My goal for each Monday is to post a reflection on the sermon from the day before. It might be a summary, information I was unable to include in the sermon, or even correcting something I said wrong (it does happen!). I hope these Monday posts help us to continue throughout the week the conversation with God that is started on Sunday mornings.
Edit: this sermon now available for listening online (10/26/11)
Yesterday at Orchard Community Church I preached from Acts 3:1 – 4:31 and 5:17-42. These passages speak about the early church facing turbulence. The apostles are arrested for healing a man in the name of Jesus and then proclaiming to the crowd that Jesus is the way of salvation. As they stand trial, the apostles don’t fight for their rights and file a lawsuit. They don’t form a coalition and set up a boycott. Their response to the turbulence is to keep proclaiming the gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ – right there in the trial, in front of the very leaders who sent Jesus to the cross. No whining, no protest about discrimination – just the gospel.
The response of the other believers in Acts 4:23-31 is equally amazing. In their prayer to God they reference the stories of persecution from the Old Testament and also what happened to Jesus. They realize that every time God’s people bring God’s message into the world there is TURBULENCE – hardships and persecution. Their witness to us today is that we should expect turbulence on this Gospel Mission rather than see it as something abnormal! Then they ask God for something – something to help them as they face this turbulence. They don’t ask for the persecution to stop. Instead, they ask God to give them boldness to keep sharing the gospel even as they are being persecuted!
When the apostles are arrested a second time they declare – “We must obey God rather than men!” (Acts 5:29). They say that they will never stop proclaiming the gospel of Jesus no matter what. This time they are flogged (severely beaten) and again warned to stop. What is their response this time? “The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ” (Acts 5:41-42).
This passage made me think of two questions about facing turbulence on the gospel mission.
1. What spills when you are shaken? When a cup is shaken, it is what is inside the cup that comes out. If you are drinking a cup of grape juice on an airplane that goes through turbulence, you may wish that water spilled out instead, but it just doesn’t work that way! Why would it work this way in our lives? When we face turbulence, it is what is inside us that will spill over. When the apostles and the early church were shaken, it was the gospel that spilled over in each situation! Why? Because that was what was inside them – that was what saturated their lives! What do we spill when we are shaken?
2. What is your seat belt? When passengers on an airplane are in their seats they are supposed to keep their seat belts fastened because the plane could encounter turbulence at any time. When we go through hardships and/or persecution, we look to something to hold us secure. What is it we are trusting to hold us as a Church? Is it a privileged place in society? Is it the traditions of our church? The flashiness of our programs or our shining new technology? What about as individual believers? Are we counting on a certain relationship? A place of honor or prestige within the church? Maybe our bank account? Maybe when all is stripped away we are simply counting on ourselves to hold us secure. We think we are our own seat belt, but a seat belt that is only attached to the thing it is supposed to be holding will never be secure. It must have a firm anchor! The early church knew it was held secure by the very thing that was taking them through the turbulence in the first place. The Gospel. What are you trusting in to hold you secure?
Finally, one last question. We will go through difficult times for many different reasons. This world is full of disappointments and trials that have nothing to do with the gospel. The question I have after studying these passages in Acts is this: As believers in Jesus Christ, are we experiencing turbulence because of the gospel? The other types of difficulties will come, but that’s not what this passage is about. If we are truly on the gospel mission, then there will be turbulence because of the gospel. We don’t seek it or cause it, but we should be ready to endure it and to proclaim the gospel in the turbulence. In order to do this, we must be people who are saturated by the gospel and live this out in everything we do.
So my hope for this week is that we (like the early followers of Christ before us) are saturated with the gospel because turbulence is to be expected, but when we are held secure by the gospel then the turbulence is just another opportunity for the gospel to spill over for others to see.