Text: Acts 4:1-31
John Huss was born in 1369 in what is the Czech Republic today. Huss trained for the priesthood (at this time there was only the Catholic Church). After his training, he eventually was ordained and became a preacher in Prague at a church which held 3,000 people. But in that role, and through his studies of the Scripture, Huss had an awakening to the true gospel. He also read the writings of John Wycliffe who was roughly 40 years his senior. As his knowledge of what the Scriptures taught grew, he also grew more concerned and convicted about doctrines and traditions being taught by the Official Church. He began preaching the truths that he saw in the Bible, and this caused quiet a stir. He was eventually forbidden to preach and excommunicated from church, but it was sort of a "on paper only" situation and he continued preaching.
When the selling of indulgences began (a practice of letting people buy time out of purgatory for themselves or loved ones), Huss spoke openly against the Pope and the corruption of the Church. His "on paper only" situation became actual, and so Huss eventually withdrew to the countryside so his church could continue receiving communion each Sunday, and started writing fervently about the ills in the Church. In November of 1414, a council convened and the Holy Roman Emperor urged Huss to come defend his doctrine, promising him safety. But when he arrived, they arrested him, put him in chains, and called for him (in front of the authorities) to recant his views. Huss said to them, "I appeal to Jesus Christ, the only judge who is almighty and completely just. In his hands I plead my cause, not on the basis of false witnesses and erring councils, but on truth and justice."
For 7 months he remained imprisoned, but on July 6th 1415, he was dressed in his priestly garments, taken to the cathedral, and then stripped piece by piece of his priestly garments (an act of humiliation). They gave him one last chance to recant as they put him on a stake. He refused. He prayed aloud as they prepared to burn him, "Lord Jesus, it is for thee that I patiently endure this cruel death. I pray thee to have mercy on my enemies." With that, they lit him on fire, and those present testified they heard him reciting the Psalms as the flames engulfed him. It was John Huss, and his writings, that a hundred years later, a German monk named Martin Luther would discover. And the Reformation would begin.
The reason I open today with this story of John Huss is:
1. it is important we learn from Christians who have gone before us in church history (this is why we do the Cloud every year at TJC -- start again in October), and
2. this particular story highlights the boldness of this believer, to stay committed to the truth of God's Word, in the face of danger.
As we continue in our series Go & Tell, we've developed a biblical theology of understanding missions and evangelism, and we've even discussed tactics and strategies, but today we are focusing on the necessity for us as Christians to be bold. Boldness is a quality that should mark our lives, especially as it pertains to how we live out our Christian commitments. When we talk about boldness, we don't mean brashness or rudeness or overbearing. 1 Peter 3:15 talks about always being ready to make a defense for the reason for the hope in you, but with gentleness and respect. [Biblical boldness are actions empowered by the Holy Spirit, fueled by conviction, courage, and urgency, in the face of threat or opposition.] Those three parts of the definition are important: conviction, courage, and urgency.
Conviction -- without conviction, there's nothing to be bold about. Convictions are the substance that produce what we are bold about. A Barna study found that 47% of Millennials think it's wrong to share your faith, and Gen Z is an even higher proportion.
Courage -- without courage, we won't live our convictions in the face of resistance or opposition that comes. Courage is acting in spite of our fears, not the absent of fears. This past week, John Gibson, CEO of Tripwire tweeted his support of the TX abortion law and was subsequently fired. In our culture and the direction we're heading, it will require boldness in the face of all kinds of threats to you.
Urgency -- without urgency, we're never be compelled to get into the action or the arena. Urgency is driven by the fact that everyone we encounter will spend eternity somewhere. Sinners who die in their sins, and do not call upon Jesus for forgiveness, will perish eternally in Hell. That's reality. That's why there is urgency. Two on our staff recently shared with a dying man and saw him come to faith before he passed.
So boldness mark our actions of sharing the gospel and telling others about Christ. They are empowered by the Holy Spirit, fueled by conviction, courage, and urgency, in the face of threat or opposition. The threat or opposition we face today is personal rejection, cultural rejection, status and approval, people-pleasing, comfort, imprisonment, or even our lives.
Exegete Acts 4:1-31
We are not going to squeeze every ounce of application from these 31 verses that are there, but we are going to highlight this passage and its particular focus on the boldness of the believers.
