Worthy To Suffer – 10.10.2021
Today is the start of a brand new sermon series. Well, actually – it’s not brand new, we are returning to our year long study of the book of Acts. Basically, we’re reading the whole book of Acts one chapter a week – and we do that for a month and then we go do some other stuff, maybe old Testament, and then we come back to Acts, so today we are returning to our study of the early church in chapter 5. Let’s dive in.
Now before we get into chapter 5, we need to remember where we are coming from. The book of Acts is basically all the stuff that happened after Jesus went back into heaven. Jesus died, he rose form the dead, he spent 40 days appearing to over 500 people, creating a whole lot of witnesses to the fact that he had risen from the dead, and then right at the beginning of Acts, Jesus goes back to heaven. So this book covers what the disciples did next. And what we saw in the last sermon series, a couple months ago was that the disciples, led by Peter, started a movement in the city of Jerusalem. With the Holy Spirit inspiring them, they spread out and start telling everyone about the amazing good news that Jesus came to forgive their sins and give them access to eternal life. And one of the things they did was heal this one guy. He was a cripple, he couldn’t walk all his life, but God heals him through Peter, and he’s walking around Jerusalem telling everybody how awesome Jesus is. And the religious leaders, who are probably sitting there thinking to themselves, “didn’t we just get rid of that guy Jesus? What is going on here?” So they’re all mad at Peter and the disciples. And that’s kind of the backdrop for our story.
Oh, and I should mention – chapter five starts with a story of Ananias and Sapphira. It’s this strange little story where this couple sells some land, and then tells the church – we’re going to give all the money to people in need, but then they keep some of it for themselves and lie to Peter. And then they get struck dead, which is kind of freaky. And so, on this stewardship Sunday..[long pause] where the scripture has a story about a couple lying to the church about money and then getting struck dead. [longer pause]. I’m going to pivot like a politician and we’re not going to talk about it. [laugh]. No, the truth is – I covered that story in a sermon not too long ago, and I didn’t want to re-hash it, so we are going to skip the first 11 verses.
So we begin in verse 12. [read v.12-13]. This is kind of like a mountaintop experience for Peter and the apostles. Everything they do succeeds, everything they touch gets healed. They’re doing miracles, people are coming to Jesus – they’re little church is growing bigger every single day. Life is good, the church is booming. Success in every single direction. Crowds are coming from all the neighboring villages – all the numbers are going in the right direction. For like, ten minutes. [read v.17-18]. Mountain top experience… jail. Boy that escalated quickly. But, wait for it – [read v.19-21]. An angel lets them out of jail, and tells them “get back to work” My favorite phrase there is, “give the people this message of life.” You’ve got to keep telling people about Jesus. Because all people desperately need to hear about the love of God that we find in Jesus Christ. Now here’s my thing on this, if these guys were just making it up. If these guys were faking it, because “hey look – we’re famous!” – I feel like jail would really turn them off. Because it’s jail. And then, by some miracle they get out of jail. Personally, if I’m just here for the glory and the fame – I’m gonna go set up shop somewhere else, right? I’m not going to stay where they put me in jail. Like if their goal was safety, or glory or something – they should go somewhere else where it’s not dangerous. But what do the disciples do? They go right back to the same temple, the same courtyard. They’re not even hiding. They are easy to find! The next morning the disciples are back teaching in the temple and the high priests look in the jail, and they’re like, “hey, where’d they go? Why aren’t they where we put them?” And verse 24 [read v.24-26]. Oh, there you are! Get back over here. The temple guard goes and arrests them again, but this time he’s polite about it. They arrest the apostles all over again, and put them back in jail.
You see, the way we respond when things go bad shows us what our real priorities are. For the apostles – it wasn’t about success. It wasn’t about comfort, or recognition. Simply put, the good news of Jesus is worth every single struggle they might face. The truth of God’s love, and the freedom from sin is such an incredible treasure – they would withstand anything the world can throw at them, just to have one more chance to tell people about it. There’s a lady named Billie Wilcox, and she says, “A tragedy can be like being plunged into boiling water. If you are an egg, your affliction will make you hard-boiled and unresponsive. But if you are a potato, you will emerge soft and pliable, resilient and adaptable. It might sound strange,” she says, “but a lot of times, when I am struggling, my prayer is “O Lord, let me be a potato.”
