Blog Post

Video: “We Cannot Stop Speaking” Spring 2015 Commencement Sermon


I hear the sound, the rustling, and the chatter of many babes, toddlers, and young children. That is a sweet sound. They are welcome here. That noise is not an interruption to our gathering; it is a contribution to it. Moms, don’t feel the need to run out. They are welcome to be a part. Perhaps some of them, even as babes, are astounded to see their father or mother actually graduating. We would hate to deprive them of the memory today holds.

This morning, I want to bring you a somewhat brief, but direct sermon,from Acts Chapter 4, verses 1-22.   If you have a Bible in proximity to you or on your phone, I encourage you to follow along. The title of the sermon, taken from this passage, is simply “We Cannot Stop Speaking.” I bring it as a charge to our graduates today, a sermonic charge that I pray will be instructive for a lifetime of faithful ministry to our Lord Jesus Christ. As I was reading this passage, I was thinking about today and reflecting upon what it means to stop speaking or to not stop speaking.

Many years ago I read a biography on United States President, Calvin Coolidge. Coolidge was elected to serve as governor of Massachusetts in 1918, elected vice-president of the United States in 1920, and on August 2, 1923, when President Warren Harding died, he ascended to the presidency. Coolidge is largely forgotten because his presidency and personality was largely forgettable. His vision of the presidency was a small one. He was determined to shrink the role of the Federal Government and the role of the office of the president as well. Now nearly a century later, Calvin Coolidge is mostly remembered for his determination to be a man of few—and I do mean very few—words. By force of personality and by choice of administrative policy, he rarely, if ever, spoke. So much so he earned the nickname “Silent Cal”. His personality was a quiet and subdued one. Though he would speak rarely, he simply thought it was advantageous to the office and to himself to never speak. On one occasion when Coolidge was in the White House, his successor as governor of Massachusetts, Chaney Cox, came to visit him, and heasked President Coolidge, “How do you have time in the day to fulfill your responsibilities?” He said, “I don’t even have time to run the state of Massachusetts. How do you have time to be president of the United States?” Coolidge said, “Chaney, the problem is you talk back.” Coolidge described his technique in dealing with visitors. He said he let the visitor come into the office, and he would not say a word and after about three minutes the visitor would have simply run out of words and stopped talking. He said, “Whatever you do, if you so much as give a yes or no, that will prompt your guest to rewind. Simply say nothing at all.” Chaney asked Coolidge if he had a secret button to press whereby an administrative assistant or a security officer would come in to bring the guest out if they had overstayed their visit. Coolidge said, “I promise you my guests have no trouble discerning when it is time for them to leave and when the meeting is over.” Alice Roosevelt Longworth, a leading Republican of the day, described Coolidge as silent in his dour personality in these brief meetings. She said, “He pursed his lips, folded his arms, and said nothing. He looked as though he had been weaned on a pickle.” What is more, Coolidge was even tight-lipped with his wife, Gracie. She was the talker in the family. One Sunday, Coolidge went to church without his wife, and when he came home Mrs. Coolidge asked him what the sermon had been about. Coolidge simply replied, “Sin.” She was exasperated by his terse answer so she pressed him to elaborate, “Well, what did the minister say about it?” Coolidge simply responded, “The minister was against it.” One of my favorite Silent Cal stories relates to a wager at a Washington, D.C., dinner party made by the socialite, Dorothy Parker. Unbeknownst to the president, Parker had made a bet with a group of persons in attendance at the dinner that, throughout the course of the evening, she could get Silent Cal to say three or more words. Exasperated at the end of the dinner party, Dorothy Parker stood up, gathered everyone’s attention and said, “I made a bet today that I could get three or more words out of you, Mr. President, and you haven’t spoken a single word tonight. Coolidge stood up, smiled and replied, “You lose.” This mystified the Washington, D.C., social circles because Calvin Coolidge would attend their dinner parties but never say a word; never socialize with anyone. One of his aides asked him, “Mr. President, since you don’t like to visit with anyone, why do you still attend these dinners?” He replied, “Because a man’s got to eat dinner somewhere.” Years later, the same Dorothy Parker who made the wager, when she was informed that Coolidge had died, responded, “How could they tell?” Coolidge once reflected on why he said so few words. He said this, “The words of a president have enormous weight and ought not be used indiscriminately.”

