Persecution Promotes Preaching
P. G. Mathew | Sunday, August 2, 1998
Copyright © 1998, P. G. Mathew
In this chapter we read that the early church began to experience persecution because they were preaching the gospel. Now, you may think that persecution would cause the disciples of Jesus to become silent about their faith, but in this passage we discover that persecution actually caused the disciples to preach and proclaim the gospel more boldly and faithfully.
Satan hates evangelism; thus, he will do everything he can to shut the mouths of ministers. However, there are many preachers who do not believe in the authority of the Holy Scriptures. They do not preach that Jesus Christ is God, that the miracles of the Scriptures are true, that man is a sinner under the wrath of God and that man must repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ alone to be saved. Many preachers do not believe that Jesus Christ is coming again to judge the world. Satan is not interested in silencing such preachers. In fact, he wants them to speak, as long as they don't preach the words of life as recorded in the Holy Scriptures.
But the Holy Spirit wants Christians to open their mouths and declare that Jesus Christ is Lord. Not only that, he gives them the words to speak. Didn't Jesus say that anyone who thirsts can come to him and drink, and out of his innermost being shall flow rivers of life? As we study the Scriptures, we will see that if one is Spirit-filled, words of life will flow from his mouth.
Why should we preach the gospel? Because it is God's eternal purpose to save some sinners and make them sons of God. For this purpose the Son of God was sent into this world in human flesh. Jesus of Nazareth was crucified by God's set purpose and foreknowledge by wicked men, but then God raised him from the dead and exalted him to his right hand as Lord and Christ, Prince and Savior. By his death Jesus made purification for the sins for all who trust in him. This is the gospel message, and it is the eternal will of God that his church proclaims this gospel to all the world that some may be saved.
We read about this plan of God in several places in the Scriptures, especially Luke 24 and Matthew 28. In Acts 1:8 we read, "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." This scripture was fulfilled initially on the day of Pentecost, when the Lord poured out the Holy Spirit and three thousand souls were saved that day.
Through the proclamation of the gospel the Lord builds his church, one living stone after another, until the whole building is finished. No power in heaven or on earth can put a stop to God's building process. If you and I don't speak, God will raise up others who will gladly open their mouths to declare his words of life to the lost, dying, and perishing people of the world. No matter how many times the devil tries to stop the proclamation of the gospel, he shall always fail.
Satan's First Attempt
In this study we want to examine three attempts by the devil to stop the proclamation of the gospel. First, Satan attempted to silence the apostles through persecution after the miraculous healing of a crippled man.
In Acts 3 we read that Peter and John, apostles of Christ, healed a forty-year-old congenital cripple in the name of Jesus. Immediately afterwards the persecution by the Sanhedrin began. Peter and John were arrested by the captain of the temple guard and jailed. Placed on trial before the whole Sanhedrin, the apostles boldly witnessed to them about Jesus of Nazareth, the Savior, as we read in Acts 4, beginning with verse 10. "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. He is 'the stone the builders rejected, which has become the capstone.'" Then the apostles declared that Jesus Christ is the only Savior and that salvation is not found in anyone else. The apostles urged the rulers to repent and confess Jesus as their Lord and Savior, but they refused. The word of God spoken by the apostles did not profit them; rather, it condemned them.
In Acts 4:17 we read, "But to stop this thing from spreading any further among the people, we must warn these men to speak no longer to anyone in his name." The intention of Satan is to stop the preaching of the gospel. The entire demonic force is united in this purpose to stop the gospel from spreading any further.
The Sanhedrin called the apostles and told them to never preach or teach in this name again. "Don't ever speak about Jesus Christ!" they commanded the apostles. Then they threatened them with pain, severe persecution, and death. But the apostles, unlearned and ordinary men from Galilee, were full of the Holy Spirit and boldly refused to obey the Sanhedrin. They told them, in essence, "We are witnesses of the greatest events in the history of the universe: God became man, and he performed miracles among us, spoke the truth of God to us, died, was buried and raised up from the dead. Exalted into the heavens, he is the King of kings and Lord of lords, and he is coming again. How can we stop speaking about these wonderful things? We refuse to be intimidated!"
