Sunday, September 23, 2018

Persecution is Confirmation

I remember the first time I experienced persecution. It was nothing like what people in other parts of the world face. It was really nothing much at all. I was 17. I didn’t do anything like take a stand for Jesus publicly (that happened later). I just stopped doing the things my friends were doing. God had convicted me of sin and I was tired of compromise. You know, going to the parties, using the language, making fun of others, laughing at the jokes, and basically going along with all the things I knew weren’t right. It didn’t take long for my "friends" to notice. I remember a girl telling me I wasn’t fun any more. I realized I was no longer in on the jokes, I was the brunt of them. One morning I opened my locker to get my books when I noticed everyone laughing. Then I saw that someone had taped a porn magazine centerfold inside my locker door. Yeah, that hurt. It got worse. My “friends” would sometimes dedicate songs on WOKI (Knoxville's popular top-40 radio station back then) to me like, “Goody two-shoes” and “Only the good die young.” I was hurt and mad. I remember telling my father about it wanting him to share my anger. He smiled and congratulated me! "I'm so proud of you, son! Persecution is Confirmation!" he said.

When was the first time you experienced persecution? What was it like? Let's remember what persecution is. Persecution is not just anything negative that happens to you. It's not (on the other extreme) only getting your head cut off by Isis, either. Persecution is taking a personal hit because of Jesus. And that's normative for the Christian experience. Paul wrote (2 Tim. 3:12), “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” Jesus said (John 15:20), “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.”

Acts 4 begins with the pandemonium that ensued after Peter and John healed a man that everyone knew had been born with a severe disability. This miracle resulted in 5000 men believing and confessing Christ. As you might imagine, this got the attention of the elite Jewish establishment.
“The priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead” (Acts 4:1-2). John and Peter were arrested and spent the night in jail. It was the first example of persecution in the church era. And it wasn't over. The next day the Sanhedrin—the same establishment power players that schemed to put Jesus to death a little over a month earlier—came together in court to determine what to do with these upstart interlopers. Think of how intimidating this must have been! “And when they had set them in the midst, they inquired, 'By what power or by what name did you do this?'” (Acts 4:7) They're wanting to know who gave them the right to do what they were doing. This was a bit of a trick question, because the only ones (they thought) who could give them the right were in that room! These guys were the establishment! Generations had worked to secure their power! Listen to the answer in Acts 4:8-11: "Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well. This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone" (quoting Psalm 118:2). Now listen to his big ending in verse 12: “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Did you read what he said? There is no other name. No other way. He got what Jesus had taught. Like in John 14:6 "Jesus said, I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." There is no other way to get to God than through Jesus.

Well, the elitists were impressed (at least with their courage):

"Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus" (Acts 4:13). Wow. I want that to be said of me. Having been with Jesus overcomes any lack of intelligence, eloquence, or education. That's pretty great.

The Jewish leaders were stuck. They couldn't deny the great miracle that had taken place, but they had to somehow stem the growth of this movement. After deliberating, Acts 4:18-21 says they “charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered them,

“Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.' And when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way to punish them, because of the people, for all were praising God for what had happened.”

So, after a night in jail, a chance to proclaim Jesus to the most powerful Jews in the world, and having been threatened to stop talking about Jesus. How do you think they responded? How would you have responded?

Well, they went back to their friends—the other believers—the church, and told them what had happened. Then they all prayed together. They realized that this persecution is exactly what the Bible predicted would happen to the Messiah...and thus, to his followers. But they professed their trust in God who is in control of all things, and they asked God to "grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness" (Acts 4:29). What a prayer! There was no hint of growing faint. No possibility of retreat. “And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness” (4:30). Wow!

So what?
• Show you’ve been with Jesus. By your boldness & courage, or because of your faith that all will turn out ok. Or perhaps because of your integrity when everyone else is doing what’s wrong...or your uncommon love for people who are hard to like, or your kindness, or peace, or other fruits of the Spirit. Maybe you show Jesus in the way you work & give your all with honesty & excellence. Can people tell you’ve been with Jesus? They can if you’re filled with the Spirit. Ask him to fill you each day! Of course it helps if you actually spend time with him.

• Rejoice when you are persecuted! Jesus said (Mt.5:10-12) “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Rejoice with others. Persecution is confirmation...confirmation you really are a follower of Jesus.

• Pray for those who persecute you. They’re not rejecting you, they’re rejecting the Cornerstone. Less than two months earlier Jesus quoted the following to the same leaders who persecuted Peter and John: (Matthew 21:44) “The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.” There are consequences to rejecting Jesus. So pray for them!

• Be bold. Don't be a jerk or offensive. Don’t bait people. Those are different—and sinful. In 1 Peter 3:15, the same Peter wrote, "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness & respect."  God will give you opportunities. Be prepared. He'll give you the words to say, and the courage to say it.

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