I would take issue with Coolidge this morning and implore our graduates differently. The words of the gospel have enormous weight as well, but that is precisely why we must use them indiscriminately. We have something to say as Christian ministers and we best be about saying it for the rest of our days on this planet. We find in the book of Acts this morning, the story of two men who could not stop speaking. They are Peter and John.   Despite all terror in the face of all fear in Acts 4, they are charged, they are instructed, and they are threatened that they must stop speaking. Nonetheless, they persist in their witness in this chapter, throughout this book, and throughout the early years of the Christian church.

There is a cycle we see that occurs throughout the book of Acts that goes something like this; we see power on display—the power of the Holy Spirit working through the strong, faithful preaching of the apostles and ministers. With that power, and then with that emboldened proclamation, comes persecution almost always. After the persecution, we see the power redoubled and the proclamation emboldened and persecution comes again. These three seem to feed off of one another. That is what is taking place in Acts 3. Peter and John were walking, and they healed a man in verse six in chapter three. After being propositioned for a gift, Peter said, “I do not possess silver and gold but what I have I give to you in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, walk.” He does just that. It creates a ruckus. It creates consternation in the city because it is threatening to disrupt the established religious and civil order of the day.

That brings us into Acts 4 where our passage is before us for consideration this morning. To our graduates, I want you to see first with me in verses 1-7 the opposition you shall face. Beginning in verse one, the passage reads,

As they were speaking to the people, the priests, and captain of the temple

guard, and the Sadducees came up to them. And being greatly disturbed

because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the

resurrection from the dead. They laid hands on them and put them in jail

until the next day for it was already evening. But many of those that had

heard the message believed and number of the men came to be about 5,000.

On the next day their rulers, elders, and scribes gathered together in

Jerusalem and Annas the high priest was there and Caiaphas, and John and

Alexander and all who were high priestly descent. When they placed them in

the center they began to inquire by what power or in what name have you

done this?

See the intensity of the setting. Peter and John, referenced in verse one, are speaking, teaching, and reasoning from the Scriptures with the people. Priests in the area are there and they hear. The captain of the temple guard, referenced in verse one, is second only to the chief priest in that setting. Sadducees–the religious sect that denied the resurrection and were materialists and rationalists–were around. There is a lot at stake here because the resurrection not only cuts directly against their truth claims. The whole scene is calling into question the established religious and civil order, thus threatening their control. Notice verse two, “They are disturbed because they are teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.” The visible and tangible concern which prompted all of this was the healing, but the challenge quickly went from the act to the word. It went from the deed to the spoken message. Specifically, they are challenged based upon their message of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The resurrection is woven throughout the book of Acts and, of course, throughout the New Testament, as a central and cardinal Christian doctrine. It is to be held, preached, defended, and believed. As Paul would say, “If there is no resurrection, we have no hope, our preaching is in vain, and all that we have built our Christian lives and this Christian institution on is foolishness.” The power of the sermon, and the power of this scene, is flowing from the power of the message that Jesus Christ, the Messiah, has been raised from the dead. He lives; he is alive.

A number of months ago, I had the opportunity to visit with a distinguished historian in American higher education. We were talking about this, and he was stating his personal affirmation of the resurrection; but he had trouble understanding why it was important for others to embrace the resurrection, and why it is a necessary component of Christian faith and doctrine. The hair on the back of my neck stood up immediately because the New Testament does not give us that option. Christianity is more than a set of sentiments. It is more than a set of religious acts. Christianity, at its core, is a theological religion. It is built upon truth claims. At the heart of those truth claims is the message that God sent his Son to die for sinners. He was put to death on a cross, and on the third day he was raised again. That is not an ancillary component to Christianity; that is Christianity.

