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Suffering For Christ’s Name

April 14, 2013

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Third Sunday of Easter                                     Trinity Lutheran Church

14 April 2013                                                       Murdock, NE

+ Jesu Juva +

Acts 9:1-22

Shocking isn’t it?  Beyond belief, right?  You would have never done such a thing!  But the Lord Jesus does!  After all, that’s the Lord’s cup of tea!  And what is that?

He converts your worst enemy!  He calls your most hated foe to faith – faith in Jesus!  Saul, also called Paul, (Saul his Hebrew name / Paul his Latin or Roman name) the big dog hater and pernicious persecutor of you and all Christians – Saul or Paul, the pre-eminent rabbi is now a fellow believer in Jesus! Pastor Ananias of Damascus baptizes Saul (that’s water Baptism folks — in the Triune Name) in which he is given the Holy Spirit.  Saul, yes that’s right, Saul is now a Christian!  A disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ!

In addition, the Lord Jesus puts Saul into the office of the Holy Ministry.  Doesn’t that just make you extremely nervous?  I mean, it’s one thing to bring your adversary to faith but it’s quite another to make him a pastor so that you have to listen to his sermons and live under his pastoral care.  After all, isn’t this the man who did his darndest to harass, bully and intimidate you and your fellow Christians in Jerusalem?  Isn’t this the man who devilishly did his best to destroy the mother congregation in Jerusalem and totally eliminate Christianity from his radar screen?  Isn’t this the man who consented to the murder of the well-liked and very much-loved Pastor Stephen (Acts 8:1)?  Yes, he’s the man!

Saul didn’t have a clue.  So the resurrected Lord Jesus sets him straight.  Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?  When you go after my Christians you go after me.  When you hate them you hate me.  When you jail them you jail me.  I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.

Now the Lord Jesus takes over and has good use for Saul.  His mouth is no longer to be used to breathe out murderous threats against you and the Lord’s church.  Instead, Saul’s mouth will now teach and preach that Jesus is the Christ, the Savior of the world, the Redeemer of sinners of whom he is the worst!  Saul is now the Lord’s chosen instrument to carry Jesus’ name before the Gentiles [like you], and their kings and before the people of Israel.

Amazing.  An absolute miracle!  It’s all the Lord’s doing and giving.  Unbeliever and Christian hater Saul is now a Christian.  Brought from darkness to light, from death to life, from unbelief to faith.  As a believer Saul is a new creation!  A believer who is also called by Jesus to be a preacher!  Who preaches Jesus as the Christ – the Savior of all sinners!  You too!

What will this being a Christian and a Christian preacher bring to Saul?  Accolades?  Atta boys?  Wealth?  Worldly success?  Isn’t that how it goes?  Especially in America?  Become a Christian, proclaim Jesus as the Christ and you get healthy, wealthy, and prosperous!  Right?

Not hardly.  Listen to what Jesus says:  I will show the Christian and pastor how much he must suffer for my name.  Did you hear that?  Are you still awake?  Christian preacher Saul will now SUFFER! FOR BELIEVING IN JESUS! FOR PREACHING JESUS!

Boy did he suffer! He describes a bit of his suffering in 2 Corinthians 11-12.  Arrested, incarcerated, flogged and exposed to death again and again.  Eight floggings altogether!  Five whippings at the hands of the Jewish rulers and three beatings with iron rods by the Roman authorities!  Saul was a Roman citizen.  Roman law protected Roman citizens from flogging.  But Roman law was suspended in Saul’s case because he was a Christian and because he preached Christ!  The law no longer applied to this CHRISTIAN!  Saul lost his rights!

 

Better get back to 2 Corinthians 11-12 and Paul’s list of his suffering for Jesus’ name:  Once I was stoned, he declares. Three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea [exposed to the sharks], I have been constantly on the move.  I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers.  I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.  Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches … [and] there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 

Christian preacher Saul faced all kinds of hardships, prison, and if tradition is correct, he most likely was martyred—made shorter by a head while in Rome.

