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  • Handling Opposition

    Posted on January 25th, 2010 admin No comments

    Rifqa Bary is an American teenager who faced opposition from her parents. They were Sri Lankan Muslims. She was a new convert to Christianity. Rifqa initially kept her faith hidden from her parents. She was fearful of what could happen to her if her parent’s discovered that she had converted. Outside their Ohio home, however, Rifqa lived with evangelistic zeal. She carried her Bible around school, shared the Gospel and invited her friends to believe in Jesus.

    Her parents first caught wind of her faith in Christ when she was 14. She applied for a babysitting position and noted on the application that she was a Christian. About a year later, her brother saw her sharing Christ at school. He told his parents that she was trying to convince her classmates to believe in Jesus. Her parents then told Rifqa to stop.

    Rifqa feared that her father would make her the victim of an honor killing or send her back to Sri Lanka. She connected with Christian pastors in Florida through Facebook, and ran away from her home to live with them last July. She was 16. Three weeks after she arrived, the Florida couple contacted child welfare authorities. Legal battles ensued. Rifqa was sent back to Ohio and placed in the custody of children services. The big question was would she be forced to go back with her parents where she faced serious opposition, or could she live elsewhere? On January 19, Rifqa was declared a dependent of the state of Ohio. That was good news to many people who thought Rifqa was in serious danger at home.

    You need to know what to do when you face opposition. In Rifqa’s case, she faced opposition from her parents. You too may face opposition from other family members. There may be something about your faith and your way of life that causes tension in your family dynamics. Opposition isn’t restricted to the family, though, and it certainly includes more than the threat of death. Opposition can come in smaller packages. Opposition can even come from other committed Christians who worship and serve alongside you at church. Should you catch on fire spiritually and should God start working through you, changing the way you live and blessing others through you, then that could cause other Christians to look at you differently. You could become a threat to the ease at which others have been living the Christian life. They could oppose you for disturbing the status quo. If you don’t know how to respond to opposition, you may, on one extreme, fight back, engage in shouting matches, and get hurt, or on the other extreme, you may cave in, do nothing and fold like a wet noodle, thus missing God’s best for you.

    This morning we want to answer the question, “How do you handle opposition?” We will be talking specifically about opposition to spiritually good things. That is, God may have you on a path doing his work, but something or someone enters that path and brings opposition to your advancement. What do you do when you face opposition?

    Our text is Acts 5:17-21.

    17 But the high priest rose up, and all who were with him (that is, the party of the Sadducees), and filled with jealousy 18 they arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison. 19 But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, 20 “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life.” 21 And when they heard this, they entered the temple at daybreak and began to teach. (ESV)

    In this message you’ll see three principles that should guide you when you face opposition. The third is the most important, but without the first two, you may not have the opportunity to follow the third. So, let’s walk through this text and learn what it teaches us about handling opposition.

    First, Recognize opposition comes from jealousy (17-18).

    The main character featured in our text, beginning at verse 17, is the high priest. The term is singular, which initially makes me think it must refer to one man. It would be nice to know more about him, but there isn’t any name given at this point in the story. So let’s answer, “Which high priest?”

    In the New Testament, Caiaphas gets the most attention. The gospel writer John refers to Caiaphas as the high priest during the year Jesus died. When Jesus was seized in Matthew 26, he was taken to Caiaphas’ house, where the scribes and elders had gathered (Matt 26:57). This Caiaphas was the son-in-law of Annas, who was once high priest. He remained influential. Luke 3:2 refers to the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas. The servant whose ear Peter cut off with the sword (John 18:10) belonged to the high priest, maybe Annas or Caiaphas. Later in Acts 23, Ananias is named as the high priest. He was not the same Anaias mentioned at the beginning of Acts 5. He was the one who commanded his men to strike the apostle Paul on the mouth in Acts 23:2.

    So, in the NT we have the high priests: Annas, Caiaphas, and Ananias. But again, the writer doesn’t give us a name in Acts 5. We are left with the same question, “Which high priest is it?”

