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Rejoicing Over Our Dishonor, Disgrace and Shame

Acts 5:17-42

Jim Davis

I have always heard, in the sales business, a salesman only makes one sale out of ten attempts. In our age of smart customers the success ratio is surely declining. There are those unique individuals who can rejoice over 10% or less success rate. Some get excited over a number of rejections. The law of average says they are getting closer to a sale. Few individuals can function with 90% of their efforts receiving a negative response. The vast majority finds it extremely difficult to function in a negative world. Finding positive feedback in a negative environment takes a certain amount of skill. It was a skill that gave faithful Christians in the first century the ability to function successfully in a negative world. Not only did they function; they also found reason to rejoice over the negative feedback.

Acts 5:16-20
Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed. Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail. But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out. "Go, stand in the temple courts," he said, "and tell the people the full message of this new life." (NIV)
The disciples are in jail for preaching Jesus. During the night they are miraculously released from jail. The angel tells them to go and preach the message of life. The morning light finds them at the temple the preaching the message of life. But all is not well. For their obedience to the heavenly command, those who continued to oppose them drag the apostles before the courts in a furious rage. They want to kill them. But a wise man persuades them differently. Instead, they call the apostles in and have them flogged. They order them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and then they let them go. The apostles leave the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they are counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ. (Acts 5:40-42 NIV)

Boldness to Suffer Disgrace

A good salesperson believes in his/her product. Believing in the product produces confidence and courage in the presentation. Peter and John were told by the angel, "Go, stand and speak . . . the words of life." It isn't just a doctrinal statement being proclaimed. It is the message of life; it is the key to life. It isn't something they read, but experienced. They experienced a rebirth through this living message. Later Peter reflects on what the message has done for them saying, "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead . . . " (1 Peter 1:3 NIV)

They have been liberated for life. Liberation carries with the ideal of zest and vitality. How many have sought refuge in a free world to enjoy the zest and vitality a liberated life has to offer? Who isn't desperately interested in maximizing life with zest and vitality? It is a desire locked in our psyches. The angel of God came to salvage their lives from that prison cell. They personally witnessed the powerful message of life.

They know the message is vitally relevant to a dying world. The message conveys a person's dignity in the sight of God. God salvaged their lives from death. They personally received the Word of Life. Peter is saved from his denial, betrayal and cursing. Christ resurrected him from the intimidating stifling pressures of life. Their prayers shake the place of prayer opening the doors of the upper room pushing them into the lifeless streets to boldly proclaim the message of life.

They knew they were delivering a message sent by God. It is little wonder they boldly proclaim; "We must obey God, rather than men." John later wrote, "In Him was life, and the life was the light of men . . . " (John 1:4) John later said, " . . . we have heard . . . we have seen . . . we have looked upon . . . the Word of life." (1 John 1:1-2) Peter later says, " . . . we have tasted" the gracious hand of God.

A bold rejoicing comes when we understand that it is God who releases us from our self-made prisons. Fear of criticism often locks us into prisons of our own making. Anxiety of failure is also a prison for many. The worst prison of all is when we fail to enjoy the abundant life because we refuse to freely open ourselves to personally living the abundant life the message of Christ has to offer. We refuse to receive what God says we deserve.

Worthy of Disgrace

"Worthy of disgrace" what a contradiction of words. The words "worthy" and "disgrace" mix about as well as oil and water. To our modern minds these words are at the opposite end of the poles. They are antonyms. Rejoicing over our disgrace, dishonor and shame seems to be a contradiction of terms, to say the least. There seems to be even a greater contradiction as the disciples were rejoicing because they were considered worthy of disgrace. We see those who rejoice disgracefully. Rarely do we witness a person rejoicing over his/her disgrace. We are encouraged to rejoice over our blessings, but not our difficulties. It seems even more confusing when we see the disciples disgrace as sign and proof of God's grace and their worthiness.

Their suffering for Christ is indicative of their worth. Too often, human suffering conveys the message something is wrong with me. But we find the first Christians rejoicing in their sufferings. It spoke of their worth.

Acts 16:23-25
After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. Upon receiving such orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks. About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. (NIV)

Romans 5:3-5
Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. (NIV)

2 Corinthians 12:10
That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (NIV)

Hebrews 10:34-35
You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. (NIV)

James 1:2-3
My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.

