A Church on a Mission: Finding Joy in Persecution

by | Dec 4, 2022 | Podcast, Sermons

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Preacher: Pastor David Ball

Scripture: Acts 5:17-42

As we live more and more in a post-Christian culture we must learn the lessons of the early church as they faced persecution for their faith in Jesus.  Acts 5:17-42 tells us of the eternal threats and personal suffering that our spiritual forefathers faced for their witness of the Gospel.  Come and find not only the knowledge and tools to face persecution, but the unexpected joy that God’s grace pours out to those who are persecuted.


Heavenly Father we thank you for these ancient words Jesus you are the desire of the Nations we do pray that you would bind all peoples in one heart and mind with your gospel

teach us how to face suffering in our own persecution

Lord with joy just as we see your Apostles rejoicing that they were counted as Worthy of the name of Jesus open our hearts that we may receive your word for us this day and Jesus we pray this in your mighty name amen you may be seated

jealousy harassment Civil Disobedience violence you know it sounds like uh all the the makings for a great Hollywood Blockbuster movie right uh or maybe the headlines from the 2020 election season uh but but no alas uh this is not uh just some drama that’s been drummed up for uh to sell papers or to sell movies it’s Acts chapter 5 verses 17 through 42. and this linked the passage is all about jealousy power position persecution Civil Disobedience and and violence uh it’s about deep loyalties and the consequences that they bring anyone who tells you that that being a Christian is boring uh then they obviously have not read the history of the early church and at the same time anyone who believes that being a Christian and following Jesus is just going to magically make your life easy and trouble free they haven’t taken the time to read the book of Acts and the account of the early church for Max 5 17-42 it’s very clear that the being a follower of Jesus Christ is difficult it’s controversial and it’s even painful at times it means coming into conflict with a con conflict with the spiritual Powers the authorities of this world and often uh in the process even experiencing persecution and and pain and suffering that comes with that persecution but acts 5 17-42 also tells us of something amazing that’s completely counter-intuitive and completely counter cultural that being a follower of Jesus Christ that means that even in the midst of persecution and suffering and pain there’s joy and perhaps even more astonishing as followers of Christ we have joy because of the persecution and suffering and the pain that it brings it doesn’t make sense from a worldly mindset at all but is a church on a mission as a Spirit-filled member of the body of Christ acts 5 17-42 is a lesson that we must learn and even Embrace if we’re to live and what’s becoming uh ever increasing post-christian culture you know I saw a an article uh this week that documented that in 2022 for the first time uh since such data has been collected that ing in England less than 50 percent of the population identifies themselves as Christian and you might just say well that’s England right we’re we’re Americans who cares what’s happening in England uh but most researchers will tell you that that Europe is a strong indicator of the trends that will soon develop in America most often they’re just ahead of where we will end up and we’re already seeing evidence of that according to Pew research in 2011 uh 75 percent of Americans identified themselves as Christians in 2021 that number shrunk to 63 percent in just a 10 years that’s a 12 decrease in 2011 roughly 18 percent of Americans were not affiliated with any religion identifying as either agnostic atheist or nothing in particular and 2021 10 years later that number grew to 29 percent the 11 increase we’re just talking in a 10 year period the slides happening and we had better begin learning what we need to learn from the early church both in terms of how we are to Faithfully live as witnesses to the resurrected Jesus and and what we can expect from an increasingly unchristian culture in the book of Acts has a lot to teach us on both fronts especially these verses that we’re looking at together this morning you know two weeks ago at the beginning of chapter 5 we saw the first great threat to the Gospel Mission and the church and that was an internal threat and it was that threat of spiritual pride and hypocrisy that we saw in ananias and Sapphira uh there was and this was such a great threat that Satan had put in their hearts that God struck them both dead and in the process he put the fear of the Lord in the hearts of his people this week we turn our attention from an internal threat to the Gospel Mission to an external threat and in reality it’s not the first sign of that external threat in Acts 4 a few weeks ago we saw how Peter and John were brought before the same Jewish Council of the Sadducees because they were proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus to the people who had gathered there after the healing of that lame man they were so astonished of what they were seeing they all knew him they all had seen him every day and here he was jumping around and rejoicing and they were proclaiming the resurrected Jesus Peter proclaimed the gospel to them seeing this healed lame man that that Council they really found there was nothing they could do and so they charged them not to speak or to teach at all in the name of Jesus to which Peter said to them whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than the God you must judge for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and what we have heard they were then released and they went back to the rest of the disciples who who promptly gathered together and prayed to the Lord for boldness they prayed for boldness that they would continue to be proclaiming the the resurrected Jesus to continue to proclaim the gospel even in the face of this external threat well once again God did we saw last week wondrous signs around the