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When God Is First

He Owns Our Allegiances

Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer | October 5, 2003

Selected highlights from this sermon

Peter and John were thrown into prison and flogged for talking about the resurrection of Jesus—but that didn’t stop them from proclaiming the Gospel. 

At a time when Christian freedoms are being eroded in the United States, we can learn from the Apostles how we should act and respond.   

We begin today with a quiz.

Presently in the state of California it is illegal to pray in the name of Jesus in a political rally. Suppose you lived in California. A, B, C!
• A, pray in the name of Jesus that you will not be asked to pray at a political rally.
• B, pray without using the name of Jesus, or
• C, pray in His name anyway and accept the consequences.

Here’s another one. There’s a new law, perhaps in your firm, that says that even those of you who bring your Bibles to work and read it during the noon hour that it is now illegal because you may offend the people of other faiths. So how do you respond?
• Don’t have a Bible on your desk – A.
• Leave it there and be fired, or
• C, leave it there but keep it covered with a newspaper.
Which is the correct answer?

You want to have a hymn sing in a public park, but it can’t be used for religious purposes because that, after all, would be the state sponsoring religion, so what do you do?
• Have the event anyway and get arrested?
• Call the newspapers and complain?
• Hold the hymn sing somewhere else?
What is the right answer?

Suppose there’s a new hate law in the United States like there is in Canada that it is illegal to teach what the Bible has to say about homosexuality? It is illegal to teach that because it is hate speech. Therefore, it is a hate crime. James Dobson recently… Three of his broadcasts were not allowed in Canada because, after all, he was exposing the radical gay agenda and that is illegal. That is hate. So what do you do?
• Do you lovingly teach the Bible and take your lumps?
• B, avoid the matter because arguing that it is not central to the Gospel anyway, or
• C, take some legal action even though you know you are going to be accused of being a hate monger, a bigot, a homophobic person, or other things worse than that?
Which would you do?

Could I just speak to you candidly for a few moments? I do not know why here in the United States there is not a great, great outcry as to what is happening because just think for a moment of what the Constitution says. Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion nor prohibiting the free exercise thereof. The free exercise of religion is constantly being limited, confined, spoken against, and we are in a society today where our freedoms are indeed being taken away.

Now, here’s what I’d like to say. You don’t even have to be a Christian to do some hollering about this. All that you’d have to do is to believe in the Constitution that one shall not prohibit the free exercise of religion. If that were taken seriously you would not have all of these laws. Isn’t it amazing that in our culture pornographers have unlimited freedom? I mean there are people (ACLU and others) who don’t even want filters in our libraries so that the children can have access to all the pornography too. Unlimited laws, but the question is whether or not the students can read a Bible in school or whether or not they can pray. Do you understand that there’s something wrong with this picture?

Now, you say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, things are so bad we must be in the End Times. The Lord is going to come and clean this place up.” Well, I have to tell you, my friend, things have always been this bad—usually a lot worse. You look at church history and you have two thousand years essentially, apart from the anomaly of the United States and the West and places like Canada where there was freedom. Apart from that you’ve got two thousand years of history in which there was persecution, where the church was marginalized, where believers suffered. Things have often been worse. This is not as bad as it’s going to get, so cheer up.

In fact, it began in the New Testament in the fourth chapter of the Gospel of Acts. I sure hope you brought your Bible today so that you can follow along. Peter and John did a wonderful miracle. They healed somebody and they got in trouble for it. In the fourth chapter of the Gospel of Acts you’ll notice that the Sadducees, who don’t believe in the resurrection and that’s, by the way why they are sad, you see… (laughter) I debated on the way here today whether or not I should use that. Well, you can understand which side won the debate.

It says in chapter 4, verses 1 through 3: “The priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening.”

What were the Sadducees upset about? Well, first of all the resurrection. Secondly, they wanted to maintain good relationship with the Romans, and they knew that to be identified with Jesus would get them in trouble. And they wanted to nip this budding faith in the bud and put an end to it. And furthermore, they were insanely jealous over the success of the Apostles who were really getting the big crowds. So that’s the context. It was okay that they questioned the Apostles, but it was illegal to jail them. And later on, as we shall see, they flogged them, but we’re ahead of the story.