Satan's first attempt to silence the disciples failed. After leaving the Sanhedrin, the apostles went home and in Acts 4:29 we see them praying, "Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness." We are told God strengthened them, filling them with the Holy Spirit, and they continued to speak the word of God boldly (Acts 4:31). When we are filled with the Holy Spirit, we will speak, but not about how to make money, spend it, and get maximum pleasure. We will speak about the word of God, "the full message of this new life."
I must confess that many of us are in the same condition as the four lepers of Samaria whom we read about in 2 Kings 7. They were eating and drinking, going from one tent to another, gathering food, silver, and gold, accumulating everything for themselves. Then they came to their senses and said, "We're not doing right. This is a day of good news and we are keeping it to ourselves." May God help us to see that what we are doing is not right. We have been given the living bread and living water, and we must share it with others.
Satan's Second Try
Satan's first try to shut the mouth of the church from proclaiming this singular gospel failed. What was his second attempt? Satan came into the church and tried to cripple it from within through two believers who became hypocrites.
In Acts 5 we read about Ananias and Sapphira who, in total agreement with each other, attempted to deceive the Holy Ghost and the church of God. God exposed their hearts, judged them and killed them, thereby instantly purifying his church. Sin cripples the church, but God, the head of the church, has a way of taking care of sin and will bring discipline to the church, even if the human leaders fail to act. Thus, in 1 Corinthians 11:30 we read, "That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep."
What motivated Ananias and Sapphira to deceive the church? They were inspired by Satan. Satan is always trying to stop the building of the church and if he fails to succeed through outside persecution, he will try to cripple it from within. As a minister, I have more problems from superficial Christians such as Ananias and Sapphira, than from unbelievers. Such Christians inject a kind of Christianity into unbelievers which is good for nothing. That is not evangelism, and it is not a big surprise that when such Christians tell others to deny themselves, take up the cross and follow Christ, they don't want to. Half-baked, superficial Christianity is nothing.
As I already said, Satan tries to stop only the true preaching of the gospel. But Satan shall never succeed in his attempts to stifle the church, whether from within or without. Why? The head of the church, our Lord Jesus Christ, is always watching over and building his church. Even this judgment executed on Ananias and Sapphira resulted in greater power displayed in the ministry of the apostles. When the church is purified, it will experience great power in that purity.
In Acts 5:12-17 we read, "The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon's Colonnade. No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people. Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number. As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter's shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed."
What was the result of this second attempt of Satan to silence the church? Great signs and wonders were being performed by the apostles, and crowds of people were coming, even from cities beyond Jerusalem. Only authentic believers dared to join this church because superficial, half-hearted Christians knew something could happen to them as it did to Ananias and Sapphira. Unbelievers held the church in high honor. They didn't want to join, but they praised them.
Up to this point Luke gave us numbers when he described the size of the church--one hundred and twenty, three thousand, five thousand--but now he lost count. In Acts 5:14 we read, "More and more men and women believed," but in the Greek text the word is pleithei, "multitudes." No more counting as God continued to build his church.
Satan's Third Attempt
In chapter 5 we find Satan's third attempt to stifle the preaching of the gospel by the apostles. Satan's attempt to work from within the church failed, so now he stirred up the Sanhedrin again. In Acts 5:17 we read that the high priest and his associates, the Sadducees, members of the Sanhedrin, were filled with jealousy as they observed the growing popularity of the apostles. As they watched the crowds coming to hear the apostles and saw them performing many signs and wonders, and as they noted how the people held the apostles in high honor, the high priest and other members of the Sanhedrin felt their own influence shrinking.
Who were these members of the Sanhedrin? The majority of them were Sadducees, which means they were anti-supernaturalists. Sadducees did not believe in a personal messiah, in God's ordination or judgment, in the resurrection of the dead, in angels or demons, or in any miracles. To a Sadducee this world was all there was.
Yet even the anti-supernaturalist Sadducees were very aware of the miracles being performed by the apostles. We find this clearly demonstrated in John's account of the raising of Lazarus from the dead. In John 11 we read how Jesus Christ, the Lord of life, called Lazarus back to life after being buried in a tomb for four days. That was a tremendous miracle, and in John 11:47 we read, "Then the chief priests and Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin. 'What are we accomplishing?' they asked. 'Here is this man performing many miraculous signs.'" The members of the Sanhedrin simply could not argue that a miracle had occurred: Lazarus had died and was buried but on the fourth day he came out of the tomb. But they refused to believe.
