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THE CONVERTED PRIESTS!

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord’s Day Morning, May 9, 2010

“And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7).


I struggled and prayed for hours last Wednesday over what to preach this morning. I knew God wanted me to speak again on the resurrection of Christ. But how should I handle the subject? What text should I speak from? My head was swimming as I prepared to go to bed. But, just as I finished brushing my teeth and put on my pajamas, this verse leaped into my mind – “a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7). I was afraid I would forget the text the next morning, so I wrote it down on a slip of paper and put it in my drawer in the bathroom. I went to bed and slept, knowing that God had given me the text for this morning’s sermon, “A great company of the priests were obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7).

The Apostles and their followers were not great or learned men. Most of them were just poor fishermen without a proper education, with no wealth and no earthly power. Their preaching was very simple. Only a few weeks earlier, on the Day of Pentecost, Peter preached on the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. Two thirds of his sermon was dedicated to the resurrection of Christ from the dead. Three thousand people were saved at the end of Peter’s sermon. A few days later, Peter preached on the same subject at the gate of the Temple,

“Ye denied the Holy One and the Just, and desired a murderer to be granted unto you; And killed the Prince of life, whom God hath raised from the dead; whereof we are witnesses”
     (Acts 3:14-15).

At the end of the sermon, Peter said,

“Unto you first God, having raised up his Son Jesus, sent him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from his iniquities” (Acts 3:26).

There was a great harvest of souls and,

“Many of them which heard the word believed; and the number of the men was about five thousand” (Acts 4:4).

Again, when Peter was brought before the high priest, he cried out,

“Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole” (Acts 4:10).

Yet again, a few days later, Peter was arrested a second time, and brought before the high priest. What did he say?

“The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree” (Acts 5:30).

That’s what he preached – the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ!

A few days after that, we come to our text,

“A great company of the priests were obedient to the faith”
      (Acts 6:7).

Ah, I am excited about that text! It opens before me like Ali Baba’s cave – and I see precious jewels in it!

“A great company of the priests were obedient to the faith”
      (Acts 6:7).

I will ask three questions, and answer them, to draw out the gold and jewels for you to see!

I. First, were these men good prospects to believe in the resurrection of Christ?

No! They were not! They were the least likely to believe in the risen Saviour – the most unlikely men in Jerusalem to believe that Christ had risen from the dead. These were the same priests of whom it was said a few days earlier,

“The priests [were] grieved that they taught the people, and preached through Jesus the resurrection from the dead”
     (Acts 4:1-2).

These were the same Sadducee priests that, just a couple of days before, with

“…the high priest rose up, and all they that were with him, (which is the sect of the Sadducees,) and were filled with indignation” (Acts 5:17).

Yes, these priests were Sadducees. Dr. Gaebelein’s commentary pointed out that “Most of the priests were of the Sadducean persuasion” (Frank E. Gaebelein, D.D., general editor, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Zondervan Publishing House, 1981, vol. 9, p. 301; note on Acts 4:1). Who were these priests, and what did they believe? Most of the priests were Sadducees. The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection of the dead, as we read in Matthew 22:23 and Acts 23:8,

“The same day came to him the Sadducees, which say that there is no resurrection…” (Matthew 22:23).

“For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection”
      (Acts 23:8).

The historian Josephus said that the Sadducees “held the soul to be a refined matter, which perished with the body” (Antiquities of the Jews, 18:1, 4). Even though they were prejudiced against the very idea of anyone rising from the dead,

“A great company of the priests were obedient to the faith”
       (Acts 6:7).

Dr. Gill said,

That the priests, and a large number of them, should do this, is very marvelous; since they were the most inveterate enemies of the Gospel, and persecutors of the saints (John Gill, D.D., An Exposition of the New Testament, The Baptist Standard Bearer, 1989 reprint, volume II, p. 191; note on Acts 6:7).

