The Text: Psalm 32
Confession to Others
Confession to Others
Remember, Acts is the story of what Jesus continues to do by His Spirit in the Church. Consistently over history, this has provoked many to resent this powerful work and seek to destroy it, and every time, God foils their plans.
The Text: “Then the high priest rose up, and all they that were with him, (which is the sect of the Sadducees,) and were filled with indignation, and laid their hands on the apostles, and put them in the common prison…” (Acts 5:17-42)
With the city of Jerusalem buzzing with fear and excitement (Acts 5:12-16), the high priest becomes jealous and orders the arrest of unnamed apostles (Acts 5:17-18). An angel frees the apostles by night and urges them to keep preaching, and so they do (Acts 5:19-20). The next morning, the high priest marshals his court, only to find that when the officers are sent to the prison, everything is in place, except the prisoners (Act 5:21-23). While they are wondering what has happened, word arrives that the prisoners are preaching in the temple (Acts 5:24-25). The officers summon the apostles without force, and they are questioned before the assembly, accused apparently of insurrection (Acts 5:26-28).
Peter and the apostles say that it is better to obey God than man, and they repeat their message that the Jewish leaders crucified Jesus but God has raised Him from the dead and they are witnesses, as is the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:29-32). This message enraged the council, but before they could carry out any executions, a respected Pharisee named Gamaliel, gave a speech urging the council to wait and see how matters fell out, since other revolutionaries had risen up and their followers scattered after their deaths (Acts 5:33-39). The assembly agreed to Gamaliel’s advice and released the apostles after beating them and threatening them, and the apostles rejoiced and kept preaching Jesus (Acts 5:40-42).
The high priest and his party of Sadducees were filled with “indignation” at the influence and popularity of the apostles (Acts 5:17). The word for indignation can also be translated zeal, envy, or jealousy. It was out of “envy” (another Greek word) that the Jews delivered Jesus to Pilate for execution (Mt. 27:18, Mk. 15:10). The same root describes “zealots” who were often violent against the Roman-Jewish establishment, in fact, like Theudas and Judas who drew crowds of followers before their deaths (Acts 5:36-37). The irony of course is that the high priest and the council are the real zealots in this story, plotting to murder the apostles.
The warning is that misplaced zeal is often knotted up with jealous envy and masked with what is imagined as righteous indignation. Envy has been defined as pain at another’s blessing or happiness. Envy often casts another’s blessings or success as somehow unjust for any number of reasons: how they arrived there, how they are handling it, slight imperfections, etc., but it fundamentally wants to see the happiness and blessing stripped away and develops a sort of morally charged desperation (e.g. Cain, Joseph’s brothers, Ahab). Revolution is driven by this kind of violent sentimentalism, but reformation is principled and thoughtful and only takes up arms in a just cause not for personal gain or vendettas.
This episode is comical in its ironies. The high priest has risen up full of huffy zeal and put God’s apostles in prison, and God breaks them out without anyone noticing. And when the high priest has assembled his sanctimonious cabal, the prisoners are summoned, and while everything is perfectly in order, the prisoners are missing. Which is what this whole episode is about: you have a perfectly orderly legal proceeding, all the t’s crossed and i’s dotted, and appropriate paperwork filed, the only thing missing is any semblance of lawful justice. And when the truth comes out, the orderly little mob is on the verge of lynching the apostles, when the old wise man suggests, that perhaps they should wait and see if this is from God or not (Acts 5:38-39). The whole story is calculated to underline the fact that this is from God. God is with His people, and we are completely in His hand, every detail is under His rule. The machinations of men are a comical farce compared to the power and wisdom of God (Ps. 2:1-4). Whether we live or die, we serve His will, and we are more than conquerors by His grace (Rom. 8:37).