What did the Apostles teach us about what to do when the name of Jesus is not popular? First of all, they teach us about the need to suffer. They were thrown into jail, and think of what this meant to their families. We know that Peter was married because the Gospel of Mark talks about his mother-in-law’s house. What did this mean to their families? What did this mean to the children of others who were along with the Apostles who later on were jailed? What did it mean to them? They were willing to suffer jail and intimidation and all kinds of threats, and they have taught us how to suffer, and they suffered very well.

In Acts, chapter 5 (I just love this passage.) it says that Gamaliel stood up and said, “Let’s not kill these people,” but it says in verse 40 that they took the Apostles and had them flogged. Is there anyone here today who has been flogged? When I was growing up I should have been, but I’ve never been flogged. You’ll notice it says in verse 41, “The Apostles left the Sanhedrin rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.” They loved it. They said, “We are honored to take some flak for Jesus.” You see, what we have today are Christians who constantly are moaning and bemoaning our plight, and we’re not very good representatives of Jesus. The Apostles did it with joy.

Come with me to Nazi Germany, and let us remember the sacrifice of Bonhoeffer and others who stood against Hitler. During that period of time, interestingly, one man said, “The time has come (Follow this carefully.) when the Gospel can no longer merely go out in words. It now must go out by our lives, by our suffering and by our martyrdom.” There comes a time in the history of the Church when the Gospel can no longer merely go out in words, as it has in the United States in past generations. The time is going to come when it is going to have to go out in the willingness of the people of God to be jailed unjustly and go through other kinds of difficulty simply because of the name. And the Apostle said to us, spanning two thousand years of history, “They come to us today and they say, ‘There is a need for you to suffer for Jesus.’” And as America descends into the dark night of paganism, that need is going to become more apparent.

There’s a second truth that they teach us, and that is the need to clarify the issues. I love this. They are brought together. The Sanhedrin are not very happy with them, and they are there in the middle of this circle. It says in verse 8: “Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit…” That meant that he would be able to speak with courage, but also with love and with confidence, and not with anger, but with a sense of dependence upon God, and representing Jesus Christ well. “Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit said to them, ‘Rulers and elders of the people, if we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple, and are asked how he was healed, then know this, that you and all the people of Israel (You should know this), it is by the name of Jesus of Nazareth whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead that this man stands before you healed. He is the stone the builders rejected which has become the capstone.’”

They said, “Let’s clarify some issues here. The issue is not about us. The issue isn’t even about our rights. The issue is about Jesus Christ.” And you’ll notice what he says about Jesus, the name of Jesus. First of all, it is a very powerful name. It is a powerful name. He says, “If you’re asking us how this man is standing before you healed, let it be known this was not in the name of Gamaliel that it was done.” Now, Gamaliel was an important person and there are other important people mentioned here in verse 6. There is Annas the High Priest, there is Caiaphas, there is John, there is Alexander, and you’ve got all of the big names. But guess what! It wasn’t the big name that healed this man. It was Jesus that healed him.

Oh, that’s a powerful name. Addictions have been broken in that name. People have been saved, as all of us are who have trusted Christ. We have been saved in that name. That name defeated all enemies. That name overcame Satan. That name is the name which is above every name, that at that name every knee will bow and confess that He is Lord to the glory of God the Father. There is no one else like that name.

And so the disciples said, “We want to clarify something here.” We’re talking about a powerful name. We’re also talking about an exalted name. Aren’t you glad when sometimes the experts are wrong? It gives you a little sense of satisfaction to know that the experts are wrong. I remember the days of the old Mayor Daley. He was interviewed and somebody said, “The experts say that the big cities are ungovernable.” And he said, “What in the world do the experts know?” And that was a good answer.

