SERMON TITLE: Resisting the Fear of Suffering
TEXT: Acts 5:12-42 (ESV)
SPEAKER: Josh Hanson
It’s good to be with all of you this weekend at Gateway Church. And one thing I want you to know is that God loves you and I love you too.
And we’re in week two of our series in the book of Acts which we’re calling Resistance — as we’re seeing that for every gospel action there’s a reaction by the enemy. Now the enemy’s reaction isn’t an equal reaction — the enemy isn’t some sort of co-equal to God — but we do have an enemy who loves to disrupt God’s people from accomplishing God’s work. And what I want us to remember is that though there is a reaction by the enemy, God’s gospel is infinitely more powerful and — so — the resistance I’m wanting us to focus on — is our resistance to the enemy — our ability to overcome because of God’s Word and Spirit — I want us to focus on — and rejoice in — the victory that is ours because of what Christ has done for us.
And the resistance we’re going to see today — is our resistance to the fear of suffering. We live in a culture that teaches us to do everything we can to avoid suffering and — if we’re honest — most of us are afraid of suffering. Now if you travel — especially to third world countries — you’ll notice that there isn’t a fear of suffering like we have here in the US. Suffering is something that’s accepted as part of living in this broken world — you might say they see the world more clearly than we do — as we often try to manipulate our lives so the brokenness of this world doesn’t affect us.
You see this in how people make up stories about their past — in order to avoid reliving moments that caused them suffering.
I know of people who avoid telling anyone about a major health issue they’re facing — partly because they’re afraid of the suffering that may come.
History books put a spin on our country’s past because we’re ashamed of the suffering we’ve caused as nation.
We live in an “avoid suffering at all costs” kind of culture — and this has influenced the church — as a powerful fear among Christians — especially western Christians — is the fear of suffering because of our faith. And what we’re going to see today is how to resist the fear of being shamed and dishonored because of our faith in Jesus.
So let’s turn to our passage for today.
ANNOUNCE THE TEXT
If you have your Bible please turn with me to Acts chapter 5. We’ll be looking at verses 12-42.
And, if you’re a guest with us, something we like to do at Gateway is let you ask questions. So if you have a question during the sermon, you can text it in to the number printed on the bottom of the sermon notes sheet or you can submit it on the Gateway app.
RE-ANNOUNCE AND READ THE TEXT
Here are the words found in Acts chapter 5. Beginning in verse 12
“Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon's Portico. 13 None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem. 14 And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, 15 so that they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them. 16 The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed. 17 But the high priest rose up, and all who were with him (that is, the party of the Sadducees), and filled with jealousy 18 they arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison. 19 But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, 20 "Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life." 21 And when they heard this, they entered the temple at daybreak and began to teach. Now when the high priest came, and those who were with him, they called together the council, all the senate of the people of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought. 22 But when the officers came, they did not find them in the prison, so they returned and reported, 23 "We found the prison securely locked and the guards standing at the doors, but when we opened them we found no one inside." 24 Now when the captain of the temple and the chief priests heard these words, they were greatly perplexed about them, wondering what this would come to. 25 And someone came and told them, "Look! The men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people." 26 Then the captain with the officers went and brought them, but not by force, for they were afraid of being stoned by the people. 27 And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, 28 saying, "We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man's blood upon us." 29 But Peter and the apostles answered, "We must obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. 31 God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him." 33 When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. 34 But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in honor by all the people, stood up and gave orders to put the men outside for a little while. 35 And he said to them, "Men of Israel, take care what you are about to do with these men. 36 For before these days Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. 37 After him Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him. He too perished, and all who followed him were scattered. 38 So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; 39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!" So they took his advice, 40 and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 41 Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. 42 And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.” (Acts 5:12-42 ESV)
When I say the name Jesus — what comes to your mind? What do you feel when you hear his name — what does the name Jesus mean to you?
Is it a source of joy? Of purpose? Does it stir in you power and passion? Is it a name that helps you to resist your greatest fears?
This past Easter — as I’m sure you’ve heard — extremists in Sri Lanka set off bombs in churches and hotels across the island nation. Having been to the country — I have a few contacts there who were keeping me up to date throughout the day. Here’s one email that was sent to me.
“Dear friends, As we started our Resurrection Sunday service, we got information that some Churches have been attacked by terrorists...As we started to pray for the safety of Churches, the police showed up and said that we should stop the service immediately and everyone should return to their homes. However, when I requested permission to continue the service, due to the remote location of our Church, they let us continue. The police stood guard until we concluded our service.
