Have You Been With Jesus?
January 27, 2014
“Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13).
“Uneducated, common men.”|
That was not a compliment.
Here’s how The Voice translates this verse:
“Now the leaders were surprised and confused. They looked at Peter and John and realized they were typical peasants—uneducated, utterly ordinary fellows—with extraordinary confidence. The leaders recognized them as companions of Jesus.”
So what we have is this:
- The Jewish leaders were astonished by the boldness of Peter and John.
- They weren’t impressed with their background.
- They realized that they had been with Jesus.
But how did they know this?
It wasn’t in their education. They had no formal religious training.
It wasn’t in their credentials. They had none.
It wasn’t in their religious pedigree. They didn’t have one.
It was in the Spirit-filled boldness that was born out of knowing Jesus.
Consider the context. Peter and John have just healed a crippled man at the Temple (Acts 3:1-10). When a crowd gathers, Peter seizes the moment to preach a gospel message (Acts 3:11-26). After they are arrested and thrown in jail, Peter addresses the religious leaders (Acts 4:1-12). In thinking about what he said, it helps to remember one key fact:
Standing in front of murderers
He is standing in front of murderers.
These are the men who conspired to kill Jesus a few weeks earlier.
It’s all to his credit that he didn’t back down. He clearly identifies their guilt and God’s declaration concerning his Son:
“Jesus . . . whom you crucified” (10).
“Jesus . . . whom God raised” (10).
He concludes with a clarion call:
“There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
Revealed by a Crisis
It has been well said that a crisis never made any man. It only reveals what he already is. In this case, the crisis of their arrest revealed the truth about Peter and John.
The religious leaders couldn’t figure them out.
They couldn’t deny the healing.
They couldn’t deny their boldness.
Why were they not intimidated?
How then would they explain these men?
How could these “uneducated, ordinary fellows” make such an impact?
Why were they not intimidated by their arrest?
How could they dare to speak so freely?
What was their secret?
When the religious leaders considered all the facts, they came to one simple conclusion:
They had been with Jesus.
No fact is more important for our consideration today. All around us we see signs of the diminishing impact of Christianity on our culture. We bemoan the advance of secularism as we watch the crumbling of social institutions that have stood in place for thousands of years. We wonder why Christians have lost our influence in society. I think this verse offers us a very clear answer.
The early Christians turned the world upside down because they had a life-changing encounter with Jesus Christ. That single fact explains the boldness of the first generation of believers who took the gospel from Jerusalem across the Roman Empire. They would not fit into the ordinary categories of religion.
You can be around Jesus and yet not be with him
It was more than just knowledge.
It was more than a few prayers.
It was more than religion as a hobby.
It was something that produced a dynamic power that transformed ordinary men into bold witnesses for Christ. Yet it had nothing to do with a degree or a seminary education.
Around But Not With
This leads to an important conclusion: It is dangerous to be around Jesus and not be with Jesus.
There is a difference between . . .
Being around Jesus and being with Jesus.
Being around Christians and being with Jesus.
Being around Christian events and being with Jesus.
Being around the church and being with Jesus
The disciples had been “with” Jesus and knew him intimately and that changed everything. Even their enemies could see the difference Christ had made in their lives. We might call this the doctrine of unconscious influence. We don’t know what others know about us.
Often we are not good judges of our own influence. Others will see things about us we do not see about ourselves.
We are not told that Peter and John said, “We have been with Jesus.”
That would be true.
It would not be boasting.
But they didn’t say anything like that.
The world never understands people like Peter and John
The Jewish leaders were not impressed by Peter and John, but they were in for a big surprise.
“What chance had these uneducated fishermen in the presence of whole college of learned Rabbis? Yet the Rabbis were made to look very foolish, and the fishermen won a triumph such as a philosopher might have envied.” (J. W. Burn)
Remember that Peter and John weren’t looking for a confrontation. They had gone to the temple to pray, not to perform a healing, not to preach, and certainly not to get themselves arrested.
This is nothing more than ordinary obedience. It happens when honorable men do the right thing.
Sometimes it gets you into trouble.
Courage on Steroids
They were doing what Christians should always do. They were “ready to give an answer” for the hope that was in them (1 Peter 3:15). They gave an answer and it got them in trouble. Acts 4:2 even pinpoints the exact issue. The Jewish leaders were “greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead” (Acts 4:2).
They simply told the truth:
“You crucified Jesus.”
“God raised him from the dead.”
That’s courage on steroids.
This is ordinary obedience
Here’s the response:
”Many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand” (v. 4).
Look at the sequence of events:
Boldness under pressure
No wonder their enemies said, “These men have been with Jesus.” Shaky Peter has become solid as a rock. When Christ commandeers a life, the change will be evident to all.
“There is something in the conduct, disposition, and countenance of a good man that reports itself; his influence is felt in the world, the Church, the family circle. A Divine life cannot be concealed; the light must shine.” (John Woodhouse)
Though the leaders hated what Peter said, they could not deny what Christ had done in him. Even their enemies knew that Peter and John had been with Jesus. No higher compliment could be paid to a child of God. As we think about how to apply this truth today, let’s consider some practical questions.