The story continues, [read v.26-29]. Basically the high priest confronts the apostles and says, “okay, what do I gotta do to get you to shut up about Jesus? Just stop it!” But Peter looks at him, [29-32]. If you don’t remember from the last time we were in Acts – this is the message Peter has over and over. 1.You killed Jesus. 2. God raised him to forgive your sins. 3. Say your sorry. But let’s not lose the picture here. Peter and his buddies are being threatened with jail and possibly execution. They could very easily die for what they’re saying, and the message doesn’t waver even a little bit. No matter how dangerous, no matter how inconvenient, they keep coming back to the simple fact. God raised Jesus from the dead to forgive your sins – say your sorry, repent and come back to God. Now think about this – in the modern world, we are so comfortable. It is so easy for us to spout opinions, and with social media we don’t even have to listen to responses. We can just say stuff and then throw away anybody who disagrees as “Fake news.” And in this world we say a lot of things that we really only believe a little bit. But is there anything in your life that you would die for? Like we got people in this world who won’t go to church if they don’t like the outfit the guy up front is wearing. We got people in this country who won’t volunteer, if it means they have to miss their favorite tv show – or golf t-time. People who won’t give to those in need, if it means they might have to adjust their budget. In this world we believe a lot of things, a very little bit, in a shallow way. But Peter and the apostles believed in one thing, all the way down. A deep belief that was connected to the core of who they are. There’s a report from Christian history that sort of illustrates this. In the fourth century, at the Nicene council, there were 318 delegates from all over the Christian world. And of those delegates, over 300 of them showed up with some sign of torture for their faith. Some had lost an eye, some a hand or even a leg – lost to torture for their faith. Over 96% of the delegates were permanently scarred, because they would not shut up about Jesus.
And THEN, the conversation takes a turn when this fella Gamaliel shows up. Gamaliel, which is like my favorite name to say. Gamaliel walks in to the conversation. And he kind of points to some other examples in history. He says [read v.36-39]. It’s a pretty straightforward idea. If these guys, are just making this stuff up – let them go! They’ll fail, like all those fools do, and then you don’t have to bother with them. Easy peasy. Unless… they’re actually from God – then, we will not be able to stop them. And then the chapter finishes up with possibly the weirdest twist I have ever seen. [read v.40-42]. Just to clarify – they accept Gamaliel’s idea, the have the disciples flogged. If you don’t know what that is, they beat them with sticks. Told them, “don’t talk about Jesus” and then let them go. Not super fun, especially that flogging part, but it could have been a lot worse. But look at what happens when they walk out the door. [read v.41]. Rejoicing. They are rejoicing. They just got beaten with sticks. They just got flogged and threatened, and yet they are rejoicing. And they’re not rejoicing that they’re free. That’s not what it says, no, no. It says, “rejoicing that God had counted them worthy to suffer disgrace for the name of Jesus.” And from then on, every day, they go to the temple, and they go house to house continuing to preach and teach the message that Jesus is the messiah.
Okay, now there are two directions we can go with this. First, maybe the disciples are some of those folks who just like pain. You’re familiar with this? There are some folks who enjoy pain, they get pleasure from pain. Like a masochist of something, but that line of thought doesn’t really work out. They don’t go looking for pain. They aren’t trying to get hurt. The disciples throughout the whole story are focused only on one thing – telling everyone that Jesus is the messiah. So that can’t be it. The other way we can understand it – is that the disciples were rejoicing, because suffering gave them an opportunity to show how much they love God. Let me explain it like this. Let’s say I’m walking down the street and I find a $20 bill on the ground. I take that dollar and use it to buy flowers for my wife. It’s a very nice thing to do, but it didn’t cost me anything. It’s a nice gesture, but it’s shallow. Wasn’t even my money, barely took any effort. Now, let’s say I skip buying coffee for a month, and I save up that money, and I use that to buy my wife flowers. Same flowers – but do you see how much more meaningful it is? My suffering, from not having coffee, demonstrates how much I love my wife. I don’t like not having coffee, but I love having an opportunity to show my wife just how much I love her. Do you see it? The disciples aren’t happy about getting beaten, they don’t go looking for that, but it gives them a chance to show Jesus how much they love him. And if you think about it, this is what God did for us. God could have come down on calvary and just said, “boom, you’re forgiven, I love you, it’s all done.” But Jesus suffered to show the depth of his love for you. Jesus loves you so much, he wants to come into your life and show you his love, and just pour out love into your life and overflow your cup with his transforming love, and to show that love, he was willing to undergo incredible suffering, injustice, false accusations and even death. Jesus died to show you the level of his love for you. The disciples knew that, and because of it – they could not shut up about Jesus. They were eager to show God, hey, I love you too.
