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594 - How Should We Live in the Face of Persecution?
Episode 59421st April 2024 • Leaving Laodicea • Steve McCranie
00:00:00 00:57:53

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Persecution: An Inconvenient Truth

As followers of Jesus, we are promised that trials, tribulations, and persecution will come to all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus (2 Tim. 3:12). It simply comes with the territory. After all, Jesus warned, “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you” (John 15:18). And so, what they did to Jesus, they will do to those who call Him Lord (Matt. 15:18-20). But don’t take my word for it. Read it for yourself.

So rather than responding with fear, doubt, blame-shifting, or finger-pointing (which is often our natural reaction to mistreatment and persecution), we can look to the example of the early church in Acts 4 to see how they faced opposition with faith, prayer, unity, and incredible boldness. Their response holds valuable lessons for the church today as we try to navigate our increasingly hostile culture while being the light in this present darkness Jesus ordained us to be.

The First Wave of Persecution (Acts 3-4)

Acts 4 opens with Peter and John boldly proclaiming the Gospel and performing the miraculous healing of a lame man at the temple gate (Acts 3:2). This act of faith, however, attracts the attention of the religious authorities, who arrest and interrogate the apostles, even while the crowds are filled with “wonder and amazement” at what they had just witnessed (Acts 3:10). Plus, Peter preached a rather pointed sermon to the people, clearly exalting the crucified and risen Jesus as the Messiah which, no doubt, had the Jewish religious establishment filled with rage and indignation. It was a rather amazing day for the infant church.

So, threatened by their bold message, the religious leaders arrested them and commanded them to stop speaking and teaching in the name of Jesus (Acts 4:18). This is a pivotal moment for the church, revealing not only the apostles’ unwavering faith and commitment, but also setting the stage for the church’s response to future governmental intrusions, demands, and subsequent persecutions.

Civil Disobedience: A Bold Response

But rather than cower in fear and scurry away with their tail tucked between their legs, Peter and John responded with firm, but respectful defiance, appealing to a higher authority than the Jewish politburo: “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard” (4:19-20). In essence, “We say ‘No’ to you and ‘Yes’ to God.” For, despite further threats and a future of beatings, imprisonments, cancellations, removal of tax-exempt status, lockdowns, and death— the church will not be silenced.

As Christians, we are called to stand firm in our faith, regardless of the circumstances we face. We must remember that our ultimate loyalty is to God and His Word, and not to the pressures or expectations of this world which is soon to pass away (1 John 2:17).

Unified in “One Accord” in Prayer

After their release, Peter and John returned to the church to report all that had happened, including the severe threats from the authorities and their response (Acts 4:23).  But instead of panicking or becoming divided (which is a common church response today), they came together in unity, what the Scriptures call “one accord,” and raised their voices to God in prayer.

This “one accord” type of unity is vital when facing persecution. As Jesus said, “If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand” (Mark 3:25). Likewise, a church united in faith, purpose, and prayer, under His Lordship, will not be shaken by opposition, no matter how severe. But a church splintered by divisions, factions, and discord will struggle to stand, even on a good day.

When faced with challenges, we must stand together as a body of believers, seeking God’s guidance and strength through prayer. As Philippians 1:27 reminds us, we are called to “stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.”

Acknowledging and Embracing God’s Sovereignty

Their unified prayer began by recognizing God’s sovereign power as Creator (Acts 4:24), which is a critical starting point. Likewise, when we face unsettling circumstances, we must remember our God is still on His throne, unmovable, unshakeable, and supreme Lord over all. He hasn’t changed, nor will He ever (Heb. 13:8). And we must also realize our current situation, as bad as it may seem, is not a surprise to God— because He is fully aware and in control of all events, everywhere, at all times, even the persecution we may face.

Today, we can take great comfort in embracing that simple fact because it brings profound peace, knowing that even during trials and difficulties, God has a plan and purpose for everything He allows to come our way. As Romans 8:28 reminds us, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” And that promise (“all things”) holds true for trials, tribulations, and even persecutions.