What would you tell these Sadducees? "Face the facts, men!" But they were blinded and would not change their convictions, even when confronted with fact. So in verse 48 we read their analysis of the problem: "If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation." What was their solution? To kill Jesus.
We have Sadducees even today, do we not? Such people do not believe in miracles, and therefore they would say there are no miracles. But even they must admit that Jesus Christ performed great miracles. What should we tell them? Face the facts! What happened in history--face it! Face the facts as recorded in the Holy Scriptures.
Modern Sadducees will not face the facts. In fact, they will fight to maintain their own false notions. Let me tell you, such people will not repent, because repentance means saying goodbye to our own false conceptions, ideas, and orthodoxies, and believing in God's truth as revealed in the Holy Scriptures. Such people are blind, interested only in their own power and position. Such people will do whatever it takes to obtain and maintain power and position. They would say, "Forget about morality, forget about ethics, forget about everything else. Forget about the Son of God who performs such miracles. I am only interested in my own position and power, and in maintaining my own ideas. Forget about all these other things!"
Such people will never believe in God, but they do not realize that such unbelief is a judgment of God. What did they do? Inspired by Satan and filled with jealousy, the Sanhedrin arrested not only Peter and John, but all the apostles and put them in public jail overnight. This was Satan's third attempt to silence the apostles.
God Always Wins
The Sadducees did not believe in angels, but here we see God using an angel. God doesn't worry about what we believe. He had already raised his Son from the dead despite the unbelief of the Sadducees. He does not need to check with anyone's beliefs before he acts.
In Acts 5:18 we read, "They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail. But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out." Then the angel told them what to do: "Go, stand in the temple courts and tell the people the full message of this new life."
"Open your mouths and preach the gospel!" God was telling his disciples. Satan says, "Shut your mouths!" but God says, "Open your mouths!" Who is going to win? God. The gospel will be proclaimed no matter how many times Satan tries to stifle it. Here God used an angel deliver his apostles and direct them to continue to declare the gospel.
We read about the ministry of angels several times in the book of Acts. Here in Acts 5 the angel delivered all the apostles from jail, and in Acts 12 we see an angel delivering Peter. In Acts 8 we read about an angel directing Philip and in Acts 10 an angel directed Cornelius. In Acts 27 we see an angel encouraging the apostle Paul, and again in Acts 12 we see an angel coming down and killing Herod Agrippa I because of his defiance of God.
Proclaiming the Full Message of New Life
What was the angel's message? "Go, stand in the temple courts and speak the full message of this new life." The apostles must declare the full gospel, the whole gospel, beginning with creation and the fall of man and continuing to redemption through Jesus Christ. They must speak about the person and work of Christ and proclaim that Jesus Christ is God and man; that he died, was raised, and was now performing miracles; and that he is the King of kings, Lord of lords, and Judge of the whole world. They must declare the reality of heaven as well as hell. They must preach the whole system of truth, not just that "Jesus saves, Jesus is nice, and Jesus gives you money" as many modern preachers declare. They must preach the full message!
The angel delivered this message from the Head of the church to the apostles and we are told "at daybreak they entered the temple courts, as they had been told, and began to teach the people." In Acts 2 we find that the church was filled with the Holy Spirit, and in Acts 4 we read first the apostles and then all of the people were filled with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is ever with the church, as is Satan, but the Spirit of the living God will always prevail. And when the Spirit of the living God comes upon us, though we are fallible, finite, and weak, he will set us on fire so that we open our mouths and begin speak the gospel.
We must speak the whole word, the whole message of this new life in Christ! Why? Because "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved," as we read in Romans 10:13. But how can they call upon the name of the Lord unless they believe? How can they believe unless they hear? And how can they hear unless a preacher preaches? We have to open our mouths, and then the Spirit of God will cause it to happen.
The Charge of the Court
In the first trial before the Sanhedrin the apostles were commanded to stop preaching and teaching in the name of Jesus (Acts 4:18). This time the apostles were charged with contempt of court. In Acts 5:28 the Sanhedrin told the apostles, "We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name. . .Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man's blood."