Temple of Solomon’s Portico through the apostles people were being healed demon possessed folks for being of demons were being cast out of folks uh and we’re told that last week that multitudes of men and women were added to the number of those who were being saved will no sooner that the gospel begun to bear fruit that the Sadducees got their noses out of joint about it again we’re told that the high priest and all the Sadducees they rose up they were filled with jealousy we’re told and out of their jealousy they had the apostles arrested they had them put in prison now notice that the Sadducees were not concerned about the spiritual well-being of their people at all that wasn’t their motivation they were jealous they didn’t like uh the the attention that the apostles were getting uh they were jealous of their position the high esteem that we were told last week that all the people held the apostles in and the apostles posed a threat a threat to the Sadducees own power and position and so they had them arrested and thrown in prison then in verse 19 we’re told that in the night the an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors brought them out and said to them go and stand in the temple and speak to the people the words of life and that’s exactly what they did and that’s exactly where they were found the next morning but before we move on to we need to to consider to stop and consider something I think important about this uh this was not some Rogue Angel who saw the apostles and had pity on them and took action when the scriptures speak of the Angel of the Lord uh it’s it’s not talking about some Rogue messenger uh this is God’s Own messenger they’re acting as the agent of God himself speaking his word doing what God has told them to do and so what this is telling us is that God himself therefore intervened on behalf of the Apostles he brought them out of bondage told them to continue proclaiming the gospel to continue proclaiming the words of life to the people this was nothing less than the will of God which will be important to remember as we get a little further on In this passage to summarize what happens next this is a long passage and I wish we could go verse by verse but I got to summarize it somehow here the next morning the high priest called together the council and the Senate of the people of Israel then he called they called for the apostles to be brought before the the council but they found that while the doors were closed and the guards were still standing guard outside the the doors the apostles were gone and everyone was perplexed until they got word that the apostles were right back in the temple teaching and preaching to the people about Jesus they had been rescued from the threat by God but in obedience to the word of God they put themselves Right Back In Harm’s Way this time the captain and the officers of the temple they went and they got them but not by force this time because we’re told they were worried about what the people would do to them they were worried about their own position they were worried they’d get stoned the fact the apostles were not taken by for force it also means that the apostles went with them willingly they went with them willingly they could have caused a riot they could have incited the people to rise up in their defense to fight for their freedom they could have in fact that’s what the the Sadducees were worried about but they didn’t they willingly they respectfully and they graciously and even submissively went with them when they were asked to go now when they arrived in front of the council the high priest began to to question them and his line of questioning was all about two things it was all about power and it was all about position and the two things the Sadducees those were the two things the Sadducees held dear the most he accused them of two things number one defying their order not to teach and preach in Jesus name and number two that they were intending to pin the blame for Jesus’s death on them that’s what they were accused of that’s what they were most worried about uh they had no interest in the truth or the falsehood of the claims that the apostles were making all they cared about was their own power their own authority their own position as long as their power and position were secure they could have cared less about the people but this moment gave Peter the opportunity to speak up in their defense and he said on behalf of all the apostles we must obey God rather than man they were under Authority but it was not ultimately the Jewish Authority that they were under they were respectful they were gracious they were even subservient to the Jewish authorities unless the Jewish authorities directly contradicted the authority of God unless it directly contradicted the word of God that had been given to them and here we have the very basis for Christian civil disobedience if our Civil Authorities call us to disobey the word of God our loyalty to our King Jesus then we’re called to disobey a civil our Civil Authorities and to remain faithful to God our savior and King Jesus now how does this work out practically right well I mean I think we can go back to the early days of the the pandemic and kind of see how this this played out remember we faced the shutdown uh and it was done it was it was enacted and the interest of Public Health well in that case we weren’t being singled out we weren’t being just shut down or silenced as Christians uh and it was not a permanent shutdown uh and in that case we were called to be obedient to our Civil Authorities now had we been singled out and churches had been told that we were dangerous to society and could no longer gather together could no longer teach and preach in the name of Jesus well then we would have been called to disobey our Civil Authorities and to be loyal to our ultimate Authority gee that’s what our country was founded upon right the Puritans they fled England because of persecution they were forbidden to gather and worship by the church of England by the way yes it’s one of those dirty little truths about our Anglican forefathers they weren’t always right

