Historians tell us that just looking early on the life of the church in the first decade of the church’s life, there are at least five outbreaks of persecution, just in one decade. It all starts in the Jerusalem church, and you can open your Bible to Acts 4 because that’s where it begins. Here in Acts 4 is the first persecution of the church. The church, at best, is weeks, weeks old, brand new believers.
If we think a little beyond that, and let’s take a look at the first three centuries, let’s say, of church history. Historians like to point out ten separate eras of severe persecution of major proportions coming from the dominant power in the world. We know what happened in those early years in the book of Acts, and we’re going to live it together. We know about what begins here in chapter 4 and escalates in chapter 8, and again passes through the death of James and the death of Stephen. We have all of that record, but it didn’t slow down after that. The first official Roman persecution; now we’re getting beyond the Jews.
It’s Jewish persecution that you see in the first part of the book of Acts, but in the latter part of the book of Acts, it’s Roman persecution. It’s in the gentile and Roman world. The first great persecutor was Nero, and that commences about A.D. 67, and punishments for Christians are bizarre. They were sewed in the skins of animals, and then fed to hungry dogs. They were drenched in wax and then lit as torches to light parties.
The next persecution following Nero came from Domitian, and Domitian used the rack to literally separate their body parts. They were seared. They were burned. They were boiled. They were scourged. They were stoned. They were hanged. They were lacerated with hot irons. They were literally impaled on the horns of bulls.
The fourth persecution if we jump ahead a little bit around 162 A.D., beheadings start to appear. The eighth persecution out of, let’s say, the ten, the first 300 years, we see 300 Christians in one group thrown alive into a burning lime kiln to be incinerated.
Persecution went on after that, and it’s always around because Satan, who is the god of this world, the prince of the power of the air, the ruler of the spiritual powers that reign in the darkness of this fallen culture is always after those who confess Christ genuinely. But as we come to Acts 4, let’s back up from all of that. We come to the first persecution commencing the long pattern of satanically-inspired hatred of Christ, hatred of the Bible, hatred of the gospel, hatred of Christians, hatred of the church that has reached a point today where as many as 100 million, at least professing Christians, are under persecution.
Now, admittedly, there are seasons when it is less and seasons when it is more; seasons when it is deadly and other seasons when it is only social. There are seasons when Christianity is tolerated and when it’s not tolerated. There are times when persecution is psychological and times when it’s absolutely lethal. There are times when it’s simply disdain and rejection. But whatever form it takes, there is always going to be persecution because Satan hates God, Satan hates Christ, Satan hates Christians. The kingdom of darkness hates the kingdom of light.
Persecution may be overt, as overt as chopping someone’s head off or blowing someone to bits with a bomb. Persecution may be as subtle, as very subtle as just shunning someone, alienating them, being unwilling to give them respect or a job or an academic position or social acceptance. Persecution today follows those lines in our country, but it has an effect. It has an effect.
I think often we’d be better off if somebody was killing Christians because the real Christians would stand up in that environment. Our Lord said, “The time will come when they imprison you and kill you. Don’t worry about it. When that time comes, you’ll know how to react and exactly what to say because the Holy Spirit will show you what to say. Not only that, the Holy Spirit will strengthen you in that hour because you have a faith that cannot fail. You have a faith that will not fail.”
True believers survive the physical persecution, but Christians easily crumble under the social alienation, which very often produces a compromise that steals their testimony and weakens the church as it endeavors to accommodate the hostility of the world.
I mean this is everywhere all the time going on in our culture. In the culture of the West, the non-lethal persecution that comes against the church in our time, it doesn’t kill us. It just makes us compromise. We fail to preach the truth because we don’t want to be rejected. We don’t want the scorn. We don’t want the rebellion and the resistance. We don’t want the animosity. We don’t want to be look at as some kind of pariah, some kind of outcast. But in the early church, it was real physical persecution on top of alienation.
