According to Jesus and Paul it will involve self denial, persecution, perhaps poverty - certainly generosity for the sake of the gospel - and maybe even martyrdom. Luke 9:23:
And Jesus said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross [when - once a year? no] daily and follow me."(Luke 9.23)
Not you might think, the best way to recruit followers! But Jesus continues - it is worth it (v24):
For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. (Luke 9.24)
In Christ we have an amazing hope and every spiritual blessing but Jesus never said that following him would be easy. Back in v13 of Acts 21 Paul says:
"I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” (Acts 21.13)
That's what Paul was ready to do for the name of the Lord Jesus as he obeyed his calling and the leading of the Holy Spirit. What about you? You see
1. DANGER IS NOT SOMETHING CHRISTIANS SHOULD RUN AWAY FROM
Now please don't misunderstand that but here in Acts Paul is compelled by the Spirit to go to Jerusalem and to Rome (19:21). And the Spirit warns Paul of the dangers and hardships he will face there. How does he react?
And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. But [and note this]I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. (22-24)
Now we're not Paul but is that our mindset? Is that what motivates us?
Well sometimes even believers may encourage us not to go to a place which is fraught with danger, even though God is calling us there, as with the believers at Tyre (v4) and Ptolemais (v12):
When we heard this, we and the people there urged him not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” And since he would not be persuaded, we ceased and said, “Let the will of the Lord be done.”(12-14)
And isn't that what we should be praying and obeying whatever the cost? Not my will but yours, as Jesus prayed, as his crucifixion approached.
And it's interesting as you get towards the end of Acts, as Paul heads for Jerusalem and then Rome, that Luke shows that there are parallels between Paul's life and Jesus' life. So both are rejected by their own people, they're both arrested without cause, they're both imprisoned, they're both unjustly tried, they're both slapped in the face in court, they're both victims of secret Jewish plots, they're both screamed at by frenzied mobs, they're both subjected to a series of trials and they're both executed. Luke's telling us that for early converts this was the normal expectation for Christians.
But it didn't appear to deter converts. Instead, they seemed to have thrived on living dangerously. And its partly because of the spiritual bankruptcy of much of the western church today that we've escaped such dangers. We've made it respectable, middle class, unhazardous, and even dull and uninteresting.
If we're going to capture the imagination of this generation and the next then the world has got to see again that Christians live in the shadow of the cross, not a safety belt. As Bonhoeffer, who was murdered for standing up for Christ against the Nazis, said: When Christ calls a man he bids him come and die. We've lost sight of that. And if there isn't that cutting edge in our gospel then we'll probably bore people more than interest them.
Well Paul understood that to play safe can sometimes be an abdication of faith and a wilful act of disobedience. Remember what he said in v13
"For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”(13)
And in two weeks time we'll see that in Jerusalem Paul does come close to death at the hands of the rioting mob. V30
Then all the city was stirred up, and the people ran together. They seized Paul and dragged him out of the temple, and at once the gates were shut. And as they were seeking to kill him, word came to the tribune of the cohort that all Jerusalem was in confusion. He at once took soldiers and centurions and ran down to them. And when they saw the tribune and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul. [Parish Visiting seems so easy doesn't it!] (30-32)
And yet even after such an experience, v37, he makes the most of an evangelistic opportunity! When Paul says in chapter 1 of Philippians that to live is Christ he means it! He lives it out! What about you and me? His desire whether in life or death is that Christ is proclaimed. And that is a fantastic example. And today we need Christians to have less sentimentality and more passion. Less respectability and more heroism. Less Christians looking for safety and more willing to live dangerously. Yes being wise and yes keeping our heads but willing to put those heads above the parapet for Christ. Next Sunday morning we'll be hearing more about Christians who are severely persecuted elsewhere in the world and yet who are still willing to live out their faith. And that willingness to live out the faith, that willingness to stand for Christ whatever the cost is needed today here in this city, in this country.
You see the gospel is a very costly thing. You have to risk your life for it. In the end it cost Paul his life. It cost Bonhoeffer his life. Danger is not something that Christians should run away from. V13 is a lesson. Maybe there's some danger you are running from that you shouldn't be. There may be a choice you have to make that could be very painful and costly to you but maybe God is calling you to make that choice just as Paul knew he was called to go to Jerusalem. We are called to die to self. To have courageous faith in the face of danger. But the balance in our verses for tonight is that secondly danger is not something Christians should court or go looking for.
2.DANGER IS NOT SOMETHING CHRISTIANS SHOULD COURT/GO LOOKING FOR
Paul in 1 Timothy 2 calls us to pray for all those in authority that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. In Romans 12:18 he says: If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. So how does Paul act in Jerusalem in the face of some deep underlying tensions and rumours and what can we learn? What can we learn from both Paul and James about good relationships between genuine believers from different back -grounds when there are difficulties and about evangelism when there are tensions? For as we pray and work under God to grow as a church there will be some difficulties and tensions and the devil could have a field day.
