3rd Sunday after Pentecost (C)
Sermon Series on Acts
Acts 5:27-33, 40-42
June 5, 2016
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the second reading from Acts 5, which was read a few minutes ago.
When my wife and I were first engaged I was living in Denver and needed a job so I spent a lot of time looking at the want-ads in the paper. One of the things I learned when I was job hunting was that the companies usually lied in their ads. They always advertised their jobs as “exciting” and “fulfilling” with “potential for growth” and “above average salaries”. Well, you go on a few interviews and you begin to see what the ads are really all about; getting bodies in the door so they can find the right person for the job.
If Jesus were to put an ad in the paper seeking Christian disciples, I don’t think He would get very many applicants. His ads would be a little too honest; “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” or “I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” These aren’t very encouraging words, are they? Is this the type of job you’d want? Probably not. But to be a Christian isn’t a job, it’s more than that. It’s a lifestyle, a call to faithfulness regardless of the repercussions.
Think about the first twelve disciples of Jesus. When the Sanhedrin, the supreme Jewish Council, had Jesus crucified, it’s understandable that the disciples hid behind locked doors “for fear of the Jews”. Their fears weren’t unjustified; they had every reason to believe that the Jews would be coming for them next.
But suddenly they were changed so that today we hear them boldly telling the Sanhedrin that they wouldn’t obey them; that they wouldn’t stop teaching about Jesus. So what changed these men from timid disciples into bold apostles? Peter tells us. He says, “The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging Him on a tree.” It’s right there! It’s the resurrection of Jesus. These men stood firmly before the same council that had killed Jesus and proclaimed the truth that Jesus is the Son of God. They stood firm even when Luke writes, “When [the council] heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them.”
Easter had changed everything! The risen Jesus had come to them and shown them what Good Friday was really all about. They saw that Jesus’ death had not been a defeat but it had been in God’s plan all along. The death of Jesus had atoned for the sins of mankind. And through His rising to life again Jesus had capped off His whole mission with victory, a victory which He shared with His disciples. The Easter miracle led the disciples out into the streets of Jerusalem and into the courts of the temple and witnessed to Jesus loudly and proudly. They were no longer afraid, they were ready to stand up and be counted as believers in Jesus Christ.
And this is clear in our reading from Acts. Here they were being threatened by the same group of men who had Jesus executed. When these officials ordered them to stop teaching about Jesus or suffer the consequences, they boldly insisted, “We must obey God rather than men.” When the authorities had them flogged to show just how serious they were, the disciples went away “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.” The disciples would never have endured torture and death for what they knew to be a lie, but they would for the truth of the resurrection.
Another reason for their bold witness is the fact that Jesus was with them even though they couldn’t see Him. He ascended into Heaven, and yet, He lived in them and empowered them to teach in His name and to do their own miracles. They did all this in Jesus name, and they wouldn’t stop, no matter what. And “no matter what” came on a whole lot faster than you might expect. It wasn’t long before Stephen was stoned to death and then James, the brother of John, was beheaded by King Herod.
To be faithful “no matter what” is still a challenge in our world today. Persecution is happening all over the world today in Muslim-dominated countries. Christians are being severely restricted in their work, in their educational opportunities, and in their worship practices. They’ve been faithful to their calling as disciples of Jesus, no matter what, even if that means their death.
How do you think you would react if you were faced with arrest and punishment for being a Christian, and were ordered by the government to discontinue all teaching in the name of Jesus? Would you be able to stand up and be counted? Would you remain involved in an active ministry of the Word of Christ? Would you learn to rejoice to be counted worthy of suffering for the name of Jesus? Would you be faithful to your calling—no matter what?
We can’t say how we might react if this challenge was put before us. I pray that I would be faithful, and I think I would be, not by my own strength, but through the Holy Spirit. If we were under threat because of our Christian faith and our Christian witness, we would be forced to think through who we are and just what our life is about. Then any one of us, with the Lord Jesus beside us and His Holy Spirit within us, would be willing to stand up and be counted rather than be intimidated into silence, or worse, into a public denial of our Lord.
I wonder though if it might be easier to die for Jesus than it is to live for Him. If we were really put on the spot, any one of us might rise to the occasion and become a martyr for Christ. To live as Christians every day, that might be more difficult, because being a disciple isn’t just a matter of words, but of lifestyle. Jesus says, “Let your light shine before others so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in Heaven.” How we go about our daily living tells others that we belong to Jesus Christ. Do we love and serve others? Or are we selfish and inward focused? The is especially hard in our own lives when we find ourselves blending into our society. All too often, we find that we are “too busy” or it’s “too inconvenient” to carry out our Christian calling. We show our Christian faith, but only if it isn’t too much trouble.
Ultimately it comes down to this: are we going to obey God or are we going to obey the world? Are we willing to die for our faith or will we hide it? I know, we’re not yet to the point that our lives will be threatened, and we might never get to that point. But our world is changing and we might all find ourselves forced to make a stand as a faithful believer in Christ.
And when that happens, we must remember that we don’t stand there alone. The risen Christ Jesus, the one who stood before and alongside the disciples, stands alongside us. We don’t need to be afraid and we can obey God rather than man no matter what. We stand firm and faithfully because Jesus has already shown His power over Sin and Death. This is what we’re celebrating today with little Brenna’s baptism. She has been brought to faith and He has given her His Holy Spirit and the forgiveness of her sins. She has now received the power of His resurrection. The resurrection that is just as much for us as it was for the James, Peter, John, and the rest. His resurrection is proof that He is the Son of God, and that “no matter what” He is with us to encourage us, but also to forgive us when we fail to stand up for Him. We are going to fail. We sin, we neglect our faithfulness and we conform to the world. But He forgives you and His resurrection changes everything, for if He is alive, and He is, we can’t help but be changed by Him.
To become a disciple of Jesus, to answer His want-ad, so to speak, means that we cannot expect life to be easy. We can’t expect to be loved, or even liked, by the world. We will have to take up the cross of suffering for Christ’s name. But when we do, we do so with joy. We can rejoice with the disciples for we too are worthy to suffer dishonor for Christ. Christ has given us all things, including His life, that we would live as His disciples. This isn’t always easy, but by Christ’s death and resurrection, we can, for we don’t stand alone, but we stand with Christ, our Lord.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.