Whatever the Cost? 29/01/2023

Acts 9:1-22

Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He 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, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’

‘Who are you, Lord?’ Saul asked.

‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied. ‘Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.’

The men travelling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.

10 In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, ‘Ananias!’

‘Yes, Lord,’ he answered.

11 The Lord told him, ‘Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. 12 In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.’ 

13 ‘Lord,’ Ananias answered, ‘I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. 14 And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.’

15 But the Lord said to Ananias, ‘Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.’

17 Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord – Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here – has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ 18 Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptised, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength.

Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. 20 At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. 21 All those who heard him were astonished and asked, ‘Isn’t he the man who caused havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?’ 22 Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Messiah.

Galatians 1:11-24

11 I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. 12 I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.

13 For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. 14 I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. 15 But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased 16 to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being. 17 I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went into Arabia. Later I returned to Damascus.

18 Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Cephas[a] and stayed with him fifteen days. 19 I saw none of the other apostles – only James, the Lord’s brother. 20 I assure you before God that what I am writing to you is no lie.

21 Then I went to Syria and Cilicia. 22 I was personally unknown to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. 23 They only heard the report: ‘The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.’ 24 And they praised God because of me.

Luke 21:10-19

10 Then he said to them: ‘Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven. 

12 ‘But before all this, they will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. 13 And so you will bear testimony to me. 14 But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. 15 For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. 17 Everyone will hate you because of me. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 Stand firm, and you will win life.

Carrying the grace and truth of God is obviously not that easy. As we hear here today, Jesus never said it would be.

The prophets and Apostle’s discovered that it wasn’t. It is not as if this world is ‘neutral’ on truth. It is generally antagonistic to God’s truth. All human beings have this pull to go it alone or on their ‘truth’ terms only.

So, when you carry the truth about this sin and this forgiveness only received by means of humility and honesty before a holy God, it is usually not received too well. That makes living in this love and hope in Jesus hard at times.

So, Christians have always remembered those who have gone before. We do this to re-tell the story of a person’s faith as an encouragement on the journey we still have to live.

This day of St Peter and St Paul is remembering the two most prominent and foundational people God called into his first church community.

Specifically, this day is one to honour Peter and Paul’s martyrdom, which are believed to have occurred in Rome sometime between AD 64 and 68.

Tradition (not in the Bible) says that this is the day that they were both martyred in Rome by Emperor Nero, in his unjust persecution of Christians. No one is really sure if Peter and Paul were actually put to death for their faith on the same day or even if the same year. But it is likely they died in that first major persecution in Rome. Remember, Rome is where Paul ended up under house arrest, after all of his mission travels, and Peter may have been based in Rome as a leader in the first church.

Tradition also has it that Peter, when assured that he too would give up his life for his Lord that gave up his life for him, asked to be crucified upside down, so as to be lesser than his Lord Jesus. Who knows? He may have.

As we know, it is generally believed that all of The Twelve, except the Apostle John, were put to death for their allegiance to and living for the Jesus whom they personally knew.

John writes and an older man exiled by Caesar Domitian on the island of Patmos in the Aegean Sea between Greece and Turkey – where he saw that grand vision of life now and for the future in Jesus, we call the Book of Revelation.

In my lifetime, bearing testimony to the grace and hope of Jesus has been a relative ‘walk in the park’, compared to the description Jesus gives today, or to Paul and Peter’s journey. By and large, I have lived in boom-time, safe, secure and free post WWII Australia.

We have been able to carry the truth and grace of Jesus whom we know and love without his presence in our lives being the cause of losing a job, suffering any physical injury at the hands of any antagonist or having to keep our association with Jesus and his people, the Church, ‘underground’ for fear of being arrested. We have certainly lived gospel faith without ever any fear of being put to death for it.

Not so for many around the world now or obviously in history: threats everywhere for a Christian what was the Soviet Union, still in China, in so many places in the past and now.

None of us know the future. Sometimes we think this lovely safe, secure ‘land of the long weekend’ is descending into something far more risky, along with the rest of the Western world. Who knows? Truth is that forever and always;

‘Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 

There will be flood, fires, quakes and shakes of a natural epic nature. There will be tyrant after tyrant bent on world domination or just domination of your workplace.

There will be personal and relational pains in our lives. We will lose much and only have occasional wins. We will not understand much and be confused by many things and only sometime walk with total clarity.

So, from a natural disaster we face, to a loved one we are losing or have lost, or a conflict we are experiencing, or traumatic thing that happened, this life is often unsettling, uneven, unsafe and difficult.

But one thing prevails. Peter was enabled to see the thing that surpasses all the shakes and quakes we face

As Jesus and the group were way up in Caesarea Philippi at a place known as ‘the gates of hell’,  Peter made that great confession of all Christians.

Jesus asked, “Who do people say I am?” and Peter nailed it for all time – “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God”. In other words, Jesus of Nazareth is the love of God, the hope of God, the peace of God that will still stand despite the pull and threat of the gates of hell.

Friend, this good news you carry will keep you standing strong in love and truth in all the difficulty, threat and challenge no matter how serious that lasts in and beyond all the pain.

It is my faith and many of yours, I know.

And with that faith comes the conviction that surely inspired Peter and Paul to walk the walk and talk the talk as disciples and ‘sent ones’ (Apostles) of the Saviour Jesus they knew personally, no matter the personal cost.

From what they write, you can se three basic convictions;

  • Jesus was the Son of God sent to save all sinners including they themselves.
  • Jesus was alive with them and that he was reaching out to sinful human beings and offering and giving complete forgiveness and new life to any sinner who called on his good name.
  • Jesus Christ is the love of God for the world and that only by faith in him would justice, peace, life, joy, hope, meaning, fulfilment and wisdom be found, at great cost to God and great blessing and joy for them.

Paul sums it up for himself and Peter…..

But whatever was to my profit (before that Damascus Road) I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness that comes from the law, but a righteousness that through Christ, and is by faith… (Philippians 3:9)

There’s the real heart of a courageous life of witness to this Jesus whose love and hope we know, no matter what shakes and quakes unsettle us or hurt us or sadden us.

We live in a righteousness that does not come from achieving, performing, being good or bad, but comes as gift from his achieving, performing being holy and true- enough for us all.

Any lasting peace, unity, confidence and convicted to speak and do his love by faith comes from his love for me, not my love for me or anyone else’s.

Hear his love for you that gives you courage to stay the course in whatever you are facing today:

I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. ….18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 Stand firm, and you will win life.

There is life that has been won and one day will be a complete win. Jesus is that complete life, now and then.

And so, we share the Call of Peter and Paul. For Paul it was this:

15 ….. God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased 16 to reveal his Son in me so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles (Galatians 1:15)

Friends, safe passage in the love of Jesus is assured, no matter what.

We remember these apostles so that we are firmed up the truth that when you boil life down to the really important thing, that thing is actually, losing to gain: “losing all things to gain more of Christ”, as it was for Paul and Peter.

As John Dixon, the Australian Church historian says his marvellous outline of the church as it worst as bullies and at its best as saint, we gospel carriers can be and learn to be ‘good losers’, losers of face, of things, of status in the community, of health, of money of even our life and whatever else the world may eventually want to take.

As we lose these lesser things we gain the greatest thing – we gain more of this Jesus whose love we know.

Can these be your words today?

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels or demons, neither the present or the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38).

Friend, may the scales of any grief, confusion, despair, pride or prejudice fall from our eyes, so we truly see today.

Church, we are still sent. We go from here with this sure immovable hope whatever the cost.






Sunday 8:45am
(1st + 3rd of Month)