You know the experts had said that Jesus is just going to be put to death and that’s the end of Him. Oh, they mocked Him, the experts did. They put a crown of thorns on His head and they said, “Oh, there it is. You know, you’re a king. There’s your crown.” And then they nailed Him to a cross and they said, “You know, there’s the cross. That cross is your throne. What a king you really are.” That’s what the experts did, but you’ll notice it says that the stone which the builders rejected has become the capstone. You’ll notice it says, “You crucified Him, but God raised Him from the dead.” That represents someone who is indeed an exalted name.

Furthermore, the Apostle said, “We have to clarify something. It is an exclusive name.” Verse 12: “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.” Our world today wants many options. We want to be able to go into a grocery store and have different options. We want on our television sets many different options. Options, options! So people are saying, “I want to go to heaven my way.” No, my friend, you have to go to heaven God’s way. And there is no other way to be saved. Other teachers—yes, but nobody who can clean you up, nobody who can clean you up and deposit you in God’s presence as holy as God Himself is. There is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we can be saved, so if you belong to a different religion, just give it up and acknowledge that there is nobody out there like Jesus. He is indeed a powerful name, an exalted name, an exclusive name. We may say that His love was inclusive, but His salvation is exclusive. Jesus cornered the market on this business of salvation. There is nobody else out there like Him.

And you’ll notice what they said about the Apostles. I love this. Verse 13: “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men (These were just lay people. These were not people who necessarily had all the degrees and all the wisdom and all the knowledge. They learned at the feet of Jesus.), they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.” Does anyone at work tomorrow who meets you know that you have been with Jesus?

And so the Apostles would say to us, “You know, there’s the need to suffer. There’s the need to clarify the issue. The issue is always Jesus. That’s what it always comes down to. And it’s the issue of Jesus that causes the reaction. It’s not other names. It’s not even God. Using the name God, as we learned this morning, is no big deal. But you mention the name Jesus and you have an argument on your hands, and the reason is because He is the triumphant one. People say they love Jesus but they are just thinking about a few little verses that they know. The Jesus who died, the Jesus who is crucified, the Jesus who is exalted at God’s right hand is not loved by the world. And that’s why Jesus said to us who live in the great United States of America, “Do not be surprised if you suffer (Catch this now.) for My name’s sake.” It’s the name that people stumble over. And so the Apostles would also say, “We need to focus. We need to get some things clear here. We need to know where it is that we draw the line.”

It used to be said in America that he is a great law-abiding citizen, and a wonderful Christian. The time will come when maybe you can’t say that anymore because matters of conscience are going to have to force you to become a law breaker.

Look at what they did in verse 17: “But in order that it may spread no further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.” You notice that that’s the stumbling block. It’s not God, just mentioning God. It’s this name.

And then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied: “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” You are not going to stop us, period!

Are you all with me this morning? You know, as Christians, we may have matters of conscience over which we disagree, so we have to give one another some slack. Okay? We can’t necessarily say that one thing is wrong or right for everybody in those gray areas. But there’s one nonnegotiable issue in these great United States and around the world (wherever we are being broadcast this morning through the Internet and later on by radio). There’s only one issue and that is the issue of Jesus. There comes a time when we have to obey God rather than men, especially when it comes to the Gospel, and for that we are not only willing to be marginalized, spoken against, misrepresented and sent to jail, but we are ready to die for the cause of Jesus.

I thought you could have clapped there, but if you’re not ready to die then don’t clap. (applause)

Now, isn’t it interesting? Why did the Apostles talk about Jesus? Is it because they were commanded to? Yeah, they were commanded to, but nobody has to command you when you are in love with Jesus. Take a young woman, you know, and she gets a ring and the next morning does somebody have to command her to tell everybody at work that she has a ring from this lovely man she loves? You’d better tell people about this! Of course not.

What are you going to do with people who have been in contact with Jesus, in love with Him and experienced His power and His joy? You are not going to stop them. Are you going to put a cork on Mount Vesuvius? Are you going to take a Kleenex and use it to say, “We’re going to use a Kleenex to mop up after Niagara Falls?” Maybe you can do that to the American side which isn’t nearly as… (laughter) You sure can’t do it to the Canadian side of the Falls. Does somebody have to command you to talk about Jesus?