The early church, you remember now, had exploded onto the world’s scene. There never was a church before the Day of Pentecost. It was born on the Day of Pentecost, and we remember it was born when 3,000 people heard the gospel preached and believed and continued in the apostle’s doctrine of prayer, the breaking of bread, and fellowship. And then daily more and more being added to the church. It all was captive in the sense that everyone who professed Christ was a real Christian. They were captive to Christ, as Paul talks about in 2 Corinthians to bring every thought captive to Christ. It was a captive church.
They were all real believers, and where did they meet? They didn’t have a building. They met in of all places, the temple. They just went to the temple, the massive courtyard in the temple, and we find them, as we come into chapter 3, with Peter and John in the porch of Solomon, which was one of the great colonnades that had a covering over it in the temple area.
They gathered there. They gathered there in the afternoon at the official time of the evening sacrifice, the time of the hour of prayer, chapter 3, verse 1, the ninth hour, and you remember what happened. Peter and John heal a man who was lame, who has been a beggar at the gate for years and years if not decades. Everybody knew the man. They all knew he was lame, and all of the sudden, the man leaps up, verse 8, stands upright, begins to walk, enters the temple, walking, leaping, praising God. And all the people saw him walking and praising God and they noted that this is the one who used to sit at the beautiful gate of the temple to beg alms. They were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him. And while he was still clinging to Peter and John, as a living illustration of the power of the living Christ, all the people gathered to them as the so-called porch of Solomon full of amazement. And we know what happened; Peter preached the second great sermon in the book of Acts.
He preaches a powerful message, and as all apostolic messages, he preaches on Jesus Christ, who He is, what He did, that He died, and that He rose again, and he indicts, he indicts the Jews for killing the Messiah. Peter did it on the Day of Pentecost in chapter 2. He does it again in chapter 3, and in chapter 2 in the first sermon he says, “Repent, repent, and believe.” This one in chapter 3, it’s the same thing. “Repent and believe, repent and return,” as he says in chapter 3, verse 19.
Then he explains what will happen if they do. Their sins will be forgiven. The kingdom will come. The Messiah one day will return for them in glory. Judgment will be avoided, and all covenant blessings will be realized. So he preaches in Acts 2, an evangelistic sermon. Three thousand people are converted, and then more and more added to the church every day as apostolic preaching goes on. And then this great sermon in chapter 3, and the results are remarkable. Chapter 4, verse 4, “Many of those who heard the message believed, and the number of the men came to be about 5,000.” Five thousand men, and this is just counting men.
The term for men – there are two words that can be used to speak of a man. One in anthrōpos, but that’s generic and that can be used for mankind. We talk like that. We use the word man in a generic sense. This is not that word. This is andrōs, which means males as opposed to females. So, there were 5,000 males. That is distinct from females. That is to say there were 5,000 males who believed. We don’t know how many other women believed. This is explosive.
Now, the church is not just a novelty. Now the church is a massive threat to the Jewish system. You can’t have 10,0000, 15,000, 20,000, who knows, people congregating inside the temple courtyard in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, whom they had just crucified, the religious establishment had crucified as an imposter and a false Messiah.
You can’t have that going on in the temple. I mean this is a crushing blow. This is in reality worse than when Jesus came into the temple and threw everybody out, and He did that at the beginning and the end of His ministry. This is far worse than that. So they have to react, and they do. They react in chapter 4 with persecution. Let’s look at verse 1, “And as they were speaking to the people,” which means this is not just Peter preaching. Peter preached a great sermon, but the rest of the apostles and the rest of the believers. And as I told you back in chapter 2, there were 3,000 who had believed on the Day of Pentecost, 3,000 souls; but on this day, there are thousands more gathered. Thousands are gathered because 5,000 men plus women believed. This is astonishing, astonishing and by believing, they are condemning the Jewish leaders that executed Jesus; and they’re condemning them in their own temple.
It’s a stunning reality, and this is what launches 2,000 years of hatred, hostility, and persecution. Temple authorities must do something. So as they’re speaking to the people, not just Peter, but all the other believers and the apostles. And they’re talking about Christ and His death and the fact that He was the Messiah and fulfilled the Old Testament, and then talking about His resurrection; and so the priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to them. The priests, those are the ones who officiated at all the temple sacrifices.
