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Galatians 5:16-23 teaches that at any moment we are either walking by the Holy Spirit or according to the sin nature. Walking by the Spirit, enjoying fellowship with God, walking in the light are virtually synonymous. During these times, the Holy Spirit is working in us to illuminate our minds to the truth of Scripture and to challenge us to apply what we learn. But when we sin, we begin to live based on the sin nature. Our works do not count for eternity. The only way to recover is to confess (admit, acknowledge) our sin to God the Father and we are instantly forgiven, cleansed, and recover our spiritual walk (1 John 1:9). Please make sure you are walking by the Spirit before you begin your Bible study, so it will be spiritually profitable.

Tue, Aug 02, 2011

35 - Evidence of Truth [b]

Acts 4:1-22 by Robert Dean
As we continue in our study of Acts, we see how Chapters 3 & 4 fit together. In our previous lesson, we saw Peter challenged by the Sandhedrin, a council of approximately 71 priests, temple guards, and Sadducees, and how he dealt with them. These Jews knew full well that there was proof of an empty tomb, yet their hostility toward Peter's message was evident. How did Peter handle them? Scripture says Peter was "full" of the Holy Spirit. Is this the same as walking by means of the Holy Spirit?

Peter boldly challenges the Sandhedrin, and we are introduced to Apologetics. In this lesson, we begin to learn how we believers in the Church Age can accurately apply the doctrine of Apologetics in our own lives.
Duration:1 hr 5 mins 11 secs

Evidence of Truth. Acts 4:1-22

 

Acts chapters three and four work together and fit together, and we have to understand them in the same context. The event sin chapter three relate to the healing of the lame man outside of the temple at the gate called Beautiful. This is a lame man who has been crippled from birth. He is known by everyone in Jerusalem, a fixture, we might say, outside the gate Beautiful and for most of his adult life has been sitting there begging. Peter and John come and Peter looks at him. On the basis of Peter and John's faith in  the Lord Jesus Christ they announce to him that he is healed and they tell him to stand up and walk. Peter grabs him by the arm and pulls him to his feet. Suddenly strength is brought to his legs and he is leaping and bounding, praising God throughout the temple. We have seen that it was not on the basis of his faith that he was healed but on the basis of the faith of Peter and John.

This led to a message or sermon by John in which John gives another opportunity to the Jewish audience listening to recognize that Jesus of Nazareth was indeed the promised Messiah from the Old Testament. His focus was on God's plan and God's promise of a Messiah to Israel, starting with reference to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in 3:13, pointing out the reality that they Had denied His claims and denied that He was who He claimed to be, and that they had by choosing Barabbas authorized His execution. Then Peter drove home the point, and that was that they were to change their minds and turn back to God so that the times of refreshing would come. His point is that the messianic kingdom, the coming of the Messiah in glory to reign, is conditioned upon the turn of the Jews to accept Jesus as Messiah. Until they do that—which is what Jesus had said at the end of Matthew chapter twenty-three: until they say, Blessed is He who comes in then name of the Lord—He would not return. This is the precondition for the establishment of the second coming. The announcement in Matthew 13 and the parallels in the other Gospel passages that this generation of Jews were under divine discipline because of the rejection of their Messiah still stands still stands, but the message of hope doesn't change. They have to turn and accept Jesus as Messiah before the messianic kingdom will come called the times of refreshing in verse 19.

He then goes on to Deuteronomy 18:15ff that there would be a prophet like Moses. And at the end Peter hits home the point in verse 26: NASB "For you first, God raised up His Servant and sent Him to bless you by turning every one {of you} from your wicked ways." This is the third time he has mentioned the resurrection, which by now has gotten the Sadducess, who were really the power base supervising everything that went on on the temple mount, very upset. They are seriously upset that Peter and John have the audacity and the temerity to come here to the temple and proclaim Jesus as the Messiah and to say that He rose from the dead. Even tough they knew that several weeks before Jesus had been raised from the dead—the evidence was clear to them that the tomb was empty, they had been warned that the disciples might try to steal Jesus' body and so they had put a guard on the tomb, and yet the tomb was discovered to be empty. They had irrefutable proof of an empty tomb and yet they are still denying that because they had a pre-set, determined commitment that resurrection is impossible. Because they were set on negative volition to the truth they were refusing to accept or to properly understand evidence that is before their very eyes. So when they heard Peter and John preaching the resurrection from the dead they arrested them and incarcerated them on one of the rooms of the temple overnight so that they could convene the Sanhedrin the next day in order to try them.

