The holy city of Jerusalem has had a wonderful event. They had tried their best to say no to what Jesus Christ had done, and so he has been crucified, has died, and has been buried. But death had no power. Death stopped being death before Jesus Christ. When Christ died, he killed the pain of death and death had no power on him. He came to earth to bring life and give it freely, unconditionally. When you go through the pages of the New Testament, you see he deliberately goes to Jerusalem to die.
So, he was crucified. "A man of sorrows," as Isaiah in his prophecies said. If you read Isaiah 53, you'd come away with awe and wonder. "A man of sorrows," had been prophesied 600-700 years before coming: a man of love, gentleness, and passionate. If you look to his ministry, to his teaching, you'd look into the iris of humanity and see into the subconscious of their needs.
When the eye doctor looks through our eyes, he'll see the iris—the iris is like the window of the subconscious. If you want to charge me guilty, you look to my iris, because you can see the transparency of the inside of the psyche, of the spirit, of the human being. And when Jesus looked into their eyes, he knew how desperate they were. They'd longed for somebody to come and bring them nearer to God. And so Jesus Christ took those three offices of the ministry: as a prophet, as a priest, as a king, and he dies. He dies in that wonderful city: by entering Jerusalem, by submitting himself, and exiting crucifixion. He never resisted.
Those of you who are lawyers by profession would look to this context with tears. The case was sentenced in an odd hour: it had been brought and dealt with as the activity for the whole night. The next morning, he walked through the Via Dolorosa to Golgotha where he was going to be crucified. He goes voluntarily; he never resisted; he was being pushed.
The New Testament is very clear on this great event. It's never a concoction of a story. It is a fact. It is a truth. St. John, in his Gospel, says there are many, many more miracles that were done. If they were all to be written, [he says] maybe this earth couldn't contain the books, because his ministry daily was a miracle.
His life daily was a miracle. He was being allowed to come to bring life to people, not a religion. Of course, Christianity is one of the major religions of this earth, but it's beyond a religion. It's life. The life pattern is transformed. People who have wallowed into the mire of their sins, they're cleansed, they're being sainted, they are proclaimed to be saints. Women and men who have worked in their day-to-day lives here on earth can be transformed. People who have struggled with their lives—they may have tried everything, maybe, except Jesus Christ. Their lives are transformed, changed for the better.
So this Sunday is a very eventful Sunday. In the Gospel, we see him appearing to his disciples. He did it twice and St. Thomas was not there, but they reported to him. Thomas critically argued. He desired evidence. No wonder this was God's providence that St. Thomas should be included in the team of the disciples of Jesus Christ so that if, when time passes, doubting people argue critically with God, St. Thomas could be an example. He appeared the third time in chapter 20 of the Gospel of St. John, St. Thomas says, "My Lord and my God."
I desired to do two sermons—on two different themes. Theme one was Jesus Christ appearing before his disciples (or his church). Theme two was the apostles being persecuted and this comes from the second reading, the Book of the Acts of the Apostles. And if you are an inquirer of this spiritual journey through Christ, the Book of the Acts of the Apostles would like to direct us on how God had done the work: wider, mightier activities, using ordinary, humble people from the villages in upper Galilee. They were picked by Jesus and they followed him closely for about three solid years. They saw him teaching; they saw him doing miracles. A lot of miracles happened—many things before their eyes. And as you move through the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, you see a church grow just as the Founder of the faith had spoken before. At the end of the Gospel of St. Matthew, he brings a Great Commission: "Go to the entire earth, speak, bring good news to all peoples."
The message begins to wake up, touching people, but it had to start from Jerusalem. If you have your Bible in your hand, look to the Acts of the Apostles. We want to use one verse and then magnify that verse: Acts of the Apostles, chapter 5, verse 29: "Peter and the other apostles replied, 'We must obey God rather than men!'
Why, would you ask, would they obey only God and not men? "The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead, whom you had crucified and killed by hanging him on the tree." They had seen him being crucified. They'd seen him die and it was a very horrifying scene. Their courage had melted away. They dispersed. There were even some denials from the mouth of St. Peter. It was very horrifying. But he had come to life. He had taken life again. If you look at verse 30: "The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead." This is point number one that would give courage to them and speak truthfully of what God had done. He had been crucified, as here he said, "Whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree." Verse 31, "God exalted him to his own right hand."
So by killing him it was allowing death to be killed because Jesus Christ had come, his only human being, if you take his human side, which was born to die. But he died. He died in order to give us life. So the disciples were very courageous. They spoke openly. "God has exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to the people." Here in contrast, a kingdom of God first is imparted to Israel, and then it can permeate through the entire earth.