    Let’s stop and think: why didn’t Luke give us more detail? Well, he probably didn’t want us to know anything else, so he didn’t include it. Rather than creating an imagine in our mind of one man, Luke may have wanted his readers to see the broader implication of a bigger recurring theme in the New Testament, and that is this: Opposition against Jesus came from the religious authorities as a whole; there wasn’t just one man who led the charge. What we see in this story against the apostles is widespread opposition against Christ. The scribes, the priests, the chief priests, the leaders of the nation, all of them, rejected Christ. They saw Christ as a threat to their way of life. This opposition wasn’t something that was learned from the top leader and filtered down through the ranks. No, opposition to Christ came from the hearts of men who were blind to spiritual truth. That’s why Luke adds for clarity in verse 17, “the high priest rose up, and all who were with him.” He names “the party of the Sadducees.” But the point is that it wasn’t just one man. All the leaders rose up in opposition to the apostles.

    Let’s talk about this verb translated “rose up” in verse 17. This same verb is found later in verse 34 when the Pharisee named “Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in honor by all the people, stood up and gave orders.” We have the same thing happening in verse 17; a man of position and power stands up. He could have been reclining at a setting of food, or seated on a bench discussing current events. Whatever he was doing changed in verse 17 when he rose to his feet.

    Verse 17 contains the small coordinating conjunction δὲ that connects this passage to the preceding text, specifically verses 12 through 16. If you recall from the reading earlier in the service, those verses record the miraculous work of God that was taking place at the time.

    Starting at verse 12, “Signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles.” People were gathering together to see what God was doing through the apostles. Verse 13, “the people held (the apostles) in high esteem.” Verse 14, “more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women.” Not only did people want to see what God was doing, but they also want to receive his blessing. So, people carried “the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats.” They were hoping that as the apostle Peter walked by, “at least his shadow might fall on some of them.” Now, there wasn’t anything special about Peter’s shadow, but God’s power through him was so evident that people wanted to get as close to him as possible.

    News about what was happening spread, and people started traveling from outside the city to Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with evil spirits to the apostles. At the end of verse 16, Luke writes, “and they were all healed.” God was at work. God was doing great things through his followers. The apostles were preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ. People were placing their faith in Christ for salvation. The church was growing. God was changing lives through the apostles. In addition to the spiritual transformation, the signs and wonders, that is the healing of the sick, helped the people see that the apostles were the real deal. They were sent by God. They represented the Lord Jesus.

    As all this good stuff is happening in God’s kingdom, as God is working through his faithful followers, as God is growing the church, as God is healing the sick… the high priest rose up. He didn’t take his sick family members to the apostles. He didn’t go hear how faith in Jesus Christ guarantees freedom from eternal torment. He rose to his feet, filled with, verse 17, jealousy.

    Jealousy. The apostles are filled with the Spirit of God, but the high priest and all who were with him were filled with jealousy. This term “jealousy” is said to mean a zeal, or enthusiasm against something. In this text and in others, it means zeal against Christianity, or the Gospel message of Jesus Christ that was preached by the apostles. The religious leaders had a zeal for God, which is actually a good thing. The apostle Paul referenced his zeal for God. In Galatians 1:14 he said, “And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers.” He also refers to his zeal in Philippians 3:6. This zeal, exhibited by the Paul and the religious leaders, was a “personal concern for the fulfillment of the Law.” But, for the religious leaders, as Paul says in Romans 10:2, their zeal was not according to knowledge. They missed the truth that Christ did not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets, but to fulfill them. Their zeal for God then, which could have been a good thing, was bad. It caused them to oppose the advancement of God’s work.

    Let’s look at a few other passages where the religious leaders were filled with bad jealousy. Later in Acts 13, Paul and Barnabas were teaching at Antioch. Many people were following them asking for more. Nearly the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord taught by Paul and Barnabas. Then, according to Acts 13:45, “But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began to contradict what was spoken by Paul, reviling him.” In Acts 17, the same thing happened as Paul and Silas taught in Thessalonica. Paul was teaching that it was necessary for Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead. He was proclaiming Jesus as the Christ. Some of the Jews and many of the devout Greeks and the leading women believed the message and were converted. Then, according to Acts 17:5, “But the Jews were jealous, and taking some wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the crowd.” When God worked in the early church, the leaders of the religious establishment were filled with jealousy. It was not zeal to exalt the glory of God, but zeal against the advancement of God’s work.