There was a progress report given by Luke in verse four that five thousand males who heard their message believed. It is that belief that is the key, all that is required in Scripture for salvation is to trust in God's provision of a savior, which is Jesus Christ.

Then we began to look at what took place in the council chamber as the council of seventy plus the high priest gathered together. Peter confronts them. Acts 4:10 NASB "let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by this {name} this man stands here before you in good health." Once again he makes sure that it is Jesus who gets the credit. He has this whole congregation here of 71, none of whom believe that resurrection from the dead is possible, and operating from divine viewpoint knows that they know that Jesus rose from the dead. They may be denying it, suppressing that truth in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18ff), but they know not only from what they have heard but because they tried to cover it up. They have a certain intellectual knowledge that Jesus did rise from the dead but they are not giving it any meaning—the same meaning that Peter does.

Then he quotes from Psalm 118:22. Acts 4:11 NASB "He is the STONE WHICH WAS REJECTED by you, THE BUILDERS, {but} WHICH BECAME THE CHIEF CORNER {stone}," concluding in verse 12, "And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved." Again we see this claim of exclusivity in the Scriptures. This is what just drives unbelievers nuts! People just hate the fact that Christians come along and say Jesus is the only way. That's what the Bible teaches, it is not our opinion. Cf. John 14:6.

Acts 4:13 NASB "Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and {began} to recognize them as having been with Jesus." The word "confidence" is the Greek word parrhesia [parrhsia] and it means there is openness, confidence, boldness. He knows that he has the truth. He is not defensive, he is going to present the truth as clearly as he can and is not going to worry about what the consequences are. "…and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men," reflects the type of arrogance that was evident among the Sanhedrin at that time. The word "untrained" is translated in some translations as "ignorance." It is the Greek word idiotes [i)diwthj] from which we get the word "idiot" in English. It didn't mean idiot in Greek, it had the idea of someone who was on his own or self-taught; he wasn't trained in the right schools but was self-taught. So they had this elitist religious group, the Sanhedrin, and they're looking down at Peter and John as untrained and uneducated; and they marvel at them, they are just amazed at what is going on.

What is interesting in the way Luke is writing this is that he uses these imperfect tenses all through here. The imperfect tense indicates continued action. All through this they are listening, continuously being amazed at the fact that these men who they considered to be untrained, ignorant fishermen are utilizing the Scriptures in such power. That is because God the Holy Spirit is empowering them and they have the conviction of the truth of their position. Then at the end of the verse we read that they realized that these men had been with Jesus.

Acts 4:14 NASB "And seeing the man who had been healed standing with them, they had nothing to say in reply." They had no reply and the imperfect tense here indicates that they continued to have nothing to say. As Peter is making his statements they have no reply, they are amazed at what he is saying and they have no answer to his arguments. If you can't answer facts that the opposing side is presenting what do you fall back on? Emotion—on anger, on intimidation and bluffing. That is exactly where they end up going in this encounter. Acts 4:18 NASB "And when they had summoned them, they commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus."

The issue here for us: When we boil the whole thing down what we have here is a witnessing encounter. Here are Peter and John explaining the good news about Jesus Christ and His claim to be the Messiah, and His resurrection, to a group of people who do not believe that Jesus is the Messiah and who refuse to accept the fact that He rose from the dead. So it is time to stop and look at how they are handling this witnessing situation, at the mechanics, and especially when we bring in the fact that they are dealing with evidence. That is an important aspect as we talk about the gospel: What is the evidence of the truth of the gospel? And it is not just a matter of what is the evidence but of how do we use the evidence. We are supposed to use evidence. God did not work in history in a vacuum, there is clear evidence. The Scripture talks about that evidence and God provides evidence because Christianity, despite what some people want to say about it, is not just a blind leap of faith into the dark. Belief is not empty. Faith is knowledge based upon fact and you believe the facts. Every scientist believes in facts.

