In one of the churches I formerly served, I was talking with a woman after worship. “How are you?” I asked, starting the conversation.
“Okay,” she said, “but I’m worried about Mary.” Mary (not her real name) was her daughter, who was then in college several states away.
“Why are you worried about her?” I wondered.
Mom told me that Mary had become deeply involved with one of the campus Christian organizations, gone on a couple of mission trips, volunteered weekly at a homeless shelter, and, after taking a class on witnessing, was now striking up new friendships with non-Christians and sharing her faith in Christ with them.
I listened for anything in that rundown that might have caused her mom to be worried. So, I asked, “Is this affecting her schoolwork or something?” “Not yet,” mom replied, “her GPA’s at about 3.7.”
“Then why are you so concerned?”
“Because,” she told me, “I raised Mary to be a churchgoer, not a fanatic.”
Mary’s mother wanted her daughter to be a church member, not a disciple of Jesus Christ.
Her concerns over Mary being a committed Christian were not entirely ill-founded, you know.
At least in North America, it’s fairly easy to be a church member. If a co-worker or a classmate learns that you go to church, they may view you an oddity--like someone who believes that the earth is flat. But they won’t necessarily hold it against you.
On the other hand, if they catch you saying a prayer before eating, or reading the Bible at lunchtime, or regularly doing any of the things that Mary did which her mother found so alarming, you could be seen as weird. You could be blackballed.
Being a church member entails little risk; but being a disciple often involves risk.
How much risk are we willing to take as disciples of Christ and not just church members?
Last Sunday, I met a man at Philip’s internship church and later, Phil told me that whenever this man and his wife go out to eat, he makes it a point to get to know his server and then, just before leaving, asks, “When I pray, is there anything that I could be praying for you?”
That’s risky behavior, isn’t it?
It’s the behavior of a disciple.
But how else does a disciple--a risk-taker for the Savior Jesus--behave?
How does a Church like Living Water behave as a congregation filled with disciples and not just members?
Our first lesson for today gives us some of the answers to those questions. Let’s take a look at it, Acts 4:1-12.
The priests, the captain of the temple guard, and the Sadducees have clapped the apostles Peter and John in jail overnight. This happened after Peter and John healed a man in the name of Jesus.
One of the things that the current NBC miniseries AD solidly conveys is the anger and revulsion with which Israel’s religious leadership regarded the early Christian movement.
The Christians claimed that Jesus had risen from the dead...that Jesus had power over life and death, evil and disease...that Jesus was God in the flesh and that believing in Him with repentance and faith brought new and everlasting life to believers.
For the religious leaders, all this was disturbing for many reasons. One reason is that they feared that the Romans would, in an effort to wipe out talk of anyone other than Caesar as Lord and King, come after the whole Jewish nation. They had gotten Jesus crucified for this very reason. And now that the risen Jesus had sent the Holy Spirit to His Church, He was at work in what already amounted to a church composed of thousands of believers. This only alarmed the religious leaders more.
And among them, the Sadducees had another reason for wanting to destroy this Jesus movement: They believed that resurrection was impossible, even for God.
When we get to verse 7, the high priestly family have brought Peter and John in for interrogation. “By what power or what name did you do this?”
If Peter and John had said, “We dabble in magic”...or, “The man was psychosomatic and we just made him believe he could walk again”...or, “It was all a big set up”...If they had said any of those things, my guess is that they wouldn’t have alarmed the religious leaders nearly so much as they did by what they did say.
Verse 8 tells us what they said: “Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: ‘Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.”
We learn several things about being a disciple from this incident.
First, disciples can only speak and act in the name of Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Peter knew this personally. Just a few weeks before, aware of the power of the authorities to jail him or kill him, he had denied knowing Jesus three times. Yet here, Peter talks about Jesus with boldness.
Second, disciples accept that Jesus can do wonderful things--like showing kindness to a lame man or, dare I say it, bring God’s healing--through them. This is something we shy away from in the Western church.
This past week, we had dinner with our son’s future in-laws along with our future daughter-in-law. They told us about a missionary to South Africa they hosted in their home recently. The missionary talked about the itinerary he had established, stretching out for years, for preaching in small villages. AIDS is still wreaking devastation throughout that nation and so, the missionary has a sense of urgency to bring people the gift of eternal life for all who repent and believe in Jesus before the disease takes their earthly lives. He will preach for hours, sometimes seeing as many as 200 people come to faith in Christ. After these services, he reports, he performs exorcisms in the power of the Holy Spirit.
We North American Christians often find it difficult to even talk about things like evangelism and exorcisms and healing. But in John 14:12, Jesus promises His Church, “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” Peter believed that.
And disciples like that missionary in South Africa and countless others I’ve known through the years acted on the same belief and have seen God do incredible things for the good of those victimized by the sin and darkness of this world.
Third: We learn that disciples don’t sugarcoat the truth about the sin that means that every member of the human race needs a Savior. Peter tells the leaders, “Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead.”
Before anyone can receive Jesus Christ as Savior, before they can have the risen life He first secured for people on Easter, they must understand that all people are sinners ticketed for death unless Jesus saves them.
Disciples then, share both God’s law and God’s promise. Many church members reduce Jesus to nothing but a nice guy. But the death of a nice guy can't save us. Disciples know that without our acknowledgement that our sins put Jesus on the cross, we can never have the faith to receive the life with God that Christ died and rose to give.
Which brings us to verse 12. In the face of this hostile audience, Peter explains his sense of urgency, why he is so desperate to tell others the good news of new life for all who repent and believe in Christ. Peter says, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”
“It comes down to this,” Peter is saying, “The God first revealed to Israel has now been revealed to all the world in this one man, Jesus Christ. He is the way and the truth and the life. Only those who know Him, lay their sins at His feet, and trustingly follow Him have life.” The fourth thing about disciples we see in today’s first lesson then is this: Disciples speak the good news of Jesus to others.
In the succeeding centuries, countless believers have been threatened and killed, just as Peter ultimately would be. But the Holy Spirit still empowers disciples to tell others about Jesus Christ because it’s God’s desire that all people would come to Him, would have life with Him, would know the power of Christ for living even in this dying world, and ultimately would know life with Him and all the saints in the perfections of His new creation.
You can bet that as Peter proclaimed the good news--the gospel--about Jesus, he did so with the hope that even these leaders who hated him so, would be touched by the Holy Spirit and come to believe in Jesus and have life in His name. God grant that we all have this same sense of urgency!
One prominent Christian author has said that the Church that has no desire to share Christ with others is really telling the rest of the world to go to hell. Disciples want all people to have life with Christ; that’s why they tell the story of Jesus.
As you know, at Living Water, we have a commitment to being a disciple-making church and to simplifying our life to help that happen. This entails being clear about what a disciple is. Today’s lesson can help us form a picture of what a disciple looks like. It tells us that:
- Disciples know they can do nothing without the power of the Holy Spirit.
- Disciples know that Jesus Christ can do wonderful, even amazing, things through them.
- Disciples, even as they speak to others with respect and love, don’t sugarcoat the fact that all people need a Savior.
- Disciples tell others about Jesus, the only way to salvation and life with God.
More as we continue next Sunday.