As the apostles have insisted before, God is over all authorities, and therefore, it is better to obey God than man (cf. Acts 4:19). All human authorities are under God. He is the one who establishes human authority – all authority belongs to Christ, and He delegates some of that authority to husbands/fathers, pastors/elders, and civil magistrates. John Calvin summarizes the principle like this: so long as they remain in their limited jurisdictions, they honor the authority of God over them, but when they go beyond the bounds of their office, they “diminish the honor and authority of God.” Sometimes the commands/prohibitions of men would require us to disobey God, and we must flatly refuse (e.g. Daniel and friends). Sometimes the commands/prohibitions are beyond their bounds of office but don’t directly require us to disobey God, and there is a tactical wisdom call. We may pay unjust taxes as a testimony to unbelievers (Mt. 17:25-27), or we may thresh some of our wheat in a wine press to hide it from the Midianites (Jdg. 6:11).
The tip of our spear is the preaching of the gospel not politics. The apostles are preaching when they are arrested, they immediately return to preaching when they are broken out of jail, they continue preaching when they are hauled (belatedly) before the pompous presbytery, and after they are beaten and threatened, they go right back to joyfully preaching. Reformations are driven by preaching. The American War for Independence was led by the “black robe regiment.”
And the message is this: “The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree. Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.” Christ crucified, risen, and ascended for repentance and forgiveness of sins by the power of the Spirit. This is what cuts: it cuts for the salvation of some (Acts 2:37) and it cuts for the furious indignation of others (Acts 5:33). But we preach Christ, and every detail of history bows to the rule of Christ.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. !e same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made” ( John 1:1–3).
Before turning to an exposition of the text, allow me to remind you of the arena where this text needs to be applied. This is what might be called an occasional sermon. The Canadian Parliament recently passed a law, a law called C4, that in effect outlawed any presentation of the saving gospel of Christ to those in the grip of certain sexual perversions. This legislation was plainly aimed at Christians, but whether it was or not, it just as plainly includes Christians.
In response to this move, a number of Canadian pastors have chosen this Sunday to preach on the forbidden topic, in violation of their new law, and in simple obedience to the law of God. For those who need the reminder, the law of God always outranks the legal whims of men.
Although the law does not affect us here in the States, the spirit of it most certainly does, and so a number of American pastors are also preaching on this same topic, on the same day, in solidarity with our Canadian brothers. This is not an instance of meddling in someone else’s business, like taking a passing dog by the ears (Prov. 26:17)—twenty states in the U.S. have already banned conversion therapy, about which more in a moment.
For reasons that will be made evident shortly, this is an issue that concerns absolutely everyone here. It is even more relevant to your children and grandchildren.
With that said, let us turn to a summary of our text.
In the first chapter of Genesis, we are told that God said something. We there read, “God said, ‘let there be light, and there was light” (Gen. 1:3). And of course, what God said was the Word. This Word of God was with God, and the Word of God was God (v. 1). He did not come after God temporally in any sense; He was in the beginning with God (v. 2). Everything that is created came into existence through this Word (v. 3). Apart from Him, nothing created has any possible existence apart from Him (v. 3). God the Father was the architect of all things, and we are told that God the Father in His speaking was the creator and maker of all things, through the executive of His Word, and so it was that the Spirit of God hovered over the face of the deep.
This world is therefore a spoken world. This world came into existence through that Word that was spoken. He is the Word, and we are all His words. Whatever belongs to the created order, this Word created it (Col. 1:16-17). Through this Word God made all the worlds (Heb. 1:2). And this spoken world only remains in existence because God continues to speak it; we are sustained by the Word of His power (Heb. 1:3).
The Word of His power. All created things are sustained by the Word of His power. Remember that. And what is that power? He is the Almighty. He is omnipotent. He is the everlasting God. The Word is therefore the Word of the Father’s infinite and almighty power. Christ, the Word of His power.
Now what is our circumstance? What is our situation? What is the location of the particular corner we have painted ourselves into?
This new Canadian law outlaws what they are calling “conversion therapy.” And the way they defined this objectionable behavior outlaws any attempt whatever to persuade a person with perverted sexual desires to repent of those desires. Now it has come to pass that anyone guilty of violating this law is subject to imprisonment for “a term of not more than five years.”