The good news this morning is that God counts us as worthy to suffer. And you might be thinking, “aww, gee thanks but no thanks.” I got plenty going on in my life, I don’t need any more suffering. But let’s clarify. There is some pain and suffering in this world that is not about Jesus, it’s just the result of a broken and fallen world. Suffering without purpose is evil, and we should get rid of that. When I say God counts us as worthy to suffer, I am only talking about suffering that demonstrates love. As Christians we have two jobs. We are called to love God and love our neighbor. And we can use suffering to demonstrate love. Another way to phrase it is that we can use self-sacrifice to put others first.
God counts us as worthy to suffer, and so we need to look at our lives and ask, “what would it mean to suffer for Jesus? Now I need to be careful here, because the bible can be sort of dramatic about suffering. And we read these dramatic stories, and we think that’s the normal level for suffering. But here’s the problem – it’s not very likely you are going to get thrown into jail or even threatened for our faith. All over our culture there’s Christians who are like looking for a fight. They think suffering must be dramatic. They must throw me in jail for my faith. They must hate me and try to hurt me or oppress me. But with our freedom of religion, it’s very unlikely – and when folk shout about oppression of the church in modern America, they just end up looking silly. Like, the disciples had high up mountain top experiences (put hand way up), and really low down valley experiences (put hand way down). They performed miracles (hand up), and they go thrown in jail (hand down). Angels set them free (hand up), but they still get beaten (hand down). It’s like a roller coaster of really high highs and really low, lows. But what about ordinary lives? What about OUR lives? Are there still victories and suffering in our normal lives too? Of course!
Whether your life goes like this (hand high, hand low) or like this (little waves) – the response is the same, ask yourself, “what would it be to suffer for Jesus? What inconvenience can we go through FOR each other? I really want to watch my shows and scroll through Instagram, but I could volunteer over at the soup kitchen or over at the Forge garage instead. I really want to go out to eat more often, but I could use that money to give to assist day. Or to buy something nice for my neighbor. Do you see how it works? You don’t have to pursue some crazy, dramatic suffering – we can show people we love them through self-sacrifice in a thousand little ways in our normal, everyday lives.
I have two challenges for you today before we go. First, no matter where you are, witness to what Jesus has done in your life. Remember the suffering Jesus went through because of his love for you, and let that inspire you to suffer the same. Jesus gave up everything for you, to save you, to call you home. It’s incredible how much God loves you. And when we realize the depth of that love, when suffering reveals how deep the Father’s love for us – we will find that we cannot shut up about Jesus. The treasure of our hearts is to beautiful and to incredible to keep to ourselves. There is no suffering, there is no obstacle that can turn us away. First things first – witness what Jesus has done in your life.
Second, stop only helping people if it’s no inconvenience. So many people will only help someone, if it happens to be on the way. If I don’t have to give up much – like golf or tv or whatever I want to do, if helping you is what I want to do, then I will do it. Stop doing that! As Christians, following the example of Jesus who came and died for us, we should be going out of our way for other people. We should be willing to die for other people. Offer a big favor – yeah, this is actually going to inconvenience me a lot, but I’m really excited to show you how much I love you. Or even better, I’m excited to show you how much I love Jesus, and he told me to love you. And on the other side, stop accepting help ONLY if it is no trouble. A lot of us have a bad habit, where we think it is wrong to ask someone for a big favor. I swear some people in this church would get in a car accident, and both their feet are cut off and they’re all bloody and bruised, and they’re moments from dying and they would call 911 and say, “only if it’s no trouble, maybe if the ambulance is already in the area, maybe they could stop by and get me.” Stop doing that! Ask for a big favor, give someone an opportunity to show you love.
God counts you as worthy. And to close let me flip it on its head. God counts you as worthy to suffer, and worth suffering for. God knew that saving you from your sin would hurt, it would take him all the way to death on the cross, and he did it anyways. Because he decided that you are worth it. That how much he loves you. And so let me leave you with this. May you look at suffering in a new light – not as dramatic examples of the worst moments in life, but as opportunities to show the depth of your love. May you remember that God suffered for you, because of how much he loves you. And finally may that love, inspire you suffer for others, even in ordinary, mundane ways in our everyday life. Amen.