Why?  For being a Christian!  For preaching Jesus!  And doing it convincingly!  Yes, Saul grew more powerful [in his preaching and teaching the Scriptures].  He baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving FROM THE SCRIPTURES that Jesus is the Christ.  Saul now knew, for the first time in this life, who and what the Old Testament Scriptures were all about!  The Old Testament is fulfilled in the Good Friday death and Easter morning resurrection of that Preacher from Nazareth named Jesus.  He is the Christ!  God in the flesh!  Who alone atones for the sin of the world through the shedding of His divine blood!

As Saul boldly and unabashedly confesses, preaches and teaches Jesus as the Christ – the Savior from all sin and for every sinner – from the Scriptures, the former persecutor is now the persecuted.  The hunter is now the hunted.  The golden boy of the bigwig politicians and spiritual gurus is now the black sheep and public enemy number one.  His former friends are now his worst enemies.  I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.

What are we to learn from all this?  Do you want to learn?  Do you care?  I sure hope so.  For there is much to learn from Acts 9 and the miracle of Saul’s being converted by the Lord Jesus to Christianity.

First, what Saul preached is right.  Jesus is the Christ.  Jesus is the Messiah promised in the Old Testament.  Just like Peter preaches in Acts 10:43, All the prophets testify about him [the crucified and risen Jesus] that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.  Forgiveness of sins is salvation!  It’s the whole salvation shootin’ match!

Jesus is the only Christ, the only Messiah, the only Savior!  There are no others!  Jesus is the exclusive Savior of the world.  Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12).  And that name is JESUS!  Jesus Himself preached:  I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me, (John 14:6).

Jesus is not one way among many ways to God.  He is the only way.  This is precisely why in the early church, Christianity was often called “the Way” just like here in Acts 9:  Saul went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus so that if he found any there who belonged to THE WAY … he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem!

The second thing to learn is this:  BE PREPARED TO SUFFER!  TO BEAR THE CROSS!  Seriously!  This is no joke.  It is what it is!  Jesus said so:  “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me,” (Luke 9:23).  Do you expect anything else?

Confess Jesus as the only way to God for salvation and what will that get you?  Ridicule.  Scoffing.  Quote the Bible to prove that Jesus is the Christ and what will that get you?  You’ll be given one of the most derogatory names that anyone can be given in America today:  “Bible Thumper!”  Bible thumpers are today’s Neanderthals.  Hicks.  Hayseeds.  Throwbacks.  Rubes.  Numskulls.  Buffoons.  Ignoramuses.  Chowderheads.

That’s just the beginning.  Those are just the “nice” labels.  You who take the Bible seriously, who believe it is God’s Word, and who confess Jesus only for salvation are now considered by many to be EXTREMISTS.  That’s the buzzword these days among the elites and know-it-alls of American society.

The self-appointed nobility of America maintain that it is just too dangerous for a civil nation to allow anyone to believe that this Jesus from Nazareth is the one true God, that He is the only Savior and the only way to heaven.  You Christians who take this so seriously – as if salvation is at stake – cannot to be tolerated.  “The Way” people are simply way too fanatical!

The royalty of America contend that “The Way” people — you Christians—are overly and overtly extreme not only with regard to Jesus and salvation but also in other beliefs.  You know, it goes like this.   You Christians foolishly believe that Adam and Eve were real historical people.  You actually believe that Jonah literally was swallowed by a whale and then three days later vomited on the shore.  You really and truly believe that Peter caught exactly 153 fish, that Jesus was in fact there and that He invited the disciples to have breakfast with Him.    Rational and sensible people all know that those stories are myths and allegories!  But what really takes the cake – and what really chaps our hide—is that you Christians insist that marriage can only be for a man and a woman AND that the mass of tissue inside a woman is a baby that must be protected!  All this proves that you are all just a bunch of religious extremists!  Society cannot exist with extremists who make such assertions!