According to this law, conversion therapy refers to any “practice, treatment or service” that is designed to “change a person’s sexual orientation to heterosexual,” or to “repress or reduce non-heterosexual attraction or sexual behaviour”—not to mention seeking to change any number of other things that very likely need changing.
But to no one’s surprise, the law does not prohibit conversion efforts running in the opposite direction. It does not prohibit . . . “a practice, treatment or service that relates to a person’s gender transition.” It is therefore illegal now to help someone climb the slope of sexual virtue in Canada, but it is by no means illegal to help them tumble down it, and into the crevices of vice.
Now the preamble of this wretched and misbegotten law declares, ex cathedra, that conversion therapy causes “harm” to those subjected to it, that conversion therapy causes “harm” to society because it is “based on and propagates myths and stereotypes about sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression,” including the idea that “heterosexuality, cisgender gender identity, and gender expression that conforms to the sex assigned to a person at birth are to be preferred over other sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions.”
That’s a mouthful. That’s a word salad, right there, and it is about as wrong-headed as a cathedral filled with unregenerate bishops could possibly be.
In effect, they are telling us that for us to repeat the holy standards established by Almighty God causes harm because it perpetuates myths and stereotypes that run contrary to what these dogmatists think should be applauded by all. And if you refuse to go along with this nonsense, it is five years in the big house for you. Someone saw that you weren’t applauding, and started to ask pointed questions.
This law is important, so their argument goes, in order to “protect the human dignity and equality of all Canadians.”
How are we to respond? What are we to think of all this?
Before we turn to examine it in detail, let us get the defiance part out of the way. We do not believe in some kind of hetero-normativity, grounded in human tradition, but rather in theo-normativity, grounded in the absolute law of God. And on the basis of that law, we here declare in the name of Jehovah that the image of God was established by the Creator Himself, imprinted on our race in a fundamental binary. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them” (Genesis 1:27). This was His image, established by Him at the very beginning, marred by us in the rebellion and Fall, and which is now being restored in us through the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. Consequently, we consider this Canadian law to be just one more antichrist in a long line of them, and we reject it as just one more antichrist.
We reject the spirit of this law, and with high confidence in God, we issue the strongest possible defiance to this law. Together with that defiance, we believe it is our duty to issue the strongest possible warnings to those politicians and bureaucrats who are fomenting this nonsense. “Shall the throne of iniquity have fellowship with thee, which frameth mischief by a law?” (Psalm 94:20).
All of our current cultural conflicts—most certainly including this one—boil down to this. This is a battle for editorial control of the dictionary. And by “dictionary,” I mean the sum total of all our dictionaries. Our aspiring tyrannical mandatorians want to be granted the authority to be allowed to define all words, and they want their definitions to stand uncontested. They want to seize the authority to jail any who use language in forbidden ways. Other definitions, regardless of their source, are backhanded as “myths”—and not only myths, but forbidden myths.
They have determined that it is high time for them to rise up, and challenge the Editor-in-chief, the one who gave us the ability to speak in the first place, and consequently the one who is the Lord over all our old dictionaries. As the giver of speech, He is the giver of dictionaries. He is Lord of all the pronouns. He is the Lord of coherent speech, and we see in this, their incoherent speech, that He is the Lord of wrath also.
We need to understand this effort of theirs as a new Babel; this is a linguistic ziggurat. They intend to defend themselves against what Jehovah did to them the last time—that is, confusing their tongues—by seizing control of all language beforehand. If they are the editors of all the dictionaries, and if they can thereby control our speech, then plainly they have seized what they have lusted after for centuries. They were building a great tower of stones the last time, and God interrupted them by confusing their languages. So this time, as they vainly imagine, they have seized that weapon for themselves, and they will outwit Him, and they will build their new great tower out of definitional elasticity.
But who is it that they have decided to challenge in His position as the Editor of all dictionaries? Who are they taking on? His very name is the Word.