Praying for Boldness, Not Deliverance

Notice that the church did not pray for God to remove the persecution or rain down fire and brimstone on their persecutors. Instead, they prayed for boldness to continue speaking God’s Word in the face of threats, no matter how severe: “Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word” (Acts 4:29). Their focus was not on escaping persecution, but on remaining faithful to their mission in spite of their suffering. This is a mark of spiritual maturity and graduate-level faith that is so lacking today.

While there is nothing inherently wrong with asking God to deliver us from trials (Matt. 6:13), the greater need for His church is strength and courage to remain faithful in the midst of them, should God choose not to remove them. Like the apostles and many others throughout church history, our primary concern should be boldly fulfilling the mission Christ has given us, and not avoiding hardship along the way.

Embracing Our Identity and Purpose in Him

The apostles prayed, not as free agents or independent contractors, but as servants (literally “slaves” or “doúlos”) of God (Acts 4:29). This speaks to their clear understanding of their true identity and purpose in Him. They recognized and accepted the fact they belonged wholly to God and existed to do His will. They lived for an audience of One.

In our Western world, with our emphasis on personal freedom, independence, and autonomy, this slave mentality is foreign and even offensive, especially in our racially weaponized culture. But from a Biblical perspective, it is the proper posture for believers to take. Remember, “We are not our own; we were bought at a price” (1 Cor. 6:19-20). So like the apostles and the early church, we must learn to embrace our identity as slaves of Christ and find our purpose in pleasing and glorifying Him alone.

Stepping Out in Faith and Expecting the Supernatural

Note also that the apostles prayed for God to move in a specific way and expected God to stretch out His hand to heal and perform signs and wonders (Acts 4:30). They understood the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit (whom they had just received two chapters earlier) and believed God could (He can) and would (He will) work supernaturally through them as they stepped out in faith. They truly believed what we claim to believe, that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb. 13:8), and that He is no respecter of persons and does not show partiality for one church age over another (Acts 10:34). For what He did for His church back then, He can and will also do for us today.

This embracing of the supernatural nature of the Holy Spirit challenges our anemic expectations and “play it safe” mentality. Just think: Do we really believe the same Spirit who worked mightily through the early church lives in us? And if so, do our prayers reflect that confidence? God’s power has not diminished over the centuries. What He did in Acts, He can still do today through a church that dares to believe and step out in faith.

When God Answers, He Really Answers!

God’s response to the church’s prayer was swift and powerful— actually earth-shaking. “And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31) — and their first request was answered immediately.

But what about their second request for signs and wonders? Acts 5:12 records, “And through the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were done among the people.” Note, if you keep reading, you will discover this powerful working of the Spirit was accompanied by the believers living and ministering in “one accord” unity (Acts 5:12). Amazing.

Finally, this event also showcases the power of united prayer and the importance of expectant faith (Heb. 11:1) from those who didn’t even own a Bible. When they back then, and we today, cry out to God in one accord, believing He is not only able but willing to answer our prayers, we best position ourselves to see Him move in incredible ways.

Some Lessons for His Church Today

So what does this mean for us today? Simply this: As followers of Jesus, we should expect opposition and persecution as we live out our faith in an increasingly hostile world. And when it comes (and it will), we should embrace it and “rejoice that we are counted worthy to suffer shame for His name” (Acts 5:41).

And like the early church, our response to persecution must be rooted in:

•  Unity: Striving side by side for the gospel in “one accord,” not allowing petty divisions to weaken us.

•  Prayer: Crying out to God together for boldness and power, not just deliverance.

•  Faith: Trusting in God’s sovereign purposes, even in our suffering.

•  Obedience: Faithfully serving Christ and speaking His truth, regardless of the consequences.

•  Expectancy: Believing God for the supernatural as we step out in faith to do His will.

So let us face the challenges of our day not with fear, but with expectant faith. Let us link arms as the body of Christ, united in prayer and purpose, and let us boldly shine the light of the gospel, confidently knowing that the gates of hell will not prevail against His church (Matt. 16:18).

Remember, our God is still on the throne. His power has not diminished, His purposes will always be accomplished, and He is keenly aware of the trials of His children. So may we, like the early church, be found faithful in our generation, come what may.

To download the slides for this message, click – HERE

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