It Takes Courage

Ninth in a series: God’s Mission; God’s Method,
Delivered November 9, 2003 by Rev. John Schmidt.

Theme: We’d like to be Christians in a no risk environment, but that never happens. Living the Christian life faithfully takes courage.

In the series, “God’s Mission; God’s Method,” we will be looking at the Book of Acts to see God at work in the early church. The series will help us start our life together by looking afresh at what it means to be God’s people, caught up in the world-changing action of the Holy Spirit. I don’t want to “play church,” just going through the motions. I want us to be the church, the church God calls us to be. ~Rev. John Schmidt

Sermon Text:
Acts 4:23-31,
also referencing
Acts 3:1-4:22

Let’s pray. Lord, we thank you for your Word and we thank you for this time that we have to think about what you’ve written, to think about things in the lives of your people that encourage us and guide us today. And so we pray that you will bless this time, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

You are not suppose to get in trouble for doing something good. It’s not supposed to work out that way. Peter and John didn’t particularly think that this day would be a special day. They had just gone to the temple. It was about three in the afternoon and they were going there because it’s a special time of group prayer. And they are in the crowd of people that are pushing their way into the temple. And when they get into, close to one of the doors of the temple, they run into a guy who is still being carried by his friends, getting ready to sit down with one of of his, to sit down and (I’m switching mikes). They go into the temple area and this guy is sitting out there, he’s just gotten seated there and he looks at Peter and John and he calls out to them and he says, “Do you have any money to give me?” And Peter looks at him and actually Peter goes up to him and says, “Look at me.” And as he looks at the guy he says, “You know I don’t have any silver and I don’t have any gold, but what I do have I am willing to give you. In the name of Jesus stand up and walk.” Now there was an amazing moment in the corner of the temple at that point, because not only did this guy stand up and walk, but because of the incredible joy of being let loose after a lifetime of being bound, he starts running around leaping and praising God.

Now remember, this is a formal time of prayer in the temple and so there is lots of people around and when they see all this activity over in the corner, they start to crowd around Peter and John. Now Peter knows a preaching opportunity when he sees it. And so Peter says to them, “People of Israel, why are you surprised that this is going on? God is merely glorifying the name of Jesus. Jesus was the guy that you rejected. You had a choice between choosing this righteous, kind and just person or a murderer and you asked for a murderer. You disowned him and handed him over. But God raised him from the dead. And now in his name God is doing these things that you see happening right now.” Now you might have done those things in ignorance, but those days are over. No excuses now, turn around; respond to this incredible opportunity to have all of your sins dealt with once and for all in Jesus.

And it’s about when Peter is sharing that that the priests and the security guards of the temple come walking up. They are wondering what this ruckus is all about. And when they see that he is preaching in the name of Jesus and that this miracle had happened, they figured that this was something that was going way out of control, this is something dangerous, so they take Peter and John and they put them in prison. And they are in jail overnight.

The next morning, the religious leaders gathered together. The first question out of their mouths is, by what authority, by what name do you do these things? There was something about the way they said it probably that set Peter off, because at that point Peter says, okay let’s get it all out on the table. If we are being brought in to account for doing something kind for somebody, then let me let you know that this was done in the name of Jesus whom you crucified, whom you gave over to be killed and that this Jesus is the Messiah, he is the Savior and there will never be another. Now in just those few minutes of speaking, the priests could tell, you know it might have been his accent or it might have been the words that he used, but they could tell that he was an uneducated man and yet they saw him and they knew about the miracle and they see the courage in this man’s life and they remember that Peter and John had been with Jesus. Now they didn’t know what to do. What do you do when it’s public knowledge that the miracle has happened? But they do say in no uncertain terms that Peter and John should not speak or do anything in the name of Jesus and so Peter at that point says, “Cmon, let’s think about this for a minute guys. What would you do? Is it better for us to obey God or to obey you? I know what our choice is. We can’t help but talk about the things that we have seen and heard.” Peter and John didn’t expect the day to turn out this way. They did what was right, but they still got in to trouble. You heal somebody who has no hope, you do something kind for someone and you end up in jail. I don’t know about you, but I hate it when that happens. It’s not supposed to work out this way. And so after this, Peter and John go to share this with their small group. And they get together and they say about what’s happened in their lives. And then that group gathers together to pray.

