top of page

Counted Worthy to Suffer

Date: 26 March 2023

Speaker: Ps Luwin Wong

Sermon Text: Acts 5:17-42



26Mar23 Herald_rv
.pdf
Download PDF • 633KB

 
TRANSCRIPT

Earlier this year, I taught my goddaughter Kianna how to fry an egg for herself. We put the oil and butter into the pan, waited till the pan was nice and hot, and cracked the egg in, sprinkled some salt and moved it around a bit to ensure its evenly cooked.


And then suddenly, some oil splattered, as it happens, when frying eggs, and a drop of oil hit her arm, and she went “Ouch, oh no thanks Godpa, I’m not cooking another egg. I never want to feel this pain again”.


I said, “You barely even started, and you’re giving up already? This is cooking, the fire is hot, the oil will splatter, that’s just the way it is.”


Those of us who cook know this to be true. In fact, even though its hot, we want to feel the heat, even though it can hurt, we want to see the oil sizzle. We’re standing there, right next to the flames, braving the oil, because that’s how we create the dish we want. And when it is done, we even give thanks.


When it comes to cooking, the heat and sweat and occasional splatters of oil helps us to know that we are actually cooking.


Similarly, no one goes to the gym, to relax and feel comfortable. “No pain, no gain”, is the slogan of the gym. Because when you are working out, your aim is to force your muscle fibres to contract and expand so intensely that the fabric of your muscles actually tears. And when your body repairs the torn fibres, they get stronger. But first they have to break down. When you’re working out, the pain lets you know that you are doing it right.


The same applies to pregnancy, it’s not an easy journey, apart from the morning sickness and the hormonal fluctuations, your tummy gets bigger and bigger, and heavier and heavier as the months go by, so your back aches, you can’t bend to wear your shoes, every movement requires more strength, and is made is more difficult.


But at the same time, you are praying for it to continue, on some level, you are glad that your tummy is growing, that your weight is increasing, because it means your child is developing. And when your baby is born, all though you are exhausted and in a world of pain, you are thanking God and rejoicing.


In all of these cases, the difficulties and pain lets you know that are on the right track,; that things are going according to plan, and so you can rejoice through it all, and at the end.


There is a brand of Christianity which suggests that faith in God is antidote to pain, that our trust in Jesus grants us immunity from setbacks and challenges, because God always wants us our lives to be smooth and happy and easy.


And on surface reading, the opening verses of our text today, may lend some credibility to that sort of theology.


17 But the high priest rose up, and all who were with him (that is, the party of the Sadducees), and filled with jealousy 18 they arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison. 19 But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out,

Just from these verses, it won’t be surprising these days to hear a sermon that goes something like this:


What we see, friends, is that God’s plan for your life is that of breakthrough and victory. God’s plan for you is not captivity but liberty. Whatever chains are holding you down, God will set you free.


I know some of you here are feeling trapped, you want to move forward, but you all you can see are walls around you, holding you back from true success. Keeping you from realising your dreams. In moments like this, when you feel like you’re in dungeon, you can trust in the Lord for deliverance.


He will send his angel to open the prison door to set you free. And if the Son has set you free, you are free indeed. Live life not with a captivity mindset, that’s the enemy speaking. God says, you are victorious. As a child of God, there are no boundaries, there is no limit to what you can accomplish. Because, friends, there are no mountains in our lives that our Father cannot move, there is no door in front of us today that his angel cannot open. Amen?


Perhaps some of you may be thinking, Ps Luwin, that really ministered to me. God really spoke to me. I had a rough week, and that is exactly what I needed to hear this morning.


The thing is, the bible doesn’t allow us to entertain that sort of theology for very long.


Because this was what really happened.


17 But the high priest rose up, and all who were with him (that is, the party of the Sadducees), and filled with jealousy 18 they arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison. 19 But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, 20 “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life.” 21 And when they heard this, they entered the temple at daybreak and began to teach.

Now, why were the apostles thrown into prison again? Right, because they were teaching in the temple.