[He then gives details of what happened in a church that was attacked.]
A young man with a bag entered and sat down right in the middle of the Church. Albeit the fans, he was sweating a lot. Ushers approached him and spoke to him and he said that he wanted to meet the pastor. The pastor was in Norway so he was approached by the assistant pastor. He asked the assistant pastor when would the Church fill with people. At this, the assistant pastor became suspicious and led the young man to the entrance of the Church. [That’s] when the man detonated the bomb he was wearing under his shirt. Twenty-seven believers died on the spot [the official total is now 28 with many more injured...the email goes on to say..]. Most of the victims are Sunday school children who were coming into the Church hall from their Sunday school classrooms...Today is supposed to be a glad day for us but it has turned into a very sad day. Please pray for our country and for Christians of this land.”
So beyond the horrific details — a part the email that floors me is the part where the police tell them to go home — and yet — the pastor asks if they can continue to worship. What do you think the name Jesus means to that pastor and congregation — where they’re willing to stay and worship while knowing other churches are being attacked, that other Christians are being murdered, that bombs are going off? Where they’re able to resist the fear of suffering — even the fear of being killed — for the name of Jesus — what do you think his name means to them?
So what I want us to do — is look at three groups in our story. We’re not going to have time to go back and look every verse, but there are three groups I want us to look at — and as we do — I want us to ask ourselves which group am I part of?
RESPECT BUT NOT JOIN
The first group we find back in verse 12. “Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon's Portico. 13 None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem. 14 And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women,” (Acts 5:12-14 ESV)
So this first group respected the Christians, but they didn’t join them. They appreciate what the Christians are doing — obviously, the community’s in a better place with the apostles healing people of diseases — but for this group — the name of Jesus is something they respect, but it isn’t a name worth believing in — Jesus isn’t someone worth following — he definitely isn’t someone they’re willing to suffer for.
And maybe this is you. Maybe you come to Gateway regularly, maybe you’re in a Life Group, maybe you serve — there are all sorts of things you can do because you respect Jesus — but — like the folks in this group — you wouldn’t dare say you believe all of this Christian stuff in a “I’m willing to suffer and die for Jesus” kind of way.
Maybe you like the social benefits of being part of Gateway — the potential clients for your business — or potential dates if you’re single.
Maybe you like the music or the kids and youth programs we have.
Maybe you even like the preaching because that “pastor Josh guy never makes you uncomfortable in his sermons, right?”
But — when you get right down to it — you know there’s no way you’d ever suffer for Jesus.
It’s not a question you wrestle with — you don’t wonder “Would I be willing to suffer” — you know the answer — and your answer is “no way.”
You’re not going to allow your reputation to suffer or your relationship with your boyfriend or girlfriend to suffer.
There’s no way Jesus is going to get between you and that promotion at work or your plans for the future.
You like Jesus — you respect him — maybe you’ve been baptized — but you know — you’re only willing to follow Jesus so far.
Now let me say that none of us — until we’re faced with suffering — really know how we’ll respond. But for the Christian, though you may wrestle with “Man I hope I’d honor Jesus if I ever face suffering” — that’s way different than thinking, “If following Jesus ever causes me to suffer...well then I’m out.” So though you may be someone who doesn’t know how you’d do in the midst of suffering, that’s not the same thing as being someone who knows that Jesus isn’t worth suffering for.
Yet here are some things we find in the Bible.
Peter writes, “But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled…(don’t fear the people who make you suffer because of your faith in Jesus...) 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil.” (1 Peter 3:14, 17 ESV)
Jesus tells us, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 ESV)
The whole idea of tribulation is experiencing difficulties and trials — there’s an expectation of suffering.
Or as Paul said, “Indeed, all (notice who’s included here — not some — but all...) who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted...” (2 Timothy 3:12 ESV)
Peter, Paul, and Jesus tell us that — to follow Jesus — is to be someone who knows that trouble is coming your way. It’s to be someone who looks at suffering without an incapacitating fear — but looks through suffering to the One who suffered on a cross for you.
If you want to resist the fear that so many experience due to suffering — Jesus must receive more than your respect.
Now to the second group. Let’s begin in verse 27.
