Pray that We and Our Children Are Ready for Persecution(Matthew 5:10; Acts 5:17-42; 2 Timothy 3:12)
Sunday, September 30, 2018
Praying the Scriptures series
Did you know:
It is illegal to read the Bible in the public schools of Illinois, but a law requires the state to provide a Bible for every convict! Don’t worry, kids, if you can’t read the Bible in school, you’ll be able to when you get to prison!
This brings up the idea of persecution for Christian faith. I recently read a series of articles on persecution in the early church. A few years ago, Dr. Witherington commented and reposted another scholar’s comments on a book by Candida Moss about persecution in the early church. I have often thought about persecution. I have thought about how we can stand strong when one is inflicting pain because of our view of Christ. Sometimes we can simply think that they wish for us to deny Christ and that may be true, but from what I have read usually things come up differently than that. Usually a church is meeting and worshipping the Lord, then all of a sudden, government authorities barge in hurt many and put others in prison. Some of you have read and heard about something that Francis Chan shares in his book Forgotten God. He shares about a few Christians, one of whom is a pastor, and they are all taken prisoner in the Middle East. Yet, they are Americans and eventually the Americans came to rescue them. During their time of persecution, at least one of them is killed. After they are rescued and sent back to America they said that they would have rather been in the Middle East under persecution because the Holy Spirit was so strong there. Clearly, many are persecuted for their faith in Jesus Christ and God is present with them. Jesus said in Matthew 5:10:
“Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven…”
Jesus also said in Matthew 10:19:
But when they hand you over, do not worry about how or what you are to say; for it will be given you in that hour what you are to say.
We are going to look at one of many passages in the book of Acts dealing with persecution. In this passage, notice how the disciples boldly proclaim Christ and are obedient to God. Notice also how the disciples proclaim that they must obey God and not human laws. As we look at this passage, I hope you are encouraged by the way God took care of them in persecution. I also hope that you are encouraged to also obey God and not human laws. I hope your Christian faith is so important to you that you will live it and share it no matter what the consequences and I hope that you can rejoice with the disciples even in persecution.
Let me set the context. In the verses prior to today’s section the Bible talks about the many signs and wonders happening through the apostle. Verse 14 even says that multitudes of new believers were constantly added to their numbers. So, the Lord is doing many things through the early church. I believe strongly that God’s Spirit is still at work in amazing ways.
God is still active and what we need to know and be aware of is that the more you step out into faith to follow God, the more you will see amazing things through the Holy Spirit. You will not see miracles if you are not following the Lord.
So, God is at work in the early church and some of the Jewish leaders are not at all happy about this. Let’s get into the passage. This is a long passage, so I will break it up into sections in order to talk about it.
My theme today is: Pray that We and Our Children Are Ready for Persecution
- In verses 17-21 we see the apostles imprisoned and miraculously released, let’s read the section and then I will share a few thoughts.
- 17 But the high priest rose up, along with all his associates (that is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with jealousy.18 They laid hands on the apostles and put them in a public jail. 19 But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the gates of the prison, and taking them out he said, 20 “Go, stand and speak to the people in the temple the whole message of this Life.” 21 Upon hearing this, they entered into the temple about daybreak and began to teach.
- What an amazing passage! Doesn’t that just excite you? As we look at the rest of this passage you will see even the great irony in this passage. But now notice that the Jewish High Courtis not happy with what is going on in the new Christian faith. I am calling them the Jewish High court, but we have at least two major groups. We have the Pharisees who accepted our whole Old Testament. They accepted the Ten Commandments and the books about them, they accepted the prophetic books. They also believed in the resurrection. Paul, the apostle, was a Pharisee. Then we have the Sadducees. They were much smaller and they were politically tied to Rome. They didn’t believe in the resurrection. In reality, Jesus’ resurrection meant that they were no longer in power. If the resurrected order is taking place that means that the Sadducees and their ties to Rome are no longer in power.
- The Bible says that they were filled with jealousy so they took the apostles and imprisoned them. Now, it appears that they took all of the apostles, all twelve and imprisoned them.
- The Bible says that they were put in “public jail.” This could mean that they were in a public jail or that they were publicly put in jail. They may have wanted everyone to see this.
- Okay, so at night an angel from the Lord let them out and told them to go and speak to the people the whole message of the Lord. Interesting that the angel did not tell them to flee or anything else. They were to go back to the very place where they were taken prisoner. So, they obey.
- In verses 22-26 we see some very ironic events. Let’s read them.
- 22 But the officers who came did not find them in the prison; and they returned and reported back,23 saying, “We found the prison house locked quite securely and the guards standing at the doors; but when we had opened up, we found no one inside.” 24 Now when the captain of the temple guard and the chief priests heard these words, they were greatly perplexed about them as to what would come of this. 25 But someone came and reported to them, “The men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people!” 26 Then the captain went along with the officers and proceeded to bring them back without violence (for they were afraid of the people, that they might be stoned).
- So, the people were guarding an empty jail cell. I find that funny.
- The people who were supposed to be in power, were clearly not in power at all.
