ANOTHER TIME, ANOTHER PLACE
In Acts chapter five we read that Peter and the apostles were spreading the gospel as well as doing great signs and wonders among the people in Jerusalem.
Acts 5: 14: And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women.
Sinners were coming to Christ! That did not sit well with the high priest so he had Peter and the other apostles arrested and thrown into prison. But the angel of the Lord opened their prison gates and they walked out. And the angel brought the Word of the Lord to them as well.
Acts 5:20 – Go, stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life.
And when they heard this they obeyed and went to the temple early in the morning and taught. But someone told the high priest that the men were no longer in the prison and were standing in the temple and teaching the people. They were arrested again and brought before the high priest and the entire council. They reminded Peter and the others that they had been commanded not to teach anymore in the name of Jesus. But Peter said,
“We ought to obey God rather than men”.
After discussing the matter among themselves the council had them beaten, and commanded them not to preach Jesus anymore, and they were released.
Acts 5: 41 And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name.42 And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.
Now that is the true expression of the true faith. But how different things are today. Let the government refuse to allow a nativity scene in front of some government building and Christians complain loudly and clothe themselves in martyrs robes. Beside the fact that Christmas is an idol, and beside the fact that not allowing a nativity scene is not persecution, but just how can people complain when Jesus Himself said we should rejoice in the face of persecution? And when we read how the early disciples rejoiced and counted themselves privileged to be beaten and suffer shame for His sake, how can we say we believe the Bible today? It was another time and another place and another Bible.
We live in a day where professing believers complain loudly about some war on Christianity and that their “rights” as Christians are being attacked by the government and the culture as a whole. I am deeply saddened by what I see and hear coming from so many professing believers. It goes against everything Jesus taught and lived and yet it is accepted within the church. We watch our Savior suffer for us but we are unwilling to receive the slightest disrespect ourselves.
The early Christians suffered much persecution. It wasn’t because they were loud or organized protests or were belligerent. In fact it was said of them that they were gentle and kind and were willing and eager to help others. They were not involved with any political struggles and they seemed to love saint and sinner alike. So just what were they persecuted for?
It was because Rome considered them a threat because they would not give their allegiance to any earthly king or government and most would not serve in the military. Now do you understand why western believers are not persecuted for their faith? While the blood of the martyrs continues to spill even today all over the world, the western church considers not allowing some nativity scene on a government building’s lawn a “war of Christianity”. Oh my!
Many believers languish this very day in cruel prisons under totalitarian regimes. Widows and children watched as their father was murdered for his faith. We read where believers were led to the gallows or burned at the stake and went singing hymns and offering praises and yet we moan and complain about forbidding nativity scenes or not being able to say “Merry Christmas”? Just what kind of faith are we projecting when we use such nonsense to justifying disobeying the Scriptures and offering murmuring? Jesus says “Rejoice!” and we complain but insist we are following Him? Look at the narrative in Acts. When Peter and the apostles were released did they go about telling everyone how they were mistreated? Did they write their Roman consulate? Did they start a petition? No! They preached Christ once again, and they rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His sake.
And just where is that spirit today? I know, this is a different time and a different place and a different Bible. But let us ask ourselves this question: Just what do you sacrifice or suffer for Jesus’ sake? And when we are confronted with the smallest of persecutions we squawk as if we deserved better? This business of being persecuted and suffering for His sake is a sacred trust with our Savior and His followers. The world shouts and protests and is offended and returns evil for evil and stakes out its territory and its rights. But that is not the way of Jesus. It never has been nor will it ever be.
We are a peculiar people who do not react to the dictates or injustices done to us. All our rights and privileges are safely held in Christ and can never be touched or taken away. Put us in prison and we sing His praise. Threaten us and we pray for you. Hate us and we love you back. Take away our dignity and we refer you to His cross. Show us contempt and we show you respect. Show us aggression and we show you meekness. Threaten to kill us and we will tell you we have died already.
This is the way of Jesus, my friends. It cannot be found in this boastful political cesspool. It cannot be found in the projectiles hurled at sinners. It cannot be found in support of violence. It cannot be found in the back and forth bickering. It cannot be found in the Bill of Rights or the Constitution. It cannot be found in saber rattling. It cannot be found in moral crusades. It cannot be found in the search for money. It cannot be found in self actualization.
No, the way of Jesus is found upon a bloody hill called Calvary. Those who wish to follow Jesus must count the cost. The cross we see on Golgotha will not be used as a religious token or a convenient ticket to heaven. If you truly desire to follow Jesus you will have to die. And it will not be pleasant. It will be a long process as painful in the spirit as a crucifixion is in the flesh. You will have to deny yourself. Not just deny your rights and comfort and earthly accoutrements. No, you will have to deny yourself; your hopes and dreams and desires and lusts and opinions and thoughts and attitudes. All of it must die. All of it.
But who can do that? Who can even desire such a thing to say nothing of accomplishing it? No one can. That is why you will have to surrender to the Spirit. It is He alone who can implant that desire within you and it is He alone who can accomplish it within you. He alone can begin that work and He alone can finish it. You see, I said this is a sacred mystery that rejects the ways of this world. And if persecution comes then that same Spirit will use it to make you more like your Master. And in that you can rejoice and reach out in love to your enemies and not return evil for evil.
You have been counted worthy to suffer shame for His name’s sake! What a glory! What a wonder! You do not even deserve to be persecuted for His name’s sake.
But alas, I know. This is another time and another place and sadly another Bible.
Let us lay down our lives for Him and Him alone. At home and in the workplace and on the streets and in our private lives. Let Christ always have the preeminence. And if we should be persecuted and spoken about with unkind words let it be because we were so like Him and not because we were so like them. This is what following Jesus means. If you expected applause then you came to the wrong place. If you wanted honor from this world you will be disappointed. If you thought you would be spoken about in glowing terms you are mistaken. If they spit on His face must you be respected? If they clothed His back with brutal lashes must they shower you with accolades? If they crowned Him with thorns must you receive praise?
If you wish to change this world and make it your friend than you have become a part of it. But if you truly wish to follow Jesus then you will have to wait patiently to hear the voice of your Savior saying “Well done.” Until then endure all things for His sake with humility and rejoicing. And if you are counted worthy to suffer for him then do it with humility and a sense that He alone deserves the praise. To know the fellowship of His sufferings is a privileged group of followers. But there are some requirements before you are allowed to enter into that sacred place.
The greatest and most important requirement is that you will not be allowed to defend yourself or return evil for evil. And He will defend Himself through you by breaking open your earthen vessel and revealing His gospel glory even to those who revile you and despitefully use you and say all manner of evil against you falsely. He will love and draw them through you. You see, this is another time and another place, but it is the same Bible. The very same. Selah.