Isn't that interesting? Through the words of the Sanhedrin we learn that the disciples had fulfilled Jesus' purpose for them as found in Acts 1:8. There Jesus instructed them, "You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." Here the Sanhedrin itself acknowledges that God had succeeded in using fishermen and other poor Galileans--unlearned, ignorant, powerless people--to fill Jerusalem with the gospel. May God help us to be so filled with the Spirit that we also will open our mouths and fill our city with the good news of Jesus Christ!
But to the Sanhedrin this demonstrated contempt of court. In essence they were telling the apostles, "The last time we arrested you we gave you strict orders to cease teaching and preaching in this name, but you didn't obey us. Don't you realize that we are the final authority, the Supreme Court of Israel? But you violated our instructions and filled all Jerusalem with this teaching of yours. Additionally, you are even now trying to bring upon our heads the blood of this man." The phrase, "this man," shows the total lack of respect they had for Jesus. In other words the Sanhedrin was saying, "Don't you understand that this man was a blasphemer and we acted according to the Holy Scriptures, according to law? It was well within our legal rights to put him to death, and we did, thinking we were doing God a service. But now you are trying to tell everyone that we did wrong, and you are trying to bring the blood of this man upon our heads."
Were the apostles unfairly blaming the Jews for Christ's death? No. In Matthew 27:24 we read, "When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. 'I am innocent of this man's blood,' he said. 'It is your responsibility!'" Pilate was telling the crowd they were the ones who were guilty, and they understood it. And in verse 25 we read, "All the people answered, 'Let his blood be on us and upon our children.'"
Obeying God, Not Man
"All right," the Sanhedrin was saying, "We gave you strict orders, but you have shown contempt of court by continuing to preach and teach about Jesus Christ. What do you have to say for yourselves?" The apostles' answer was very clear. In Acts 5:29 they replied, "We must obey God rather than men!" They had no option: they must obey God!
Jesus Christ gave them a command in Matthew 28:19-20, "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." The apostles were to obey the Lord and teach everybody else to obey him as well. Why? He is the Lord of the universe. It is a divine necessity.
Peter spoke about this obedience in 1 Peter 1:2 when he wrote in reference to God's people, "who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit for obedience to Jesus Christ." In 1 Peter 1:14 we read, "As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance," and in 1 Peter 1:22, "Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth. . ." We must be obedient to Jesus Christ.
What about Paul? In Romans 1 he tells us about this whole idea of obedience. In verse 5 we read, "Through him and for his name's sake, we have received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith."
We have no choice: We must obey God. Americans don't like the idea of obedience, but as Christians we have no other option. Jesus Christ is the Sovereign Lord of the universe.
The Gospel Message
What else did the apostles tell the Sanhedrin? In Acts 5:30 we read, "The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead--whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree." The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, the God of Moses, the God of David-- the God of the covenant--raised Jesus from the dead, whom they had caused to suffer a shameful death.
Remember, the Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection, heaven, hell or any of these things. But the apostles continued, "God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior," and then they explained the purpose of the incarnation of Christ, the work of Christ, the suffering and death of Christ on the cross, the burial of Christ, the resurrection of Christ, and the exaltation of Christ. What was the grand purpose of the work of God in Christ? "That he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel," which included the members of the Sanhedrin.
In other words, the apostles were declaring, "You are Israelites, aren't you, members of the Sanhedrin? Don't you understand what is happening? The God of our fathers raised Jesus Christ, whom you killed, from the dead, and exalted him. He made him Savior and King for the singular purpose of giving us repentance and forgiveness of sins."
That is evangelism. The Sanhedrin's threat could not shut the mouths of these apostles. Even as they stood in the midst of those who had threatened and rebuked them for preaching in the name of Jesus, the apostles were boldly declaring, "All Israel, including you, must repent and receive forgiveness through Jesus Christ."