Now I want to ask you a question. If you had had a day like this, if you’ve had compassion on someone and then you had the faith to believe that God could do something to change their life and because of your faith and because of your compassion, you do something that remakes a person’s life. You do something like this and then you find yourself in jail and you find people screaming in your face, never do this again. How would you pray? What would your prayer be like? And I am really asking you that. What would you pray? Help. Okay. Lord help me, Lord give me the courage. That’s a good biblical prayer. Now, give me an honest one, okay? Why me? Yeah, that’s a good one. Anybody here not pray that one at some point or another? Why not? That’s one I have never prayed, okay? Any other suggestions? How about a good solid Old Testament prayer. Smite them O’ Lord. Man there is all kinds of biblical warrant for that one. Sure. The why me prayer. Maybe we would kind of couch it in; you know concern for them. O’ Lord turn their hearts around and what we are thinking is yes, they would be saved and two they would get out of our face. Or maybe it would be a guidance prayer. Lord, is this an open door? Maybe we shouldn’t be ministering here. Or maybe you are ready to give up preaching all together, Lord is this a no? You know, fishing isn’t that bad a way of life. We can pray about these things all kinds of ways. Here’s what they really prayed. I want to read to you from the 4th chapter, beginning the 23rd verse.

“On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them. When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. “Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them. You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David: ” ‘Why do the nations rage and the people plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his Anointed One. Indeed, Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus. After they prayed, the place they were meeting was shaken. And they were are filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.”

We’ve talked about what we would have prayed. Here’s what they prayed. I would like us to thing about four things that we see here. The first comes up in Verse 24. “God we know that you’re in control.” Why is it the minute things start to get difficult, we start to wonder whether God really exists or we start thinking, maybe I am not in the will of God you know. Maybe I have done something wrong. So you are with a friend and you share, you share what’s on your heart about Jesus and you let them in just a little bit about what it means for you to follow Christ. And then instead of responding well, they get angry and they get defensive. And so for the rest of the day we walk around thinking, what did I do wrong? God, why did you let this happen? Why didn’t you bless this time? And you know, sometimes we really have done something wrong. But we can do it all right and still get a bad response.

People got mad at Jesus. People got mad in this passage at Peter and John. Even if they were doing it right, sometimes the response isn’t good. And that brings us to the second part of the prayer that they prayed. In verses 25-27, they talk about the fact that through David, God had revealed to them that there is this power struggle going on and that there would be these people who conspire against the anointed of God and then that they saw this played out with Pontius Pilate actually in the lives in their city and saw Jesus handed over. And so they say, God you warned us that it would be like this. That’s the second point. It’s God has told us that life is sometimes like this. So why are we so surprised when we do something good and then it gets rough for a while? We are in a spiritual battle. Ephesians 6 reminds us of that. In 1st Peter 4 and 5 there is mention again that we are in a battle. We are in a tough situation. Satan opposes the church. In fact, it says in 1st Peter 4, 12th Verse, it says, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the suffering of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.”

In the scripture, we hear that we are in a battle. In the scripture we see what’s happened to Jesus. In this scripture like today’s text, we know what happens to Peter and John. The word ‘martyr’ comes from the word ‘witness.’ And so this word that originally talked about sharing what you have seen and heard has come to be known as giving your life for that witness, because sometimes witness is costly.

Things don’t go smoothly even in the will of God. I have a friend who is an architect in Louisiana and he was asked by his boss one time to do something illegal in a bid process. Because he was a Christian he refused to do it. And it wasn’t his boss who was asking him to do something that was illegal that was fired. It was this Christian man. In the Columbine massacre there was a girl. I think her name was Cassie Bernall. She was asked, do you believe in God with a gun pointed in her face? And she said, yes I do. And the gun didn’t misfire. She died. It’s not supposed to work out that way. We step out to some new direction. We try some new outreach or make a new step in our lives and we run into all kinds of resistance. We get into conflict. We get involved in illness unexpectedly. Maybe there is persecution. And if its in Maryland, I don’t want to offend anybody who is actually involved in a bureaucracy, but maybe its bureaucracy that you struggle with. We are on our fourth visit to the MVA at this point. God warned us that this is what the world is like.

We have already talked about what we would pray in a situation like this, but what do they pray? They pray for boldness. That is the third thing that I would like us to note. Don’t let us back down. Help us to not only do it, but then prosper it. Give it power. Give it impact. Bless it. Now this is not a hedge of protection sort of prayer. Now I pray those sorts of prayers. “Oh God put a hedge of protection around so and so.” And those are good prayers, but this is much more on the offensive than that. It’s not merely praying for God’s protection, “O protect us from the impact of what we did.” It’s saying what we did was right, give us the boldness to do it again, even if it costs us something.

Now when we read something like this we think about big issues. Today’s a Sunday that we remember international persecution of Christians. And so on a Sunday like this we think about for example Indonesian Christians who face threats on their personal lives. Their churches are being burned down just because they are Christian. But I have to be honest. It doesn’t take nearly that much danger to make me act like a coward. It really doesn’t. I fear raised eyebrows and frowns. I fear being thought to be a religious weirdo, even though I am a pastor. I skip heartbeats at the thought of saying something inappropriate at a social gathering. And you know these fears intrude even into our relationship with family and friends. Maybe it’s particularly bad when we are trying to share our faith with family members and friends. We have a brother or a sister or parents who need to hear the gospel and for years we can’t find a way of doing it. We can’t find a way of fitting it in, in that proper and appropriate way.