if we’re forbidden to gather if we’re for forbidden to to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ then we’re called to obey our number one Authority but to respectfully and graciously disobey our Civil Authorities and that’s exactly what the apostles did they continued to share the gospel graciously with the Jewish authorities who were presenting them who are persecuting them and who are threatening their lives friends they were they were not uh they were not just arguing for the truth of the Gospel this wasn’t just a debate that was happening on the council floor I know we can kind of sometimes look at it that way who’s going to win the debate who’s going to be right they were proclaiming the gospel for the Salvation of their fellow Jews even for those who were against them and they proclaimed three things Peter proclaimed on behalf of the Apostle Apostles that God raised Jesus from the grave that God exalted him as Savior of the world and therefore he has ultimate Authority and that God gave and still gives his holy spirit to all who obey by putting their faith in Jesus they were inviting their persecutors into a relationship with God through Jesus the savior of the world that they themselves had had it over to the Roman authorities to be killed they cared enough about them and wanted them to find Salvation in Christ you know it reminds me of uh dare I say this of a Seinfeld episode uh you know Elaine was uh was dating a man named putty I did mention this years ago but you don’t remember it anyway and they got into an argument about going to hell and Elaine discovered that putty thought that she was going to hell and she rightly gets mad at him about it not because he thinks that she’s going to hell but because he didn’t seem to care enough to uh to try to save her the apostles had Grace for their persecutors because of the grace that paid themselves had received from God They too had abandoned Jesus Peter had denied Jesus three times but Jesus so loved them that he reached back into their lives and saved them by his grace alone and they wanted their persecutors these Apostles wanted their persecutors to know that Jesus wants to forgive them as well well their gracious efforts were not received the council wanted to kill them uh after when they had heard the gospel that was when a Pharisee named gamaldio a well-respected rabbi spoke up and his advice was to let them go because as we’ve seen in the past and some of these movements if it’s of God it will succeed if it’s not they will be dispersed and it’ll come to nothing and even worse if it is of god then they’ll be guilty of having opposed what God was trying to do but before you give Gamaliel too much credit know that he wasn’t a friend to Christianity nor does his logic work out in all circumstances uh but he was not a friend to Christians in fact he was Paul’s rabbi he was the one who Paul uh then Saul studied under the same Paul who would become so driven by Zeal and hatred for the Christians that he would lead the charge of the persecutions that are to come uh more on that later as we will get further into the book of Acts but the council did take gamaliel’s advice so the council had the apostles beaten just as Jesus was beaten charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus and then they just let them go but as the apostles left something really nothing short of miraculous happened they weren’t relieved just to have had their lives spared they were not just so frightened that they ran away and hid no we’re told that they were filled with joy the fact that they were counted as worthy to suffer dishonor for the name of Jesus see these guys their lives have been so transformed by the gospel that they were filled with joy even in the face of their own suffering and pain and persecution these same men who wants themselves had run away from Jesus and his greatest moment of Need for fear for their own safety and their own well-being these men had abandoned Jesus and filled with shame for their cowardice had been so transformed by the God who loves them and forgave them and restored them that they now found joy and their suffering for Christ