What is repentance? A gift from God. Now, this idea of a gift does not mean God is giving you time to repent. When the Bible speaks about the gift of repentance, it means that he gives you grace, which is powerful enough to make you repent by forsaking all your sins and following Jesus Christ. That is what gift of repentance is. It is not God saying, "I want to give you a little time, and you can decide to repent or not." No. When God gives you repentance, it means you will repent because his powerful grace cause you to repent. Additionally, God will grant you forgiveness of all sins. That is Christian salvation.
I grew up in India among Hindus who believe in karma. The Hindu religion doesn't have a concept of forgiveness because karma means every act works out its own consequence inexorably, leaving no room for forgiveness. That is why we must preach the gospel to the Hindus as well as to Moslems and everyone else, because only Christianity offers forgiveness of all one's sins through Jesus Christ.
Preaching Results in Pain
Did the members of the Sanhedrin repent? No. In fact, in Acts 5:33 we find their reaction: "When they heard this, they were furious." That word "furious," diaprio3, actually means they were were cut into two, they were sawn asunder.
Now, you and I would suppose that those who are being sawn asunder would soon repent because of the great pain they are experiencing. But this was not the pain of repentance and conviction; it was the pain of their pride being hurt. It was a pain that damned them, unlike the pain the crowd felt in Acts 2:37. When that crowd heard the words of the apostles, three thousand of them were cut in their hearts and experienced piercing pain as they became conscious of their sins. That pain caused the crowd to cry out to the apostles, "What must we do to be saved?" and Peter told them, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved."
Pain is not an unusual reaction to the preaching of the gospel. Many people experience all kinds of pain when they hear the word of God. But the issue is, does the pain cause you to believe in Jesus Christ? Do you repent of your sins, forsake them, and trust in Jesus Christ savingly? If not, all that pain is meaningless.
The members of the Sanhedrin were furious, sawn asunder, when they heard the apostles' words, but they did not repent. We see the same word in Acts 7:54 where we find the Sanhedrin's response to Stephen's sermon. When they heard Stephen's words, they became furious also, but did they repent? No, they stoned Stephen to death.
The members of the Sanhedrin were furious and wanted to kill the apostles, but they could not. Why? Jesus Christ is Lord of the universe and of his church, and no one can kill his people unless he decides their work on earth is done.
At that point a man named Gamaliel stood up and addressed the Sanhedrin. Gamaliel was a doctor of law and a Pharisee, the grandson of the great liberal rabbi Hillel and the president of the school of Hillel in Jerusalem. He was known as "Rabban," which was a term of great honor. Rabbi means "my teacher, but rabban means "our teacher." Highly educated and well-respected, Gamaliel was also known as the teacher of a proud fellow from Cilicia, Saul of Tarsus. God told this man Gamaliel to stand up and tell the Sanhedrin, "Don't kill the apostles." This respected scholar was raised up by God to spare the apostles from death at this time.
Then Gamaliel cited events from recent history to make his case. In essence he told the Sanhedrin, "Don't worry about these people. Just wait and see what happens! Don't you remember Theudas, who claimed to be a messiah? Many people joined him but when he was killed, his people dispersed, and nothing came of it. What about the man from the Golan Heights in Galilee, Judas, who came on the scene in 6 A.D. at the time of the great taxation? He didn't want to pay taxes to foreigners, saying he acknowledged God's authority alone, and many people joined with him in his revolt. In fact, there are Zealots among us today who are his intellectual descendants. But Judas was killed too, and nothing came of him. So wait and see. If this movement is of men, it will surely come to nothing. But if it is of God, you will not be able to stop these men. In fact, you will find yourselves fighting against God himself." And if you are a Greek scholar, you will read in verse 39 ei with the indicative, meaning Gamaliel began to realize that this movement was truly of God.
Gamaliel told the Sanhedrin, "If it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God," which in the Greek is theomachoi or God-fighters. The speech of this great scholar persuaded the Sanhedrin, as we read in verse 40, so they called in the apostles and had them flogged before releasing them.
Suffering for the Sake of Christ
The Sanhedrin had been asked to repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, but they refused. Why? God had not granted them repentance. But before they released the apostles, the Sanhedrin had them flogged.
This was the first time the apostles were physically assaulted for the sake of the gospel, but the Lord Jesus Christ spoke about this kind of suffering in Mathew 10:17 when he said, "Be on your guard against men; they will hand you over to the local councils and flog you in their synagogues."
