Sermon Preached at the
Sunday Convention Service
Lebanon, Oregon June 29, 2014
by Pastor Daniel P. Mensing Tucson, Arizona
Text: Acts 5:41
In the name of Jesus Christ, our highly exalted Prince and Savior, the only Head of His Church, dearly beloved hearers of His precious Gospel:
What a blessed privilege it’s been this past week for us to gather around the Word of our God, to get understanding from His wonderful precepts, and to exhort and admonish one another as Christian brethren for mutual edification! After all, we know that as we get closer and closer to the Last Day, “evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived,” as St. Paul writes in his second pastoral letter to Timothy (II Timothy 3:13). So as things continue to get worse, we are always to be taking advantage of the opportunity to assemble with each other for spiritual support, “and so much the more, as [we] see the day approaching” (Hebrews 10:25). According to what the Lord has told us in His Word, His True Church, the Communion of Saints, will continue to suffer temporal persecutions at the hands of the devil and the children of this world until the end. This is because the Church and this present evil world are as opposed to one another as light is to darkness. Therefore, the world hates the Church and will continue to persecute it just as it persecuted its Head, Christ our Lord. That would sound pretty bleak if we didn’t have our Savior’s promised assurance that “all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28), and that not even the gates of hell shall prevail against His Church (Matthew 16:18).
Our brief text for this morning recounts the imprisonment of the Apostles in the days following the outpouring of the Holy Ghost on Pentecost. The truly miraculous thing about this account is the reaction that the Apostles had with respect to their persecution: they were “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for [Christ’s] name!” Therefore, even though the thought of persecution may be scary and may even distract us from our Christian focus, let us learn from the example of the Apostles how to turn our negative perception of temporal persecution into a positive one, so that we don’t lose sight of the wonderful opportunity we Christians have when we are suffering shame at the hands of our spiritual enemies. Let us always be
Rejoicing in the Opportunity to Suffer Shame for Christ’s Name
Because, first of all, (I) it is an opportunity to confess our faith before men as His witnesses. In addition, while suffering temporal persecution, (II) we have an opportunity to do service to our Lord Christ as His true disciples. Finally, let us rejoice that, in suffering, (III) the Lord has provided us with an opportunity boldly to approach His Throne of Grace as His special people.
Having learned from God’s Word of the opposition between the sinful world and the Holy Christian Church, we ought to recognize that the persecutions that we Christians suffer in this life are consequences of proclaiming the Gospel of Christ and of showing our faith by our Godly way of life. For example, when we examine the surrounding verses of this morning’s text, we note that the Apostles were thrown into prison not because they were rioting in the streets; not because they were vandalizing the city of Jerusalem, or because they were starting holy wars in Christ’s name. They were imprisoned because they were publicly preaching the crucified and risen Christ and were performing miracles in His name (Acts 4:3; 5:18). By doing this, they marked themselves out as separate from this present evil world, being “witnesses” of Christ (Acts 5:32), and thus they made themselves targets of persecution.
As Christians, who are also “witnesses” (Acts 1:8b) of Christ and of His Gospel, we make ourselves objects of ridicule by our way of life to those who are carnally minded. As “lights in the world” (Philippians 2:15b) we Christians all have the same duty to proclaim the Word of God in its purity to others and to live according to it with hearts of faith. Yet, the preaching of the cross of Christ, of the Gospel of repentance and remission of sins, and living according to His pure doctrine are marks by which this present evil world identifies us as fools worthy of their derision. So, we should prepare ourselves for any and all onslaughts of the wicked, remaining steadfast in the faith of our crucified and risen Savior.
One of the things we should take away from our text is that, while suffering shame for Christ’s name, we have special occasion to preach all the more boldly our crucified and risen Savior and the remission of sins granted to all the world for His sake. When the Apostles were placed before the Sanhedrin, after being imprisoned for the sake of their faith, they did not shrink back from their profession nor deny their Savior, but they proclaimed Him confidently in the face of their enemies. They convicted the council of their sins and set forth the promise of forgiveness in His name, saying, “The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree. Him hath God exalted with His right hand to be a Prince and a Savior, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins” (Acts 5:30-31).
While facing persecution, we have the opportunity to take advantage of our adversaries’ full attention. When the world wants you to suffer; when it treats you badly for being a Christian; when it makes fun of you for believing what you believe, they are focusing on you! In that moment you become the center of their attention. Take advantage of it, brethren! Use that time to tell them about their sins and the hellfire that awaits them if they don’t repent (Luke 13:5)! Tell them about the redemption of the world that Christ accomplished by suffering for their sins (John 19:30)! Tell them about the forgiveness of their sins in Christ Jesus (II Corinthians 5:19), and how that “a man is justified by faith, without the deeds of the Law” (Romans 3:28). So, let us, like the Apostles, not shrink back from our profession, but testify of our faith, and, as St. Peter writes in His first epistle, “sanctify the Lord God in [our] hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh [us] a reason of the hope that is in [us] with meekness and fear” (I Peter 3:15).
In addition, we should rejoice in our opportunity to suffer shame for Christ’s sake, because it’s an opportunity to do service to our Lord. Seeing that all true Christians are servants of the Lord Jesus, we ought to remember that no servant is above his master. The Savior told His disciples in Matthew 10:24ff., “The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord. It is enough for the disciple that he be as his master, and the servant as his lord. If they have called the Master of the house Beelzebub, how much more shall they call them of His household?” Knowing how their Lord had been persecuted at the hands of the Jews just a couple of months earlier, the Apostles, emboldened by the Holy Ghost, were willing to suffer for their faith and to obey Christ in their lives of sanctification. Moreover, the Apostles did not merely have a willingness to serve the Lord by their sufferings, but were strengthened in their faith actually to suffer (Acts 5:32).