oh and did they stop proclaiming the gospel openly and publicly no they didn’t uh their loyalty to God and His grace was bigger than their the own threat of personal harm and persecution so so what can we in a in an increasingly post-christian culture take from from this passage and I believe there’s three important lessons that for us as we continue to live the mission of the Gospel is the church and the world today number one as followers of Jesus Christ we should expect persecution we should expect persecution you know just go back and consider this passage and the apostles God rescued them from prison right that was awesome God miraculously came and saved them from that bondage and then he called them right back into Harm’s Way God doesn’t protect us always from all persecution sometimes he calls us right into it for the sake of the Gospel you did not spare his own son sometimes calls us into suffering for Jesus name’s sake but at the same time I think we have to be careful what we call persecution we have to be very careful what we call persecution every suffering every every pain every Injustice that we think we experience it doesn’t mean that it’s persecution sometimes people may exclude us sometimes people may avoid us leave us out not want to be around us not because we’re followers of Christ because but because more often we’ve probably been ungracious rude insensitive maybe completely oblivious to the situation as it’s really going on in that moment sometimes we can use the gospel as a sword in people’s lives and not as the healing medicine that it is in people’s lives it is true that if we’re not experiencing opposition from Satan or from other people then we’re probably not really sharing the gospel in the world at all but at the same time we have to be wise we have to be understanding about how we’re sharing the gospel with others which brings us to the second point that I think lesson that we must learn from acts 5 17-42 and the second lesson is this that we’re called to be respectful and gracious in the face of persecution

Our concern is for the Salvation of souls it’s not in trying to always win the debate or the argument a rejection of the Gospel message that we share with others is not a rejection of us we are not to take it personally when the apostles were taken by the Jewish authorities they didn’t fight back they didn’t incite a riot they could have but they respected the Civil Authorities they followed them willingly in Romans 12 the Apostle Paul he said it this way he says bless those who persecute you bless and do not curse them and then a little bit later in the chapter he said beloved never avenge yourselves but leave it to the wrath of God for it is written vengeance is mine I will repay says the Lord to the contrary if your enemy is hungry feed him if he’s thirsty give him something to drink for by so doing you will heat burning coals on his head do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good

the important lesson for us to learn as we continue to live into this increasing post-christian culture and then finally number three we learned this lesson when you’re persecuted for Jesus sake consider it joy that you who were once an enemy of God have been now by the grace of God have been counted as worthy to suffer for his name’s sake you know James 1 2 James says it this way count it all joy my brothers when you face when you meet Trials of various kinds friends we can expect persecution we can face it with Grace for our own persecutors and even Joy of being counted as worthy because of what Hebrews 12 tells us about Jesus our savior this is what it tells us that Jesus is the founder and the Perfecter of our faith for the joy that was set before him he endured the cross despising the shame and is seated at the right hand of the throneka of the Throne of God and Friends he did it for you and for me he did it because he so loves the world because he loves the world and Longs for them to know know the joy Joy of his salvation let’s pray

Heavenly Father this passage is heavy

none of us want the face suffering and pain and persecution we don’t want to be alienated from people in our lives we don’t want to be thought of as the as the crazy cast out that no one wants around it hurts it’s painful

father will you help us as we seek this mission that you have called us on to continue proclaiming your gospel but to realize it’s not about us

that whether someone receives it or not is not an indictment on us personally

it’s the work that you Holy Spirit are doing in their lives holy spirit will you give us wisdom and discernment to be gracious to be gentle be kind to be Discerning in how we share the gospel with others that it would never be about us winning an argument

it would be about the salvation of the souls that we are communicating with

father we ask that when we do face persecution for your namesake that you would fill us with all joy remembering that once we were your enemies but now you have counted us as Worthy by the grace of God Alone to suffer for his namesake

and may your mission continue

through our lives as we live out our lives as your Witnesses in this world Jesus we pray this in your mighty name amen

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