This is akin to rescuing a group of Prisoners of War from behind enemy lines, and then taking them straightaway back to the frontlines to fight. Well, you are liberated from prison, yes, but being on the frontline is still suffering, it’s stressful and dangerous and tiring. It’s a classic case out of “out of the frying pan, into the fire.”


So why did God free the apostles from prison? You can be certain it’s not to make their lives easier or more comfortable, because that didn’t happen at all. He instructed them to return into the temple to teach. Back into enemy territory, back into the line of fire. It was the very reason they ended up in prison in the first place.


So why did God free the apostles? It’s to reveal that he is in charge, that his plan for the apostles to proclaim the name of Jesus to the ends of the earth beginning in Jerusalem is a plan that will not be thwarted by the schemes of man.


Even in prison, even in the temple, where the high priest was authority, even before the council, where the Sanhedrin ruled, God is in charge, and no one else. God can do whatever he wants to ensure his plan gospel proclamation will continue, even if it means sending an angel to open prison doors in the middle of the night.


The authorities, by contrast, were made to look like fools.


21b Now when the high priest came, and those who were with him, they called together the council, all the senate of the people of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought. 22 But when the officers came, they did not find them in the prison, so they returned and reported, 23 “We found the prison securely locked and the guards standing at the doors, but when we opened them we found no one inside.”

Picture the grand entrance, the head honcho with all the bigwigs of Judaism, arriving at the temple, taking their seats of authority, feeling totally in charge, ready to do to the apostles whatever they see fit.


But lo and behold, they don’t even have the apostles. They don’t even know where they are!


24 Now when the captain of the temple and the chief priests heard these words, they were greatly perplexed about them, wondering what this would come to. 25 And someone came and told them, “Look! The men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people.” 26 Then the captain with the officers went and brought them, but not by force, for they were afraid of being stoned by the people.

Someone had to tell the entire council where the apostles were. And where were they? In the temple! Right under their noses! And what were they doing? Teaching the people. Directly opposing the will of the council, who had previously charged them to stop teaching others about Christ.


As far as the Sanhedrin is concerned, nothing is going according to plan. Because things are proceeding according to a higher plan, there exists an authority above them, there is power greater than them.


In fact they are so helpless, that after someone told them that the apostles were right under their noses actively defying their orders, the council had to almost invite the apostles to stand trial, because they were afraid of the people. Everything seems outside of their control. Because God’s plan is being done.


But what I want us to see, is that God’s plan and our suffering are not incompatible. The apostles were arrested, set free by an angel, but they had to return to the temple and risk arrest again. They still had to stand trial before the council and receive their punishment for obeying God rather than men.


God’s plan for his children does not preclude suffering. On the contrary, suffering is part of the plan. 2 Timothy 3:12 “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted”. And as Paul wrote to the church at Philippi, “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.” (Phil 1:29).


So don’t believe it when folks like Joseph Prince says, “You are destined to reign in life. You are called by the Lord to be a success, to enjoy wealth, to enjoy health, and to enjoy a life of victory.” Not necessarily.


What we are called to is to follow Jesus. And that means there is a cost, that means there is a cross, that means we give it all up because we count everything as loss, compared to Jesus. The key to Christian living in the book of Acts is the gift of the Holy Spirit to the church. In the gospel of John, Jesus calls the Holy Spirit – the comforter. Why would we need a Comforter if our lives were meant to be comfortable?


Success in this world, wealth in this life, health in this body, are by no means guaranteed in a life of faithful discipleship. Suffering, on the other hand, may well be God’s plan, for us, as it was for his beloved Son Jesus.


So Ps Luwin, what’s the good news man? If success and health and wealth is not promised to Christians, and suffering is par for the course, what’s so good about Christianity? What in the world is the good news?


Let’s read on.


27 And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, 28 saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man's blood upon us.”

The council is the one who had recently sentenced Jesus to death. The Twelve apostles were the followers of Jesus. What the council is suggesting here, is that the apostles had an ulterior motive in teaching the people about Jesus. That is, they wanted to exact revenge on the council for the death of Jesus. If they were able to convince the people that they had sentenced to death the Messiah of Israel, then surely the people would condemn and overthrow the Sanhedrin. Revenge, not the good news, is the reason for the apostle’s proclamation of Jesus Christ as Lord.