A few years ago I was praying for my dad. My dad was extremely sick with emphysema. And I was trying to find the courage to share my faith with him. And so I was praying about it and one day in particular, I prayed about it and felt like today is the day. Got to do it. I went over, this was in a different town. I went to visit him in New Orleans. Now my father and my stepmother are nice people, but it’s not easy to have a conversation about spiritual things. They are the sort of folks that you sit out on the back porch with a beer and you grouse about all the things that aren’t going well in the world. And so I went there and I sat for two hours trying to find a way of saying something and just couldn’t do it. And so at the end of that it was time for me to leave and I excused myself feeling extremely defeated. Now my glasses were a little messed up so I decided before I leave town I am going to go get my glasses adjusted and when I came out of the place, I sat in the car, laid my head against the steering wheel and I said, “God, this just doesn’t feel right. I am sorry I didn’t share with them. Do you want me to share with them today?” And then I was honest with God. I said, “God, You know I am not the sort of guy that can make this decision right now and go back over there and say, “Hey Dad there is something that I forgot to tell you. God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” I am not going to do that. God if you really want me to go you are going to have to give me a sign.” At that point my cell phone rang and on the other end is my stepmother saying, “Have you left town yet? Because we forgot to give you something that we wanted to give you and if you have a chance could you come back so we can give it to you.” Now, even I could figure out that that was a sign. And so I went back there and knowing that I am better at telling the truth than at witnessing, as soon as I got in the door I told them that when you called I was praying for a sign about whether I should come back to share with you something that is on God’s heart. And so I got the opportunity to share with them the love of God, to share with them that they had the capacity of being forgiven and I prayed with them there for them to receive God’s forgiveness and to invite Jesus in to their lives. She never calls me on that phone. I never stay in town after I visit them. But on that day, it all came together. My dad died less than three or four months later. And God knew that.

Now it worked out well, but you know even if they would have gotten angry, it would have been the right thing to do. That brings up the final point. They pray and then in verse 31 it talks about the power of the Holy Spirit coming on them. They do handle themselves in a bold fashion. They do reach out and God grants them the power to do it well. God can answer a prayer like this. They pray for boldness and God answers. You know, sometimes we spend our time praying a kind of prayer that I don’t think God can answer. We pray for a situation that everything will be put together just right, so that we can share our faith with 100% effectiveness. So that every time we share our faith, people are going to say Amen, they are going to thank us for and they are going to pat us on the back. God didn’t even do that for Jesus. When we pray like that, we are praying a prayer that God can’t answer. But a boldness prayer, that’s something that God can answer. When we say, “God it might cost me something, it might hurt, it might be confusing, but I am willing to do it if it’s the right thing, give me the boldness to be your person for Jesus sake”. That kind of prayer God can answer and God will answer.

I can’t relate to people, I don’t relate well to people who think that Christianity is a crutch for people who can’t face the difficulties of life any other way, because the hardest decisions that I have ever made in my life have been precisely because I am a Christian. I can remember a time a number of years ago standing outside of a bar in a seedy part of a town north of Boston and I am getting ready to walk in to this bar to try to grab this rum-soaked motorcycle gang enforcer. Now an enforcer is the guy who beats up people. And I am getting ready to walk in because he was a new Christian and was backsliding because of his alcoholism. I am getting ready to walk in there and that was a tough choice and that’s a choice that normal people and by that I mean non-Christian people, because they are the normal ones. They are the ones that aren’t thinking about the invisible kingdom that’s coming and a resurrected Lord. Normal people don’t face decisions like that. I only face that decision because I believe in Jesus. The family (name-removed) are going overseas to the Middle East. Their daughter has done the same thing. That takes courage.

We have been talking about being in an acts to church, to be the sort of church where in our personal lives and in our life together, we hold on tightly to the things that matter to God, worship, maturity, generosity, mission, community. We are like that already, but if we are going to pursue that and become more and more like that then there are times that it’s going to get tough. There are going to be hard choices and difficult things that come into our lives and at times like that we are going to need to have courage. To really live like this more and more means that there are going to be times that God is going to challenge us. There are going to be times that God stretches us. There are going to be times that God breaks the box open. Now, if you don’t naturally have the courage to do that, you’ve got two choices to make. The first choice is the protection prayer. “God don’t let anything change. I am good enough. We are good enough. Keep everything the way it is because I am afraid.” We can pray that or we can pray a courage prayer. “God you know how hard it is. God you know the risks that I am taking in my life, but give me courage and give us courage to live boldly and decisively for you.” I vote, I pray for courage.

Let’s pray. Gracious God, we are all in different places in our lives. We have different struggles. We each have challenges that you have brought to mind today. And so I pray that you will help us respond with courage. Help us to take steps forward in the things that you are calling us to do. I pray that for us individually and I pray that for us together as your people, for we ask these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.