They have decided that they are going to challenge the God of all dictionaries, the God of all language, the one who fashioned Adam as a speaking creature. God gave the gift of speech, the gift of words, to the dust of the ground. They are going to wrestle—for all or nothing—for exhaustive authority over words, and they are going to throw out this challenge to the Word. They are doing this on the lip of the Abyss, on the edge of ultimate madness, on the threshold of the Void, and they are demonstrating to us how the madness is already starting to set in.
They have challenged the Almighty to a battle of words. They have challenged the Font of Speech itself to a duel of words. So if there is one thing that Christians should not be in the light of all this, it is anything like “worried.”
This is like a five-year-old attacking Neptune with a water pistol. It is like trying to set the sun on fire with a box of wooden matches. It is like throwing a snowball at all the glaciers of Greenland. This is the supreme folly. It is demented. It is the latter half of the banquet at Belbury. There is no reason for anxiety, Christian, because our adversaries have staked out their position plainly. They have said blotcher bulldoo, and they have warned us sternly that it is the law.
Now the Lord of all is sovereign over all things, obviously, but it has been His good pleasure to mediate His authority in the world through His church. He has made us kings and priests on the earth (Rev. 1:6; Rev. 5:10). “And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all” (Eph. 1:22–23).
This means that the answer to this particular frenzy on the part of our ruling elites is an answer that is going to proceed from the church. And when the church speaks, she does so from her pulpits with an open Bible laid out on those pulpits. And what do we say? The prince of darkness grim, We tremble not for him; His rage we can endure, For lo! his doom is sure; One little word shall fell him. That word above all earthly powers No thanks to them abideth; The Spirit and the gifts are ours Through Him who with us sideth. —Luther, A Mighty Fortress Mark that. “No thanks to them abideth.” But that Word abides nonetheless. It abides despite their scorn and pretended sophistication. It abides despite their threats of five-year sentences. It abides despite their abandonment of common law, common grace, and common sense. It abides despite their inversion of all fixed categories (Is. 5:20). The Word abides.
In 1943, when Churchill and Stalin and Roosevelt were discussing the shape of the post-war world, the story is told that someone suggested that the pope might have something to contribute to their discussion. And Stalin is reputed to have said, “The Pope, how many divisions has he?”
In this confrontation of ours—and it is a confrontation—the worldings turn to us and they ask us what resources we might have? They have armies and navies, parliaments and conferences, international corporations and nuclear weapons, control of the monetary system, a hammerlock on the media, and many thousands of kept and fully-house trained scientists. So they turn to us with a sneer. How many divisions do we have?
And our answer is simple. We have words, and water, and bread, and wine. And underneath all of it we have the Spirit of Jehovah.
Now the reason that all of this is happening is because our ruling class is unregenerate. They do not know God, and that is why their decisions and determinations and law are shrouded in this peculiar kind of darkness. They dwell in darkness, and they hate the light, and why?—because their deeds are evil (John 3:19).
But what kind of power does darkness have when light is spoken to it? What happens whenever God says “let there be light”? And what happens when God says—as He will say—“let there be light” again?
When God said “let there be light” to the darkness of nullity and non-existence, there was immediately light. But He has the same kind of authority when He speaks to a different sort of darkness—the darkness of this sin and rebellion. And when He speaks light to that kind of darkness, the same thing will happen. Light happens, and the light does not come to be by coincidence. No, the light appears because it is obedient.
They will of course want to stop any word that has this kind of power, any word that has this kind of authority. And they will try to stop it by locking up preachers. Let them. Binding preachers is a whole lot easier than tying up their message.
It does not matter whether our ruling elites have scheduled a great reformation and revival. It does not matter that they have not written down anything like that on their calendars. What matters is whether it is on God’s calendar—and all the prophets, from Samuel on, declare that it is in fact on God’s calendar.
So it does not matter to us that the darkness has not planned for an eruption of light. They have nothing to do with what is going to happen. They have no authority, and less sense. They thought the little dwarf star of the church was about to flicker and go out, little realizing that it was actually God’s appointed place for the next supernova.
And so here is the outlawed light. This is the message that they don’t want you to hear.
