How to be a Courageous Christian
Acts 4: 1-31

One morning in late July of 1940, Japanese Consul General Chiune Sugihara awakened to find a large crowd of Jewish refugees outside the gate of the Japanese consulate in Kaunas, Lithuania. Most of them had fled from Poland, barely escaping the grasp of the Nazis during their invasion of that country. But once again, with the Nazis advancing, they were trapped. On that morning, they were seeking the help of Sugihara because word had spread among them that there was still one way out of Lithuania: They could travel through the Soviet Union, into Japan, and on to freedom in the Caribbean. The only thing they lacked were transit visas from the Japanese government. Sugihara, a forty year old diplomat with a promising career, immediately wired Tokyo to obtain permission to write the visas, but his government refused to grant his request. He wired them again, and again they refused.

He tried a third time and was not only refused, but told to stop inquiring. Sugihara faced a dilemma. On the one hand, he was a faithful Japanese, taught from birth to respect and obey authority. If he disregarded his orders, his family would probably be disgraced, and their lives would be in jeopardy. On the other hand, he was from a samurai family, taught to help people in need. Furthermore, he was also a Christian, having begun to follow Jesus as a young man. What would he do?

For the next twenty-nine days, he and his wife, Yukiko, spent every moment writing transit visas. Normally, a consul might write three hundred visas in a month. Sugihara wrote more than that many each day. He didn't stop to eat, instead snacking on sandwiches as he wrote. And he barely slept either. On August 28, 1940, he was forced to close the consulate and return to Tokyo. But still he refused to stop writing, even to the last minute. as his train prepared to pull out of the station, he continued signing visas. And when he could do no more, his train gaining speed as it left the station, he tossed his consul visa stamp to a refugee so it could be used in his absence. Sugihara days in the Japanese diplomatic corps were over. Back in Japan he found part-time work as an interpreter. Later, his knowledge of Russian helped him land a job as a manager for an export company living in relative obscurity.

Chiune showed courage for the same reason Peter and John did in Acts 4. "When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realised that they were unschooled ordinary men, they were astonished and took note that these men had been with Jesus." (Acts 4:13). How do we become men and women of courage? Lets begin by thinking about that little word 'courage'. The word courage means the ability to face danger, difficulty, uncertainty, or pain without being overcome by fear or being deflected from a chosen course of action. I wonder whether you have witnessed acts of courage this week? I certainly have. I believe it takes great courage for those of you who are pilots to take the lives of 400 people in your hands and fly them at 35,000 feet through gusting winds of hundred of miles an hour, and land your plane in snow, fog or driving rain. I believe it takes great courage for those of you who are doctors and nurses to cope with long hours and challenging conditions, to diagnose and treat with great professional skill and compassion those who are sick and suffering or terminally ill. I believe it takes great courage for some of you to put on a police uniform each day and go out onto our streets and into our communities to uphold the law and confront the violence and criminal behaviour which without your presence would lead to anarchy in our society. I believe those of you serving as teachers show courage in our schools and colleges every day as you teach about our world while modelling values which are no longer accepted by the majority in our society. And what about in our church? We can take each other for granted so easily. I believe it takes courage for Andrew or Frank to get up a ladder and change the light bulbs in this church. It takes courage for Debbie and the Sunday school teachers to teach the word of God to young formative minds knowing that, humanly speaking, they are influencing the eternal destiny of our young people. I believe it takes courage for Jane and our service leaders to choose songs and hymns appropriate for the occasion that will lead us into the presence of a holy God in praise and worship acceptable to him.

How do we become men and women of courage? Five observations I would like to make about how it was that Peter, John and the other disciples amazed their opponents by their courage.

1. They had been with Jesus (Acts 4:13)
Do you remember the cowardly lion in the Wizard of Oz? At first glance he appeared confident, assured, fierce, and brave. But, with one slap on the nose by a frightened Dorothy, he broke into tears. His bold appearance was a facade, and it crumbled at the first sign of resistance. He was a coward and he knew it. He had no courage at all. In the Bible we meet another cowardly lion. He had the same heart as the character in the Wizard of Oz. Outwardly he had a lot of bravado and attitude. He was ready to stand and fight; he would take on the whole world. But when the pressure was on, he ran for the door. His name was Peter. Do you remember the interaction between Jesus and Peter when Jesus declared that all the disciples would abandon Him in His hour of need? Peter replied, "Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will." "I tell you the truth, "Jesus answered, "this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times." But Peter declared, "Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you." (Matthew 26:33—35) What boldness! What confidence! What certainty! What a joke.