Verse three tells us they laid hands on them. “They put them in jail the next day for it was already evening, but many of those who had heard the message believed and the number of men came to be about 5,000.” Christianity was exploding. On the next day their rulers, elders, and scribes gathered together in Jerusalem and Annas, the high priest, was there.” Really at this point, he is more the high priest emeritus. “Caiaphas [His son-in-law], and John and Alexander and all who were high priestly descent. When they placed them in the center they began to inquire.” So I imagine this feels like a grand inquisition, and it started with a demand for an explanation as to how this miracle took place, because it was unambiguous. It was obvious to all that this man had been lame for years and now he has been healed. They zero in on the apostles and want to know, “By what power, or in what name have you done this?” It simply is true; to be a Christian minister in the 21st century is to face opposition. It is as sure as the sun shall come up tomorrow, and the sun shall go down this evening. It is the world we now live in, and it is the world we should anticipate ministering in as far as the eye can see. I say that not to invoke discouragement, but to challenge you this morning to redouble in your own heart in this hour that regardless of who else persists or does not persist, regardless of who else is faithful or unfaithful, regardless of who else is convictional or unconvictional, you will be faithful, you will be convictional, and you will be bold in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Our passage continues forward here. We see in verses 8-12 one of the most electrifying exchanges in the New Testament. We are reminded secondly as Christian ministers of the message we must speak. In verse eight, a pivot takes place from the healing to the gospel itself.

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, says to them, Rulers and elders of the people, if we are on trial today for a benefit done to a sick man, as to how this man is made well, let it be known to all of you and to all of the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ, the Nazarene, whom you crucified, yet God raised from the dead, by this name this man stands before you in good health. For he, Jesus, was the stone which was rejected by you, the builders, but which has become the chief cornerstone 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.

We could spend the afternoon unpacking these five verses. They are electrifying. The initial observation reminds us of how Peter has been transformed. Remember what was taking place in his life just a few days before? He was denying Christ on three occasions; he and the other apostles were in hiding, fearful for their own lives. Jesus had been raised; the Spirit had come; Peter preached that great sermon at Pentecost; the Church was birthed, and now he stands before the ruling elite of Jerusalem and says, “By the way, that man whom you put to death, he is indeed God’s son and he has raised him from the dead.” He indicts the nation of Israel with the first-degree murder of the Son of God.

Notice what he says in verse 12. In unmistakable terms, he states the exclusivity of the gospel. In layman’s terms it means this, “There is one way to heaven, and it is not a way; it is a man, Jesus Christ.” We must repent of our sins and believe in him and place our faith in him to be saved. Ministry in the 21st Century, as I have already referenced, promises to be complex, but I am often bemused by those who will say something like this, “If we will just lay aside speaking to some of the more angular, difficult, controversial issues of morality, that will clear the decks for us to have the ability to speak a clear gospel witness.” That is ruinous logic for a number of reasons. First of all, we are to speak where the Bible speaks, and the Bible speaks to issues of morality, sexuality, marriage, lifestyle, and a whole host of issues. Additionally, why would you think that a civilization that rejects, for instance, what marriage is–how it is biblically understood, practiced by the church for two millennia, embraced by Western Civilization for just as long, coincides and reflects natural order–if a society is rushing headlong to not only reject this, but finds it intolerable that people like ourselves would believe it; if they will not believe that, and they become indignant with the assertion of God’s established order for marriage, do you really think they are going to find it palatable that some guy that came 2,000 years ago, lived a perfect life, died on a tree, was raised again, and is coming back one day to judge them, and if they do not believe in him they will spend eternity in hell? Is that more palatable than a basic explanation of what marriage is? Verse 12 is so pointed we should hear it again. “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” You will preach a lot of things; you will counsel a lot of things; you will speak to a lot of issues; but I pray at the heart of your ministry this day and every day will be a resolute commitment to speaking the gospel of Christ.

Again, to me, these are some of the most gripping verses in all of the New Testament. Graduates especially, the third truth I want you to see is the power we must know. Notice verses 13–16:

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. And seeing the man who had been healed standing with them, they had nothing to say in reply. But when they had ordered them to leave the Council, they began to confer with one another, saying, “What shall we do with these men? For the fact that a noteworthymiracle has taken place through them is apparent to all who live in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it.