Someone here this morning may say, “You can’t expect me to believe in the resurrection of Christ!” Why not? If these men, of all people, came to believe in Christ’s resurrection, why can’t you? The liberal Bible critic Rudolf Bultmann said that modern man cannot accept what he called the “myth” of Christ’s resurrection. Well, these priests weren’t modern men – and they also thought Christ’s resurrection was a myth – until the power of God converted them! That’s exactly what modern people like you need today – conversion! That will clear up all your problems about Christ’s resurrection! When the power of God came to them,

“A great company of the priests were obedient to the faith”
      (Acts 6:7).

But there is more.

II. Second, what evidence did they have that Christ had risen?

First of all they had the evidence of the empty tomb. When the women came to the empty tomb they were told,

“He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay” (Matthew 28:6).

Dr. Thiessen said,

The Scriptures tell us that the tomb was empty. Surely if this were not true, someone would have shown that the disciples were deceivers; that the tomb was not empty (Henry C. Thiessen, Ph.D., Introductory Lectures in Systematic Theology, Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1949 edition, page 335).

Josh McDowell said,

There was no refutation given by the Jews to [Peter’s] bold proclamation of Christ’s resurrection. Why? Because the evidence of the empty tomb was there for anyone to examine… everyone knew that the grave no longer held the body of Jesus Christ…The Jews could not explain the empty tomb…as Fairbairn notes: “The silence of the Jews is as significant as the speech of the Christians”… throughout the first century, Christians were threatened, beaten, flogged, and killed because of their faith [in Christ’s resurrection]. It would have been much simpler to have silenced them by producing Jesus’ body, but this was never done (Josh McDowell, The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict, 1999 edition, p. 251).

The empty tomb, the silent testimony to the resurrection of Christ, has never been refuted. The Romans and Jews could not produce Christ’s body or explain where it went (McDowell, ibid., p. 252).

As John R. W. Stott has well said, the silence of Christ’s enemies “is as eloquent a proof of the resurrection as the Apostle’s witness” (McDowell, ibid., p. 251).

The priests knew that the tomb was empty. And they also knew that none of Christ’s enemies could explain why it was empty. Since the empty tomb was right there in Jerusalem, many of these priests would certainly have walked over there and looked inside. It was empty! Everyone in Jerusalem was talking about it for, as Paul said, “This thing was not done in a corner” (Acts 26:26). In fact it was the talk of the town! The empty tomb led them to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead.

They also saw the zeal of the Apostles, who proclaimed that they had seen the resurrected Christ. They saw the Apostles mocked, beaten, flogged, and thrown in prison. Yet, as soon as they were released, the Apostles went right back and preached,

“The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree” (Acts 5:30).

Simon Greenleaf, a Harvard attorney, said of the Disciples, “It was…impossible that they could have persisted in affirming the truths they [preached] had not Jesus actually risen from the dead, and had they not known this fact as certainly as they knew any other fact” (McDowell, ibid., p. 253). John R. W. Stott said, “…the transformation of the disciples of Jesus is the greatest evidence of all for the resurrection” (McDowell, ibid., p. 252). The priests saw their unswerving faith and zeal, and heard their preaching,

“And a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith”
       (Acts 6:7).

I am convinced that you and I would see more conversions if we had more zeal and more faith. Oh, if only I could preach to you with the power and zeal of Peter! Oh, if only I could be as great a witness to Jesus’ resurrection as he was! Though our zeal is so much weaker than that of the Apostles, how we pray that God Himself will quicken your heart that you might come to Jesus, “the first begotten of the dead” (Revelation 1:5)!

“And a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith”
       (Acts 6:7).

III. Third, why were they obedient to the faith?

It wasn’t just the empty tomb or the zeal of the Apostles that convinced them. There was more to it than that. There always is – in every true conversion.

They heard the Gospel preached! I am in full agreement with the old Puritans who spoke of Gospel preaching as a “means of grace.” The Apostle Paul said,

“How shall they hear without a preacher?” (Romans 10:14).

