Witnesses
Acts 5:27-32

I want you to imagine yourself in a courtroom, with a panel of judges in front of you, maybe even in the high court in Canberra with the full panel of seven judges just to give you that all important intimidation factor.  I know that is a court of appeal, but humour me!  This is your third offence, they have brought you back in again for disobeying their direct orders to cease and desist!  Are you feeling a little awkward?  Do you think you would be worried about the American style three strikes and you’re out policy being brought into play and that they would lock you up and throw away the key?

That must have been playing on the minds of Peter and the other apostles as they were again brought before the council.  They were probably also thinking that this was the same council that had organised for Jesus to be arrested and handed over to Pontius Pilate to be crucified.  This would have been a fairly tense scene to be involved with.  The high priest accused them again of continuing to defy orders by teaching in the name of Jesus.  The council must have been feeling the guilt of Jesus death too because they didn’t want them preaching and teaching about what the council had actually done.

But Peter and the apostles said, “We must obey God rather than human authority.”  They were being defiant in the face of the highest authority in the area, but they went on to explain their reason for being defiant, the message they had to share was of the utmost importance.  “The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree.  God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Saviour that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.  We are witnesses to these things.”

Here they are in the highest court available being accused of disobeying the authority of the court and they are sticking to their call to witness to the Good News of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem first and then to the ends of the earth.  This was the starting point that Jesus had given them, to preach and teach in his name, and proclaim the message of salvation to all people.  They weren’t intending to disobey Jesus and stop doing it, so their only alternative was to defy the authorities, that is, the council that they were again standing in front of.

Have you ever been in a situation like this, where you have been called out by someone, asked to deny your faith?  Peter had already done that three times on the night that Jesus was arrested, so it is little wonder that he won’t back down and deny him now.  Not many of us have ever been in a place where Christians are persecuted or have their lives threatened or worse if they choose to meet and worship or publicly proclaim their faith.

We live in a truly blessed country, founded on Christian values and morals, yes they have slipped from time to time, but we are still technically if not actually a Christian country, we are free to worship, freedom of speech allows us to have a faith perspective and to practice it.  Yet do we ever really take advantage of it?

Sometimes I wonder whether us modern or perhaps we are post-modern Christians, realise exactly what we have been given by Jesus.  Especially those of us who were baptised as infants and have always had the freedom and opportunity to worship and live out a life of discipleship.  We take worship for granted, we could take it or leave it on any given week, if there is something ‘more important’ on we will go off and do it, we can come back next week and no-one will have missed us, or will they?

It is a known fact that the church around the world grows faster in areas where religious persecution takes place.  In times of adversity and even controversy the church has always grown.  Maybe we live in too affluent a time and culture for the church or the kingdom of God to grow.  Perhaps we have everything too good for us to have an urgent and desperate need for a true and living God who gave up his Son for our sake, so that we might be made right before him and receive eternal life.

I wonder if it were more difficult for us to worship or if we had to covertly sneak into worship under the cover of darkness whether there would be more of us here than there are today.  Maybe our numbers would drop off for a while or altogether, but maybe, just maybe people would realise their desperate need for God and return to him or repent and receive forgiveness.  That’s what he wants for us, to give us forgiveness.

Peter and the other apostles were gathered together and witnessing to the exact same truth that we have to share with others, their witness has become our witness as we have had it handed on to us from generation to generation.  Like Thomas whom we accuse of doubting, who was really gathering extra evidence for all of us, we now have all the evidence we need to go out and witness to others about the resurrection of Jesus and the need to turn to him for all our needs, especially forgiveness.

Given the opportunity would you stand up for what you believe in?  Would you proclaim the truth or would you run and hide and bow to the authorities of the land?  The Christian church doesn’t seem to make much noise in the world, we have laws changed that affect our Christian freedoms and yet we don’t really say boo about it.  Are we too apathetic because we have been getting it too good?  Maybe we are? Maybe cheap grace has given over to apathy toward our faith.  When something doesn’t cost much we lose respect for it. 

Our faith and our salvation came at the cost of Jesus’ life, he suffered and died for us, your sins are forgiven, you have won the prize of eternal life, it has been given to you freely.  Are you excited about that, have you told anyone about it, have you shown someone through your joy and enthusiasm for life that you have something great that has been given to you?  Have you given to others in response to the gift God gave you?

Rejoice in that gift, reflect the joy of Easter in all that you do, and tell the world of the gift of grace God has given to them too, and pray that the Holy Spirit will guide you as he has the apostles and the rest of the church throughout the centuries to enable you to share the same message of salvation that was being shared all those years ago, but in a way that speaks to the people you know and love and connect with each day.

Amen.