Jesus is Lord. Caesar is not Lord. Jesus is the Creator of all things, and it is His will that all little girls grow up to be women. It is His will that all little boys grow up to be men. His is His purpose, intention, and design that the love between Christ and the Church be embodied and modeled by a man and a woman coming together in a fruitful union.
This is His will, and we are commanded to listen to His will because He is the one who rose from the dead. The cabal of crooked politicians in His day conspired to have Him railroaded in a joke trial in the middle of the night, condemned to death, and hanged on a gibbet. While He was hanging there, the diseased politicians of His day came to the foot of the cross in order to taunt Him. Come down, they said, and then we will believe.
But it was not His purpose to come down. He was going to go down, down to the grave, and from that place He was going to come up. We do not follow the one who came down from the cross. We follow the one who came up from the grave. Do you not see?
And as the one who came up from the dead, He is now established on His throne as the Lord of all things. In the first place, He is now the Lord of crooked politicians, and He will dispense with them as He pleases. God has established Him in His great office, as the Son of God, by His resurrection from the dead (Rom. 1:4). Christ is established as the judge of the whole earth, which includes all these pitiful lordlings, and God established Him in that role by raising Him from the dead (Acts 17:31). The Word tells us that the Lord Jesus will judge the world in righteousness. He will judge the world in righteousness, and not in demented folly.
He is the Lord of the crooked and the Lord of the straight, and He knows how to make the crooked straight. He is the Lord of kings and congresses. He is the Lord of princes and parliaments. He is the Lord of boys and girls, men and women. He is the Lord of marriage. He is the Lord of darkness and the Lord of light. He is the Lord of the secular carnival fun house of mirrors. He is the Lord of love and the Lord of hate. He is the light, and He is love. He is the Lord of oceans and Lord of the dry land. He is the Lord of holiness, and the day is coming when holiness to the Lord is inscribed on the smallest things, down to the bells of the horses (Zech. 14:20).
You may be a member of parliament who supported and voted for this monstrosity. You may be a faceless functionary in some bureaucracy gearing up to enforce it. You may be an intelligence analyst who thinks that your grasp of data rivals the omniscience of God. You may be a Canadian pastor who is trying to figure out how to compromise on this without looking like you are compromising. You may be a soft evangelical think-leader who is trying to figure out how to configure all of this as somehow “not a gospel issue,” and as yet another lamentable exercise in conspiracy thinking by conservative Christians. It actually doesn’t really matter who you are.
It doesn’t really matter who you are because if Christ summons you with His inexorable and efficacious word, then you will come. You can come to Christ from anywhere. If He turns to you, looks straight at you, and summons you with the Spirit of God, the very finger of God, with which He points at you, what will you say? And if He then says, “Come, follow me,” then that is what you will in fact do. He is the Word, and He has spoken. He has said, “Follow me.”
And I, as a minister of His Word, am speaking in His name and on His behalf. Not only am I authorized to do so, I am under obligation to do so. You are now summoned. Christ was crucified, died, was buried, and rose from the dead, and so you are now summoned. “And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely” (Rev. 22:17)
And when you come to the light, you will leave the darkness behind.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, amen.
On December 8th, the Canadian government passed Bill C-4 by royal assent, which means that with a little bit of bureaucratic shenanigans, it passed with unanimous consent. Bill C-4 effectively criminalizes Christian preaching, teaching, and counseling that upholds Biblical morality for all sexuality. It specifically prohibits “conversion therapy” and defines that therapy as any practice, treatment, or service that seeks to call individuals to embrace the body God created them with and heterosexuality, with a penalty of up to five years in prison. It also condemned historic, biblical teaching as “myths.” Having gone into effect last week, a number of faithful men have called for the pastors of Canada to preach messages today in defiance of that law, and many American pastors are also joining them to stand in solidarity with them but also to exhort and warn our own American leaders from going down this same path.
“Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:9-11).