- In verse 24 the chief priest heard about this and he was very perplexed. This means literally that he was in doubt. He didn’t believe it. But then he finds out that the people who were put in prison had not fled, but they were now teaching.
- It is fortunate for the guards that they were guarding a Jewish prison and not a Roman prison. Later in Acts 12 an angel lets Peter out of prison and Herod has the guards put to death for losing a prisoner.
- By the way, back then you went to jail until trial, that was all. They didn’t have long term prisons with cable television as we do today. After trial you were sold into slavery, beaten, killed or released.
- Then, notice in verse 26, the ones in charge were worried that they would get stoned bringing the apostles back.
- Now in verses 27-32 we see the apostles’ response.
- 27 When they had brought them, they stood them before the Council. The high priest questioned them,28 saying, “We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name, and yet, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” 29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a cross. 31 He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him.”
- In verse 28: they say, we gave you strict orders not to teach in “this name.” Notice they will not say the name of Jesus.
- Then in verse 29 Peter is once again the spokesperson for the group. He says they must obey God and not man. What does that mean to you? How much does the Gospel mean to you? So, put yourself in the place of the persecuted. Say that you are a school teacher and you hold a Bible study in your room and then after a while you are told you can no longer do this? Suppose that you are a school teacher and a student brings up the Christian faith and he is interested in how you become a Christian, do you share with him? You could not do that because you would be fired! Is your job worth this person’s eternity? Suppose that church is illegal and so a church meeting is happening in a home, do you attend? That is what they face in other countries.
- In the book of Acts we see that it is so very important to share the Gospel with people. They must follow out the great commission. Jesus is eternal life.
- So, now Peter shares about Jesus to this group. He shares the Gospel. Verse 31:
- Peter says that they are witnesses of these things and so is the Holy Spirit.
- In verses 33-42 we see the ruling:
- 33 But when they heard this, they werecut to the quick and intended to kill them.34 But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the Law, respected by all the people, stood up in the Council and gave orders to put the men outside for a short time. 35 And he said to them, “Men of Israel, take care what you propose to do with these men. 36 For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a group of about four hundred men joined up with him. But he was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. 37 After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census and drew away some people after him; he too perished, and all those who followed him were scattered. 38 So in the present case, I say to you, stay away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or action is of men, it will be overthrown; 39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God.” 40 They took his advice; and after calling the apostles in, they flogged them and ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and then released them. 41 So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His 42 And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.
- Gamaliel was the one who trained Paul. He was a brilliant scholar revered for a long time after this and he says, if this is of man, it will diminish and he sites two examples. But he says if this is of God, you will be fighting God. Wow!
- But notice the end of this passage: The disciples leave rejoicing that they were counted worthy of persecution. This is right after they were beaten 39 lashes. This is how that was done:
- It consisted of thirty-nine lashes, often referred to as the forty less one (cf. 2 Cor 11:24). Based on the provision for forty stripes given in Deut 25:3, the practice had developed of only giving thirty-nine in the event of miscounting, preferring to err on the side of clemency rather than severity. It was still a cruel punishment. With bared chest and in a kneeling position, one was beaten with a tripled strap of calf hide across both chest and back, two on the back for each stripe across the chest. Men were known to have died from the ordeal.
- Lastly, the disciples still every day, in houses and in the temple, were teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.
2 Timothy 3:12 says:
Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.
The birth of a healthy baby girl is usually a joyous occasion. But when Meriam Ibrahim gave birth to her daughter, Maya, on Tuesday, May 27, 2014 it triggered a two-year countdown to her execution.
On May 15, the 27-year-old Sudanese doctor was sentenced to death for apostasy by a Sudanese court. In addition, she is to endure 100 lashes for the crime of committing adultery—with her Christian husband. The judge ruled that the lashing would be carried out after she had recovered from delivering her baby and that her death by hanging would occur when her baby reached age two, so she would have time to nurse the infant.
During her trial, the judge asked the young woman three times to recant her Christian faith, but she refused each time.
That was recent. In fact, I read that over 100 million people are persecuted right now. A few years ago I read that the Bible is illegal in 52 countries.
But Christianity is growing in these persecuted countries. Figure that out.
Jim Elliot wrote, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” We must be prepared to do this.
Jim Elliot wrote that and then he was martyred for Christ.
I am not going to ask you about commitment, that is implied.
I am going to ask you about prayer. Pray for the persecuted church.
Pray for the church in America, yourself, children, this church that we can be strong witnesses.
Others, do you know Jesus, why would people go through this for Jesus?
For life everlasting, that is the answer. We are always trying to live longer, but we never will, not on our own.
God created us to be with Him. (Genesis 1-2)
Our sin separated us from God. (Genesis 3)
Sins cannot be removed by good deeds (Gen 4-Mal 4)
Paying the price for sin, Jesus died and rose again. (Matthew – Luke)
Everyone who trusts in Him alone has eternal life. (John – Jude)
Life that’s eternal means we will be with Jesus forever. (Revelation 22:5)
Tan, P. L. (1996). Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations: Signs of the Times. Garland, TX: Bible Communications, Inc.
Polhill, J. B. (1995). Acts(Vol. 26, p. 174). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.