of suffering disgrace for the Name
We finally did it! The first British
gold medal at the Winter Olympics for 18 years. 18 years, even though it
was a Scottish team… International sport arouses strong emotions and this week
is also remembered for another Scottish Olympic team member who 78 years ago
was branded a traitor. If you've seen the movie Chariots of Fire, then you know his name: Eric
Liddell. A 100-meter sprinter by talent and training, he declined to run in
that race during the Paris Olympics of 1924 when he learned that it would be
run on a Sunday. A devout Christian, he believed that running on Sunday
violated the keeping of the Sabbath, something he would not do for king,
country, or Olympic glory. For the stand he took, Eric Liddell was branded a
traitor. A disgrace to his country because of his Christian
convictions. A traitor because he put Jesus first.
It has always been so.
“The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.” (Acts ). “Worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name”
Are you worthy of suffering disgrace for the name of Jesus? Are you willing to suffer disgrace for the name of Jesus? Do you rejoice when you suffer disgrace for the name of Jesus? These Sunday mornings we are exploring the story of the Acts of the Apostles. We are considering how God is using us also to build his new community in our generation.
We have seen how Jesus has called his disciples to be bold and courageous. Today we continue that theme as we meet them once again interrogated, imprisoned and punished for their faith. Three questions I want to ask.
Why did they suffer disgrace for the Name?
Why did they rejoice at suffering disgrace for the Name?
How we can rejoice when we suffer disgrace for the Name?
1. Why did they suffer disgrace for the name?
1.1 The Council Attacked the Truth (Acts -28)
Read -18, 27-28 The High priest and his associates had four reasons for arresting the apostles and putting them on trial. Two official and two genuine reasons.
Peter and John had disobeyed their religious leaders.
They had been banned from
every Synagogue pulpit in
It was heresy to teach a physical resurrection from the dead. The Sadducees were 1st Century liberals. They denied the resurrection. These were the official reasons. The real reason?
What really irritated them was the way the Church was growing at their expense. People were defecting. The Synagogues were emptying. These Messianic Believers, like "Jews for Jesus" today were coming in and spoiling everything. Its a lesson in how envy can so easily be hidden under the disguise of "defending the truth". Envy at another church or an individuals success is a matter for prayer but not pride, for joy not jealousy.
They were annoyed because the apostles made them feel guilty. Why? Because they were guilty. So guilty they wouldn't even use Jesus name. "This man's blood". They had crucified Jesus thinking that would put a stop to it. Just the reverse.
How could they destroy the Lord of life? They had opposed the truth, and by now it was back-firing on them. Jealousy and guilt are powerful and destructive forces. If you are known as a Christian and stand for Jesus then expect opposition. For Jesus insists no one is right before God. All are rebels. All are guilty. All need His forgiveness. Jealousy and guilt, the real reasons why the apostles were arrested. The real reasons why we will be opposed and criticised today. There’s a second reason. They not only suffered physical abuse. They also suffered verbal abuse. If you can’t destroy someone, humiliate them.The Council attacked the truth, but.
1.2 Gamaliel Avoided the Truth 5:34-39
Gamaliel was a scholar
highly esteemed by the people, a bit of a diplomat. He had taught Paul all he knew about the law,
and when he died, his epitaph read "When
Rabban Gamaliel the Elder died, the glory of the law
ceased and purity and abstinence died." Sounds like he wrote it himself... His comments
in -39 are usually seen in a rather positive light. Some
Christian even suggest this is how we should evaluate
whether something is of God. Was he another secret disciple like Nicodemus and Joseph?
I don't think so. I believe Gamaliel's counsel was
unwise and dangerous. Four things give Gamaliel away.
He was a Sceptic 5:36-37
In spite of his cool logic rather than the overheated emotions of his contemporaries, his scepticism is shown by the way he lumps Jesus with two rebels, Theudas and Judas of Galilee. This shows that he had already dismissed the evidence about Jesus. His scepticism led him to advise a "patient wait and see approach". He wanted to hedge his bets. He was a sceptic as so often scholars become.
He was a Cynic
To Gamaliel Jesus was just
another misguided zealous Jew
trying to set the nation free from
The other two leaders were dead and buried and their followers dispersed. Not so Jesus or his disciples. Sceptical and cynical.
He was a Pragmatist 5:38-39
Gamaliel had the mistaken theological view that if something is not of God it will fail. Such a simplistic pragmatic approach fails to take account of our sinful nature or the presence of Satan. Mark Twain once said, that "A lie runs round the world while truth is still putting on her shoes." Success is no test of truth.
False cults often grow faster than the Church. They also have a high fall out rate, and disappear without trace on a regular basis while the true Church grows quietly and unspectacularly. Our world is a battle field on which truth and error are in mortal combat, and often it looks as if truth is on the scaffold while wrong sits arrogantly on the throne. How long should the Council wait and see if this movement would survive before placing their bets? Gamaliel's 'wisdom' was actually very foolish. He was a sceptic, a cynic and a pragmatist with it.
