Summary: Ever since the beginning, Christians have faced the temptation of conflicting allegiances.
Sermon for 2nd Sunday of Easter, Year C
Based on Acts 5:29
By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
When is it more important for us as Christians to obey God rather than any human authority? What does God require of us in a world of conflicting allegiances? When do we say “Yes” to God and “No” to the laws of this world? How do we stay loyal and faithful to God in times of trouble and persecution?
These and similar questions have been around ever since the birth of Christianity. Different Christians have answered the questions in different ways down through the ages.
In our first lesson today, the disciples had been persecuted and imprisoned by the council in Jerusalem because they were preaching and teaching in the name of Jesus. When they were put on trial before the council again, for the same reason, the disciples answered with these words: “We must obey God rather than any human authority.”
Whenever Christianity has been forbidden, persecuted and oppressed; there have always been some Christians who remained faithful to God by resisting and disobeying the laws of this world. In fact, Christianity thrived and grown stronger because it was forbidden, persecuted and oppressed. A case in point of this phenomenon in our time is the church in Russia under the communist regime. Christianity flourished there under persecution.
In the early church, hundreds, even thousands, died a martyr’s death because they refused to worship and make sacrifices to the Roman emperor, who was considered to be a god. The stories of these ancient Christian martyrs still have the power to inspire and instruct us today. One of the early Christian martyrs was Polycarp.
A disciple of John the Apostle, he became bishop of Smyrna and one of the most important Christians in Roman Asia in the mid-2nd century.
After returning to Smyrna from a trip a youth called Germanicus was killed at a pagan festival; the crowd called out: ‘Away with the atheists. Fetch Polycarp.’ He was found in a farm near by, neither provoking nor fleeing martyrdom, but calmly waiting. He invited his captors to eat a meal, while he prayed alone for an hour. At his interrogation, threats and promises did not shake his constancy. When ordered to execrate Christ, he answered: ‘For 86 years I have been his servant and he has never done me wrong; how can I blaspheme my king who saved me? I am a Christian.’
When the crowd at the games in the amphitheatre were told that Polycarp had confessed he was a Christian, they shouted first for the lions and then for him to be burnt at the stake. He was bound; an official killed him with the sword; his body was then burnt. 1
Polycarp’s courage and his final words have strengthened and inspired the faith of many Christians down through the centuries. Polycarp, like the disciples before him, had to obey God rather than any human authority. Again, in our recent history, we have the profound voice of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who on one occasion said:
If any earthly institution or custom conflicts with God’s will, it is your Christian duty to oppose it.