The In-Between Years - Part 22
Series: The In-Between Years
October 25, 2020
The In-Between Years — Part 22
Next Sunday begins our big global missions emphasis. I’ll explain more about that the day of but get ready for us to focus on missions in ways we never have before.
We will finally finish the story of the lame man healed today. If you remember, Peter and John were making their way to the temple when they came across a man crippled from birth begging for alms. They had no money, but they did have the healing power of Jesus. In his name they commanded him to get up and walk and he did!
People rushed from all over the temple complex to see what had happened. Peter saw a crowd and took the opportunity to preach the gospel of a risen Jesus. The Jewish authorities were “greatly annoyed,” particularly the Sanhedrin party, who did not believe in the resurrection. So Peter and John were arrested and the next day brought before the Sanhedrin, the ruling council of Jewish elders. Peter had another audience so he preached Jesus again proclaiming…
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.” Acts 4:12 (ESV)
We saw how the Sanhedrin responded…
13 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. 14 But seeing the man who was healed standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition.
Now let’s see how this all turned out…
15 But when they had commanded them to leave the council, they conferred with one another, 16 saying, “What shall we do with these men? For that a notable sign has been performed through them is evident to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. 17 But in order that it may spread no further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.” 18 So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 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, 20 for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” 21 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. 22 For the man on whom this sign of healing was performed was more than forty years old. Acts 4:13–22 (ESV)
I keep reminding you about this because it’s critical as we go through Acts: …… Our In-Between Years series is a look at the church in Luke’s second volume. We are focusing on the original community of faith as it was birthed in Jerusalem and then spread throughout the Roman Empire for the first three decades or so. Now we aren’t looking at the church with casual interest. We are concerned with how they operated, what they were about; in learning what made them tick, in the hopes that we’ll discover what church should and can be like today.
Here we have the first instance of something the church faced and then continued to encounter throughout history up to the present day. Something native to the Christian experience: persecution.
Now that’s a topic we don’t like to think about and certainly talk about when it comes to church, to being a Christian. Never more so than for us modern, Western Christians, who don’t know what persecution is. Not really. We don’t talk or think about this enough because it’s uncomfortable. But we really need to.
To understand persecution and the church we have to go back to before to it was born. Jesus, in his great sermon on the mount, said…
10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Matthew 5:10–11 (ESV)
Note it’s not “if” but “when.” John records Jesus’ warnings concerning persecution at the end of chapter 5 and the beginning of chapter 6…
18 “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. 21 But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. 22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. 23 Whoever hates me hates my Father also. 24 If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. 25 But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: ‘They hated me without a cause.’ 26 “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. 27 And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning. John 15:18–27 (ESV)
1 “I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. 2 They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. 3 And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. 4 But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you… John 16:1–4 (ESV)
That’s a lot to unpack. Basically, there are three reasons why persecution comes for Christians according to Jesus.
1. Christians proclaim the truth
Jesus told the disciples in verse 5:20 to “remember the word that I said to you.” Jesus taught the disciples truth, as the One who actually embodies truth. Not in the subjective you-have-your-truth-and-I-have-my-truth kind of way, but in the objective, absolute kind of way.
In those days a man would stand up to speak a word in the Jewish synagogue and then sit down. The elders would decide if what he said were accurate and, if it was, declare, “Amen, amen.” But Jesus comes along and teaches like this…
3 Jesus answered him [Nicodemus], “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” John 3:3 (ESV)
Truly, truly is exactly the same as saying amen, amen. Jesus, as God come to us in the flesh, declared his teaching as true and authoritative on the front end, folks. Jesus is saying — and I’m quoting another pastor here — “I take away your right to judge whether what I say is right. I am God himself. I am the Son of God, and therefore, what I have to say is truth from outside the world. It’s from above the world. It’s from outside time and space, and therefore, it judges the world. It judges how you feel about things. You must listen to it. You must submit to it; you must not question it.”
And so his disciples and followers preach and teach truth that isn’t debatable and stands on its own two feet. Truth transcending time and culture and feelings. That is always going to clash with the world. That’s why the world will hate us and persecute us.
Another reason persecution is part of the church’s experience is…
2. Christians’ allegiance is to Christ and his kingdom above ALL
In John’s text Jesus said, "If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”
We are not of the world. Jesus chose us and made us his own. We belong to him. Christians are citizens of his kingdom, a kingdom existing in spirit right now and one day coming in person. Paul wrote..
17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. 18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. Philippians 3:17–21 (ESV)
That’s why Christians enraged the Romans who demanded all pronounce “Caesar is Lord.” That’s why Christians exasperate dictatorial regimes and tyrannical governing authorities who demand loyalty to the state or leader. That’s why Christians inflame a modern, enlightened culture preaching tolerance and plurality. We too proclaim love and diversity and tolerance but at the end of the day we follow Christ, obey him, and announce he is the way, the truth, the life, and that no one can come to God unless they go through him. Remember, we do it humbly and respectfully not proud and boastfully. Peter, the same one who stood before the Sanhedrin that day with boldness, wrote..