F. B. Meyer has written the following: "How much is lost by a word! Be still keep quiet. If they smite you on one cheek, turn the other also. Never mind your reputation; it is in God's hands. You will only mar things by trying to retain it. Are you misunderstood? Leave it to Him. You are in His care. Are you wronged? It will be all right; just be meek, lowly, and gentle. Let the Lord keep you in perfect peace; stay your mind on Him. Be quiet before the world and rest in Him. Speak not a word of argument, debate, or controversy. Mind your own business and be still!"

Counted Worthy to Suffer God's Anguish

Try to fathom the idea of our worthiness to suffer the anguish of God. I have a friend caring a heavy burden he is afraid to share with me. He want speak of it. He knows I know the burden he is carrying. I can't pry. I can't butt in. There is little that I can do to show him I care. It troubles me. It makes me think our relationship is superficial. I am denied the privilege of helping. I would like to be a true friend. At times, it makes me wonder if he really trust me or has any confidence in me. The least I could do is lend a listening ear. That would be enough to rejoice over. I would be willing to do much more.

I have a cousin dying of cancer. He is only ten days older than I am. I call him every couple of weeks to ask him how he is doing. I talked to him last Sunday. He told me that he knew he wasn't going to make it. He is very open straightforward with me about dying. He said, "I would just like to make it through December, for the sake of the family." Each time we talk, we talk about life, dying and most of all heaven. He is a Christian. I tell him, when you get there you want desire to come back here anyway. I think he looks forward to the call each time. I am honored he speaks to me about his burden as he does. His sharing with me adds quality to both of our lives.

The almighty, holy, all-knowing God has chosen to allow the finite to share his infinite burden of lost humanity. It is no superficial relationship. It is a relationship of trust and confidence as God places the burden upon our shoulders. It is through the sharing of His burden that He tells us we are counted worthy to be his children. The apostles rejoice because they are counted worthy to suffer for his name. God counted them worthy to share his burden. The word "counted" in the original text means deserve. God is telling us we deserve such honor.

In sharing God's burden, we become one with God. Moses chose to suffer with the children of God rather than enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season. Moses not only chose to suffer with the children of God. He chose to suffer with God as he led the Israelites out of slavery. He was no stranger in sharing the suffering of God for his people. God chose to honor Moses by sharing with him the burden of Israel's redemption.

The honor of caring the burden of God made Moses a great leader. On one occasion the burden of the rebellious children in the wilderness became to heavy for God to bear. As God spoke to Moses he told him that he would destroy the Israelites and begin a new nation with Moses. At that moment the entire burden of God was shifted to the shoulders of Moses. Moses pleads with God to save his people. He pleads with God to kill him but save the people. (Exodus 32-33) Moses' willingness to carry the burden of God made him the meekest man in all the earth. (Numbers 12:3)

"The world is sick of little buttoned-up clergymen mumbling the canned creeds. It wants real men--men who believe something enough to sacrifice for it." --John Ewers«

The Gift of Life

Acts 5:29-32
Peter and the other apostles replied: "We must obey God rather than men! The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead-- whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel. We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him." (NIV)
God's gift of repentance is the gift of life. Have you noticed repentance has the major theme of Peter's living messages beginning in Acts 2? He concludes his Pentecost message with "repent and be baptized." (2:38) He instructs the people in Acts 3 to "repent . . . that your sins might be wipe out , that times of refreshing may come from the Lord." (3:19) Here in Acts 5, God gives repentance. Another version translates it the "gift of repentance." In essence the gift of repentance is the gift of life. A new life begins with changing the way we think. God's gift of repentance through the living message gives a new life in Christ.The apostles had experienced this gift of life.

God's gift of life can only lead to success. God's gift of life is not from any human origin. Human efforts fail. Gamaliel said, "Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God." (Acts 5:38-39 NIV) The apostles realized the source of their strength. They were trusting in the enabling strength and power of God to carry them beyond the threats of Satan. There was an awareness the religious courts were not fighting the apostles, they were fighting God. "Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ." (Acts 5:42 NIV)

Conclusion:

God wants each of us to know beyond doubt we are counted worthy to experience the gift of life through repentance. This makes it a joy to offer up praise to God as we suffer for him and with him. Paul expresses it best in his letter to Titus.

Titus 3:3-7
At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. (NIV)
When we really experience the gift of life, we can't stop telling other's about it.
 

 

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