But now we introduce another issue. What is this word "fact"? What makes a fact a fact, and is there such a thing as just an independent, autonomous fact that just sits there on its own un-interpreted? Is there such a thing as a fact that doesn't immediately and simultaneously with your awareness of it also have interpretation with it? Or does fact exist apart from interpretation? We will say that there is no such thing as an independent fact. Every fact is interpreted and is viewed and assigned an interpretation from the very beginning.

How do we use evidence and what kind of response can we expect from referring to and using evidence? This gets us into an area that is very important within our understanding of Christianity and it is the area of apologetics. Apologetics is sometimes misunderstood but it is extremely important and is commanded in Scripture.

1 Pet 3:15, 16 NASB "but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always {being} ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame."

"Ready to make a defense" is the Greek word apologia [a)pologia], a word that comes out of the legal language, the language of the courtroom, in ancient Greece. It means to give a speech that is defending a proposition, a position. It is used in the courtroom of making a legal defense of a case. It could refer to the legal case offered by the prosecution. He is making a proposition that so-and-so is guilty and now he is going to give the evidence and the reason why this person is guilty. It could refer to the defense attorney who is going to say this person is not guilty, and now he is going to give the reason why he claims the person is not guilty. In a courtroom situation there are different realities than there are in witnessing. In witnessing there are other factors. In a courtroom situation there are two different sides; they present their case and the jury is in a position ultimately of neutrality. There is not necessarily a neutrality on the part of the unbeliever. But the command here is that we need to give a defense. Apologetics has to do with the broad topic of being able to give an answer, to be able to explain in a logical coherent manner to people why we believe what we believe. When we are engaged in apologetics there is a right way to do it and a wrong way to do it. So how do we explain the gospel, present what we believe to someone who doesn't believe it, in a right way? 

Within the realm of theology we have a branch of study that is called apologetics. It is a broad field of study; it is not identical to studying Christian evidences. Christian evidences may be a sub-set of apologetics but apologetics is simply covering how we communicate the gospel in a clear way to those who need to hear it. Any time anyone is making a case for the gospel then they are engaged in apologetics. 

Another aspect of apologetics has to do with effectively communicating to someone. It gets down to the whole process of communicating truth in a cross-cultural situation. We as Christians are part of a culture, a Christian culture; we think differently than any unbeliever thinks. So we have to present what we are saying in a way that is going to, to the best of our ability, make the gospel clear. This is not excluding the role of the Holy Spirit which is very important and is part of this. We can't do the Holy Spirit's role; He is not going to do our role. We have to be as effective as we can in our role and He will take care of whatever shortcomings there are. That is not a basis for excusing our responsibility but is recognizing that we have different roles. So we have to communicate the gospel to people. Not only is there a cross-cultural difference between the way we think as Christians and the way unbelievers think but we may be Americans taking the gospel as a missionary to another culture, to people who have grown up in another ethnic group, another country another language, and they think differently.

Within the context of apologetics the question comes up and there is a lot of debate on how to use evidence. On the one hand there is a group of people who are called evidentialists. They believe that if you just give people the evidence that Jesus is God and that He rose from the dead, and that the Bible is true, that that is all a person needs and they will believe it. There are problems with that approach. On the other side there is a group called presuppositionalists. They understand that because man is fallen he has a spiritual agenda in terms of suppressing the truth in unrighteousness; and they say that has to be taken into account. Really when we look at the two camps, the two approaches, the bottom line is: What is the ultimate authority? As a Christian communicating the gospel how are we going to validate the truth, the truth of God? Is there anything higher than God? No. If God says, "I am truth," are we going to appeal to a higher authority to establish His truth? No. He is God; He is truth. If we approach from an evidentialist viewpoint their approach is that of you give a logical reasoned explanation then people should believe it, because it is logical. Or, if they are an empiricist, if we give the historical validation then that is what they need to know. A presuppositionalist would say the problem with both of those approaches is they are treating facts as if they exist in pure neutrality. In the devil's world no fact exists in pure neutrality; all facts are immediately interpreted in some sense.