There were 24 courses of priests, meaning 24 groups of priests. Each group served for 2 weeks at the temple. They were from all over the land of Israel. They were priests leaving all over everywhere in the land of Israel, and each priest would serve 2 weeks a year in the temple offering sacrifices in the morning and the evening. And so these were the priests who were officiating at the time. They composed the first little core of opposers to this massive gathering in the name of Jesus of Nazareth.
And then you can throw in the temple guard, the captain of the temple guard, the Sagan was his title. He was the head of the temple police. This is police. The temple was policed very carefully. If there’s one thing Rome demanded as the occupying power, it was order. It was order. Rome was a very tolerant master, and gave a lot of space to the nations that it conquered, and that’s why it did so well in running an empire made up of disparate groups. But the one thing they didn’t tolerate was disorder, and, of course, the one thing that the leaders of the temple operation didn’t tolerate was disorder. And so there were temple police, and then there were the Sadducees.
The Sadducees were the minority religious party, who ran the entire temple operation. The priests worked under their leadership. Now, they were a religious group. They were a religious sect. They only believed that the Pentateuch, the five books of Moses was inspired by God, and the rest of the Old Testament was just commentary on the Pentateuch. Since there was nothing in the Pentateuch about resurrection, they didn’t believe in resurrection. We’ve talked about that.
But they were the operating power and authority in the temple. The priests were the functionaries who carried out the temple operation, week in, week out, day in, day out. The temple police provided the security, and the Sadducees were over all of this. They desperately wanted to keep control of everything because it was to their benefic economically and because if there was peace there, they didn’t get in trouble with the Romans.
So this is the contingent that comes to call a halt to this. Verse 2 describes their attitude, “Being greatly disturbed.” That’s putting it mildly. That is a very strong word, a very strong word. That word occurs only one other place, and that’s in the Book of Acts. “Being greatly disturbed.” And that one other place is chapter 16, verse 18 where it describes Paul’s attitude when he saw a woman at Philippi under the power of an evil spirit, and he was greatly disturbed. You remember that? The woman comes at him. The demon spirit speaks, and Paul, greatly disturbed, silences that demon in Philippi.
This is a strong word. They are troubled. It’s the kind of trouble, it’s the kind of mental anguish that comes to someone who is profoundly agitated by what’s going on; and they were profoundly agitated. What irritated them? Number one, because they were teaching the people. They were teaching the people. You say, “Why would that bother them?” Because they were usurping the authority of those who were the teachers. It would be like you showing up today at a Jewish temple with about 10,000 Christian friends, and launching a class in New Testament theology. That’s not going to go well. You’re not official. You’re not invited. This isn’t your place.
The priests and the leaders, they were the official teachers. They were the ones who had the prerogative, and the ones that they affirmed, the ones that they validated. This is highly disturbing that they were teaching the people, especially, notice down in verse 13. You can look at it now. We won’t get there tonight. “They observed the confidence of Peter and John, understood that they were uneducated and untrained.”
Now, those are actually kind of technical terms. They were unlearned. That is, they hadn’t been trained in the law in the sacred writings. They weren’t versed in Jewish theology. They were ignorant of Sadduceean theology. They were ignorant of Pharisaic theology as well. They hadn’t been to the proper schools. They were common men. They weren’t professionals. They were amateurs. They were out of line. Ignorant Galileans, who have stepped into the world of the educated and the wise and usurped the role of teacher right in the temple and teaching doctrine that they had condemned about a man they had killed.
I like these people. I like this early church. I like Peter and John. It bugged them, first of all, that they taught, and then it bugged them what they taught. Go back to verse 2. They were not only teaching the people, but what they were teaching was equally disturbing. They were proclaiming in Jesus. Let’s stop there. They were preaching Jesus. This is a full open public repudiation of the authority of the entire Sanhedrin because the Sanhedrin unanimously had condemned Jesus to death as an imposter. Here, we find that they had taken a position that fully rejects the authority of the Sanhedrin, from the high priest down through the supreme court of Israel. They are proclaiming Jesus.
