“Followers of The Way: Peter”
Acts 4:1-21

This morning we’re continuing the story of Easter by looking at what the first leaders of “the Way” were up to. These will be the names of those who are working at spreading the message of Jesus Christ, alive and risen to the world following shortly after Pentecost, that is when the Spirit of God came upon the disciples and making them apostles. Turning them from students into leaders.

The first apostle we’ll look at is Peter. We’ve known Peter for a while. He was of the first called to be a disciple, leaving behind his life as a fisherman he answered Jesus’ call to follow. He was the most vocal of Jesus’ disciples, the one who was routinely by his side, even invited into special events with Jesus himself, like the transfiguration when Jesus met with Moses and Elijah on the mountaintop while his clothes turned a dazzling white. Peter also walked on water with Jesus, showing great faith in who he believed Jesus to be.

Peter saw and learned much while walking in the footsteps of Jesus, this was clear when Jesus turned to him not long before his death, and said, “I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:18-19)

Peter was definitely a faithful follower of Jesus, but even when it seemed Jesus needed his friends most, even Peter denied knowing him as Jesus predicted he would. Peter denied knowing Jesus three times before the rooster crowed on the morning of the day we know as Good Friday.

Yet Peter was the one on which Jesus built his church. He is the one who seemed to gain the keys to heaven. As the disciples hid in the room on the day of Pentecost, the day they were suddenly filled with the Holy Spirit, Peter was the first to emerge from the house and preach in the street. You can read his sermon in Acts 2 and see how three thousand people responded and the church was born.

Being a Christian in those first days were anything but easy. There was still a lot of hostility around the name of Jesus, especially by the religious establishment of the day. On the way into the temple for prayer, they met a man who was lame. His legs were weak and he could not walk. Peter told the man to rise and walk in the name of Jesus Christ, and he did. Which brings us to what we read this morning from Acts 4.

Peter was continuing to preach, and we heard that another five thousand people believed because of what he was saying. The priests and Sadducees were not impressed by this and had Peter and John arrested.

The next day they stood before the council and continued to stand their ground. Their passion for Jesus Christ was very evident and it worried the council. So they threatened the two apostles to never speak about him again under threat of severe punishment and let them go.

Peter, of course, continued to preach the gospel message as he left. He was thrown in prison. He was threatened. Nothing would stop him. Once while in prison, King Herod was sure to kill him because he had just killed the apostle James and saw how it pleased the Jewish leaders. If they were happy James was dead, surely they would be ecstatic if Peter was gone as well. You can read this story in Acts 12, but it goes like this.

While in prison Peter was sleeping, chained between two Roman soldiers when an angel came to him and the chains fell off, and the angel led him out of the prison. For their punishment, the two soldiers were put to death for allowing Peter to escape under their watch. Peter would live to preach some more.

Eventually Peter would be spend the final portion of his life in Rome, leading the church. Later he would die at the hand of emperor Nero. It is said he too was crucified, but with one modification. It is said he was crucified upside down, as per his request, because he did not see himself worthy of dying as his Saviour had died.

Imagine you were Peter. Imagine you have this great passion for Jesus Christ. You have seen so many miracles. You’ve walked on water! And now God has gifted you with the Holy Spirit and you speak with joy in the streets. You are able to heal people and proclaim Jesus Christ as risen from the grave. All under the constant threat of punishment and death.

What is the worst thing that could happen to someone like Peter today, at least in the western world? The worst thing that could happen if you acted like Peter is that someone would say something mean to you. Others would ignore you.

For Peter, nothing on this planet was more important than proclaiming Jesus Christ as risen to be the Saviour of the word. Nothing.

Peter would preach in the face of his accusers, his captors, the ones who dole out brutal punishment. It would not, it could not, stop him.

There are people in this world today who live like Peter. Men and women who live with the constant threat on their lives. Every once in a while we hear of a story on the news where a Christian leader is facing the death penalty because they speak of Jesus Christ. There was an example in the news just last week.

We have it pretty safe over here in North America. Speaking the name of Jesus Christ in public is not a crime here. We won’t face death. We won’t go to prison. It’s easy.

Yet how many of us are filled with the same passion as Peter to share the news of Jesus Christ?

On Friday morning I was at the Nova Scotia Leadership Prayer Breakfast in Membertou. The speakers were Cindy and Lisa Klassen. If you watch the winter olympics at all, you know who Cindy Klassen is. She is the most decorated Canadian Olympian ever, winning a total of 6 medals, including 5 at the 2006 games, all in discipline of speed skating.

You don’t know her sister. Her sister is a pilot and instructor in Manitoba. In 2008, Lisa has a serious car accident that nearly took her life. Together they told of how crucial their faith in Jesus Christ is in helping them through the tough times in their lives. Most notably in the time after the accident, but also in the struggles of Lisa’s long recovery and through the life of being an elite athlete.

For Cindy, speaking out about her faith is a risk. She travels the world to compete in competitions, but she also needs to be able to afford to live. Speaking publicly about Jesus Christ could very well cost her sponsorship deals and public appearances.

Yet she cannot hold back the message of hope and strength offered through a life lived for Jesus Christ, especially when she has seen how it has impacted her family’s life over the last 4 years.

God laid a message on the hearts of these two young women, and they speak about their faith in churches, schools and anywhere they will be heard.

There has no doubt been a windfall of Christian leadership in the public eye of late, especially in the world of professional and elite sports. In football there was the story of Tim Tebow. In basketball there was the sudden emergence from no where of a new potential star in Jeremy Lin. The latest to hit the news is a golfer by the name of Bubba Watson who emerged to win one of golf’s greatest tournaments, The Masters.

These people are speaking out about their faith in Jesus Christ, and people are loving it. They are making the news all over the place and people are being drawn to them as they speak from their hearts about what God is doing in their lives.

It’s really that easy today. These people are not going to face capital punishment. They are not going to be thrown in jail. They are being invited into our homes through interviews and public appearances. And people are hearing the message.

The Holy Spirit laid a message upon the hearts of the first followers of The Way, what they called the early church before the name “Christians” was tagged to them.

The Way is an appropriate name for it. Coming from Jesus’ words, “I am the way, the truth, and the life”. “Christian” is a title. But “the Way” indicates a lifestyle, a way of being in the world.

We too are followers of the Way. A new way of life. A new way of seeing the world by the direction of the Holy Spirit. A Way in which the knowledge of our head connects with the stirrings of our hearts and brings us into a new relationship with the Father in heaven through Jesus Christ the Son.

The Son we continue to celebrate this morning, some 2000 years after his life on earth. A life that not only inspired, but drastically changed the lives of people not just of his time, but for all time since, and continues to change today.

I’m not asking you to face the world like Peter, because we don’t have to. We are safe here. We can run out into the streets after the service here this morning and give praise to the God who gives us life and face no penalties, no fines, no punishment. We are free to do as we please.

So what holds us back? Why are we so afraid to share the love of God with our neighbours? Is it because we wonder what people will think of us? It can’t be as bad as what the religious leaders thought of Jesus, or of those who followed him.

We have a gift from God. It’s eternal life through Jesus Christ the Son when we follow the Way he lays out for us.

The Way he lays on our hearts. It’s more than just knowing God, it’s about loving God and knowing His love for us.

When we know this love, when we feel this overwhelming love, we can’t help but be followers of the Way because of what Jesus Christ has done for us.

He died. He was buried. And he rose on the third day.

For Peter. For the rest of the apostles.

And for us. For me and for you.

This is the depth of God’s love.

This is the understanding which makes us followers of the Way. Just like Peter.