JEALOUS AND ARE HOSTILE
“But the high priest rose up, and all who were with him (that is, the party of the Sadducees), and filled with jealousy 18 they arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison…(And in verse 27 we read…) And when they had brought them (so the soldiers went and got the apostles — after their escape that we read about earlier — and...), they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, 28 saying, "We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man's blood upon us."...(And we’ll skip to verse 33 where — after Peter and the apostles respond to the council — we read…) When they (the council) heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them.” (Acts 5:17-18, 27-28, 33 ESV)
So instead of respecting Jesus — like the first group — here we find a group that’s jealous and hostile towards everything happening because of the name of Jesus. The Sadducees are jealous of the apostles. They’re irritated with the success of the church. So they throw the apostles in prison and — specifically — they had them put in a public prison. The point is they want everyone in town to know that the apostle have been put in jail — “You want to follow Jesus — you want to tell others about him — well you better pay attention to what’s happening to the apostles — cause it’ll happen to you too.”
Now today there are many people who are hostile towards Jesus and those who follow him. But as I was reading this story, I asked myself, “How does the Christian church — and we’ll just focus on our country — the US — how does the church in the US irritate people today?” And here’s what I thought. “If only it was because of our great ministry success.”
Meaning, often today what irritates unbelievers about us Christians isn’t the amazing ministry we’re doing. What irritates them are the things we do that are unloving. What irritates them are the words we speak that are unkind, the actions we do that do not demonstrate Jesus’ love for them.
Now — as this story in Acts shows us — people will be irritated with us regardless of what we do — but similar to the quote from Peter earlier — if we’re going to irritate people — let’s do so with our great ministry success.
Let’s irritate them with relentless love and kindness.
Let’s irritate them by being the first to show up and serve those in our community who need help.
Let’s irritate them by being gracious in the way we share the truths of our faith.
Let’s irritate them in a way where they’re willing to consider what we believe because they experience us practicing what we preach.
And maybe you’re here today and this is the group you find yourself in. First, thank you for being here. It’s rare — these days — for someone to sharply disagree with others and yet — with civility — show up on their turf and listen to their view. And — second — let me apologize that so often the reason why Christians have irritated you isn’t because of all of the things I just described. What’s irritated you — what’s rightly angered you — are the unkind, unloving, and ungracious things you’ve heard and experienced from Christians. And — for that — I’m sorry — we’re sorry. My hope and prayer is that Gateway will be a church where you’re irritated by our love, kindness, and graciousness. That you’ll give the truths we believe a fair hearing because you’ve been irritatingly loved by us.
Now to the final group. Let’s begin in verse 19.
BELIEVE AND OBEY
“But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, 20 "Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life." 21 And when they heard this, they entered the temple at daybreak and began to teach…(And let’s skip to verse 25…) And someone came and told them (the council members...), "Look! The men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people." 26 Then the captain with the officers went and brought them, but not by force, for they were afraid of being stoned by the people. 27 And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, 28 saying, "We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man's blood upon us." 29 But Peter and the apostles answered, "We must obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:19-21a, 25-29 ESV)
The final group are those who believe and obey even when their belief and obedience might lead to suffering. We’ll look at how they resist the fear of suffering in a moment, but for now I want you to see that this group — made up of true believers — simply believe and obey God’s commands no matter where it may lead them.
While being miraculously rescued — the angel tells them to go right back to doing what landed them in jail in the first place. Now — if we’re honest — that sounds pretty ridiculous — and I’m not talking about the angel rescuing them part. I’m talking about the fact that they’re told to go and repeat what landed them in prison. And this would be something impossible to do if they feared suffering. I mean — who — in being set free from prison — wants to go back and repeat what landed them in prison so they’ll most likely end up back in prison or worse? Yet the apostles believe and obey.
They go right back to the Temple and begin to teach. And their obedience led to more people hearing the words of Life — the gospel — the Good News of what Jesus accomplished in his life, death, and resurrection.
And I know how tempting it can be to dismiss their obedience. We can romanticize Peter’s stand when he says, “We must obey God; not man” because we know the end of the story — we know they’ll survive this situation — but don’t forget — they have no idea how this is going to end.
And — speaking of endings — do you know how things end for the apostles? Most people don’t realize that all of them suffer in significant ways for Jesus. In fact, all but one of the apostles are killed because of their faith in Jesus.