That they taught was disturbing. What they taught was more disturbing. And specifically, the third thing that irritated them; they were not only proclaiming Jesus, but that He had risen from the dead. This is their message. That’s what Peter preached in the first sermon on Pentecost, chapter 2, verse 24. He preached the resurrection and he gave an exposition of Psalm 16. That’s what he preached in chapter 3, verse 15. He preached the resurrection. “You put to death the Prince of Life. God raised Him from the dead, and we are witnesses.”
This is especially objectionable to the powers of the temple, who are the Sadducees because they don’t believe in resurrection. So they’re teaching; they’re teaching about Jesus, and they’re saying He has risen from the dead. And thousands of people are congregating around to listen to this. The word is spreading. Thousands are believing, and the leaders are terrified that they’re about to lose their power. So what are they going to do? Well, verse 3, “They laid hands on them.” That means to arrest them. It doesn’t mean they patted them on the back. “They arrested them and put them in jail until the next day.” This would be Peter and John, the leaders, the preachers. “Put them in jail until the next day, for it was already evening.”
So they had shown up there at the ninth hour. That’s what chapter 3, verse 1 says, and during that three hour period before they were arrested, they had been preaching Jesus crucified, risen from the dead. For three hours, Peter and John had been in the temple. From the time of the evening sacrifice and evening prayer at 3:00 until dark really, they had been preaching, and it had been very effective.
Verse 4, “Many of those who had heard the message, believed. And the number of the men came to be about 5,000.” If you count the women, maybe 10,000, maybe more. Who knows? They were having an effect. Thousands of people converted, genuinely converted. These are pseudo-conversions. These aren’t people who raise their hand. These are people who were regenerated by the Holy Spirit. This is more than the enemy of men’s souls can tolerate. This is more than false religion can tolerate, and so the persecution begins.
But I said a minute ago and I say it again, it’s good. It’s good because it purifies. The threat of death, the cross, death, martyrdom keeps false believers away. We see that later in chapter 5 where nobody dared joined the church because you could die. Persecution manifested in those first 4 verses. Now, the rest of the chapter we see how they handled that persecution, and what I want to share with you tonight, at least in our opening message is to go down at least to maybe verse 12 in the next half hour, and just to show you the practical ways in which those early believers faced this persecution. Really practical.
If we live godly in this world, we’ll suffer persecution, but we can look at several simple principles that play out in this incredible drama of these baby Christians, only a few weeks in the Lord and see where they placed their feet to stand firmly in such a threatening environment. I’ll give you a few of them tonight. Number one, they were submissive to the persecution. They were submissive to the persecution. I mean that’s basic. That’s very basic.
Let me read verse 5, “On the next day, after they had been in jail all night, their rulers and elders and scribes were gathered together in Jerusalem. And Annas, the high priest, was there and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of high-priestly descent. When they had placed them in the center, they began to inquire, ‘By what power or in what name have you done this?’”
Now, this is an argument from silence at this point. There is no resistance. There is no resistance. It’s just remarkable to me. There’s no resistance. They laid hands on them. They put them in jail, took them out of jail, brought them before the Sanhedrin, sat them down in the middle. No protest. No resistance. No fighting back. They don’t call for arms.
I think Jesus had made it pretty clear that was not the way to go when He shut down Peter’s effort to whack his way through everybody with a sword. They literally ended up in the Sanhedrin, at the Sanhedrin.
Now, the Sanhedrin sat in a circle. There were 70 members and the 71st member, who would always have the deciding vote if there was a deadlock; there would always be an odd guy to make the final vote, and that was the high priest. So you had 70 regular members plus the high priest. This is the official supreme court of Israel again, the tribunal before which Jesus stood. It’s made up of priests and scribes and elders, people of priestly families. These are the bluebloods. These are the officials, the officers, the people of power.
Verse 6 points to specific characters. There was Annas, the high priest. He was the senior ex-high priest, but like a former president in America, we still call them president, even though they are not in office. Annas still bore the title high priest. He was the power behind everybody. You remember when Jesus was first taken to trial, He went to Annas first. He was a Sadducee, and then there was Caiaphas. Caiaphas was the current high priest, and by the way, the Romans appointed the high priest. So in order to be the high priest, you had to be complicit with Rome. Well, you had to be a betrayer of your own people to some degree. Caiaphas also was the son-in-law of Annas. He had married Annas’ daughter. Caiaphas is the President of the Sanhedrin.
