This is a summary of the sermon preached on June 16, 2019.
- Date: Sunday June 16, 2019
- Venue: A Sunday service at Tokyo Multicultural Church
- Title: "Suffering for and with Christ"
- Scriptures: Acts 4:23-37
23 On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24 When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. “Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heavens and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. 25 You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David:
“‘Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
26 The kings of the earth rise up
and the rulers band together
against the Lord
and against his anointed one.’
27 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. 28 They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. 29 Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. 30 Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”
31 After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.
32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34 that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.
36 Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas(which means “son of encouragement”), 37 sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.
THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.1
If you come from a Muslim country or from China, you may have suffered a lot just because you’re Christian. Here in Japan, however, we may not suffer as much as in those countries.
Yet still, because Christians are minority in Japan, you may have experienced some kind of inconvenience or had some conflicts with other people because of the way you live as a Christian.
Also, because what we value the most as a Christian is different from what non-Christians value the most, we may go through some conflicts with our close friends or even our spouse if they are not Christians.
So in one way or another, I think
And today, the questin I’d like us to think about is the following:
Suffering for Christ
Today’s story begins after Peter and John were released from questioning by the religious leaders. They wanted to punish Peter and John. But they could not because the people were praising God for what they have done (healing a lame beggar at the temple). So instead of punishing, they threatened them not to speak or teach in the name of Jesus, and let them go (4:18-21).
As you see later in Acts, this is just a beginning of persecution that the early Church faced. They suffered because they lived as a Christian; namely
What enabled them to endure the persecution? What makes it possible for them to preach Christ with boldness? Three things to observe.
Suffering with sovereign God
They were able to listen to God rather than the religious leaders because they knew that
After Peter and John came back from the questioning, they began to pray to God by saying “Sovereign Lord, you made the heavens and the earth and the sea, and everything in them” (v. 24).
Our God is the Creator of all things. He not only made them all, but also takes care of them, providing them with all they need to live and reproduce. God is the Creator and Sustainer of life. He makes sure that everything goes well as it’s supposed to. He has everything under control; He is sovereign over all things.
And because He is sovereign, nothing or nobody can mess up His divine plan of salvation (vv. 25-26; cf. Psalm 2:1-2). God will carry out His plan as His power and will have already decided.
Indeed, the religious leaders plotted with Herod and Pontius Pilate to crucify Jesus. But
In all things, good or bad,
God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28)
THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
The early Church knew this truth, and this enabled them to keep on listening to God, not to anybody else.
Suffering with suffering Christ
The early Church was able to endure all the sufferings because they knew that
Peter and John were arrested and put in jail for questioning. And the religious leaders threatened them not to preach the resurrection of Jesus. The disciples understood that to be a continuation of opposition against Jesus, not themselves.
That is why they quoted Psalm 2:1-2 in Acts 4:25-26, saying that their threats are part of the opposition against the Lord, and against His anointed one.
As a matter of fact, Jesus Himself thinks that their persecution is not actually against the disciples, but against Himself. In Acts 9:3, Jesus says to Saul, who became the apostle Paul later but at this point who had been persecuting the disciples, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
Jesus didn’t say, “Saul, why do you persecute my disciples or my church?” but said “why do you persecute me?” So persecution is not against the church, or any member of the church, but against Jesus.
Suffering with the empowering Spirit
In the midst of opposition the Church asked God for boldness to speak His word. Then God answered their prayer, and they were filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly (Acts 4:31).
By this time, most of the people there had already been filled with the Spirit on the day of Pentecost. For them, this is their second time to be filled with the Spirit (And this would be Peter’s third time; see Acts 4:8).
This means that filling with the Spirit is not a one-time event in life. When we first put our faith in Christ, we all will be filled with the Spirit, and the Spirit dwells in us. But even after the conversion, we can be filled with the Spirit to receive power (cf. Ephesians 5:18-20).
Here we must not forget that we receive this power from the Spirit by God’s grace very much like the gifts of the Spirit. We don’t earn the power, but we simply receive it as a gift according to His purpose. Also, this power is not for our own benefit, but for the glory of God (see Acts 1:8).
The early Church suffered a lot for Christ because they kept listening to God, not to other people. They were able to do so because they knew
- God the Father is sovereign to carry out His plan of salvation through the Church;
- God the Son, Jesus, is with the Church, helping them to endure all the sufferings; and
- God, the Holy Spirit empowers the Church to do the work of God, especially to proclaim the gospel with boldness even in the midst of opposition.
These truths enabled the disciples of Jesus to continue to listen to God, enduring the suffering, and proclaiming the gospel with boldness.
They’d got everything they needed, namely, the Trinitarian God on their side.
This is true not only for the early Church but also for us today because our Trinitarian God is a living God. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
- God is sovereign and uses all things, good or bad, to fulfill His plan of salvation.
- Jesus who knows our pain, sorrow, and shame is always with us and comforts us in the midst of sufferings.
- The Holy Spirit dwells in us who believe in Christ, and empowers us to be His witness.
When you live as a Christian in Japan, you may feel discouraged by others or feel isolated from a group/society. Yet, remember
Jesus Himself has been through all for Himself. He came to the world, which was His own. Nevertheless nobody really understood Him. Even His disciples, who had spent about three years with Him deserted Him when He was arrested. Moreover, Judas Iscariot betrayed Him. Peter disowned Him three times.
So Jesus knows how it’d be like to be discouraged by the way others treat you, and He how it’d be like to be isolated from a group.
And He even suffers with you because He is always with you.
Furthermore, His Spirit, the Holy Spirit is always ready and even eager to help you. So ask for His help.
Also remember that no matter how bad your situation may look right now, God is sovereign and He can and will bring something good out of it in His timing and in His way.
So let’s continue to trust in God, and walk with Jesus, asking the Holy Spirit for His help.
Bibliography and Notes
- Peterson, David. The Acts of the Apostles. The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Nottingham, UK; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Apollos; Eerdmans, 2009.
- Witherington, Ben. The Acts of the Apostles: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. Grand Rapids; Cambridge: Eerdmans, 1998.