Here Scripture clearly teaches that the unrighteous cannot inherit the kingdom of God (6:9). And the surprising warning is that Christians can be deceived into thinking that they can live in these patterns of sin and inherit the kingdom (6:9). In particular, fornication, idolatry, adultery, effeminacy, sodomy, theft, covetousness, drunkenness, rage, and extortion are singled out (6:10). These practices characterized some of the Corinthians (6:11). But they have been changed, and they are not the same anymore because they have been washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of Jesus, and by His Spirit (6:11).
Our texts says: “do not be deceived” (1 Cor. 6:9). And the clear implication is that it is possible to be deceived. This is a real temptation, and it is a temptation for Christians in the church. The Devil is the Father of all lies and deception, and one of the central lies of the Devil is the lie of despair. This is the lie of the Canadian legislation, and it is the lie that has been growing in influence in our culture, even inside the Christian Church. In Revelation 12, we are told that the Accuser has been cast down out of heaven, where he used to accuse the brethren night and day (Rev. 12:9-10). While his power has been greatly diminished, his primary occupation is accusing sinners of their sin. And with those accusations comes condemnation: the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23).
So the central lie is that it is too late, your sins and mistakes are too great, there’s nothing that can be done, and you cannot change. The next lie that comes right on the heels of those lies is that the best you can hope for in this life is to limp and hobble along with your sins and demons clutching at you and weighing you down. Paul was writing Christians who were making peace with certain sins, concluding that they could not be completely free in this life. But Paul says that if they are not free of those sins then they cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven (1 Cor. 6:9-10). In a sense, the Satanic lie is actually so insidious because it settles for a mild despair: this is as good as it gets, limping along. But the Bible teaches that you must completely despair. You must come to the end of yourself.
Ever since Adam, there’s a sick rebellious streak in all the sons and daughters of Adam that wants to be a tragic hero. We want to make terrible choices and then flop and claim we are victims of the universe. “That’s just who I am” is a proud, defiant claim, and we have taken that claim to new institutional heights in our culture by making them fundamental identity markers: transgender, bisexual, queer, lesbian, same-sex attracted, “gay celibate Christian,” etc. But all of it is a false gospel. The offer of this “gospel” is that if you find your “identity,” you will be at peace with yourself and the world, but there is no peace in sin, and the early death and suicide rates of these communities is off the charts.
Many well-meaning and soft-hearted Christians are swept along with this, not wanting to heap up shame or hurt on folks who struggle with these sins and temptations. Or we go soft on those sins because we have our own guilt and shame for “more respectable” struggles. While we must always be kind and patient, it is not kind or gracious to go along with lies or delusions, especially the kind that we are told explicitly in Scripture cannot inherit the Kingdom. The truth is that all the descendants of Adam do need a new identity, and that identity is found in Christ, and Christ alone. In Christ, every sin and sinful identity is washed away, and we are set apart as holy to God by the Holy Spirit and fully vindicated by the name of Jesus (1 Cor. 6:11).
So we preach conversion to Christ and conversion in Christ. This is not a “therapy” at all, but it is the supernatural power to change, to repent, to turn from sin and walk in the light. We proclaim liberty to the captives. We proclaim forgiveness of all sins in the blood of Jesus. And we defy and condemn every teaching, every legislation, every executive order, or court decision that says otherwise.
Fundamentally, to deny the power of Christ to change sinners, to set them free from the bondage of their sin, is to deny the resurrection of Jesus from the dead: “… what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead…” (Eph. 1:19-20). What is this great power to change that we proclaim in Christ? It is the power of resurrection from the dead.
Elsewhere, it says that if Christ is not risen, then we are still in our sins (1 Cor. 15:17). We can make the inverse point as well: if we are still in our sins, and if our sins are impossible to remove, then Christ is not risen from the dead. This is what the Canadian government, Revoicers, and all the rainbow churches are fundamentally denying: the resurrection of Jesus. But Christ is risen, and we are free. Christ is risen, and all things are being made new.
And the particular newness that we are being made into is the newness of what we were made to be: new men and new women, new fathers and new mothers, new marriages, new families, new communities, new nations. If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17).