And this is something that the world cannot understand and sometimes even our sinful flesh undermines. What is more important in this life than life itself

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Acts 5:12-32
In 1521, Martin Luther was made to stand in front of the Roman Emperor, Charles V, at the Diet of Worms. Of course he was not there to eat worms, but he was asked to recant all his writings and it is there that he made his bold confession: “Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. Here I stand. I can do no other. May God help me. Amen.” Some people may think that this is one the defining moments during the Reformation that changed the course of history. But what Luther said here is what countless other Christians have said throughout the ages, though many of them were simply not recorded. All these are simply patterned after the apostles as we see here in Acts 5. They were told to stand in the temple and speak the words of life. They not only stood in the temple but they stood before the council, the Sanhedrin, which was the highest authority in Jerusalem, and still others, stood before governors and kings. All of them would have said “we must obey God rather than men.” And essentially, that’s why Luther said too. All Christians, regardless of times and circumstances, are called to stand, to stand firm in the faith and to stand their grounds, even unto death.

And this is something that the world cannot understand and sometimes even our sinful flesh undermines. What is more important in this life than life itself? Even if you have no religion or of a different religion, you can still understand this simple reality. Life is important and it is the purpose and the reason for what we do in this life. We work, we eat, we do various things because we need to keep alive, to keep going in this life. And yet we see here and throughout the history of the church that men and women willingly give up their lives for God. Some of them were imprisoned, some of them were tortured, some of them endured various sufferings and persecutions, some of them were killed. They go through all these terrible things because they would rather obey God than men. They simply would not give up their faith and their message.

Does God want us to carry that same message, with sufferings too? Does he really want us to endure tribulations whether it be from men persecuting us, from temptation of the devil, or just from this corrupt and eroding life that we live in, for the sake of his word? If that’s all God wants for us, then this God is a cruel and sadistic God. Certainly that is not true because God is love, God does love us and cares for us and blesses us abundantly. But even so, even when we know that suffering and persecution for the sake of the gospel has a higher purpose, that is, it saves people from eternal condemnation, even so we still don’t like it. We do not like it because we see this evangelism as another command, another rule that we must obey or else…and we don’t even want to think of the consequences if we disobey. This is our demise as sinful human beings, it is that we can so quickly go back to the Law and forget the gospel, the new life of freedom in Christ. We turn everything that comes from God into a burden, and we become a slave again, as if we have to work our way into heaven through these commandments, orders, and rules of God. To be a witness of God is a privilege and God invites us to witness what he has done for us in and through Jesus’ death and resurrection, but again, we see this as a burden, something that we have no choice but to do it because God commanded us to. Fear, then, becomes the driving force.

But look at these apostles standing before the Sanhedrin. Look at Luther when he made his bold statement before the emperor. No doubt, fear was present, they were afraid, but fear was not the motivation, fear did not move these people throughout the ages to give up their lives, and certainly they were not fanatics.

Indeed, these people received a commandment from God, as do we, but it is not a burden because what God commands first and foremost is to not to do this or to do that, but it is simply to believe. It is to believe that Jesus was the true obedient person in the entire world, he was the only one who did it all for us. Remember your schooldays, when you had a very important test or a final exam,, have you ever thought of how nice it would be if you could just sit beside the smartest person in your class? Because you know that this person would always get 100% in every test and by sitting beside this person, then maybe you could copy at least a couple answers and you would be sure that you have them right. But what if I tell you that this smartest classmate of yours actually writes your name on his test paper so that you get a perfect score? That would be nice wouldn’t it, but would you believe that?

This is what Jesus has done for us and we are not talking about academics, but life and death. He has kept the entire law, everything, perfectly in our place. Because he does this for us, God accepts us as perfect, as having totally kept the law perfectly. He does this for us because he loves us, knowing that we would never be able to keep any of the commandments perfectly, not even one.

And this Jesus was completely obedient even unto death on the cross. He not only was obedient in keeping the law for us, but he dies for our sins also. The eternal punishment of hell and death has been fully put on him. On Good Friday, he died our death on the cross and on Easter Sunday, which we just celebrated last Sunday and every Sunday, he was raised from the dead because the tomb, death itself cannot contain him. Sin and death will never have the last word for us, sin and death do not conclude our lives, rather, it is God, the creator of all things, who comes to give us life through the forgiveness of sins in the death and resurrection of Jesus.

God has accepted his sacrifice on our behalf, so that as he raised Jesus, he also does this for all who believe in him so that all would stand as well. We are able to stand because we have life, it is a life free from the fear of sin and death, it is a life where we may freely serve God because through Jesus, we know that whatever we do now is pleasing to God because this is now a life of daily forgiveness from that cross.

This is why the apostles and all the believers across time have stood so firmly. Because this message is more important than our life, this message is life itself. The word, the good news of God is our very life, an eternal one that is. It is a message worth keeping and guarding even if we should lose this life because we believe that this physical death is not the end of life. And so we join these apostles, Peter, John, Mary Magdalene, and the angels and archangels in witnessing Jesus through this word of life. We may suffer for it, people will persecute us for being a Christian, the world will hate us, all these are foretold by Jesus himself, but what of it? As Paul would say at the end of Romans 8: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

We stand to witness the death and resurrection of Jesus, the forgiveness of sins that comes from him, his great love for every person, because it is his love that has now captivated our hearts and minds, our entire being.

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