“You intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.”

The apostles responded like this:


29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.

In other words, we are motivated not by any motive other than obedience, we are merely following orders, we are carrying out God’s plan. Not your orders, not your plan, God’s plan.


And here is the plan.


30 The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. 31 God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.

Peter and the apostles, the same breath, convicted and consoled the Sanhedrin.


30 The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed.

Do you realise what you have done? You have crucified the Messiah! You killed God’s chosen one. You could not have killed a more innocent man. But that’s not the whole plan.


God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Saviour, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.


Do you see? The apostles were telling the Sanhedrin, you messed up. Big time. You sinned against God. But your sin need not be the conclusion of your story. Because God’s plan to raise and exalt Jesus as Lord and Saviour is not the condemnation of sin, but the forgiveness of sin, through repentance and faith in him.


This friends, is the good news. It is truly good news. Because we imagine that things like success and health and wealth are the solutions to our problem.


And then we climb to the pinnacle of the corporate ladder and find that is lonely at the top, because you have forsaken so much and so many along the way, so success in ambition isn’t the good news.


And we realise that however hard we try, however much we jog, whatever greens we eat, we cannot defeat the aging process, so health cannot be the good news.


And I don’t care how much money you have in the bank, there is an emptiness in our soul, a longing in our hearts that money cannot solve. So wealth is not the good news we ultimately desire.


The bible tells us that the good news of Christianity is really the answer to the bad news of humanity. And the bad news is that the world is filled with suffering and evil and death to which success, and health and wealth are not the ultimate solutions. Because the root problem is sin itself which separates us from God, who is the ultimate source of happiness and life. The problem is our rebellion against God who created the world and us to be perfect relationship to him. The bad news is that we have sinned against God.


If that is the ultimate bad news, then the ultimate good news is this: that there is forgiveness for our sins. There is a saviour who can rescue us from this world of sin. That is why the gospel is good news.


It’s not good news that is superficial, and temporal, for this life alone, but it is good news that is ultimate and eternal, for the everlasting life to come.


And if this forgiveness is offered to the murderers of Jesus Christ, my friends, it is offered also to you. It is offered to you today. Forgiveness is given to all who repent and put their trust in Jesus the Lord and Saviour of mankind.


And why is this good news believable? How did you know its not some fairy tale? Why can we trust it?


The apostles say,


32 And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”

The good news of Christianity is not imaginary fiction. The apostles bear witness to it. They walked with Jesus Christ, they heard his claims, they saw his miracles, they witnessed his death and encountered him when he was raised, they experienced the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The good news of Christianity is proclaimed by men who have lived and witnessed it first hand.


Yes, good for them, but we weren’t there. We didn’t see what they saw. We need something more than the witness of these men who lived 2000 years ago. Well then, there is the Holy Spirit who is alive and well even today. He too is witness to the gospel.


But here’s the catch, he is only given to those who obey God. Which means that what we have here is a sliding door situation.


You know the sliding doors at the entrance to the shopping malls, it only opens up when you walk through it. So long as you keep your distance, it remains shut.


The way to experience the reality and certainty and goodness of the gospel is not to observe it from a distance until it looks convincing to you, for so long as you do that, it may always remain closed to you.


It may surprise you to know that solution to skepticism is not so much evidence as it is obedience. A lifetime accumulation of evidence will remain insufficient to overcome the depravity of our natural hearts.


Rather, obey the call to repent and believe Jesus Christ and then you see, by the witness of the Holy Spirit, that he is indeed good news. The Holy Spirit that is given to those who obey.


God’s plan may lead to suffering, but it will always and ultimately lead to good news of salvation. And the same Holy Spirit that comforts us our suffering will convict us of that good news.


Which means, and this is our final point, that God’s plan should lead to rejoicing.


33 When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. 34 But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in honor by all the people, stood up and gave orders to put the men outside for a little while. 35 And he said to them, “Men of Israel, take care what you are about to do with these men.

The Sanhedrin responded to the offer of forgiveness of their sin of murder, with an intent to murder more. Such is the irrationality of the depraved human heart.


