four-time gold medalist Russians at the Lake Placid Winter games? In the final seconds of the game Al Michaels for ABC declared: “Do you believe in miracles?! How about the Miracle on the Hudson when Captain Sullenberger landed US Airways flight 1549 on the Hudson River in January 2009. Maybe you have watched the 1947 movie classic about a Macy’s Santa Claus, Miracle of 34th Street. We use the word miracle pretty loosely and broadly. Finding a parking place close to the door at Costco is no small miracle. How often do we call the birth of a baby a miracle, or being spared from a tragic accident? As we come to our text for this morning we come to miracles of a very different kind than we encountered last week in the sudden deaths of Ananias and Sapphira. These sign and wonders are more in keeping with the kind Jesus did in the Gospels
How many of you learned this story as kids back in Sunday School? Was it one of those flannelgraph stories along with Noah and the Ark, David and Goliath and Zacchaeus. “Kids, what did you learn in SS this morning?” “We learned this really cool story about this guy Ananias who told a lie and God zapped him, sort of like in Star Wars.” This is one of the scary, hard stories in the Bible. This highlights the pros and cons of preaching week after week through a book of the Bible. The pastor doesn’t get to cherry pick favorite passages, and we are forced to hear the whole counsel of God’s true and inspired Word. This story more than many in the Bible stirs up all kinds of questions. It is especially difficult for us modern readers. We get visions of Peter with super powers getting the Holy Spirit to zap people on the spot, without any chance to repent. Some commentators say this is a legend made up to explain a couple of sudden deaths in the church. Some people go so far as to say this is a tyrannical God having a temper tantrum.
John has a pastor’s heart. He cares about us and our relationship with God. He starts out “my little children.” This is the tender heart of an older pastor who sees his flock through the eyes of a father. What matters most to John is our fellowship with our eternal heavenly Father. And that is why he has so much to say about sin, because sin is the one thing that breaks our fellowship with our Father. This is why he is so earnest, please don’t sin, it breaks the most important relationship you can ever have. John wants our fellowship with God and our joy to be complete and sin will keep us from that. And this is why John’s words are so powerful and so beautiful, so full of heart-warming truth and hope. When we sin, we have an advocate before the judge of all sin.