Text: Acts 5:29-42
41 Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. 42 And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.
At the Council of Nicea, which was an important church meeting in the 4th century and also the place where the Nicene Creed is named after there were 318 delegates that attended. Of that number fewer than 12 had not lost an eye or lost a hand or did not limp on a leg lamed by torture for their Christian faith.
Martin Luther writes:
If we consider the greatness and the glory of the life we shall have when we have risen from the dead, it would not be difficult at all for us to bear the concerns of this world. If I believe the Word, I shall on the Last Day, after the sentence has been pronounced, not only gladly have suffered ordinary temptations, insults, and imprisonment, but I shall also say: "O, that I did not throw myself under the feet of all the godless for the sake of the great glory which I now see revealed and which has come to me through the merit of Christ!"
In our first reading for today in the Book of Acts things are not going well for the apostles. This is a bit further in our timeline than where we are in our gospel reading for today where the disciples are locked in the upper room for fear of the Jews … but as you see not much is different.
Jesus has been killed and raised from the dead but fear and uncertainty abounds. Thomas won’t believe unless he has proof and for this is better be tangible … fingers in the nail holes and hand in the side kind of stuff.
But in our reading from Acts chapter 5 it is the Apostles who are receiving the wrath of the Jews from the Sanhedrin – the council of the Pharisees and Sadducees – for preaching the name of Jesus and performing miraculous signs wonders and healings in his name. It fills the high Priest and those with him with jealousy so much so that they had the apostles arrested and put in jail … unfortunately a fairly common place for those proclaiming Christ than and even now.
But during the night the angle of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out of the jail, told them to stand in the Temple courts and to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ and his life, death and glorious resurrection for the sins of the world!
So they went and did all that the lord commanded them.
Giving Praise, proclaiming the good news, and rejoicing in the Lord!
What a surprise as they send for the apostles and they are not there – even though the doors are still locked and the guards posted. They report their finding and look they are back preaching about Jesus. So they go and get them again and bring them to the High Priest and the whole Council saying in a sense
“We told you to stop teaching in this name … this name of Jesus.”
But Peter says:
“We must obey God rather than men. 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. 32 And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”
“This past Palm Sunday was a dark day in Egypt. Suicide bombings at two Coptic Christian churches, one in Alexandria and the other in Tanta left 45 people dead and many more wounded. Although there has been an uptick in violence against Christians in the region, Egypt is hardly alone in a long list of countries -- many in the Middle East -- that are violently hostile towards Christians.
Persecution averaged at 90,000 a year over a 10 year period from 2005-2015.”
Not a good sign … but why so much hatred against Christians?
Gamaliel may be a good source for our understanding. Being a teacher of the Law and held in honor by the people … even being the Apostle Paul’s teacher. He stood up saying:
“Men of Israel, take care what you are about to do with these men. 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 truth that we are sinners in need of a savior causes many to rise up in opposition just as it did in the time of Jesus as the Pharisees met.
33 When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them.
People rise up in our day too and want to do away with this Good News that is the gospel. God’s word brings one of two responses repentance or anger. Repentance hears the word and turns away from sin and back to God while anger hears the repentance call and says,
“How dare you judge me! Who are you to judge me? What an unloving thing to do!”
But in reality it is the thought of:
“What if it’s true? What if eternity apart from Christ is damnation? What if it is just the lies of the devil that I’m hearing?”
“Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” NIV
If Christ is God in the flesh than apart from him we are dead in trespass and sin or buy god’s Holy Spirit’s work we repent, turn back to him and our saved. This turning also though turns us away from the sin we are broken by and we desire the things of God; his word, his gifts his forgiveness.
Do you desire to be in his house? Do you know God’s desire for you?
St. Peter in his first epistle reminds us.
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
God will guard his children through the work of the devil which at times seems overwhelming. And this is my hope as I felt down following Easter services so hoping to see those who come at Easter … to see them desire to be in God’s house each week to receive his gifts.
8 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, 9 obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
It is God who wills and works in you and in me. May he continue to work to bring joy, peace, and salvation to all of those he gives faith to in his time and in his way.
In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.