Courage Unbound

“Courage Unbound”

April 29, 2018

By John Partridge*

 

John 10:11-18            Acts 4:1-12                 1 John 3:16-24

 

 

Where have you seen courage?

 

We’ve all been witnesses to courage at one time or another.  Sometimes it’s as simple as tasting a new food, emptying a mousetrap, or a new parent changing a diaper for the first time.  Sometimes it’s a cancer patient willing themselves to show up for one more chemotherapy treatment, or the parent of sick child putting on a brave face to calm the child’s fears.  But sometimes it’s more than that.

 

During the war in Yugoslavia, a Bosnian Muslim factory manager was captured by Croatian soldiers along with his family and his neighbors.  They were all taken to a makeshift prison camp and after several days, 40 of the prisoners, including this man, his wife, and his five year old twin boys, were taken out of the camp and lined up in a row.  The soldiers brought out a civilian man who was Croatian as they were, and demanded that he choose 12 of the prisoners from the lineup, and decide how they would be killed.  But, although he was ethnically Croatian, he had also been a neighbor to the people who stood before him and the closest friend of the Muslim father.  Rather than follow their orders, the man turned on the soldiers and said, “You should be ashamed of yourselves! These people are innocent. Release them. Let them go home.”  He then turned to his friends and said, “I’m so sorry. This is all I can do. I know they will kill me tonight. I wish all of you the best.”  The soldiers dragged the man off and took the Muslim prisoners back to the prison camp.  That night the Croatian man was killed by the soldiers, but many of the prisoners were later saved through a prisoner exchange.  (Story from Courage Under Fire – https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/courage_under_fire)

 

Imagine the courage that it took for that man to risk his life in order to do what was right?

 

In the last couple of messages, we have paid particular attention to the change that we see in Jesus’ disciples from the time of the crucifixion to the days immediately following Pentecost.   In a way, our scriptures revisit that today, but our focus this time is on us more than it is on the disciples.  We begin this morning with the words of Jesus which are recorded for us in John 10:11-18.

11“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. 17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

Long before his arrest and crucifixion, Jesus knew what was going to happen, but he also knew why it was going to happen.  Jesus said that a good shepherd is willing to lay down his life for his sheep.  Someone who is just in it for the money, fakers, thieves, and charlatans, don’t stick around when things get difficult.  Real shepherds are in it for keeps and are ready to stand and fight for their sheep.  But Jesus also says that the relationship goes the other way as well.  Real sheep know the shepherd and they follow him, they listen to his voice, and they join together as one flock.  This is the way that God intended for it to be and Jesus has been given the power and the authority to do everything that God commanded.

 

But Jesus did more than that.  His ability and willingness to sacrifice for his flock was passed on to his disciples.  After Jesus rose from the dead, they began to more fully understand who he was, what he did, and what he had accomplished.  And as they understood, they began to follow his example. (Acts 4:1-12)

4:1The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people. They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people, proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. They seized Peter and John and, because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day. But many who heard the message believed; so the number of men who believed grew to about five thousand.

The next day the rulers, the elders and the teachers of the law met in Jerusalem. Annas the high priest was there, and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander and others of the high priest’s family. They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: “By what power or what name did you do this?”

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, 10 then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. 11 Jesus is

“‘the stone you builders rejected,
which has become the cornerstone.’

12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

As you will remember from last week, Peter and the disciples are proclaiming the name of Jesus to the crowd that gathered after Peter healed a lame man who was begging by the gate of the temple.  Now, as they preach, they are approached not only by passers-by, but by priests, the captain of the temple guard, and the representatives of the Sadducees and, we are told, they were “greatly disturbed.”  Most likely, if they weren’t being unruly, or causing a nuisance, the captain of the guard wouldn’t be too concerned, but the Sadducees were the political group that did not believe in any kind of afterlife.  They didn’t believe in heaven or hell, in souls, or spirits, and they certainly didn’t believe in resurrection from the dead.  This is most likely why they were greatly disturbed.  The teaching, let alone the existence, of a risen Jesus, was highly damaging to their worldview and to their ability to attract followers.

 

But many believed and the church grew.

 

Peter and John were arrested, thrown in prison, and the next day they were brought, almost certainly under guard, to appear before the high priest, the former high priest, the high priest’s father, all the elders, the teachers of the law, and all the political movers and shakers of the church power structures.

 

And Peter unapologetically preaches to them all.  Peter is bold and courageous and “in-your-face.”

 

Remember, that just a few weeks ago, this is exactly what Peter and the other disciples were so afraid of.  They were afraid that people would overhear.  They were afraid that the leaders of the temple would hear about them.  They were afraid that they would be arrested or manhandled by the temple guards.  They were afraid that they would be forced to appear before the leaders of the temple.  And now, that exact scenario has happened.

 

And at every step, the disciples are no longer afraid.

 

Why?

 

Peter’s explanation rocks the world of the temple leaders when he says, “Jesus is ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.’ Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

 

Peter essentially says that even though the temple leaders rejected him, Jesus is the cornerstone on which God’s church must be built.  Jesus has authority over life and death itself and nothing else matters because no one else, no other religious leader, no other political leader, no other church, matters because Jesus is the only one who can save them.

 

The disciples are no longer afraid because they know, without a shred of doubt, that Jesus is in control.

 

The courage of the disciples came from knowing, and trusting, that Jesus was in control and had authority over everything, even life and death itself.  And that courage was transformational.  It changed their lives.  It changed everything.

 

But so what?

 

That was still two thousand years ago.  What does that have to do with us?

 

And again, John has the answer.  In 1 John 3:16-24, we hear these words:

16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

19 This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: 20 If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21 Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God 22 and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. 23 And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. 24 The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.

John says the reason that we know what love is, is because Jesus showed us.  Because Jesus was willing to give up his life for us, we ought to be willing to give up our lives for the people around us.  But love isn’t just risking our lives for people, it’s being willing to give up material possessions as well.  We aren’t just called to love other when it doesn’t cost us anything; we are called to love others when loving them means that we give up some of the stuff that makes us comfortable.  Love, John says, is demonstrated not by the words that we say, but by our actions toward others.  And it is our actions toward others that tell us that we belong to Jesus.  We know that we belong, when we act like Jesus.  We know that we belong, when our hearts tell us that we are right.  We know that we belong, when our hearts do not condemn us for being selfish, or greedy, or guilty of other sins against God.

 

A significant part of our transformation as Christians comes as we grow in courage, and that courage comes to us because, like the disciples, we know that Jesus is in control and has authority over everything, even life and death itself.  John reminds us that God forgives our past but we must live in such a way that we do not feel guilty for our actions.  “The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him.”  And we know that God lives in us because we live like Jesus.  We know that God lives in us because we love like Jesus…

…even when that love costs us something.

 

As followers of Jesus Christ, we are transformed by meeting the risen Jesus because in meeting him, and knowing him, we are given the gift of courage.

 

We are transformed because we have the courage… to love like Jesus.

 

 

 

_________

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U You have been reading a message presented at Trinity United Methodist Church on the date noted on the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Trinity of Perry Heights in Massillon, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry may be sent to Trinity United Methodist Church, 3757 Lincoln Way E., Massillon, Ohio 44646.  These messages are available to anyone regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at subscribe@trinityperryheights.org.  To subscribe to the electronic version sign up at http://eepurl.com/vAlYn.   These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

 

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