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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at / Published Life BPC 10:45 am service, 2005-07-24

Text: Acts 4:1-22

We continue this morning in our series of studies from the book of Acts entitled 'Making His Name Known.' We have already seen the Making of a Mighty Movement that began when the Holy Spirit was poured down at Pentecost. In last week's message, we witnessed the very first miracle by the apostles: they healed a man who had been lame from birth, so that now he was walking and leaping with full excitement. This amazing event became the springboard for an evangelistic rally that saw 5,000 souls saved (4:4).

Well we notice that up till the end of chapter 3, everything seemed to go very well for the apostles. There was no difficulty, no trouble, opposition or persecution facing the disciples yet. How nice it would have been if it had remained that way. Would it not be nice if living the Christian life and doing the will of God was always that smooth and unhindered. But in reality, there are many difficulties a person begins to face when he commits himself to live his life for Christ. And in today's message we see that the early church also began to face its share of suffering and persecution.

One useful lesson that we can learn from is that anyone who takes his commitment to Christ seriously is bound to find sooner or later that this commitment will bring him into some difficulty with his non-Christian environment. Some time along the way, he may have to face some degree of inconvenience, unpleasantness, or be misunderstood and even ridiculed for his commitment to Christ. There is a cost for commitment. If someone tells me that his commitment to Christ has not caused him even the slightest bit of inconvenience with the world, and that he feels totally comfortable and at home in the world, then I would fear that perhaps he has become too friendly with the world, and has forsaken his commitment to Christ. The Word of God says clearly in James that the friendship of the world is enmity with God, and that 'whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.' (James 4:4)

The Scriptures teach that a Christian, if he really is a genuine Christian, cannot help but to be at odds with the world he lives in. He will be different from the rest. No matter where he is, he is bound to stand out from the rest. And thus he will have to suffer because of that.

The differences will be seen in the way he speaks, acts, thinks, and also in the things he likes and dislikes. He cannot help but to suffer some inconvenience for what he has become. And depending on the kind of circumstances he is in, he may suffer more or suffer less, but he is always bound to suffer in the non-Christian environment he lives in. This morning we are going to observe 4 ways in which you and I may have to suffer for the name of Christ. And our willingness to suffer in these 4 ways is an indication of how serious we are about our commitment to live for our Lord Jesus Christ.

The first thing we notice as we read this chapter is that the disciples find themselves 

I. Suffering for Preaching the Gospel (4:1-4)

They had evidently made big headlines and shaken the whole community by their one act of healing the lame man and of leading 5,000 souls to Christ by preaching the gospel at the Temple. It is hard for such things to go unnoticed by the authorities, especially the Jewish Temple authorities. And so the apostles were promptly arrested and put in prison. What was the charge against them? What wrong had they done? They had merely preached the Gospel, the message of salvation through Jesus Christ. They were actually doing something that was noble and good - saving souls from eternal death. And yet for doing that they were now treated as criminals - arrested and imprisoned. Have you ever felt that way before? You do something out of the goodness of your heart as a favour for someone, and in the end you have to pay heavily for it!

Now, in the eyes of the world, it is not worthwhile for anyone to have his goodness rewarded that way. If that is the way it is, the world says, 'Why do good? Surely it is better to avoid trouble.' But Christ said in Matthew 5:10 and 11 'Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for My sake. Rejoice and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven.' 

Dearly beloved, one of the distinguishing characteristics of a Christian is that he has a message to proclaim, and for that he may sometimes have to suffer. If we think that our suffering is unpleasant, our Christian brethren in some parts of the world have to suffer a lot more. Some of them have been locked up in labour camps for years just because they preached the Word of Christ. Just 6 years ago we heard of an Australian missionary being burned to death with his son in India. In the year 2,000 when sister Chan Pui Meng was working in Laos, she told us about the persecution that the churches face over there because of the hardline stand against Christianity taken by the Communist regime in Laos. 

We should be thankful that we don't have to face such hostility in the Singapore. There is freedom of religion. Although there are religious sensitivities to be mindful of, we won't be imprisoned for telling people about Christ. And yet we do not make good use of our freedom to witness for Christ. Some of us may even be afraid of letting people around us know that we are Christians, and we try our best to keep it a secret. We might say, 'My religion is a very personal matter to me: others do not need to know about it.' But very often the real reason is that we want to avoid facing any difficulties with the world.

Dearly beloved, if this is the case with you, then listen, Christ said in John 15:18-21 'If ye were of the world, the world would love its own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept My saying, they will keep yours also. But all these things will they do unto you for My name's sake, because they know not Him that sent Me.'