Paul and his co-workers receive a warm welcome on their arrival in Jerusalem - in fact the brothers received them gladly. And Paul later greeted James and the elders (v19). They are brothers in Christ whether Jew or Gentile. V15-17:
After these days we got ready and went up to Jerusalem. And some of the disciples from Caesarea went with us, bringing us to the house of Mnason of Cyprus, an early disciple, with whom we should lodge. When we had come to Jerusalem, the brothers received us gladly. (15-17)
But they all knew there were tensions underlying this welcome. Some people were, undoubtedly, asserting that the doctrinal positions of Paul and James were incompatible: that it was a case of salvation by grace versus salvation by works (see Acts 15). Yet by Acts 21 that was clearly untrue. But as those and other false rumours abounded Paul doesn't hide. Yes he tactfully and wisely keeps a low profile in terms of where he stays - with Mnason - but he doesn't hide. He doesn't beat about the bush either, neither wasting time nor allowing further tensions to develop and fester - he goes to see James and all the elders the very next day. And as the representative leaders of the Jewish and Gentile communities, James and Paul, meet face to face there is a dramatic tension. But God is in control. He's brought Paul to Jerusalem partly for this purpose. Notice, after greeting them, Paul concentrates first on reporting what God has done through his ministry - not (and this important) not therefore on what Paul has done with God's help. Do you see that? And that's so important for us to understand today as we seek to grow under God as a church. Unless the Lord builds the house the workers labour in vain. So Paul is careful not to push himself here but God. V18-20:
On the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present. After greeting them, he related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. And when they heard it, they glorified God. (18-2)
James and his elders, of which there must have been many as the church in Jerusalem had grown to many thousands - perhaps even 100,000, listened attentively to Paul's report. And they glorified God together. No murmur of disapproval of the growth of the Gentile church was heard. The evidence of God's grace towards Gentiles was indisputable. The only appropriate response was worship. The joyful praise of James and the elders was not even grudging; it was spontaneous and genuine. James was being conciliatory as was Paul for the sake of the Jewish & Gentile Christians (v20&25) being able to live in unity in Jerusalem, therefore for the sake of the gospel too and for the glory of God.
Paul also showed it in two further ways. First by presenting the offering along with Gentile church leaders, collected by the Gentile churches for the Jewish believers in Jerusalem, which is mentioned in Acts 24:17. That expressed the solidarity of Gentile believers with their Jewish brothers and sisters. And Paul argues in Romans 15:27 they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material blessings. Second he responded positively to James' proposal to help Jewish and Gentile believers to live together in unity, especially because of the Jewish Christians scruples about law observance. V20
And they said to Paul, “You see, brother [a touching acknowledgement of their unity in Christ], how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed. They are all zealous for the law,21 and they have been told about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or walk according to our customs.
So what exactly was James' concern? What was the issue? Well it wasn't about the way of salvation - both James and Paul were agreed that this was through Christ, not through the law - but rather about the way of discipleship. Neither was it about what Paul taught Gentile converts - both he and James agreed that circumcision was unnecessary - but rather about what Paul was teaching the Jews who live among the Gentiles. Nor was it about the moral law - Paul and James agreed that God's people must live a holy life according to God's commandments - but rather about Jewish customs. Should Jewish believers continue to observe Jewish cultural practices? The rumour was that Paul was teaching them not to. So James asks Paul:
What then is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come. Do therefore what we tell you. We have four [Jewish Christian]men who are under a [Nazirite]vow; take these men and purify yourself along with them and pay their expenses, so that they may shave their heads. Thus all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself also live in observance of the law... Then Paul took the men, and the next day he purified himself along with them and went into the temple, giving notice when the days of purification would be fulfilled and the offering presented for each one of them. (22-26)
Thank God for the generosity of spirit shown by both James and Paul. They were already agreed doctrinally - that salvation is by grace in Christ through faith -and agreed ethically - that Christians must obey the moral law. The issue between them here concerned culture, ceremony and tradition. And as JPC grows and reaches out to different groups of people across Tyneside we'll come across issues concerning culture, ceremony and tradition which we can be flexible about when there are no gospel issues involved for the sake of the gospel and of unity between Christians from different backgrounds. Now, of course, we should never compromise God's Word and we must be salt and light - committed to seeing the gospel change the culture when there are issues that need to be addressed.
So was the solution to which Paul & James came a compromise? No. The solution they arrived at wasn't a compromise, in the sense of sacrificing a doctrinal or moral principle. Rather it was a concession in the area of practice.
Earlier in Acts 16 we saw Paul's conciliatory spirit in circumcising Timothy. This was an act of expediency so that his work among Jews might be more effective. However he refused to circumcise Titus because it was being demanded as necessary for salvation. Now, in the same spirit as circumcising Timothy, he was prepared to undergo some purification rituals in order to pacify Jewish scruples. Now James seems to have gone too far in expecting Paul to live in obedience to the law in all matters and at all times (v24). But Paul was certainly willing to do so on special occasions for the sake of Jewish Gentile solidarity as here and for the sake of evangelism. And here's the principle especially in terms of evangelism - 1 Corinthians 9:20-22:
To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. (1 Corinthians 9.20-23)
Again we, as a church, will need to learn to put that into practice if, under God, we're to win some from many backgrounds. Yes growth is always costly in so many different ways. But what a blessing to be involved in gospel ministry!
You see for Paul Jewish cultural practices belonged to the 'matters indifferent', from which he'd been liberated, but which he might or might not himself practise according to the circumstances.
And James also showed a similar attitude both by praising God for the Gentile mission and by accepting the offering from the Gentile churches. But this was no quid pro quo, this was no bargain, it was not we'll identify with you by accepting the Gentile offering, if you'll identify with us by accepting Jewish observances - no, this was a mutual Christian forbearance. Do you see? And how we need to show that in times of tension and difficulty in relationships, whether between individual believers or between believers from different cultures and so show to the world the depth of the love of Christ.
And next time you'll see that the unbending prejudice and fanatical violence of the unbelieving Jews stands out in ugly contrast. Rather like the fanatical violence and prejudice that targets Christian communities today in some Muslim and Hindu countries. But, as in Jerusalem, the gospel and the church is growing in those nations. I'll never forget meeting the wife of a missionary shot dead in West Africa by Al Quaeda with the result that the gospel was shared all over North Africa. Yes, even being a peacemaker can be dangerous.
So let me close with 3 questions: a) Where are you being asked by God to live dangerously? b) Where are you being asked to be a peacemaker? c) Where are you being asked to become all things to all men for the sake of the gospel?