The other night my wife and I were at a dinner party. It was a fund raiser for a very legitimate mission organization, and we were in the presence of a Cubs fan. Now you can find them here in Chicago, but this man had been at one of the games where the Cubs won. Do you think that night before he left his wife poked him and said, “Now, remember; tell the people about the Cubs and about the game? Remember now. I command you to do it.” No, he could not help speaking of the things which he had seen and heard. (laughter)

Imagine a church full of Jesus fans. Just imagine. (applause) Not being obnoxious, not trying to get in people’s face, people who are in love with Jesus who have been saved and who rejoice in it, in whose lives sin has been put away so that the fullness of the Spirit can be experienced. Imagine thousands of people in the city of Chicago and the suburbs who are in love with Jesus and who say, “No matter what laws they make, we will obey the law but not when it comes to compromising Jesus and the Gospel. Here we stand. We can do no other, so help us God.” (applause) I tell you, as evangelicals we need to choose our battles carefully. Not everything is worth going to the wall for, but Jesus is, and it’s the name that is going to give the offense.

We should have a commitment in our lives equal to our love. A Zambian pastor a number of years ago was hacked to bits because of his proclamation of the Gospel. And his body was found by a man by the name of Rich Seamans, a missionary in Zambia. And these words were found in the place where the Zambian pastor lived, I understand even written in his own handwriting. Listen to this.

I am part of the fellowship of the unashamed. I have the Holy Spirit’s power. The die has been cast. I have stepped over the line. The decision has been made. I am a disciple of His. I won’t look back, let up, slow down, back away or be still. My past is redeemed. My present makes sense, and my future is secure. I am finished and done with low living, sight walking, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tame visions, worldly talking, cheap giving and dwarf goals. I no longer need preeminence, prosperity, position, promotions, plaudits or popularity. I don’t have to be right, first, tops, recognized, praised, regarded or rewarded. I now live by faith, lean on His presence, walk by His patience, and am uplifted by prayer, and I labor with power. My face is set. My gait is fast. My goal is heaven. My road is narrow. My way is rough. My companions are few. My guide is reliable. My mission is clear. I cannot be bought, compromised, detoured, hired away, turned back, diluted or delayed. I will not flinch in the face of sacrifice, hesitate in the presence of the enemy, pander at the pool of popularity or meander in the maze of mediocrity. I won’t give up, shut up, let up until I have stayed up, stored up, prayed up and paid up. I will give till I drop, preach till all know, and work until He stops me. And when He comes my banner will be clear. (applause)

With that kind of a commitment what happens to the ACLU’s idea that religion should be intensely private, limited to your thoughts and possibly, just possibly, to a place of worship? When you know Jesus, you cannot help but speak the things that you have seen and heard no matter the cost. That’s what it means to put God first. Our allegiance is to Jesus and everything else comes second, third, fourth, fifth or whatever. It is the name that we recognize at great personal cost.

Let’s pray.

Jesus, oh how sweet the name.
Every day you are the same.
All hail the power of Jesus’ name.
Jesus the very thought of Thee
with sweetness fills my breast,
But sweeter far Thy face to see,
And in Thy presence rest.

Help us today, Father, as a people, to be wholly devoted to the name, and we pray that our banner may be clear. We pray, oh Father, invigorate us by Your Holy Spirit. May we fall in love with Jesus all over again so that we may be able to tell others of His wondrous grace and power. Teach us, Father, what it means to put you first, no matter the cost.

And now before I close this prayer, what is it that you need to say today to Jesus? Some of you need to accept Him as Savior and say, “Jesus, I trust You. I accept You as Savior.” Others of you need to say, “Lord Jesus, everything else has been in first place. At this moment I crown You King and Lord, and grant You the grace to represent You no matter the cost.” Would you tell Jesus that?

Father, we need Your help because we are so weak, and we are fickle and we are double-minded, and we pray that Your Blessed Holy Spirit may come to us in great power, and that we might make a commitment to You no matter the cost. We love You. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

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