Then there are two named John and Alexander, two important men who belonged to the high priestly family. Some say Alexander is a Greek form of Eleazar – again, that familiar name, the name of Lazarus – who was also a son of Annas and certain manuscripts read Jonathan for John. Annas also had a son named Jonathan. So there’s a lot of oligarchy in the middle of this power structure. This is family rule. It’s an august group, the Jerusalem VIPs. And here in the middle of this august powerful group are Peter and John, representative of the Christians and the trouble-makers because they’re the preachers. So they put them in the middle.
They usually assembled in the precincts of the temple in a place called the Hall of Hewn Stone, and they would place the accused in the center, and they would fire the accusations. What a great opportunity. If you sat in a back room somewhere and said, “The people on the Sanhedrin are lost and on their way to hell; they need to hear the gospel,” how would you pull that off? Well, probably the only way you would be able to give the gospel to the entire Sanhedrin would be to get arrested and be put on trial. So, just another footnote to remind you that persecution benefits the church because it develops a courtroom ministry that leads to a jail ministry.
What an opportunity! How would two Galilean guys, Peter and John, ever hope to be speaking to the most august body in Israel? And they give them an opportunity. They ask the set up questions. “By what power or in what name have you done this?” Perfect. They couldn’t have asked a better question because that’s exactly what they want to talk about. “By what power?” This is a contemptuous question suggesting some magical power. “And in what name? By whose authority?” All authority rested in them in their minds. Where do you get this power? And by what authority have you usurped this temple, this sacred place with your heresies?
The first thing I see here is the submission that recognizes that even in persecution, God is opening up a door. God is providing an opportunity. God is going to glorify Himself in this situation. There’s a second and necessary response to persecution, and that is to find your strength in the Holy Spirit. This should be obvious to all of us. Please notice verse 8, “Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit.” You can stop right there. If you’re in that situation, you want the Holy Spirit in control, right? You don’t want to be mumbling something about your own impressions and your own ideas.
How do you become filled with the Holy Spirit? That’s the default position for a humble, broken, selfless, weak, impotent believer in a dire situation. You just abandon all trust in yourself. It’s when you’re weak that you become – what? Strong. It’s simply yielding up to the control of the Holy Spirit. “Holy Spirit, empower me. Holy Spirit, do what Jesus said would happen. Give me words to say.” Here’s the tribunal that He promised in the upper room. When He said, “Don’t worry about that event. I’ll tell you what to say. I’ll show you what to say.” Yield yourself to the Holy Spirit. This is about faith. This is about trust. Don’t be fearful.
What did we see this morning when the disciples didn’t want to go back to Judea because they were afraid Jesus would be killed, and they’d be killed with Him. And He gives them a little proverb, “Twelve hours in a day and then comes night,” and you can’t do anything to lengthen the day. You can’t do anything to shorten the day. That’s fixed. Your enemies can’t do anything to shorten the day that God has given you to minister in His name, and your pursuit of safety can’t do anything to lengthen it. Yield to the Spirit. This is a providence that they are there. They know that. This is a providence that they are there. They want to make sure that the Spirit of God is in control.
So they back up to what I would call the spiritual default position. This is beyond me. This is beyond my capability. This is beyond my power. This is beyond my wisdom. This is beyond my control. Oh God, empower me by your Spirit. Lead me, guide me, help me to say what you want me to say.
There’s a third – and I want to camp on this a little bit – third response, and this I think is most important. First, be submissive because this is all a providence within the will of God in God’s purpose and in God’s time and in God’s way. Be filled with the Holy Spirit. Yield completely to the Holy Spirit and to His power and wisdom. Thirdly, boldly proclaim the gospel. Boldly proclaim the gospel.