13 Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. 1 Peter 3:13–17 (ESV)
The world persecutes us because we proclaim the truth, because we are loyal to Christ above all else, and finally because…
3. Christians are witnesses to the need of salvation
Jesus said in our John text (CEV version)…
26 I will send you the Spirit who comes from the Father and shows what is true. The Spirit will help you and will tell you about me. 27 Then you will also tell others about me, because you have been with me from the beginning. John 15:26–27 (CEV)
We are compelled to tell others about Jesus because without him people are doomed. Jesus said…
23 He said to them, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. 24 I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.” John 8:23–24 (ESV)
We also very humbly and lovingly tell others that without Jesus they will perish. That sounds so rude and snobby, I know. It’s offensive, even, to confront someone with the truth that they need to be saved from their sin. But if we really believe Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life; that he is the truth that sets us free, that through him we have forgiveness of sin and are made right with God, that following him makes us citizens of a coming heavenly kingdom, how can we not testify to it, tell others about it? Not because we think we’re better than anyone, but because our lives have been changed by these truths. Like Peter…
20 for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” Acts 4:20 (ESV)
The world will hates us for it, persecute us for it, but we can’t help but speak of it. If the church operates in the in-between years proclaiming the truth, holding fast to Christ’s kingdom above all else, and witnessing to the world’s need for salvation, persecution is guaranteed.
In this first instance recorded in Acts the resistance is mild. Peter and John were arrested, scolded, and let go. But it worsens and builds from there. The persecution keeps coming and it escalates to beatings, imprisonment, torture, and death. Watch for it as we keep going through Acts. Luke’s second volume ends with Paul, the greatest missionary ever to live, in chains for preaching the gospel. He would later be beheaded by Rome under Emperor Nero’s rampage against followers of Christ.
The persecution continued with Christians being torn apart by wild animals for entertainment, hung on poles and set on fire to serve as human street lamps, cooked to death, dragged to death, starved to death. The list could go on.
That’s incredibly troubling, but Jesus said this would happen. It shouldn’t surprise us that the NT writers frame Christianity with the expectation that suffering for our faith is normative.
Peter, in a letter dedicated to Christians suffering this persecution, explains how believers have been called to suffer just as Christ suffered…
21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. 1 Peter 2:21–25 (ESV)
And Paul declared to pastor Timothy…
12 Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 2 Timothy 3:12 (ESV)
Conclusion: Here are a few closing thoughts.
A church leader in Britain once remarked how he wasn’t having the same impact as the apostles. He lamented, “Everywhere St Paul went, there was a riot. Everywhere I go they serve tea.”
Based on what I see in Scripture, on what Jesus said, on what Jesus experienced, on what the early church encountered, on what the church for the last 2,000 years has endured, I’m convinced that if the church being the church doesn’t invite persecution then we aren’t doing it right. Especially as we see the return of Christ drawing closer and closer.
Here’s something else, and you may disagree.
There’s much talk about the church being persecuted in America and how we must stand up for our rights. Many ride on the coat tails of a Peter and John — who refused to obey the authorities — and equate the apostles’ defiance against authority with theirs. NT Wright says…
Now of course it is always possible for anyone to claim the name of Jesus, and the right to speak in his name, and to use this as justification for any sort of rebellion against authority that they choose. Such claims have a right to be heard, though they must then be judged on their merits. But the point about this one, which distinguishes it from many claims that might be made which simply borrow the name of Jesus as an excuse for running with an agenda someone has reached on quite different grounds, is that the people making the claim have already shown that they are living by it, and that it has power, kingdom-power, healing power. It makes the lame walk, just like Jesus did. Paul put it crisply: the kingdom of God is not about talk, but about power (1 Corinthians 4:20). Where God’s power is at work to bring real change, real healing, real new life, there the people who are naming the name of Jesus to bring it about can stand up before judges, whether political or religious, and say with integrity that they are speaking for God. It will be costly; that’s part of the deal. But it will be true.
When I look at the complaints of American Christianity in light of what the early church endured, what our brothers and sisters throughout history faced, what believers in countries like North Korea are suffering right now, I can’t help but shake my head.
We definitely see hints of oppression in our country right now, but it’s more a loss of privilege than true persecution. Folks, all over the world at this very moment, Christians are being imprisoned, tortured, executed. God forgive us for thinking we have anything even remotely in common with them and for barely being aware of what they are going through. And for thinking it’s our right to be free from oppression. As we watch the church undergo persecution in Acts we’ll discover that the idea of having a right to not be persecuted was foreign to their thinking and that suffering it was actually a great privilege.
Jesus said when not if. Paul said surely those who live for Jesus, those who proclaim truth, those who align themselves with God’s kingdom, those who testify of their faith will be persecuted.
I’ve got to close this out but I am sure I did not do this justice. I feel like me preaching on this is like a swine rutting through the pearls of God’s truths.
Let’s finish by looking at what happened next…
23 When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24 And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, 25 who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit, “ ‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? 26 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed’— 27 for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. 29 And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, 30 while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” 31 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. Acts 4:23–31 (ESV)
You will think I’m crazy but I’d like to challenge you to take God up on his offer to save all those who call on his name (one of those absolute truths). Yes, that offer implies being at odds with the world in a way that will bring persecution. But the rewards far outweigh the difficulties.
 Wright, T. (2008). Acts for Everyone, Part 1: Chapters 1-12 (pp. 68–69). London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.
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