God wanted to be with the people, with men, with mankind. He put them into the garden and then he would visit them, but that never worked. So he picked Abraham and he picked a community so through that community he could speak to them directly. But that didn't work, so he brought Jesus Christ here to create a people of all walks, of all backgrounds, to bring a church, people who'd be cleansed of their sins, be forgiven of their sins. They witness here. They say we are witnesses of these things. And their soul is the Holy Spirit—the living spirit of God is a witness, and that's why you can see the church would expand. No wonder you have no reason to excuse yourself or myself because the Holy Spirit is working. If somewhere he is being frustrated, he is working and his church will work. Therefore they say, "We must obey God, rather than men." And to the persecution, yet they would obey God.
These people are not outlaws. Something unusual had happened to them. They had followed Jesus for the past three years and had listened to his teaching and they had seen him doing wonders, unusual works, and miracles of all kinds. The most touching miracle was walking on the surface of waters. Even the physical scientist would be quick to speak louder, "Why he's heavier than water," and they had watched him on the surface. If you look to the miracles, those of you who'd be writing books on our spiritual journey, look to the miracles on how Jesus Christ did wonders. There are so many.
So this is why they say, "We will rather listen only to God." That's one point. Secondly, they are a changed people and you can pick this from Acts 5:12. "The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people." They had received a power that can permeate to the surroundings and touch lives. If you read this book closely, you will be encouraged. Even if they were in the shadows as they walked, the shadow touched the patient, and the patient would be healed. The needy would be touched. The apostles left the Sanhedrin rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the name. You know, they were flogged and then they were told not to speak—but they walked away with smiling faces. They walked away rejoicing. They would not resist. They never would fight for their safety. They welcomed the suffering and all the harassment with which they were confronted. The Lord honored their faith because of what had happened. They didn't fight. They had a new lifestyle—new message, greater message.
The reporter to the Sanhedrin came back. At daybreak, they entered the temple courts, as they had been told, and began to teach the people. When the high priest and his associates arrived, they called together the Sanhedrin, the high court of the tradition, the full assembly of the elders of Israel sent to the jail for the apostles. But on arriving at the jail, the officers did not find them there. So they went back and they reported, "We found the jail securely locked with the guards standing at the doors, but when we opened them, we found no one inside."
This is a transformation. In Africa, we still believe in magic, we still believe in evil being done. But this is beyond magic: it's a miracle. The prisons were opened. You see, it's very interesting, the devil knows better than us, and many times he giggles at us. Why can't we trust Jesus Christ? Because he knows how powerful the Lord Jesus Christ is. The angel had come and so the gates were opened, and the disciples were ushered out by the angel. Look at verse 19,
"But during the night, an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out. Go, stand in the temple courts, he said and tell the people the full message of this new life."
This new life, full message, full information of this new life—go and tell.
Changed people changing lives
So, second point, they were a changed people. If we are to go into the streets of this life and try to bring the gospel to this earth, we have to be a changed people. William Penn used to say, "They were a changed people before they went about to change others." Disciples transformed a changed people. The angels tell them to tell the whole information, without minimizing.
Sometimes we minimize, we feel offended, we feel uptight. We feel uncomfortable maybe to speak and maybe the world will challenge us to think we are selling religion to people of other religions. But here the angels are very frank and very plain, "Go, stand in the temple courts and tell the people the full message of this news." This full message is the gospel. During his birth, our Lord Jesus Christ, the angels came to the shepherds in the fields outside the city of Bethlehem, and they said, "We are bringing you good news." There are no stories. There is no concoction of stories; it's a message. It is a living message. This is the reason why a church can grow; a parish can expand and has expanded, as you can see yourselves. When the church grows, when the gospel is sent, it touches the lives of people.
Verse 17, "Then the high priest and all his associates who were members of the party of the Sadducees were filled with jealousy." You want to extract that word, jealousy. When things of Christ are happening, they can be confronted with jealousy. That's why when you pray you ask him to extend the territories, to expand. May he allow us to go. It is what God can do. "Go, stand at the temple," the angels say, "and tell the people the full message of this new life."
So my sisters and brothers, you are entitled to learn who Christ is in your lives. Give him room; allow him to be your sovereign Lord. Some people are frightened—they think he's a dictator. He might impose his dos and don'ts. He'd never. He would help us know how we can walk, clear ways in this life. He would never impose dos and don'ts. He transforms our attitude and then we begin following his leading as we go. So the disciples did, so the church expanded, so this is why you are a Christian. Somebody witnessed to you. That somebody had to have witness from somebody, and somebody witnessed to him.
Sometimes, I use the example of the aboriginal stick. The indigenous Australians use the boomerang for hunting. You throw the boomerang, and if you are a good thrower, it can spin 100 to 200 yards in the air and spin back and you can catch it. I hope you are good throwers of the gospel. You in the West sent people to the entire earth a hundred years ago and now it can reciprocate back so you can catch it.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Bishop Alpha Mohammed, a converted Christian, led the Diocese of the Rift Valley (part of the Anglican Church of Tanzania) and was known for his evangelism through many church and diocesan plants.