This brings us now to the second way in which we may have to suffer for the sake of Christ's name. In our passage of Acts 4, we see in vv.5-12 that they were:

II. Suffering for Bearing the Name of Christ (4:5-12)

The disciples who were arrested spent one whole night in prison. Apparently the lame man who had been healed had also been arrested with them. He had identified himself with Christ in whose name he had been miraculously healed. On the next day, they were brought before a great religious council to be put on trial for their 'crime.' The very first thing they were asked in found in v.7. We read: 'By what power [authority] or by what name, have ye done this?' Peter's reply was bold and straightforward: 'by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.' (v.10) And he went on to emphasize that great name is v.12, saying 'for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.' It is clear that the central issue here was a name - the name of Jesus Christ!

Dearly beloved, do you know why Christians are named 'Christians?' Because by this, we are identified with Christ. Actually it was not a name that the first Christians gave to themselves (Originally, they simply called themselves 'disciples'). The name �Christian� was actually a derogatory term that was given to the first believers of Christ at Antioch by the heathen population of that city (Acts 11:26). And they did not like to be called that at first, because it only reminded them of all the hostility and hatred that unbelievers had toward the name of Jesus Christ. It would evoke similar revulsion in those days to being called a 'terrorist' today! Whenever someone calls you a Christian, you are associated with a Name which is reviled by the world. Are you afraid to bear that Name? If you want to keep others from knowing that you are a Christian, then this shows that you are ashamed of bearing that Name. 

I remember the time when I began to serve my National service 25 years ago. Army life as you know, is quite different from civilian life. We had to live together in barracks, and we all lived closely together. There is no privacy and one's life becomes like an open book for everyone to read. When we ate together, everyone else would be digging right into their food, and I would be the only one saying grace silently. When we retired for the evening everyone else would be talking or sleeping, and I would be the only one in the bunk reading the Bible with a torch light in the dark. Everyone of course knew then that I was a Christian, and I wondered what they thought about that. There is always the fear that once people around me know I am a Christian, people would be watching my life closely, and I know that I cannot do anything questionable, or else people would be ever so ready to say: 'So that is what a Christian does.'

My purpose for sharing this with you is to encourage you not to conceal your Christian identity whether it be in your place of work, or school, or neighbourhood. Do not be afraid to tell the world that you are a Christian. Don't be afraid that someone may give you nick-names like 'Holy Joe' or 'Padre' or 'Pastor' or something else that may be unkind or insulting. It is definitely worth going through all of that for that sake of the name of Christ. Don't keep your faith a secret. If you haven't been baptized yet - get baptized, and invite all your friends to come! But most important of all, as they will be watching you, let the name of Christ that you bear be accompanied with a life and conduct that is worthy of that name. This brings us to our third point: A Christian sometimes has to suffer

III. Suffering for the Transformed Life We Should Live (4:13-17)

The most obvious transformation was in the life of the lame man who was miraculously healed. He was now able to walk and leap, and he was also a believer, for he stood with the disciples and not apart from them at the trial (v.14). The passage tells us that the authorities had nothing to say when they saw this change in him.

But besides him, the authorities also could say nothing against Peter and John, because they could also see how they were also transformed. Let us read v.13 - 'Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marveled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.' Here we see that there was something about the lives of Peter and John that marked them out clearly - their lives were changed! 

From being fearful, timid disciples during the trial and crucifixion of Christ, and who locked themselves in the upper room after that, they had now become very bold and courageous even when facing a council of very high officials. Do you remember how Peter out of fear for his own life even denied three times that he knew Christ? How is it that he could now stand up against the whole assembly of intimidating officials and declare Christ so powerfully and bravely to them? 

The officials were thoroughly amazed by this. But more important than that, is that they could not help but conclude that this change in Peter and John had resulted from their having been with Jesus. You will notice, if you keep reading downward from here, that they really had no argument to offer against the disciples after that.

You know, when you try to tell someone about Christ, sometimes he may bring up all kinds of hard questions and arguments against you, and you have to spend much time and effort to explain the Bible, and to answer those arguments. But do you know that you have something that can put an end to all his arguments? - The Testimony of a life that has been gloriously transformed by Jesus Christ! If your life has been changed, and he can plainly see it, that becomes something against which no one can bring up an argument. 