Example: Romans 1:18-21 NASB "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them." In other words, Paul is saying they know God exists. "For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse." The things that are made are evidence of God's existence. A presuppositionalist isn't saying it is apart from evidence, he is saying it is how you use the evidence. We have to realize that the evidence here is the creation but the evidence, the brute fact, doesn't exist; it is immediately suppressed by unrighteousness. "Being understood" is a knowledge concept; it is known (in one sense of knowledge). "For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened." The atheist knows God, but only in one sense: in a sort of an academic, intellectualized sense.

In this case we see that there is evidence, i.e. the creation. We also have an interpretation of the facts of creation. As a Christian we look at those facts and interpret them as something created by God, but as a Darwinist we would look at the same thing and interpret it differently almost from the get-go, because that is our frame of reference. There is a prior orientation that comes from a spiritual issue—because it's not just about the facts, ma'am, it has to do with spiritual issues.

What we see in these verses is that all men know that God exists but the unbeliever does not know God as God has revealed Himself. That is important. The unbeliever knows God exists but not as he ought to know God exists, not as he should know God exists, because he is suppressing the truth in unrighteousness. He has knowledge of God in an intellectual and academic sense but he has at the same time rejected that and turned it back on God.

The unbeliever does not know God as he should. "Should" implies a value system. We call that ethics. As soon as we say the unbeliever knows God but not as he should know God we are linking ethics with knowledge. That is usually not done but the Bible connects the two. Knowledge is not morally or ethically neutral, or in terms of our vocabulary, knowledge is not spiritually neutral. So as soon as we use words like "should" we import these values of right and wrong to the discussion.

Rebellious man in human viewpoint wants to treat knowledge as if it is purely ethically neutral. But that is not how God created knowledge. The knowledge of God demands a decision for or against. That brings in another key word: volition. Knowledge isn't volitionally neutral either. So we learn that knowledge is not ethically neutral, therefore knowledge is not spiritually neutral. Therefore knowledge is impacted by a person's spiritual perceptions or presuppositions, which is basically volition. Knowledge therefore cannot be divorced from volition. To know something as God wants us to know something demands a volitional decision, a choice.

In John chapter 20 when the other disciples we saying that Jesus rose from the dead; they saw him. There is the evidence. What is Thomas doing? He is saying he is not going to believe until he can touch Him. He is an empiricist there. When he sees Jesus—that is the right use of evidence here—he believes in the resurrection. Then another character comes along, an unbeliever. He is positive to God but at the moment he has confused being positive with God to being positive with religion. He is out-Pharisseing the Pharisees and trying to kill every Christian that comes across his path. He hates Christianity. But what happened. Again there is an evidential exposure of the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus—right use of evidence. What that brings out is that even though he had covered up his positive volition toward God—all this religiosity—when he saw Jesus he understood, it all came together and he realized he was the Messiah promised from the Old Testament. That is the apostle Paul.

In contrast to those two we have the Sadducees here in the room with Peter and John and they have seen this lame man that most of them have know for their entire life as being lame. And when they see the evidence in front of them they go: It is not what it looks like. Why? Because they have a preconceived spiritual agenda of negative volition. Some of them may eventually be like Paul and that may change, but what they are saying at this time is, I'm not believing that. It's not a matter of not giving them enough logic and rational arguments; it is not an issue of giving them enough evidence and knowing all these different lines of argument. The bottom line is you make the gospel clear, the Holy Spirit also works to make it clear to them spiritually, but it is their volition. They have to decide to believe or to reject the truth.

The issue isn't how many people we can get saved; the issue is to be faithful in giving an answer, just basically and accurately explaining the gospel so that people can understand what it is that we have said.