Until that is Peter realised he was a sinner. Until Peter grasped that Jesus had died for him, had forgiven him, still loved him, had given him not just a new name but a new nature. The pharisees were right to take note that Peter and John had been with Jesus. Had they the eyes of faith to see they would have realised that Peter and John were courageous because they were still with Jesus. Read Acts 4:10-11.
Notice Peter does not say "He was" but "He is". Jesus was alive. Jesus was indwelling the disciples by his Spirit. Verse 8 and verse 31 explains they were filled with the Holy Spirit. Filled with the Spirit of Jesus. How can we be people of courage? First of all make sure there is no unconfessed sin in our lives. As naturally as breathing, breath out sin in repentance and confession and breath in God's forgiveness and invite him to be Lord of your life. Then he will fill you and empower you.

If we are going to be courageous we must be with Jesus. He must be Lord of our lives. He must fill us. There is no substitute for spending time with Jesus. The second clue comes in verses 9-12.

2. They spoke the truth (Acts 4:9-12)
What does Peter say? Read 4:10-12. People do not become Christians by osmosis. They will not come to faith by positive thinking. They won't figure out the message on their own. Even closely watching the life of a contagious Christian won't be enough. Paul reminds us in Romans 10,

Someone has to articulate the good news of Jesus by spelling out to them who God is. What kind of damage our sin has caused. How each of us needs to personally receive the forgiveness and new life that Jesus Christ made possible.

Courage grows as we take the initiative or, respond to questions thrown at us and tell the truth. This week I have had opportunities to speak, ostensibly about a Christian view on the Middle East crisis in Manchester and London Universities. Thank you for praying for me. Some may think what an earth has that got to do with being a pastor? Shouldn't we stay out of politics? The audience of both meetings amounted to several hundred British and international students. The Moslem and Jewish students along with the agnostics and atheists present probably outnumbered the Christians 20 to 1. It was a hostile environment within which to speak. There were security staff on the doors. Pickets outside trying to disrupt the meeting. Barriers to keep students from other institutions apart. They came to debate how to achieve peace in the Middle East. I told them about the Prince of Peace who turns his enemies into peacemakers. I spoke about the unique role of Christians in the Middle East who have repudiated the creed, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. I showed from the stories of the indigenous Christians in Israel and Palestine that without repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation there is no hope.

They may not have agreed with me but at least they listened. We each have a story to tell of what God has done for us. The key is being ready to tell that story when the opportunities arise. Courage grows as we learn to live with Jesus moment by moment and as we then tell what Jesus has and is doing in us. There is a third step to becoming a courageous Christian here.

3. They chose to obey God rather than men (Acts 4:18-19)
Peter and John stood before the equivalent of the Privy Council, the Law Lords, General Synod and CBI. They were the spiritual, political and economic heavyweights of the day. The same people had crucified Jesus a few months before. Now Peter and John are in the hot seat. As the highest ruling body in the land, all they had to do was say the word and people trembled. Read Acts 4:18-19. Peter refused to be intimidated by their threats. How often do we base our decisions on the pragmatic question "is it popular?" or "is it safe?" instead of "is it right?" Courageous Christians follow Jesus. They speak for Jesus. And when forced to choose, they choose to obey Jesus. They feared God more than they feared men. There is a fourth observation we can make on becoming courageous Christians.

4. They prayed for boldness to speak about Jesus (Acts 4:23-24, 29-30)
They addressed God as "Sovereign Lord," the God who is in control of all things. They appealed, over the heads of the chief priests and the Sanhedrin, directly to the authority of the Creator Himself: "Sovereign Lord, you made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them" (4;24).

Further more they quoted Psalm 2:1-2. Psalm 2 describes the revolt of the nations against the Lord and His Christ. The psalm originally grew out of the crowning of a new king in Israel, perhaps David; but its ultimate message points to the King of kings, Jesus Christ. Whenever a new king was enthroned, the vassal rulers around were required to come and submit to him; but some of them refused to do this. God only laughed at their revolt, for He knew that they could never stand up against His King. The apostles applied this psalm to their own situation and identified their adversaries as Herod, Pilate, the Romans, and the Jews who had conspired against Jesus. Notice they did not ask for protection; they asked for power. They prayed not for fire from heaven to destroy their enemy, but for power from heaven to preach the Word and heal the sick.

"Do not pray for easy lives," wrote Phillips Brooks. "Pray to be stronger men and women. Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers. Pray for powers equal to your tasks." That is the way the early Christians prayed, and that is the way God's people should pray today. Prayer in and of itself does not change any thing, anymore than a telephone changes things.