Peter and Paul were both martyred in Rome. Andrew was executed by crucifixion in Greece. Thomas was killed by the spears of four soldiers. Philip had a powerful ministry in Carthage and Asia Minor. The wife of the proconsul believed in Jesus because of Philip’s ministry and — in retaliation — the proconsul had Philip arrested and cruelly executed. Many say that Matthew was stabbed to death in Ethiopia. Bartholomew had widespread missionary travels, and there are various accounts of how and where he was martyred. James son of Alpheus ministered in Syria and the Jewish historian, Josephus, says he was stoned and then clubbed to death. Simon the Zealot ministered in Persia and was killed for refusing to sacrifice to the sun god. Matthias was killed by burning in Syria. The only apostle to die naturally was John. ( Ken Curtis, “Whatever Happened to the Twelve Apostles,” Christianity.com, https://www.christianity.com/church/church-history/timeline/1-300/whatever-happened-to-the-twelve-apostles-11629558.html.)
So how did they resist the fear of suffering for Jesus? They were able to resist because their faith was in the One who suffered for them. They remembered — not only abandoning Jesus while he hung on a cross — but they remembered seeing the scars in his hands and feet after his resurrection. They resisted the fear of suffering because Jesus — their Savior, Deliverer, Treasure, and King — had suffered for them.
So how do we resist this fear? We find our answer beginning in verse 30 — in Peter’s response to the council.
THE POWER TO RESIST THE FEAR OF SUFFERING
“The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. 31 God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him." 33 When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. 34 But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in honor by all the people, stood up and gave orders to put the men outside for a little while. 35 And he said to them, "Men of Israel, take care what you are about to do with these men. 36 For before these days Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. 37 After him Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him. He too perished, and all who followed him were scattered. 38 So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; 39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!" So they took his advice, 40 and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 41 Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. 42 And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.” (Acts 5:30-42 ESV)
Their power to resist the fear of suffering — is the same power offered to us — the gospel. The message that gives new life — the message that saves — the message that converts — is the message that empowers us to resist our fear of suffering. The gospel not only saves us, but it empowers us to stare suffering in the face without an incapacitating fear because — as I’ve said many times already — when you look at suffering — you look straight through it to your Savior who gave a whole new meaning to suffering.
Without Christ’s suffering on the cross, our suffering would have no meaning. But when we look to Christ — though we may not know all of the reasons for our suffering — we know what it can’t mean. Our suffering cannot mean that God doesn’t love us. Or that he doesn't care. Or that he’s unaware or not powerful enough to stop suffering. God’s proven to us — through his Son’s suffering — that he does love and care for us and is powerful enough to use the most horrific suffering our world could ever do to someone — for his glory and the good of his people. God used the most horrific suffering — Jesus’ crucifixion — for your good — if you believe.
And when you understand — when this truth sinks from your head down into your heart — do you know what it produces? It gives you joy. The council members were filled with jealousy because of all that God was doing. Yet the apostles — because of the very same things — are filled with joy. And even after being beaten, they were able to rejoice because they suffered for Jesus. They considered it an honor to be dishonored for Jesus. That’s what Jesus meant to them. That’s what his name was worth to them. What does the name Jesus mean to you?
When you believe in Jesus you’re called to a life of obedience — not in order to earn God’s love — you’re called to obedience because you are loved by God. And when you begin to understand the breadth and length and height and depth of God’s love for you, you’ll face suffering with great joy because — through the fear — you see the One who suffered for your sake. The One who died — so that — through faith in him — you might live. You see that the One working out all things for your good — is Jesus. And he gives you the power needed to resist the fear of suffering for his name.
Do you want to not fear suffering? Look to Jesus. Do you want to know that there’s a purpose to life even in this broken and disappointing world? Turn to Jesus. Do you want confidence in knowing that all things — the good, the bad, the ugly — that all things in your life are working together for your eternal good? Turn to Jesus.
Trust him — believe in him — and in his powerful name. Let’s pray.
Heavenly Father, thank you for sending your Son to suffer and die for our sake. Help us — as we face suffering — to have eyes to see through our suffering to the One who suffered for us. Help us to look to Jesus — who gave his life — so that we might live knowing that you love us, have a plan for us, and are working out all things for our eternal good.
Father, Son, and Spirit, your love drives away all fear — including our fear of suffering. Through our faith in Jesus, you give us — not a spirit of fear — but a Spirit of power and love and self-control. Help us to rejoice even in the midst of suffering — because even in suffering we have reason upon reason upon reason to rejoice because of all that you have and are doing for us.
Finally, Holy Spirit, help us to irritatingly love all people. Help us to love one another and those who who hate us. Help us to be known for our love so that others might know of your love. It’s in Jesus’ name that we pray. Amen.
BENEDICTION (PRAY FOR: suffering right now; realize you respect Jesus, but now want to believe in him)
May you go looking to Jesus — the One who suffered and died for you. Amen.
God loves you. I love you. You are sent.