What did it mean to be flogged? "Floggings were administered with a whip made of calfskin on the bare upper body of the offender--one-third of the lashes being given on the breast and the other two-thirds on the back. The offender stood in a bowed position with the one administering the beating on a stone above him and the blows were accompanied by the recital of admonitory and consolatory verses from Scripture" (H. Cohn, "Flogging," Encyclopedia Judaica, vol. 6, p. 1350, cited by Simon J. Kistemaker, New Testament Commentary: Exposition of the Acts of the Apostles [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1995] 214). In Deuteronomy 25 we read that the number of lashes should not exceed forty, and in 2 Corinthians 11:24 the apostle Paul tells us that he received from the Jews beatings like this five times, for a total of one hundred and ninety-five lashes.
What do you think the Sanhedrin told the apostles as they were flogged? "Don't you ever preach or teach in the name of Jesus of Nazareth again! He was a blasphemer--remember? We had to take legal action against him and hang him on a tree because he was so accursed. Why tell people about him? Straighten up your lives and stop, or it will get much worse!" The apostles heard this over and over again as each one's body was lacerated with the thirty-nine stripes on his bare breast and back.
In Acts 5:40 we read, "They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus and let them go." Did the apostles go home, disheartened and discouraged about ever opening their mouths again about Jesus? No. In verse 41 we read, "The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name."
That is the Christian difference. Even though the apostles had received thirty-nine beatings, they were rejoicing. That is not a natural reaction. It is unnatural; in fact, it is supernatural, and this reaction to suffering is the Christian difference. "We also rejoice in our sufferings," Paul wrote in Romans 5:3.
In Hebrews 11:24-26 we read about Moses "By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh's daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt because he was looking ahead to his reward." Moses also showed the Christian difference, choosing disgrace and suffering for the sake of Christ.
The apostles rejoiced because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for Christ. I am sure they were telling themselves, "Praise God, he has chosen us to suffer for his name!" Suffering for the sake of the Lord brings glory to any Christian. Whenever the world mocks us, calls us fools, and disgraces us, we can praise God that such treatment demonstrates that we belong to God, not to the world.
In Philippians 3:10-11 Paul wrote, "I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead." God has given us grace not only to believe but also to suffer for his name. If we suffer with him, we shall reign with him. Suffering is part of a Christian's calling and we should consider it as a great honor and glory if we suffer for the sake of Christ.
Persecution Promotes Preaching
In Acts 5:42 we read the result of the Sanhedrin's persecution of the apostles: "Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ." After they were released from the Sanhedrin, the apostles went straight to the temple courts and started proclaiming the truth. Even though they had been flogged and warned not to speak in Christ's name, they were not afraid or ashamed. Why? God's Holy Spirit came upon them.
In his commentary on the book of Acts, R. Kent Hughes tells the story of Aida Skripnikova, a Russian girl who was born in 1941 in Leningrad. "In the fall of 1961 Aida came to know Christ as a nineteen-year-old, and with her new faith came the impulse to share it with others. Aida purchased some postcards with a beautiful picture by Claude Lorain representing a harbor at sunrise, (chosen perhaps as a symbol of the spiritual sunrise she had discovered) and then wrote a poem on the reverse side. The poem expressed her perception of life and the need to find God. The poem was entitled: 'Happy New Year! 1962.'"
Our years fly past
One after another, unnoticed.
Grief and sadness disappear,
They are carried away by life.
This world, the earth, is so transient
Everything in it comes to an end.
Life is important.
Don't be happy-go-lucky!
What answer will you give your creator?
What awaits you, my friend, beyond the grave?
Answer this question while light remains.
Perhaps tomorrow, before God,
You will appear to give an answer for everything.
Think deeply about this,
For you are not on this earth forever.
Perhaps tomorrow, you will break
Forever your links with this world!
SEEK GOD WHILE HE IS TO BE FOUND.
"Aida then took her postcards and stood on the Nevski Prospect (which is the Leningrad equivalent of Fifth Avenue in New York City) and handed out her cards to passersby. She was, of course, arrested. In April 1962 she was tried by a Communist court. She was exiled from Leningrad and lost her job as a lab assistant. She was arrested again in 1965 and was sent to a labor camp for a year. In 1968 she was arrested again and was sent to a labor camp for three more years" (R. Kent Hughes, Acts: The Church Afire, [Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1996], 86-87).
