Psalm 118:14-29; Acts 5:27-42

April 24, 2022

  • The joy of suffering for the sake of the Gospel?!?!


Here we are on the Sunday after the Resurrection, our Easter Sunday.  For us, it is a time to rejoice in spring and beauty and the glory of the days in light and color.  Easter is a time of brightness and life.  It is almost as if we can take a breath and relax after Easter knowing that all is right in the world with a resurrected Lord.

That is unless you are actually living in the weeks immediately following Jesus’ actual resurrection.  Jesus is risen so we come to church as people of faith.  Jesus is risen so we rejoice in the freedom of life.  Jesus is risen so we love as he has loved us.  Jesus is risen so we go to jail.  I’m not so sure that last one is on the usual Easter season activities.  I’m not so sure that getting arrested is on anyone’s list of things to do in the light of resurrection.

And yet, being arrested, threatened, and beaten seems to be the greatest thrill for the apostles.  It just shows how different are times are.  I’m not sure any of us can talk about true persecution anywhere around here today.  Just so that everyone is on the same page: the disciples of Jesus (the 11 without Judas) went from being disciples to being apostles after Jesus was raised from the dead and gave them the Holy Spirit.  Disciples are those who learn; apostles are those who are sent out.  That is what those words mean.  They had been taught by Jesus, and now they are supposed to take his gospel, the good news of God’s heart for all of God’s children, on the road and out into the world.  The apostles are the same people as the original disciples basically, but they did add one to take Judas’ spot.

The point for now, however, is that they are busy living into the power of Jesus’ resurrection.  They are teaching and healing and doing all kinds of ministry which includes openly mentioning that their Messiah Jesus had just been killed by the leaders, and people around them are listening.  Loads of people were coming to faith in Christ, thousands and thousands by Luke’s account.  It was starting to really roll into a movement, and the same religious leaders who had a hand in Jesus’ execution were becoming very alarmed.  The powers of this world thrive on keeping everything the same – don’t rock the boat – don’t let anyone know how bad things really are – don’t let people think they can change what is wrong with the world.  The powers of this world need things to stay the same for them.  They don’t need things to get worse for others; things are already plenty bad for those who do not have the power in this world.  Their heart is to keep the low down below and them up above.  It has literally always been this way.  The powers of this world are all scrambling to keep their power, to keep their control, to keep things the way they are.  Any means are acceptable: lie, cheat, steal – it’s all fair game.

The powers today are no different.  Any worldly power clawing for more, to keep their hold in society, should be viewed with a watchful eye.  There is no power of this world that has the heart of Jesus.  If we ever truly want to be a nation in Christ, we have to actually address the incredibly high level of poverty, incarceration, violence, and corruption.  America is a wonderful nation, but if it ever wants to say it reflects Jesus, it needs to care a whole lot more about the people who do not look like us.

We need a true Jesus-revolution that is not worried about power and control but about people.  We need a community much more than a church, the willingness to love beyond ourselves much more than the way things have always been.

You see, this is the same kind of thing that the apostles were teaching and showing, and it made the religious powers very nervous.  The council thought that if too many people listened to these apostles, things might change.  People might make a change.  The powers might be overthrown.  The entire social order just might be flipped on its head.  The bottom might end up on top; the last might be first.  That sound familiar?  The religious leaders could never let that happen.  They could never set themselves aside for the Kingdom of God.

The Jewish council, the Sanhedrin, really hates Jesus.  They cannot even use his name.  He is a direct threat to all of their coveted peace and quiet with them in power.  Just calling Jesus a Savior makes him a challenge to the emperor of Rome who, among many titles, was also called Savior.  Jesus has already replaced the Temple.  He is the source of repentance and forgiveness, not the Temple.  He is the center of the religious life; the Temple is just a building as far as Jesus is concerned.

No, we know that the time after Easter, the time following our celebration of the resurrection, is not an easy time, at all.  If we come bebopping in through the door as if all is rosy and sunshine, we are failing to truly notice the desperate life or death struggle all around us.  Our neighbors are lacking; our neighbors are struggling; our neighbors are worried.  We ourselves carry so many cares and concerns, as well.  The Easter season is the time-to-get-real season.

Jesus came to change the world, not to show us a nice guy who told us to be nice.  He came to shake things up, not to make sure the powers of the world stay comfortable.  He came to show us true life, both now and for all time, not how one people is better than another.  This is what the apostles were so pleased to preach.  Their friend and teacher took everything the world could throw at him and returned it for life.  Jesus proved that the most cruel works cannot beat love.  He showed that a bunch of nobodies from some backwater town in the countryside could turn the nation on its head.  The world would never be the same because of Jesus.  If the apostles received evil for their ministry, if they were jailed and beaten or even killed for the sake of loving the world into change, they were happy to give their lives for the Kingdom of God for all people.

This is the good news, the gospel.  This is also why some people are a whole lot more excited about Jesus than others.  The ones who lord over others have a lot to lose.  Those who have nothing have all to gain.

I doubt any of us have thought about whether we were worthy to suffer disgrace.  That very notion is so hard to appreciate that I need to repeat: what we see here in Acts is the apostles realizing that they are worthy to suffer disgrace for the sake of their Messiah.  I have spent my whole life trying to avoid disgrace.  As an oldest child, this is baked into my DNA.  I need to find approval and want to meet expectations for me.  I need to succeed.  To be disgraced is anathema.  That is just about the worst thing that could happen.  And that is where I am completely wrong.

When we are set free from the fears and worries about getting in trouble for doing what is truly right, then real change can happen.  When we are set free from the fear and trouble of losing for the sake of the gospel, then real change can happen.  The apostles realized here for the first time that they could lay it all out on the line and suffer every kind of abuse, just like Jesus, and they would still be victors in their Lord.  Jesus would give them a greater victory than anything they could achieve or earn or build for themselves.  Their willingness to suffer for the Kingdom of God showed them that God had made them worthy in God’s sight.  They had become precious to the gospel.  This group of largely blundering goofballs who had followed Jesus for years while largely ignorant of what was going on had finally graduated to the big leagues.  They got it.  They understood what they had to do.  They saw what the Spirit could do through them.

The season of Easter following our celebration of the resurrection of Jesus is the springboard of new life and new opportunity.  It is the time to open our eyes to the injustices, the evils, brokenness, and whatever is not right with the world and give ourselves to change it.  We preach by word and even more by deed.  We Look for what the Spirit of God is preparing right before us, and we march right into it, even if it costs us, especially if it costs us.  We all have the choice to cozy up to the powers of this world or to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ in the love of our neighbor.  Which one are you pleased to preach?  To God be the glory.  Amen.