That’s a little counterintuitive because your life is on the line. They probably could have been dismissed if Peter had said, “You know what, guys, we’re so sorry. We didn’t have a permit. We didn’t get the permit to take over the temple. We’re really sorry we messed with the ambiance. We’re sorry we tampered with you there, so I’ll tell you what. There’s some really nice spots in the hillside. We’ll just kind of go there and we won’t be a problem. We just won’t talk about the resurrection in Jerusalem. We’ll find another strategy so that we can be accepted in the city and so that we can be embraced by the community because we don’t want to alienate everybody or we lose everything.”
I think that strategy has been reinvented and reinvented and reinvented throughout the history of the church in one way or another. They don’t do that. When they’re filled with the Holy Spirit, they’ve yielded up. The Holy Spirit’s message is going to come out and the Holy Spirit’s message, we know what that is. It’s revealed in Scripture to us.
So Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit said to them, “Rulers, elders of the people.” He’s just in charge. “Rulers, elders of the people, if we are on trial today for a benefit done to a sick man as to how this man has been made well, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ, the Nazarene whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by this name, this man stands before you in good health. He is the stone which was rejected by you, the builders, but which became the chief cornerstone and there is salvation in no one else for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.”
Whoa! This is the third point, boldly preach the gospel in the face of persecution. Of course, you understand what’s at stake, what’s at issue. Not only do you preach the gospel, but what I love about it is you preach the – are you ready? – exclusivity of the gospel after you’ve indicted them.
The indictment comes. “If we are on trial today for a benefit,” a good deed, “done to a sick man.” Just to remind you that you’re calling us to this tribunal for doing a good deed to a sick man. If you’ve arrested us for a good deed, this is an unjust court, right? If that’s the reason we’re here, this is an unjust arrest.
So, first, he indicts his indicters. This is boldness. But if that’s why you’re indicting us, “If that’s why we’re here because we did a good deed for a sick man and made this man well, then let it be known to you, all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ, the Nazarene, whom you crucified.” And the “you” is emphatic here. Not the Romans, you. “Whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by this name, this man stands here before you in good health.”
If we’re here, first of all, unjustly for doing good, then let me tell you by what power we did that good and by what authority. We did it by the name, the authority, the power of Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ. What does Christ mean? Messiah, the Messiah, your own Messiah’s power, your own Messiah. Jesus the Nazarene is your own Messiah. It is by His power, which they know very well. Why? Because he spent His whole life doing what? Miracles. And he raised Lazarus from the dead, and they all knew about that because it was that resurrection of Lazarus after he had been dead four days that precipitated their executing Him.
So Peter accuses the Sanhedrin of the killing of their own Messiah, and indicts them for being far from God, far from God. The very Messiah that you killed is the stone which was rejected by you, the builders, which became the chief cornerstone. They sentenced Jesus to death. They killed their own Messiah. That is a constant message. We heard it in chapter 2. We heard it in chapter 3. We hear it again in chapter 4. We’re going to hear it again in chapter 5. No punches are pulled.
Chapter 5, verse 30, “The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a cross.” You killed Him, chapter 2. You killed Him, chapter 3. You killed Him, chapter 4. You killed him, chapter 5. In the face of the most severe persecution, there’s no tamping down the message. Why? Because sinners have to be indicted for their crimes. They must repent if they are to be saved, and that’s where he comes in verse 12, “And there is salvation.” There is. You see how that verse begins? “And there is salvation,” for even you. There is salvation.
Yes, as he quotes Psalm 118:22, “”You have rejected the stone, which has become the chief cornerstone of the kingdom.” Yes, Messiah is the chief cornerstone of the spiritual temple of the apostles and prophets that Ephesians talks about; but there is salvation, however. There is salvation in what? No one else.
Sometimes that’s hard to say, particularly, in a religious environment. Could you walk into a house of false religion and say, “You, have rejected the only Savior? You must repent. There is salvation only in Jesus Christ”? Could you announce that to a synagogue congregation? Could you announce that in a mosque? That’s what they did in the most sacred building one could argue in the world. The point is simple. You asked us by what authority and in what name we did this? It is in the name of the one you killed, God raised, who is now alive, and it is by Him and His power that this man was healed. What is that saying? Jesus is not dead. He is what? He is alive, and there is salvation in no one else.