We too know the passion that our Lord and Savior went through to redeem us, which we’ve learned from the Holy Scriptures. Therefore, we also have a special opportunity to do service to our Lord as His disciples, following His steps and even suffering wrongfully at the hands of our enemies. St. Peter writes in his first general epistle, “For even hereunto were ye called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow His steps” (I Peter 2:21). Everything that we Christians are to do in our lives of sanctification is to be done “heartily,” as to the Lord (Colossians 3:23). Everything is to be done in faith, according to His holy Law, out of love and appreciation to God for our redemption, justification, and salvation. So, even when we suffer shame for the sake of our faith, we are to suffer in service to Christ, rejoicing in the opportunity to serve Him with our lives. Let’s make no mistake about it, brethren. The cost of discipleship is steep. Jesus says in Luke 14:33, “Whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:33). As Christ’s followers, we are to be willing to forsake all of our temporal goods, our families, and even our lives for His name. And, it is only by God’s grace that any sinner is given such a mind-set and preserved in faith as the Lord’s disciple.
Now, lest we become overwhelmed with the knowledge that we Christians will suffer persecution in this life, the Lord has graciously promised that all those who remain steadfast in the faith unto the end will receive the eternal inheritance of glory and life everlasting. In Luke 12:37, the Lord states, “Blessed are those servants, whom the Lord when He cometh shall find watching; verily I say unto you that He shall gird Himself and make them to sit down to meat and will come forth and serve them.” What a blessing! The Savior Himself will serve His people! This is a comfort that outweighs and overshadows any and all sufferings that we could go through in this life, and, as St. Paul writes in Romans 8:18, “The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” So, just as the Lord Jesus looked forward to the glory that was set before Him so that He endured the shame of the cross, as the writer to Hebrews states (Hebrews 12:2), we who are His servants by faith in Him can rejoice in the opportunity to suffer for His name, “knowing that of the Lord [we] shall receive the reward of the inheritance; for [we] serve the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:24).
Moreover, let us rejoice in suffering shame for Christ’s name, in that the Lord has provided us with an opportunity boldly to approach His Throne of Grace as His special people. As we note from God’s Word, the kinds of trials that we Christians can end up suffering in this life may indeed be terrible. Yet the Lord earnestly instructs us that He expects us to bear our various crosses and follow Him. Christ says in Luke 9:23, “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.”
Now, because of the weakness of our sinful flesh, this sounds like a difficult task – an impossible task. And indeed it is! If we were left to ourselves to follow after Christ’s steps, to preserve and strengthen our own faith according to our own power, brethren, we would not last a single moment. The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Romans, tells us Christians that, by God’s grace, “[we] are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in [us]” (Romans 8:9). But if we were ever to “quench the Spirit,” which St. Paul warns us about in his letter to the Thessalonians (I Thessalonians 5:19), we would have nothing but our own sinful flesh – our “carnal mind” – which is ever at odds with God and His Word, and we would, once again, be members of this present evil world and under the condemnation of the Law (Romans 8:7; John 3:36). So, it is by God’s grace alone that we are kept in His Holy Christian Church and emboldened to speak His Word faithfully to others.
For that reason, we ought daily to take advantage of our opportunity boldly to approach the Lord’s Throne of Grace (Hebrews 4:16a) and pray that He graciously preserve and strengthen us with His Spirit by the Gospel. When the Sanhedrin began to intimidate the Apostles to prevent them from preaching Christ crucified, the Apostles boldly approached the Lord in prayer, saying, “Lord, behold their threatening and grant unto thy servants that with all boldness they may speak Thy Word” (Acts 4:29). Let’s make this our prayer also, seeing that we also have special occasion to approach the Lord when our spiritual adversaries trouble us. As the writer to the Hebrews teaches us, “Seeing then that we have a great High Priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession… [and let us]… come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:14, 16).
What’s more, while suffering trials and tribulations, we not only have the opportunity to approach the Lord’s Throne of Grace with regard to ourselves, but we also have occasion to beseech the Lord on behalf of those who trouble us, that He might grant them repentance unto life. Jesus says in Matthew 5:44, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” To the children of this world, and even to our own sinful flesh, this sounds absolutely ridiculous! But, when we consider that, before the Holy Ghost converted our hearts and granted us the gift of faith so that we became the children of our Heavenly Father, we were the enemies of Christ’s Church. Should we not have appreciated the fact that people prayed for us, that we might be justified and saved?
In Acts chapter 7, we see the example of St. Stephen who prayed for the very people that were stoning him to death, saying, “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge” (Acts 7:60). Christ Himself prayed for those who crucified Him saying, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). How can we do any less? Therefore, let us rejoice that we have the opportunity to pray for those who hate us, so that, perhaps one day we might see them in heaven and glorify God together with all His saints!
Therefore, when the children of this world try to make our lives miserable by their ranting and raving, by their threatening and bullying, and by anything that they could possibly do to bring us down, let us rejoice! Let us rejoice in the fact that we have been counted worthy to suffer shame for Christ’s name! Let us take the opportunity to profess to them what we believe and why we believe it. Let us be glad that we have the chance to serve the Lord Christ with our Godly way of life. And, let us cheerfully make use of our privilege as spiritual priests before God boldly to approach the Lord’s Throne of Grace, praying both for our preservation and our adversary’s conversion. The Apostle Peter writes in his first epistle, “Rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings, that, when His glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye, for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you; on their part He is evil spoken of, but on your part He is glorified” (I Peter 4:13-14).
“[And now,] the God of all grace, who hath called us unto His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you. To Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (I Peter 5:10-11).
Soli Deo Gloria!