Rejoicing They’d Been Counted Worthy

May 20, 2009 at 11:10 am | Posted in Devotional thoughts | Leave a comment

            Acts 5:41.  We discussed this surprising verse in my class on Sunday, and it just happened to come up in my devotions this morning.  A little background to what happened will help explain it.  When God healed the lame man in the temple through Peter and John, there was quite a stir among the people.  The religious leaders were “greatly disturbed’ by this and arrested Peter and John (4:2-3).  However, those leaders could do nothing to them, because everyone knew the man had been healed.  So they simply warned Peter and John not to speak in the name of Jesus any longer (4:14-18).  Maybe they thought a threat from the religious leaders would be sufficient to shut them up, but Peter and John gave a fascinating response:  “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God.  For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (4:19-20)  The young church gathered together and prayed.  I would have prayed for protection from the authorities; they prayed for boldness in spite of the authorities! (4:29)  O that I could learn such urgency for the gospel!

            In the period that followed, and we don’t know how long that period lasted, the church continued to grow.  In fact there were many healings and miracles happening in Jerusalem (5:12-16).  Because of the church’s growth and influence, the religious leaders were “filled with jealousy.”  So they again arrested the apostles (apparently more than just Peter and John this time – Acts 5:17-18) and put them into prison.  After what I find a comical story about an angel letting them out, they appeared before the Sanhedrin.  The Sanhedrin had a furious discussion and wanted to put the apostles to death for disobeying them, but a greatly respected old teacher named Gamaliel advised against it, and his argument persuaded the council (5:28-40).  Instead, they beat the apostles and let them go with another order not to speak in Jesus’ name (5:40).

            This was probably the first time any these people had been persecuted for what they believed, yet their reaction is not what I would expect.  This is where the surprise of Acts 5:41 comes, “The apostles left the Sanhedrin rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name!”  They rejoiced!  I don’t get it; I’m not there in my own spiritual life.  Not only that, but “they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ!”  Maybe, if and when the time comes, God will grant the grace I need to rejoice over being beaten for him, but right now I don’t feel that at all.  I’m just too comfortable with my easy North-American Christianity.  With all the political changes that have come in recent years, and especially in recent days, persecution of American Christians looks more like a reality than it ever has before.  May God grant me the boldness to speak his word and, if need be, the eternal perspective to rejoice that I would be considered worthy of persecution for Jesus’ name.

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