These were Galileans; they were roughnecks and something is out of proportion here. Verse 13 says they were uneducated; they were untrained, and they did not model sophistication or culture or refinement. Nonetheless, they do exude a gospel confidence, emboldened and empowered by the Holy Spirit that alternately mesmerizes and rebukes the onlookers. The end of verse 13 states it so succinctly. “They were amazed and began to recognize these men as having been with Jesus.”

Graduates, let that be said of us. Whether you are here today with a certificate degree, an undergraduate degree, a master’s degree, a D.Min., D. Ed.Min,, Ph.D., or whatever–regardless of your academic accomplishments, perhaps the highest compliment a minister of the gospel can be paid is when people note, “that man or woman walks with Christ.”

Notice verse 16, “What shall we do with these men? For the fact that a noteworthymiracle has taken place through them is apparent to all who live in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it.” It sort of reads like a joke doesn’t it? We are getting to kind of eavesdrop on the accusers’ conversations. They are acknowledging that a man has been healed. They are acknowledging Peter and John are marked by divine power. They are acknowledging God is at work and something supernatural is taking place, and they are in a hyperactive spin mode that would make 21st century politicians blush. You want to plead with them, “Just cry “uncle”, embrace this man Jesus, receive the instructions of the apostles, follow him,” because they have seen his power on display.

Notice fourthly, the boldness we must have, as this passage come to an end. Beginning in verse 17:

But so that it will not spread any further among the people, let us warn them to speak no longer to any man in this name.” And when they had summoned them, they commanded them not to speak or teach at allin the name of Jesus.

There is no possible threat. There is no reading of the tealeaves to realize, “One day we could be in trouble for this message.” They are in trouble. The accusations have been brought home. The charges are there, and there is only one way to alleviate the tension and get out of this jam. It is to be silent. They have asked the apostles to do the one thing, above all else, they cannot do. They have asked them to be silent. In the first century, it seemed to be God’s plan to use the governmental authorities to tell the church to shut up in order to get the church to speak up. Perhaps in the 21st Century that will be the case as well. Given social pressure and perhaps even governmental pressures, it is possible that one day they will be seeking to silence us, to tell us to curtail our witness and to round the edges of the gospel witness and biblical message, but God through that would have us not to be silent, but to speak more loudly.

I love the story of Peter Cartwright, who is a well-known circuit riding Methodist preacher in the 19th Century. He was known for his courage and his conviction in the pulpit. On one occasion, shortly before his time to preach on a Sunday morning, the deacons burst into his study and told him President Andrew Jackson was in the congregation that day. Knowing Cartwright was not one to mince words, the deacons implored him not to say anything that might offend the sitting president. You know where this is going. That morning when Cartwright took the pulpit he said, “I understand that President Andrew Jackson is here today. I have been requested to be guarded in my remarks. Andrew Jackson shall go to hell if he does not repent.” The audience was aghast, with everyone wondering what Andrew Jackson would say. After the service, the president told preacher Cartwright, “Sir, if I had a regiment of men like you, I could whip the world.” What if, in our generation, through this institution–perhaps even launched in the graduates before me–we were to see an awakening brought about by God, of people who were that fanatically committed to speak, teach, counsel, and preach the gospel with unmitigated boldness?

Notice what takes place in verse 19, “But Peter and John answered and said to them, ‘Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge.’” In other words, “You figure out whether or not you think we should obey you instead of God.” “But as for us, we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.” How do you explain a bunch of apostles scattered in hiding, denying Jesus, and fearing for their lives becoming a group of men who literally would change the world in a matter of days? I’ll tell you what, it is not because they had bought into a collective lie to all pretend Jesus was alive. It was because their lives had been shaken to the core to see this man, who they believed to be the Son of God crucified, yet raised from the dead, to be filled with his Holy Spirit, and to be commissioned by him to go to the ends of the earth to speak the words of Christ. They were so convicted in their heart of hearts of the truth of Jesus that they did not have to talk themselves into boldness. Rather, they had no capacity to ratchet down their beliefs. May it be true of us, and may if be true of this graduating class, and always and evermore of this institution that whether or not it is perceived as socially or culturally right to be men and women of biblical conviction, that our testimony will always be, “We cannot stop speaking.”


topicsCommencement AddressVideo

Comments are closed.