    While it is easy for us to point our fingers at the religious leaders of the first century, let’s not keep bad jealousy at arms-length away from us. Bad jealousy can jar even the most devout Christians; it is not reserved for pagans. In his letter to the Corinthian church, Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 3:3, “For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?” There is a bad jealously that can hurt people and interfere with God’s work through them. It can seep into our hearts and manifest itself in the way we relate to others. That’s the jealously we see in our text and that’s the jealously we need to avoid.

    This bad jealousy is a fear of losing something that we deem important. It is an emotion of negative thoughts, feelings of insecurity, and anxiety over the potential loss of something temporal that we have wrapped our identity around. When someone builds their life, or their identity around anything other than Jesus Christ, they become very territorial over that thing, be it their position at work, their company, their friendships, their spouse, or even their children. Where there is this bad jealousy, there is a lack of trust in God. Where there is this bad jealousy, there is a lack of understanding that everything belongs to God, and he is the one who has entrusted us to be stewards of it.

    Note that jealousy is not the same as envy. Where jealously is a fear of losing something that you do have, envy is the desire to get something that you don’t.

    For example, I recently purchased a new laptop computer. It is an Apple MacBook Pro that has now replaced my virus-infected, six-year old Dell. When I take this new MacBook Pro in public, I feel different than when I took my old Dell. Of course, the shiny aluminum case, the white Apple logo and the clear glass screen should cause people to envy me, because they should want what I have. But I must guard against being overwhelmed with jealousy, which is the fear of losing my new MacBook Pro. You better believe that when I work in the library and have to take a quick break to the men’s room, I don’t leave the new MacBook Pro like I did the old Dell. I take the new Macbook Pro with me because I’m jealous over that piece of aluminum. The very thought of losing it makes my heart race and my blood pressure rise. It then makes me do things that I wouldn’t do otherwise, such as take my computer with me to the men’s room.

    We can get the same way about anything, even good Christian things. Maybe you have some position or responsibility in the church that you’ve held for years. You start wrapping your identity around that thing. Any threat to it, even if it’s only imagined in your own mind, and you start jittering with jealousy.

    Is there anything that makes you jitter with jealousy? Is there anything that you have wrapped your identity around other than the person of Jesus Christ? If so, release those things back into the ownership of God, else you may grow so anxious of losing those things that you become the person opposing the good work of someone else.

    In our text, the high priest and those who were with him started getting the jealousy jitters. They are filled with jealously. They are afraid of losing the very thing on which they base their identity. They are afraid of losing their position and power as religious leaders. They are the supposed to be the one’s who have this great insight into the things of God. People are supposed to come to them for answers, not the apostles. Not Peter. But, that’s not what was happening. People were waiting in the streets for Peter to walk by. People went to the apostles to be part of what God was doing. But, in fear of losing what he had built his life around, the high priest rose up, “Enough!”

    He has the apostles arrested and he puts them in the public prison. Jealous people in positions of authority have the power to do that. From their jealous perspective, the only thing that matters is protecting their own little piece of the pie, even if it’s rotten and covered with mold.
    Yet, you may face opposition in life from people who aren’t in such obvious positions of power. There may be a co-worker, a classmate, a parent of another child or a neighbor who seems to have it out for you. They seem to oppose everything you suggest or try to bring to the table. Rather than get upset and do something you shouldn’t do, recognize that opposition comes from jealously. That person or group of people who are opposing you are probably afraid of losing something that is dear to them. In some way, you may be a threat to them. That’s why it’s very important to make sure that Christ lives through you. Make sure you are about are the things of God, rather than some selfish ambition, or something with little eternal value. If you are all about living for Jesus and someone brings opposition against you, then their opposition isn’t really against you, but it’s against Christ. And, if someone has something against Christ, then that something is between that person and God. It’s bigger than you; leave it alone.

    Notice what the apostles initially did when they faced opposition. What did they do when they were arrested and thrown in jail in verse 18? Yeah, they did nothing. They could have started a big stir right there in public. They could have gotten all the people who loved their ministry on their side and fought back against the religious leaders for their freedom, but they didn’t do anything. They recognized that opposition comes from jealousy and that opposition wasn’t anything against them but against Christ.