We should not think of the power of prayer but the power of God we encounter in prayer. We do not place our faith in prayer, any more than in the telephone. Prayer is simply talking to God. Prayer does not change things. God changes things through prayer. And their prayer was answered. Read 3:31. God's answer was to shake the place and fill them once again with the Holy Spirit of God (Acts 4:31). Courageous Christians follow Jesus. Courageous Christians speak for Jesus. Courageous Christians speak to Jesus. And when forced to choose, they choose to follow Jesus and speak for Him. One last observation on how to become courageous Christians. Where did the apostles go? To their own people.

5. They were one in heart and mind (Acts 4:32)
Read Acts 4:23-24, 32. The testimony of the Apostles encouraged the whole church to pray for similar boldness to speak the word of God. That is because courage is infectious. Courageous Christians are contagious Christians. Have you ever noticed the similarity between courage and encourage? That is because they are related. As we have seen already, the word courage means the ability to face danger, difficulty, uncertainty, or pain without being overcome by fear or deflected from a course of action. The word encourage simply means to inspire or give courage to someone else. I am sure you can think of people who encourage you and some who seem to do the opposite.

John Ortberg describes them as balcony people and basement people. "Balcony people" he says "stand in the balcony of life, cheering you on! They believe in you. They are realistic about your failings and shortcomings, but they also have a vision for what God made you to be. When you have some balcony people in your life, you have a deep sense that they are on your side. Their very words breathe life and encouragement into you. When you win, they cheer as if they had won. They rejoice when you rejoice, and they sincerely mourn when you are hurting. Balcony people are living, breathing, incarnations of Paul's advice in Romans 12:15, "Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn." "You can do it," they say to you. "Don't give up and don't give in," they cry from the balcony, and they mean it. When they say they will be praying for you, you know they will be spending some serious time on their knees. When you feel defeated, tempted by sin, or discouraged by failure, you know God will use their presence to give you strength. God uses their very presence to fill you with a desire to follow Him in deeper ways. Balcony people are one of God's greatest gifts in your life. They make you a better person. They help you become a fully devoted follower of Christ. Basement people have the opposite effect.

When you're around these people, you can just feel yourself descending. They pull you down where the sump pump, furnace, and all the ugly appliances are kept. They take you down where the air is musty and everything seems dark. These joy-deflating people drain the life and energy right out of you.

If you have good news to tell, basement people will search for a problem in it somewhere. They can always seem to find the proverbial dark cloud inside your silver lining." We all have some basement people in our lives, and have all probably acted like one at some time to someone else. If we are to be courageous Christians we need to spend time with people who will encourage us.... "Balcony people give you a wonderful gift. They believe you can change. They believe that through the power of God, radical transformation is not only possible but expected. These encouragers take the apostle Paul at his word when he says, "Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come." (2 Corinthians 5:17). Balcony people do not believe that who you were yesterday has to limit who you can be today, or who you can become tomorrow... Sometimes the balcony person in your life must challenge you in such a way that you experience a high degree of pain. However, even though this encourager confronts you, you always have a sense that he or she does it out of love. Balcony people care so much that they share God's compassionate conviction that we should not stop, quit, or let up until we have achieved the fullness of life in the kingdom. Encouragers have God's vision, and they can't stand the thought of your falling short of God's goals. They love you and God too much to stand by silently and let you miss God's plan for your life. They long for you to taste the fullness and goodness of God in your life. So they say, "You can go farther, you can fly higher, you can trust God more, you can think deeper, you can love more fully. Set the bar higher, take another run at it.!" Even when you are ready to give up on yourself, they refuse to give up on you.1
Pray for encouraging people like that in your life. Pray that you become an encouragement to others.
Chiune Sugihara may have ended his life in obscurity but his courage lives on. It's estimated that more than six thousand people owed their lives to him. Six thousand people were saved from Nazi concentration camps as a result of his courage, the second largest number of Jews ever rescued from the Nazis. A generation or two later their descendents must now number many tens of thousands of people alive today because of Chiune's courage.

In 1985, he was awarded Israel's highest honour: recognition as "Righteous Among the Nations." Chiune Sugihara made his Christian faith count. He showed courage under adversity.2 Some people lead for a lifetime. Others receive only a moment to show the way. Chiune Sugihara made the most of his brief opportunity. God gives us each opportunities to show courage and encourage others. How do we become courageous Christians?

1. By following Jesus, filled with His Spirit.
2. Speaking for Jesus, telling the truth of what God has done.
3. When forced to choose, obeying God rather than men.
4. Praying for boldness not escape.
5. By being an encouragement to others.

Our courage may be less public than Chiune's. But by God's grace it may be no less influential in the light of eternity.
Let us pray.

1 John Ortberg, "Build Community" (Willow Creek Association, 1999)

2 John C. Maxwell, The Right to Lead (Thomas Nelson, 2001)