3.4 He was an Agnostic -39
He encouraged neutrality
when the Council was facing a life and death issue that demanded decision.
"Wait and see" agnosticism while the world perishes, and when the
evidence for the claims of Christ are there staring you in the face is not a
sign of neutrality. While counselling "lets wait and
see" he was actually voting "no". Gamaliel had refused to face the evidence,
and turned the meeting into a petty discussion about Jewish insurrectionists. When
our friends or neighbours say "thank you for the invitation,
I'll think about it" they're actually continuing to say no. Jesus made it clear - it is impossible to
remain neutral about Him. If Gamaliel was really afraid of fighting against God
as he claimed, why did he not honestly investigate the evidence, diligently
search the scriptures, listen to the eye witnesses, and ask God for wisdom. This was an
opportunity of a lifetime. Why not? because he was a sceptic, a cynic, a pragmatist and an
agnostic. So are a lot of people we will meet. People who think you must be
weak for going to church. Mad for believing in Jesus. Eccentric
for reading the Bible. Opposition can be physical and it can be verbal. Intimidating
or humiliating. This was why they suffered disgrace for the name of Jesus.
2. So why rejoice at suffering disgrace for the Name?
Because Jesus had promised them it would happen.
"Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:11-12)
On another occasion just before his death Jesus explained,
"If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: 'No servant is greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. (John 15:18-21)
They were rejoicing in suffering for Jesus first of all because.
2.1 They would not change their methods 5:19-20
Notice the response of the apostles to their arrest. They did not resist arrest, nor did they organise a petition or public protest. They quietly went along with the temple guard, prepared to spend a night in jail – except God had other ideas.
Having escaped, instead of
acting more prudently to avoid a repetition, they went straight back to work,
knowing re-arrest was inevitable. They were obedient, and displayed courage.The courage of their convictions to go back to the
temple and teach the people about Jesus.
2.2 They did not change their message 5:30-32
Peter boldly reiterates the facts of the last few weeks, and pulls no punches in directing the blame for Jesus death at his accusers. They were all eyewitnesses of what had happened. That is all God expects of us, to tell the truth of what God has done for us in Jesus. The apostles changed neither their methods, nor their message. Nor did they retaliate. And neither must we. Read -42. We’ve looked at why they suffered disgrace for the name. - Jealousy and guilt.
We’ve looked at how they rejoiced at suffering for the sake of the name of Jesus. Because they were following in his footsteps.
3. How can we rejoice when suffering disgrace for Jesus?
How can you rejoice when you feel misunderstood?
How can you rejoice when you are the subject of rumour, gossip, slander or libel? How can you rejoice when you are denigrated for your Christian values, humiliated for your Christian views, maligned because you follow Jesus?
Or worse, imprisoned or
martyred for following Jesus.
Max Lucado, in his book, On the Anvil writes this:
“Perhaps you've been there. Melted down. Formless. Undone.
I know. I've been on it. It's rough. It's a spiritual
slump, a famine. The fire goes out. Although the fire may flame for a moment,
it soon disappears. We drift downward. Downward into the
foggy valley of question, the misty lowland of discouragement.
Motivation wanes. Desire is distant. Responsibilities are depressing. Passion? It slips out the door. Enthusiasm?
Are you kidding? Anvil time. The light switch is
flipped off and the room darkens. "All the thoughtful words of help and
hope have all been nicely said. But I'm still hurting, wondering...." On the anvil. Brought face to face with
God out of the utter realization that we have nowhere else to go. Jesus, in the garden. Peter, with a tear streamed face. Elijah and the "still, small voice." Paul, blind in
They rejoiced because they had a clear conscience.
Their shame was undeserved.
Their suffering was known to God. He was with them, reshaping them,
using them to bring others to faith in Jesus Christ. And one day, one day they
would have their reward. As we shall see
from the story of Stephen next week if we are to rejoice we must do three
Do you know who won the 100 metre race at the 1924 Olympics? Neither do I. Long
forgotten, as will, with the greatest of respect, this weeks gold
medal winners in
Irrespective of what others
thought of him. And God honoured him. Liddell was
given the opportunity to
run on another day in the 400 meters race. Though he had not trained for that
distance, he took the opportunity. He not only won but set a world record in
the process. What was his response to his fame? Did he become a coach? Start his own sports shop? Become a radio sports presenter? No. He
quietly finished his degree in science and theology, and then in 1925, he
On one occasion following
the Japanese invasion of
In 1943, Eric Liddell found himself in a 150-by-200-yard Japanese
internment camp along with eighteen hundred other "enemy nationals." Aged
forty three-years-old Liddell was undaunted by this new trial. He did everything
he could to lead and serve his fellow prisoners. Without the benefit of
equipment or supplies, he taught science to many of the children in the
makeshift school they created. He taught Sunday school, led Bible studies for
adults, and tended to the elderly and infirm. He organized youth sporting
events to promote fitness and boost morale. He especially enjoyed helping the
children. If Liddell was in great pain, he never let on. He simply continued teaching
and coaching the children.