So at the moment, the voice of reason pipes up, in the person of Gamaliel, one of the greatest and most revered rabbis in the history of Judaism.


He basically tells the council, let’s calm down and exercise some sense and prudence here. I do not think that Gamaliel should be seen here as being sympathetic to the Christian cause. After all, his most famous disciple, Paul of Tarsus, under his tutelage, would shortly become the most zealous persecutor of the church.


Most likely, Gamaliel was just being sensible. Remember how the council didn’t dare to use force to bring the apostles in because they were afraid the people might stone them if they mistreated the apostles? What do you think might happen if they now decided to kill them? It would be chaos.


So Gamaliel’s argument is pragmatic rather than pro-Christian. He says:


36 For before these days Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. 37 After him Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him. He too perished, and all who followed him were scattered. 38 So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; 39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!”

The argument is straightforward. Jesus is not the first person in Jewish history who claimed to be the Messiah. There are countless others. Two recent ones are Theudas and Judas. In both cases, they were eventually killed, and their followers eventually dispersed.


And so, if Jesus of their ilk, claiming vain pretensions of being the messiah, then the apostles, will follow the same predictable pattern – their leader is killed and they will scatter and the movement will fade into historical oblivion.


The only way that someone claiming to be to be the Messiah of Israel succeeds in leaving a legacy is if he is indeed the Messiah. Because then God is behind the movement. And you don’t want to be opposing God.


So it’s really a win-win situation. Let the apostles go, because if they are wrong their proclamation of Jesus will amount to nothing. And we won’t have to worry.


And if they are right, then it would be wise for us to let them go, because God is on their side.


It’s a very reasonable argument which gave the council a way out of the situation without losing any face or risking any consequence of backlash for killing the popular apostles.


So they took his advice, 40 and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. The council did let the apostles go, but not without giving them something to think about. Before releasing them, they beat them and then charged them again to not speak in the name of Jesus.

Could God, who freed the apostles from the prison not have prevented them from being beaten? Of course, he can. But he didn’t. The good news of Christianity isn’t the promise that life will be easy.


The apostles understood that very clearly. How did they respond to their suffering?


41 Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.

They left rejoicing. Why? Because they remembered the words of Jesus.


22 “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! 23 Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.

Suffering for the gospel, instead of expecting to be protected from it, is in fact evidence that we are on the right track as disciples. It is evidence that we are carrying out God’s plan for salvation.


As it is with Christ, so it is with those who follow him. Suffering is the path that leads glory, the cross is borne before the crown is worn. And so we can rejoice, we should rejoice, and leap for joy, because suffering for Jesus entails salvation in him.


The world calls us to structure and plan and curate our entire lives to avoiding suffering, minimising suffering, eliminating suffering because the world understands suffering only as an evil.


And so the biblical call to suffer seems to us foreign and strange. Even as disciples, we sometimes find suffering unnecessary at best and evil at worst. We cry and complain and rage when we suffer.


The word of God teaches us a better way. A better response to suffering for Jesus. And that is to rejoice. Rejoice because this difficulty, this pain, this suffering reveals to us that we are following in the footsteps of the crucified Christ.


The question is, do we love him so greatly, do we esteem him so highly, that suffering for his name becomes an honor and a privilege to us. So much so that we rejoice that we are counted worthy to suffer for his sake.


For many of us, that is several steps down the road. Our first step is to repent, turn away from walking in a way that avoids every hard and difficult situation.


When our Christian values and the great commission threatens our comfort and ease, we tone Christ down. We minimise Christ to maximise comfort. And then we wonder how come we don’t experience the presence and power of the Comforter like the apostles did.


The way then to begin, is to live out our mission to glorify God be being and making disciples of Christ. That’s what the rejoicing apostles did.


42 And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.

Determine, like the apostles, to live lives of proclamation, everyday, everywhere, to everyone, and you see that suffering will come our way, but by the power of the Holy Spirit, in the presence of the Comforter, rejoicing shall be our response.


Isn’t a scary way to live? It is, but it is the way of Christ.


So let us look to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

75 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Comments


bottom of page