Motivation Meditations in Acts : 21 : Living in the Glory
Acts 5:40,41 His speech persuaded them. 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. The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.
The reasons or motivation for why we act as we do can be many and varied and I have to confess that I am challenged by these verses above. The apostles had been arrested, put in prison, released by an angel, apprehended by the authorities again, threatened, then been flogged, and then been released. And they rejoice! I mean, this is on the level of James’ words: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds.” (Jas 1:2) If we’re really honest, we’re not very good at that in the modern church.
Rejoicing because we had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for Jesus’ name, isn’t something we do in the modern church in the West. We like the bits in the New Testament about the church that say, “they were highly regarded by the people,” (Acts 5:13) and “enjoying the favor of all the people.” (Acts 2:47) but we’re not quite so happy about the thought of being persecuted and as for the thought of being flogged for our faith….
But perhaps the reason for this is that we are not experiencing the reality of the Lord’s presence moving among us as the early church was in these accounts we have been looking at. The truth is of course that Jesus warned that persecution would come. In the Sermon on the Mount he taught, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Mt 5:11,12)
If that wasn’t clear enough we find Luke recording, “But before all this, they will lay hands on you and persecute you. They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. This will result in your being witnesses to them. But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. All men will hate you because of me. But not a hair of your head will perish. By standing firm you will gain life.” (Lk 21:12-19)
But if we think that was just for the apostolic period of the early church, we need to remember Jesus’ words speaking about the last days: “There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains. Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me,” (Mt 24:7-9) which suggest an ongoing activity against the church.
At the present time there are more and more signs that the church is being marginalized and the spirit of antichrist in the world is ensuring laws be brought in, even by those appearing most respectable, that in fact make life very difficult for the church. It is likely that persecution will not come suddenly, but that it will be a gradual thing that will appear more and more.
So how does a believer live in the face of this sort of thing? The persecuted church around the word knows the answer to that. In recent days it has been suggested that 70% of the nations of the world persecute believers in some way or another. Yet, if the figures coming out of, say, China are to be believed the Church continues to grow and even flourish underground, now being at least 100 million strong, much bigger than even the membership of the Communist Party of China that rules it. No wonder the communists are fearful, no wonder the church receives much physical opposition. How do they cope with it? I simply make two suggestions.
First they cope because they have to. When there is no escape from it, you have to cope with it. But that could be a submissive and servile ‘coping’, but that is not the picture of the ChineseChurch or of the early Church. The apostles were rejoicing in it all. This says that, second, they had a reality of the presence of the Lord that we rarely seem to have. This isn’t just an academic acceptance of Jesus’ teaching about the fact of persecution. It is an experience of the promises of Jesus: “For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict”, and “not a hair of your head will perish.” Understand though, that does not mean we avoid death for he did say, “they will put some of you to death.” The guarantee is that we will have eternal life and if it is cut short down here, it will continue in heaven: “By standing firm you will gain life.”
But it is more than this confident hope of an eternal destiny, it is also the awareness of the Lord being there with you in it, helping you, guiding you, providing for you in the midst of it. We can never know how the Lord’s plans will work out for us individually. James was put to death (Acts 12:2) but Peter was miraculously released (Acts 12:6-11). There is no set formula for our future; we simply have to trust in the Lord.
But there is the key – trusting in the Lord. When life is easy it is so easy to simply trust in our affluence, but when the way gets hard, we get forced to seek Him and find Him in ways we had not done previously. THEN we find a sense of the Lord’s presence, and THEN we find His assurances, confidence, provision and protection as we had never done before. The truth is that God’s grace IS sufficient for us; it is just that so much of the time when life is easy we have not appropriated it. The apostles were living in the glory of the Lord’s presence, as do all of God’s children in these circumstances.