Worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name
Acts 5


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
5:41). “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 5:17-28)

Read 5:17-18, 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.

Disobedience 5:28 

Peter and John had disobeyed their religious leaders.

They had been banned from every Synagogue pulpit in Israel.

Heresy  5:28 

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?

Jealousy  5:17

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.

Guilt 5:28

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 5:38-39 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 Rome. Gamaliel was saying "History always repeats itself" Give these misguided Galilean fishermen enough time and they too will disband, and go back to their boats.  But it was Gamaliel who was misguided.

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

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 5:41-42.  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.

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 Damascus. Pound, pound, pound. I hope you're not on the anvil. (Unless you need to be and, if so, I hope you are.) Anvil time is not to be avoided; it's to be experienced. Although the tunnel is dark, it does go through the mountain. Anvil time reminds us of who we are and who God is. We shouldn't try to escape it. To escape it could be to escape God. God sees our life from beginning to end. He may lead us through a storm at age thirty so we can endure a hurricane at age sixty. An instrument is useful only if it's in the right shape. A dull ax or a bent screwdriver needs attention, and so do we. A good blacksmith keeps his tools in shape. So does God. Should God place you on his anvil, be thankful. It means he thinks you're still worth reshaping.”[1]


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 things:

  1. Don’t remember what people say or do to you. Forget.
  2. Don’t retaliate for what people say or do to you. Forgive.
  3. Do rejoice for the honour of being mistaken for Jesus.

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 Salt Lake City. But Eric Liddell is remembered. Why? When challenged about his passion for running Liddell said this: "God made me a runner.  He also made me fast.  And when I run, I feel his pleasure".  (repeat).  Liddell knew he was gifted by God with the ability to run, and chose when to run and when not to run with the same dedication, the same joy and same devotion for God.

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 traveled to China as a missionary. For nearly twenty years, he worked with the Chinese people, teaching, sharing his faith, and serving. For some time he worked with the Red Cross to gain greater access to more remote regions of the country.

On one occasion following the Japanese invasion of China, he heard that a man lay mortally wounded in a temple. The locals afraid to help him because they feared the violent reprisals of the Japanese mili­tary. Liddell traveled two days to find the man. Liddell discovered the man had suffered a botched beheading from a Japanese executioner. Liddell rescued him, and stitched up the gash that stretched from the back of his head to his mouth. The man recovered.

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.

But on 21st February, 1945, 57 years last Thursday, just months before the end of the war, he died of a brain tumor. He was laid to rest in a little cemetery outside the walls of the camp.[2] The record books remember Eric Liddell the run­ner. The people whose lives he touched remember Eric Liddell the Christian. Most important of all – God’s book of life will show him to have been a faithful servant of Jesus Christ. Like countless other Christians, unknown and unrecorded, rejoicing because they too have been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.  May you also rejoice when your opportunity comes.

Lets pray.


[1] Max Lucado, On the Anvil (Tyndale, 1985)

[2] John Maxwell, The Right to Lead (Nashville: Countryman, 2001)