    So, if you are facing that difficult person at work, or if there is a family member who seems to oppose everything you are about, recognize that your way of life may be a threat to them. Make sure you are living the life of Christ and don’t let opposition interfere with God’s work through you.

    Once you first recognize that opposition comes from jealousy, second, know that God maintains control through opposition. God maintains control through opposition.

    Verse 19 begins with the same conjunction translated “but” that we saw in verse 17. Even though the apostles had been thrown into jail and it seemed as if their opposition had won, God maintained control. After the sun had set and darkness filled the public square, an angel of the Lord appeared on the scene and opened the prison doors. This wasn’t the only time in the book of Acts that God displayed his control even when opposition imprisoned his people. In Acts 12:7 an angel of the Lord did the same thing for Peter. In Acts 16, God set Paul and Silas free from prison following an earthquake.

    Now we are left with the question, “Who is the angel of the Lord that worked in Acts 5?” Well, some people may say he was simply a human being who acted as messenger of God. Others say it had to be a spirit being because it was somehow able to pass the guards without being noticed. The Sadducees would certainly deny this claim since they don’t believe in angles. According to Acts 23:8, “the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor angel, nor spirit, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all.” Luke doesn’t tell us, and once again that is because it doesn’t matter. Human being or spirit being, God is the one who maintained control of the situation through this intense opposition.

    You may be in the midst of intense opposition. Something is happening in your life and it feels as if you are locked in a dark prison cell, and you’ve done nothing to deserve it. Maybe your supervisor wanted you to do something unethical, but you told him you wouldn’t do it. Now you are out of favor with your boss and you don’t know what’s going to happen with your job. Know that God maintains control through opposition. The prison doors of your circumstance will fling open when the time is right. Until then trust that God is in control.

    I have a friend who was in a multi-car accident over a year ago. One of the people involved in the accident decided to sue everyone involved. The insurance companies tried to settle with him for months out of court, but he kept bringing more opposition against the insurance companies and the other individuals involved in the accident. Some people would have countersued in an effort to quiet the opposition. However, this friend knew that God maintains control through opposition. Rather than pouring fuel on the fire with a countersuit, she chose to let the insurance companies handle the situation as she prayed for God to change this man’s heart. Eventually the man dropped the lawsuit and settled out of court. Waiting for that to opposition to subside was surely no fun, but it was manageable when she knew that God maintains control through opposition.

    In verse 20, after releasing the apostles from prison, the angel of the Lord gave them instruction. There are three verbs in verse 20. They are “go,” “stand,” and “speak.”

    The first verb “go” is an imperative. The angel of the Lord commanded the apostles to go, to move from outside the prison doors to the temple. This imperative use of go is theologically significant in the New Testament. When we have a record of God stepping in and commanding his people to act, it helps us see that God maintains control of his creation regardless of what is happening within his creation. In Matthew 2:20 an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph and told him, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel…” In Luke 5:24 Jesus addressed the paralyzed man, “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.” In Matthew 10:6-7 Jesus commands his twelve disciples, “but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’”

    According to the New Testament record, when God commanded people to go, they responded in obedience. Joseph “rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel” (Matthew 2:21). The paralyzed man immediately rose up, picked up what he had by lying on and went home (Luke 5:25). When God says “go,” wise people go because they know God can overcome any opposition. God is sovereign. He remains in control. He is at work, accomplishing his purposes according to his timeline.

    The second verb in verse 20 is “stand.” This word is an aorist passive participle. The apostles had to take a stand before they could do the next thing the angel of the Lord commanded them to do. This idea of taking a stand is seen in 1 Peter 5:12 when Peter writes, “I have written briefly to you, exhorting and declaring that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it.” In Acts 26:22, the verb form of this word is used to record Paul’s words before King Agrippa. The apostle Paul faced great opposition, yet he stood before King Agrippa saying how he went all over the place telling everyone that they should repent and turn to God. He said it was for that reason that the Jews seized him in the temple and tried to kill him. He then says in chapter 26, verses 22-23, “To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here” and he continues to share the suffering and resurrection of Christ. This idea of standing is more than maintaining an upright position supported by legs and feet. It is being bold and confident in the face of opposition. It is doing the task set before you by God regardless of the cost.