That’s the exclusivity of the gospel. It’s so disturbing to me how many times I hear professing Christian people, even ministers want to somehow soften that exclusivity up. “Well, who am I to say who God will accept? I don’t know. That’s up to Him, not me.” People say silly things like that, heretical things like that to make money. Peter knew is life was on the line. So did John, and they wouldn’t say that. “There is salvation in no one else for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” We must be saved. We can be saved, but in only one name.
Through the years I’ve preached on this and written on this. No gospel, no salvation. No Christ, no salvation. Apart from Christ and the gospel, no salvation. “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” He said. “No man comes to the Father but by Me.”
In persecution, how do we respond? First, with submission knowing God has a plan and that God is going to open a door even in the persecution and maybe take me to a tribunal that I would otherwise have no access to. Secondly, fall with all your weight and all your weakness on the power of the Holy Spirit and the promise of the Holy Spirit to fill you, empower you, and give you the things to say. Thirdly, this is the one that is most defining, boldly present the gospel. Do not compromise the gospel.
Thinking back to the upper room just in conclusion, in John 15, Jesus said this in verse 18, “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. The slave is not greater than his master. If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they’ll keep yours also. But all these things, they will do to you for My name sake because they don’t know the one who sent Me.” Verse 23, “He who hates Me, hates my Father also.” Then in verse 25, “They hated Me without a cause.”
Verse 16, “These things I’ve spoken to you so that you may be kept from stumbling. They will make you outcasts from the synagogue,” social persecution. “An hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think he is offering service to God. These things, they will do because they have not known the Father or Me. But these things I have spoken to you so that when their hour comes, you may remember what I told you of them. These things I did not say to you at the beginning because I was with you, but now I’m going to Him who sent Me.” I’m leaving, and I’m telling you these things so that you’ll be ready.
He closes that 16th chapter by saying in verse 33, “These things I have spoken to you so that in Me you may have peace. In the world, you have tribulation, but take courage, I have overcome the world.” The worst that can happen to us is that they kill us, and that would be our ultimate triumph, right? If you live a godly life in the world, you will be confronted, and you will likely be persecuted. Submit to that with a gracious attitude. Don’t retaliate. Christians don’t need to get an army and go kill Muslims, and individuals don’t need to return persecution with hatred. They are the mission field, not the enemy. Submit to the Spirit and boldly preach the gospel. Leave the results to God. Well, that’s how it all started. We’ll see next time more about how it goes on.
Father, again, tonight just a real joy for us to be together and think of the testimonies and just singing the songs of praise and testimony as well. We’re so grateful for the fellowship, grateful for these precious folks who are here so faithfully, who are taking in the truth and growing in grace and in the knowledge of Christ. Lord, give them opportunity, even through persecution to speak boldly the gospel.
Give them opportunity through persecution to be able to reach people they otherwise wouldn’t be able to reach. Give us a love that defines your attitude toward your enemies. We’re told by our Lord Jesus to love our enemies because when we do that, we’re like you, our Father. Even people in the world love those that love them. Help us to love even our persecutors.
We think about all of the martyrs of the past. We think about all those credible stories in Fox’s Book of Martyrs when we read of the love of Christians toward their persecutors and the boldness of Christians in the face of death, and the triumph of Christians being filled with the Holy Spirit even in the fires and under the sword. This is our faith. It withstands all of that as we learn in Hebrews 11. It is a triumphant faith. It is a bold faith, and I ask that you would give that triumphant faith and that boldness to Christians all over the world, true believers in Christ who are being persecuted.
Help them to be submissive, see it as an opportunity to advance your church as a purifying reality in your church, as a providential opportunity to give the gospel. Help them to find strength in your Holy Spirit and to boldly preach the gospel no matter what the price. Lord, may we begin to hear testimonies of the impact of persecuted Christians who don’t retaliate, who don’t fight back, but who entrust their souls to a faithful Creator when they’re unjustly persecuted, even as you did Lord when you were unjustly executed and committed yourself to your Father.
We ask, of course, for protection for your gospel, your Word, pastors, leaders, true saints, but at the same time not at the expense of their boldness or of the purity of your church. Do your work in your church to your glory. We are so blessed to be a part of it. We thank you in Christ’s name. Amen.