Recently an Army training instructor listed Evangelical Christians and Roman Catholics as examples of religious extremists or terrorists in a power point presentation.  He lumped them together with the KKK, Hamas and al-Qaeda.  What’s the implication?  Well, that’s a no brainer!  Christians who take Christianity seriously are not to be tolerated in America (http://radio.foxnews.com/toddstarnes/top-stories/army-labeled-evangelicals-as-religious-extremism.html)!

You too, like Saul, may soon learn to suffer much for being a Christian.  You may learn in the next few years that the call by Jesus to be a Christian is a costly one.  God literally took Saul’s life.  Saul’s name, his standing in his family, his country, and the world, and his reputation – all were taken from him.  For a while he was a blind beggar and told by the Lord where to go.  Eventually he even lost his life – brutally murdered in Rome  — head chopped off.

Your suffering for Jesus’ name may come in the form of discrimination.  Confessing Jesus, who He truly is and what His Word truly teaches, may cost you your job.  You may lose your friends and perhaps even the closest members of your family.  Your children may be taken from you.  You may loose your freedom.  Freedom to speak, freedom to assembly, freedom to exercise “The Way.”  Your life may even be taken from you.

Saul lost everything.  You too may lose everything.  But like Saul you too gain everything – or what is most important.  Listen to what he wrote to the church:  Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.  Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.  For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as dung in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own based on the law, but having a righteousness from God that depends on faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection AND MAY SHARE IN HIS SUFFERINGS, becoming like Him in His death, that if possible I may attain the resurrection of the dead,” (Philippians 3:7-11).

Saul’s call to faith was a call to bear the cross.  So it is for you called to be Christians in Holy Baptism!  Saul learned to “suffer” for Christ’s name.  You will too if you haven’t already.  Life as a Christian in this country has been relatively easy and peaceful for a long time.  That time is most likely over.   Christ’s enemies—your enemies are bearing their teeth.  Showing their fangs!  Extending their claws!  It is very popular to badmouth and persecute Christ and His body the church.  It’s all the rage.

The late Christopher Hitchens and his friend Richard Dawkins make Jesus, Christianity, and Christians their scapegoats for all that is wrong and evil in the world.  If these men had their way, Christianity and you Christians would be eradicated from the face of the earth!  And they are not the only ones.

For example, two years ago the MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell went on one of his anti-Christianity and hate speech rants.  It went like this and it applies to us here at Trinity because we heard the reading from Revelation 5 today and we really believe it to be true.  O’Donnell categorically declared that the Book of Revelation is a “work of fiction” that portrays a “truly vicious God.”  He then pontificated, “no half-smart religious person actually believes the Book of Revelation.”  He couldn’t stop.  He was on a roll.  So he infallibly declared:  God is a “malicious torturer and mass murderer beyond Hitler’s wildest dreams.”  (http://defendchristians.org.news.msnbc-host-makes-vicious-anti-christian-slur/).

Confessing Christ comes with a cost.  Suffering for His name.

Do not despair.  Do not give up.  Jesus is the Lord.  He is the Savior.  Savior FOR YOU just like He was for Saul!  And the Word of the resurrected Lord will continue to be preached and bear much fruit – especially as it and the Lord’s Christians are persecuted.  The power of His resurrection and His resurrection forgiveness of all your sin will be fully revealed on the Last Day when He will raise you from the dead and give you eternal life.

Again, Jesus is the Lord.  He is the Christ.  He is in control.  He reigns even when it looks like He doesn’t.  

So let’s dare shall we?  I mean, let’s push the envelope!  At the risk of being called a Bible Thumper, a Half-Smart, an extremist or suffering something worse, let’s together give our hearty “Amen” to the new song from the Book of Revelation Chapter 5:  You [Christ Jesus] are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.  You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God and they will reign on the earth … Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise (Revelation 5:9-10, 12)!

In the Name of Jesus.

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