    The task set before the apostles by God is the third verb in verse 20. It is the second imperative given by the angel of the Lord. The command is “speak.” God commanded the apostles to go back to the temple and speak to people. They were to open their mouths and speak so that people could hear what they were saying.

    Now, what were the apostles commanded to talk about? Verse 20 says, “all the words of this Life.” I imagine that that “life” is a reference to the eternal life granted to believers in Jesus Christ. “All the words of this life” is likely a reference to salvation message that eternal life comes only by grace through faith in Christ. Peter shared that message with the religious leaders earlier in Acts chapter 4 when filled with the Holy Spirit. In Acts 4:12 Peter said, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Peter and John had boldly proclaimed that message in Acts 4. Then, now follow the sequence of events, in Acts 4:18 the religious leaders “called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.” There you have it: opposition. Yet what do the apostles do? They pray for boldness! Then, at the end of chapter 4, they share their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. Acts 4:33 says, “and great grace was upon them all.”

    As we move to Acts 5, we see that God worked through the apostles in verses 12 through 16. The religious leaders didn’t like what was happening, so they jittered with jealousy and threw the apostles in jail. God then proved he maintains control by releasing the apostles. He then told the apostles, “Go, stand in the temple, and speak to the people, telling them the very message of life that you’ve been sharing since it set you free.”

    Did you catch that? God tells the apostles to do the very thing the religious leaders told them not to do. It is the very thing that got them thrown into jail in the first place. Obeying the command to teach takes boldness. That takes grace. And the only way they could begin to obey God was to know that God maintains control in spite of opposition. Regardless of what any human being could do to them, God maintained control.

    Do you believe that?

    Once you recognize that opposition comes from jealousy, and know that God maintains control through opposition, then third, obey God in spite of opposition.

    Don’t be stopped by opposition, but obey God. Don’t be silenced, but obey God. Don’t settle for second-rate service and soft sacrifice, but obey God.

    In verse 21, Luke tells his readers how the apostles responded to God’s instruction, “And when they heard this, they entered the temple at daybreak and began to teach.”

    Did they go? Yeah. Did they stand? Yeah. Did they speak? Yeah.

    That’s obedience to God. And that’s how the apostles handled opposition. That’s how you and I need to handle opposition—be it from someone who is antagonist against the Gospel or from someone who may be threatened by they way God is working through you. Avoid the fights, the shouting matches, the political games, and obey God. Know that he maintains control through opposition and obey him.

    Now, what does it mean to obey God? That is a big question. The obvious answers include follow instruction in the Bible and follow the prompting of the Holy Spirit as he applies the truth of scripture to your life. I’d like to be more specific and challenge you to be part of what God is doing in his church. In Acts 5:14 we saw a picture of what God has been doing since the church began. Acts 5:14 reads, “And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women.”

    In the first century, God’s people faced opposition, yet they knew God maintained control. They obeyed God by speaking to the people all the words of this Life. God then took that message and made it effective in the hearts of people such that they called upon Christ as Savior. Regardless of what opposition we face, may all of us go, stand confident and tell people that Christ died and rose again to grant them eternal life.

    Brit Hume is a senior political analyst for a major news network. On January 3 he commented on the Tiger Woods story—the adultery and the loss of his family. On national television Brit Hume said:
    …the Tiger Woods that emerges once the news value dies out of this scandal — the extent to which he can recover — seems to me to depend on his faith. He’s said to be a Buddhist; I don’t think that faith offers the kind of forgiveness and redemption that is offered by the Christian faith. So my message to Tiger would be, ‘Tiger, turn to the Christian faith and you can make a total recovery and be a great example to the world.’

    Brit Hume was sharply criticized for those comments. I even heard a young Christian on a call in Christian radio program and say how his words were offensive. People were, and still are, opposing Brit Hume for doing nothing more than sharing his faith. He “spoke to the people all the words of this Life” in spite of the opposition he knew he would face.

    Regardless of what opposition you may face today or months down the road, obey God. He maintains control of his creation even when it seems you are locked behind the prison bars of opposition.

    Let’s pray.


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