Coming off the healing of the beggar at the Temple gate, the crowds are gathered around Peter and John. They've offered forgiveness through faith in Christ to even those who were a part of the crowds yelling to crucify to Pilate at the clown-show trial of Jesus.
vs 1-4 -- The religious leaders have John and Peter arrested for teaching the people and claiming Jesus' resurrection from the dead. But many are coming to faith through hearing their words.
vs 5-12 -- All the religious leaders gather the next day and bring John and Peter in and question them. Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, begins to lay it down. He shares the gospel with them. He speaks about the death and resurrection of Jesus. And he declares that there is salvation in no other name but the name of Jesus.
vs 13 -- The religious leaders were astonished because they knew Peter and John were uneducated men (not formally trained), yet they spoke with boldness. They recognize that they had been with Jesus. They had communion with God, walking with Christ through the word and prayer. (Psalm 119:99, "I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation.")
vs 14-22 -- The leaders decide tell them to stop speaking in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answer them, "we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard." By the way, this is enough to be an effective witness. Speak to what you know. Speak to what you have seen and heard. Speak to your relationship with Christ and what you know from Scripture.
vs 23-31 -- Peter and John leave the gathering and go report to their friends and other believers all that happened. Then they prayed together and thanked God. And in their prayer (particularly vs 29), they ask for help to continue speaking with boldness. After they pray, the Spirit fills the room and it says they continued to go out and speak the word of God with boldness.
This story and these verses in particular, contain the idea of the boldness of Jesus' disciples. And it will from this point on in the book of Acts, boldness marks the church. Boldness marks the individuals who bear witness about Jesus. Acts 4 leads the theme of boldness for the remainder of Acts.
In Acts 5:42, after Peter and John are arrested again, and beaten, and they leave rejoicing they were counted worthy to suffer for Jesus. Then it says, "And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus." That's boldness.
In Acts 13, Paul and Barnabas are preaching the gospel in the synagogue at Salamis, a Greek city on the east coast of Cyprus. The Jews there ask them to come back the next Sabbath and do it again, they do, and it is packed with all kinds of people from the city (Jews and Gentiles). Many Jews believed, but others scoffed at them. Then vs 42 says: And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. They spoke to them boldly.
Paul and Barnabas go to Iconium, bringing Jews and Gentiles to faith. Again, they meet resistance from Jews. Acts 14:3 says: So they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands. They spoke boldly.
One of the early followers of Jesus was Apollos. As he was speaking in Ephesus, it says this in Acts 18:26: He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. He didn't have all his doctrine correct, but he was bold. We don't have to know everything to be bold.
When Paul went to Ephesus and in Acts 19:8 it says: And he entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God. He spoke boldly, and his boldness is what marked his reasoning and persuading.
Paul was arrested multiple times, and he appealed to Caesar at one point as a Roman citizen. This put him in front of King Agrippa as he was on his way. Agrippa gave Paul and audience, so Paul preached the gospel to him. Acts 26:26: For the king knows about these things, and to him I speak boldly. For I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this has not been done in a corner. Paul didn't care if he was talking to a king or someone of prominence. He didn't cower under the importance of men or their titles or authority.
The closing works of the book of Acts, with Paul imprisoned in Rome awaiting trial, says this (Acts 28:30-31): He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord
Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.
Over and over, throughout the entire book of Acts as we watch the gospel spreading throughout the world, it is boldness that marks the early church and its members. Conviction that Jesus is Lord marked the believers. Courage to share that conviction in a world that won't universally love you. Urgency to share because people without Christ are living on borrowed time and are living on the bring of eternal wrath.
We need boldness in evangelism; boldness in discipleship; boldness in our vision to pursue the Great Commission; boldness in preaching; boldness in obedience and truth-telling; boldness in rescuing the lost and broken and orphaned and enslaved and addicted and unborn; boldness in love.
1. Boldness is needed. Our culture is broken and increasingly godless. The church of Jesus needs to reclaim its boldness to testify and bear witness to the truth in the world. Our world needs boldness, not brashness. It needs a boldness that is a combination of both truth and grace. It needs a boldness that is willing to be immoveable, and yet be tinder. It needs a boldness that doesn’t bend or conform to the ways of this world, but has a strange attractiveness to it. (Live Not By Lies, refusing to conform or bow to the culture. Boldness isn't always what we say, but what we don't say.)
2. Boldness is contagious. In Philippians 1, Paul talks about his trials and struggles for preaching the gospel. He was in prison even as he wrote his letter to the church of Philippi. But notice what he says in vs 14:
Philippians 1:14 -- And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.
Paul's boldness in the faith to preach and teach, despite being arrested (even continuing in boldness from prison) gave boldness to the rest of the church. Why? Boldness is contagious. John Huss' boldness gave Luther the courage he needed to be bold in spearheading the Reformation.
3. Boldness requires dying to self. Fear of rejection, losing status or esteem, having people discount us or discard us, is something we have to die to. We spoke about this a few weeks ago, but until we lay down our lives, and recognize that our lives are not our own, we will not live bold.
4. Boldness is given by the Holy Spirit. We ask for it. This is not something we simply try to muster up. We need the Holy Spirit to provide it and fuel us to be bold. This creates dependence upon the Lord. This keeps us needy and tethered to the Lord. But if we want to be faithful and fruitful in our labors to take the gospel to others, we need the Holy Spirit to empower us with a boldness that overcomes our fears or threats to opposition.