A transformed life marks a Christian out from the rest. When this is used to point to Christ, it becomes a powerful tool which the Holy Spirit can use to bring people who have heard the Gospel, to the point of committing their lives to Jesus Christ. A life that is transformed by Jesus Christ is incontrovertible evidence that no one can deny. The way that you live now as a Christian, speaks louder than any words you may speak to persuade a sinner to believe in Christ and be saved. 

The apostle Paul was a wonderful example of this. Before Christ changed him, he was a fanatical Pharisee, hating and threatening Christians. He was Saul, the ambitious and proud Jew, advancing far ahead of all his fellow Jews. But when he got to know Christ, he became Paul, the Christian, willing to suffer and die for the sake of Christ and advancing Christ's Gospel to the uttermost parts of the Roman empire. So great was the transformation that people in Damascus were amazed (9:21).

About 13 years ago, when I was teaching courses in a Bible School in the Philippines, I had a student by the name of Julieto Aningga. He was always happy and smiling and ready to do his best in any work assigned to him. As I got to know Julieto well, he related to me how Christ had changed his life completely. When he was in his teens he had no one to guide him, he quickly fell into a life of sin and vice. He became a leader of a notorious gang of youths in his village in Mindanao. Together he and his gang would go around intimidating and terrorizing other youths, getting into gang fights, and then end their escapades with a drinking binge. On some mornings he would wake up to find himself lying in a drain with no recollection at all of how he got there or what happened the night before. 

This kind of life went on, until one day, an uncle, who was a Christian, confronted him with the Gospel of Christ. From then onward his life was gradually transformed by Christ. So thankful was Julieto for his new-found salvation, that he consecrated his life to the Lord and worked hard to pay for boat trip to Manila to enroll at the Center for Biblical Studies where I was teaching. 

And after four years of study he graduated and is now married with a family and pastoring church in Metro Manila. That's not the end of the story. When Julieto was a still a Bible School student, he made a trip back to his hometown during a summer vacation. There he visited the youths who had been members of his gang. And they were glad to see him, but at first they could not recognize him, because he was no longer the reckless gang leader they used to know. His life had been transformed! What an impact this made upon them!

I trust that this true story may be an %ncouragement to us to live our lives fully for the Lord Jesus Christ. Dearly beloved, the best compliment that any Christian can ever receive from others is the compliment 'I can now see Christ in you.' The life we now live should be different from the life we had before we were saved. And though by doing this we may have to suffer loss of some of our former friends, and make sacrifices of some sinful pleasures that we used to enjoy, it is worthwhile because of the end result. 

Now let us come back to ourktext and observe one more way in which Peter and John suffered for the sake of Christ's name: In vv. 18-22 we see them:

IV. Suffering for Taking a Stand for God's Cause (4:18-22)

The Council before whom these disciples stood now told them that they would be released. But there was a condition for their release: they must stop preaching about Jesus Christ. The disciples were therefore faced with a difficult decision: They could either put an end to all their misery and suffering by simply agreeing not to preach Christ anymore, or they could refuse to obey this command from the council and face the worst consequences from them. What should they do?

Have you ever been in a situation like that? Have you ever been forced to choose between doing what people want you to do, and what you know God wants you to do? The way you respond in such a situation will demonstrate where your loyalty lies. The easiest thing to do is to succumb to the pressure of people, so that you will conform to their wishes. The more difficult thing to do would be to choose to please God, and this would instantly cause you to suffer, even to the point of being expelled and becoming an outcast. When you do that, people may be quick to label you as an extremist, a fanatic, a rebel. And it obviously hurts to be called such things.

If we ever have to suffer to take a stand for our convictions, we must be sure that the cause is worthy enough. And the most worthy cause is Obedience to God. If for instance, your colleagues in your place of work are plotting to deceive the company for some personal gains, and they want you to join in with them, you must take a stand and say no to them. If a close relative dies, and you are required to take part in some paganistic funeral rites, you must take a stand.

I could go on describing many, many situations where a Christian should take a firm stand and be willing to suffer for the sake of his loyalty to Christ. But the best way to know when you should take a stand is for you to learn God's will by reading and knowing His Word well. Read your Bible, and as you do, determine and purpose in your heart (like Daniel) that you will ever be faithful to obey everything it says. Treasure up these words in your heart, so that when the day comes for you to make a difficult choice, you will know what the Lord wants you to do. And then ask God to give you the willingness and courage to suffer for the name of the Lord Jesus Christ! 

May the Lord help us to respond to the challenge that He has given to us today.

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

October 15 & 22 - The Cost of Discipleship

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 16:25