What do you think inspired Aida Skripnikova? Perhaps she had read the fifth chapter of the book of Acts and been struck by what the angel told the apostles after he delivered them from prison, "Go, stand in the temple courts and tell the people the full message of this new life." Perhaps she took note of how the apostles were arrested, tried, and flogged, but on their release they went right back to the temple courts and "never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ."
Let me assure you, no man can stop us from preaching the gospel. No man, even in countries where Christians are being persecuted and even killed. Why? There are four reasons: 1) we have been made alive; 2) we have the Holy Scriptures, the very word of God; 3) we have the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the third Person of the Trinity, ever animating us, instructing us, encouraging us, and strengthening us, and; 4) we have the holy angels who are sent to minister to every child of God, delivering, encouraging, guiding, and directing us.
Persecution promotes preaching, and we should never be ashamed of preaching the gospel. Why? Because it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes. And what is the gospel? It is that Christ Jesus died on the cross, bearing our sin and suffering its penalty as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. This Jesus is now freely offers us total salvation. He alone can make sinners sons of God and brings them to his banqueting table to feast on the riches of Christ.
When people hear the gospel, only one of two things will happen: Either they will repent and receive Christ, or they will reject him, refuse him, and be damned. The gospel is the fragrance of life but it is also the smell of death. The moment you hear the gospel, you must make a decision either to receive or to reject, and it shall be recorded in the courts of heaven.
The Example of Saul
In the Sanhedrin at the time was a young fellow named Saul, a graduate of the university of Tarsus and of the school of Hillel in Jerusalem. Saul was probably the most brilliant student Gamaliel had ever taught, but he paid no attention to the counsel his teacher gave that the Jewish authorities should leave the apostles alone.
In Acts 8:3 we read, "Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them into prison." And in Acts 22:19 we are told that he saw to it these Christians were flogged after he had arrested them.
But as he was traveling to Damascus to further persecute Christians, something happened to Saul, as we read in Acts 26. The Lord Jesus Christ himself arrested and appeared to Saul. "Who are you, Lord?" Saul asked. "'I am Jesus whom you are persecuting,' the Lord replied. 'Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen of me and what I will show you. I will rescue you from your people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me" (Acts 26:15-18).
The Lord himself appeared to this animal called Saul of Tarsus. I say "animal" because we read in Acts 9 that Saul was breathing out slaughter and threatening against the Lord's people. But God arrested him, told him to stand up, and appointed him to go and declare the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.
May We Proclaim the Gospel!
If we are Christians, that is our commission too. Therefore, let us get up, stand on our feet, go out to the public square and proclaim the gospel. Why? We have been given new life in Christ. We have been given the truth of the Bible, the full message of this new life. We have been given the Holy Spirit. God's holy angels are watching over us and we have surrendered ourselves to Jesus Christ, the Sovereign Lord of the universe and the Head of the church. And Jesus himself said he would build his church and the gates of hell will never prevail against it. No Satan and no persecution can stop us.
Remember the four lepers we mentioned earlier? They were dying of leprosy and hunger, but all of a sudden they were surrounded by food, drink and anything they could want. What did they say? "It is not right for us to enjoy this and not tell anyone." They returned to the city and shared the good news with those who were suffering from famine.
Do you value eternal life you have received in Christ? Do you glory in the fellowship you have with God? In the public square you will see dead people all around, and the only way they can be brought to life is through the preaching of the gospel. As it was not right for the lepers not to share their good news, it is not right if we who have the treasure of the gospel do not share it with others. We must rise, get on our feet, go to the public square and proclaim the good news of forgiveness of sins and eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. This is the purpose of our lives.
May God help us to not be intimidated by the world, by Satan, or by the apostate church. May we consider disgrace glory and rejoice when we suffer on account of Christ. May God's Holy Spirit come upon us and fill us with such power that we may rise, stand, go and declare the full message of new life in the public square of life. And may we have the joy of seeing the dead raised and saved for eternity through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
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Copyright © 1998, P. G. Mathew
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