1. What are the marks of someone who has been with Jesus?
Obviously we want something of Jesus to “rub off” on us. Exactly what does that look like? I find it hard to improve on John 1:14, which says that Jesus was “full of grace and truth.” As I ponder that phrase, I am drawn to the fact that Jesus was “full of” grace and truth. Anyone can be truthful some of the time or loving some of the time. Jesus was filled to overflowing with truth and grace.
He spoke the truth with grace.
He showed grace in truth.
Jesus never had to choose between truth or grace.
Our lives should carry the aroma of heaven
Those who follow him will have that “grace and truth” rub off on them. That points to a life marked by humility, honesty, approachability, kindness under pressure, and truth-telling when it would be easier to lie.
A life like this carries with it the aroma of heaven. As I thought about this, I remembered a comment someone made about a certain Christian leader:
“Whenever he entered the room, I felt a little closer to heaven.”
I have known a few people like that in my life. This isn’t a comment about a pious face or a solemn demeanor. It’s not about a “holy voice.” A man or woman filled with grace and truth draws you closer to the Lord whether they are talking or listening, laughing or crying, standing or sitting, following or leading.
2. How is this developed?
This sort of life comes about mostly through people and pain. As I think about the Christians I have known, the ones I remember most fondly are those who have gone through suffering and come out singing. The best Christians I know have proved the truth of Job 23:10,
“He knows the way that I take. When he has tried me, I will come forth as gold.”
There are no shortcuts to a life of tested gold. You’ve got to go through the furnace so that God can refine in you the gold of tested character. Until then, it’s all theory. After the furnace, you know from experience the power of Christ to deliver you.
A divine life cannot be concealed
The world knows nothing about this, doesn’t understand it, and can’t duplicate it. John Woodhouse put it this way:
“There is a wide difference between a Christian and a worldly man in times of trouble. The worldly man is timid, irritable, and restless; the Christian man is calm, courageous, and hopeful. Nothing can calm and strengthen a man more than a full assurance of God’s protection.”
As Spurgeon said, “Any fool can sing in the sunlight.” What will you do when you lose your job, when your son is in jail, when your marriage collapses, when the church splits, when the cancer returns, when your best friend betrays you? What do you do when you are thrown in jail for your faith?
What will you do when trouble comes?
If you’re Peter and John, you preach Jesus.
This is costly, but when trouble comes, even your enemies can see the difference that Christ has made in your life.
Several years ago a friend showed me a video of some pastors in central India who were brutally attacked by Hindu extremists. When the attackers entered their homes and beat them, the pastors would say, “Lord Jesus, forgive them,” “Lord Jesus, have mercy on them.” I confess that my blood boiled with anger at those who attacked the pastors. I’m not sure I could have responded with as much grace as they did. But this much was clear. Those pastors were full of grace and truth. No one could doubt that they had been with Jesus.
3. Where should we begin?
As I was working on this message, I came across a sermon on this text that Charles Spurgeon preached in 1855 called Christ’s People—Imitators of Him.
In the sermon he covers the why and where of becoming more like Christ. His last section urges his readers to know Christ personally and to seek to be like him. But then he adds one more thing. If we would be more like Christ, we must seek more of the Spirit of God:
“Lastly, as the best advice I can give, seek more of the Spirit of God, for this is the way to become Christ-like. Vain are all your attempts to be like him till you have sought his Spirit.
So take your heart, not cold as it is, not stony as it is by nature, but put it into the furnace; there let it be molten, and after that it can be turned like wax to the seal, and fashioned into the image of Jesus Christ.”
If we want to be like Christ, we must seek the Spirit of Christ. We will not become Christlike by accident. Nor does it happen by osmosis or by hanging around church and going through all the religious motions.
We do not become Christlike by accident
As I was preparing this message I began to sing to myself an old gospel song called “Breathe on Me.” Written by Edwin Hatch, with music by B. B. McKinney, the song goes like this
Holy Spirit, breathe on me,
until my heart is clean;
let sunshine fill its inmost part,
with not a cloud between.
Breathe on me, breathe on me
Holy Spirit, breathe on me;
Take Thou my heart, cleanse every part,
Holy Spirit breathe on me.
I like that song because it puts the emphasis in the right place. We do not become like Christ merely by self-effort. Without the Holy Spirit, we will stay exactly as we are.
Money won’t matter at the gate of heaven
As Spurgeon came to the end of his sermon, he concluded by saying that if we have been like Christ on earth, we will be like him in heaven. He imagines an angel at the gate waiting to admit those who look like Jesus. The angel turns away a man with a crown of earthly greatness and a man with a vast education and someone who possesses rare beauty. Finally the angel turns away a celebrity.
None of that will matter in the least at the gate of heaven. But if the things that matter on earth don’t matter in heaven, who then will ever be admitted?
Here is Spurgeon’s answer:
“Then there appears another: poor he may have been; illiterate he may have been, but the angel, as he looks at him, smiles and says, “It is Christ again, a second edition of Jesus Christ is there. Come in, come in. Eternal glory thou shalt win. Thou art like Christ. In heaven thou shalt sit because thou art like him.”
We are not there yet.
But we are on the way.
This is our challenge, our calling, and our prayer:
May Christ be seen in us.
May the Holy Spirit fill us with grace and truth.
May the whole world know by the way we live that we have been with Jesus.