God has appointed evangelists and pastors to proclaim the Gospel (Ephesians 4:11-13). It was the preaching of the Gospel which brought them to conversion. It was the preaching of Christ crucified and resurrected that was used to soften their hearts, kindle faith in Christ, causing them to be “obedient to the faith.”

No one in New Testament times was saved without believing in the risen Christ! No great figure in Christian history was ever saved without trusting the resurrected Saviour – no, not Augustine, not Luther, not Spener, not Francke, not Zinzendorf, not Wesley, not Whitefield, not Spurgeon, not Moody, not Torrey – not anyone I have ever met! In fact, the Apostle Paul makes it perfectly clear,

“That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved” (Romans 10:9).

To be saved you must believe in your heart “that God hath raised him from the dead.” Nothing could be clearer in the Scriptures. I myself believed in a dead Christ for seven years before I was saved. I believed He died for me, but I was still lost. I wasn’t saved until I trusted the risen Christ!

Dr. John R. Rice had great insight on Romans 10:9. He said,

But to confess with the mouth is not evidence of saving faith, unless the one who so claims Christ believes in his heart honestly that Christ rose from the dead…and therefore is able to save from sin...Every person who ever exercised saving faith in Christ believed in the heart that God raised Him from the dead…One could not find a record of a single New Testament Christian who doubted the personal, bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ (John R. Rice., D.D., The Resurrection of Jesus Christ, Sword of the Lord Publishers, 1953, pp. 11, 7).

Dr. Rice was no fool. He graduated from Baylor University, spent two years at Southwestern Baptist Seminary, and did graduate work at the University of Chicago. But Dr. Rice believed the Bible, and the Bible says that the resurrection of Christ is part of the saving Gospel itself (I Corinthians 15:1-4).

“And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain [empty, worthless]; ye are yet in your sins” (I Corinthians 15:17).

“And a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith”
      (Acts 6:7).

What faith did they obey? Why, the very faith they heard Peter preach a few days earlier!

“The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree” (Acts 5:30).

That was the faith they obeyed!

How I pray this morning that you will be “obedient to the faith” – as were these priests. They were “obedient to the faith.” It seems that all the Gospel is summed up in that word “faith.” To be obedient to the faith is to believe in Jesus, to trust Him who suffered in your place on the Cross, dying there as your substitute, paying for your sins. To be obedient to the faith is to come to the Son of God, risen from the dead, seated in Heaven at the right hand of God, risen for your justification, risen to give you life, risen to give you the new birth. How I pray that you, yes even you, with all your sin – that you will come to Jesus and throw yourself upon Him in simple faith!

Venture on Him, venture wholly,
Let no other trust intrude;
   None but Jesus,
   None but Jesus,
Can do helpless sinners good.
   (“Come, Ye Sinners” by Joseph Hart, 1712-1768).

Jesus can save you! He can pardon your sins and give you eternal life! Come to Jesus! Throw yourself on Him completely – let no other trust intrude! None but Jesus, none but Jesus, can do helpless sinners good!

(END OF SERMON)
You can read Dr. Hymers' sermons each week on the Internet
at www.realconversion.com. Click on “Sermon Manuscripts.”

Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: Acts 5:17-30.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“He Lives on High” (by B. B. McKinney, 1886-1952).


THE OUTLINE OF

THE CONVERTED PRIESTS!

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

“And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7).

(Acts 3:14-15, 26; 4:4, 10; 5:30)

I.   First, were these men good prospects to believe in the resurrection
of Christ? Acts 4:1-2; 5:17; Matthew 22:23; Acts 23:8.

II.  Second, what evidence did they have that Christ had risen?
Matthew 28:6; Acts 26:26; 5:30; Revelation 1:5.

III. Third, why were they obedient to the faith? Romans 10:14;
Ephesians 4:11-13; Romans 10:9; I Corinthians 15:1-4, 17;
Acts 5:30.