The Proper Response to Persecution
Acts 4:23-31 (click here for audio)
Our study in Acts has been for several weeks surrounding this incident of the Apostles Peter and John who met this lame man at the gate called Beautiful. He sat at this gate for the purpose of receiving alms from Jews who were walking toward the temple to attend prayer meetings. Peter said to the lame man "silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have give I to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk."
You remember how he got up, started walking, leaping and praising God. He continued to do this as he went into the temple. It created a great stir. People were coming around and Peter preaches declaring it was Jesus who healed the man. In Acts 4:4 it reads that five thousand men come to Christ in faith. This greatly annoyed the religious rulers. They had Peter and John arrested and held over in jail. The next day they were brought before the Sanhedrin court. They were threatened with physcial harm if they continued to preach in the name of Jesus. Peter said, "we will continue to speak that which we have seen and heard." They were released, and they went to their friends reporting all that the chief priest and scribes had said to them.
Here is the first persecution of the church. It will become more intense as we shall see.
We should remember from 2Timothy 3:12
Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.
Some Believers will experience more persecution than others. There are seasons in your life when you think everything cool. You think all is well and no one bothers you for being a Christian.
Then there are times you sense the hostility from the world, and even from those you know very well who are not believers. Persecution is real. The devil is real. Evil is real. The hostility from an unbelieving world is real.
For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake; (Philippians 1:29)
It’s part of the mix for Christians. So what is the proper response for Christians when confronted with persecution? Should be ignore it and pretend it doesn’t exist? Should we become combative and stand up for our rights and demand equal justice?
Let’s look at the Apostles and the early church. How did they respond to persecution?
Notice v.23 “When they were released, they went to their (what)?..” to their lawyer so they can sue for being unjustly incarcerated for preaching the gospel? No, they went to their friends. They were NOT seeking retaliation, they were seeking fellowship among their Christian friends.
I. They went to their Friends. V.23
v.23 friends, kjv “own company” NASB “companions” HCSB “own people”
they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them..
Peter and John were threatened with physical harm for preaching in the name of Jesus. At this point no harm came to them, they were only warned of what will happen if they didn’t stop proclaiming Christ.
· We are warning you! Stop preaching in the name of Jesus.
· You are stirring up all the people of Jerusalem.
· You are blaming us for the death of Jesus.
· You intend to bring this man’s blood upon us. (they say that in chapter 5)
· STOP doing what you are doing, or face serious consequences.
“When they were released, they went to their friends and reported….”
They went to their friends – It’s good they had some good friends. The chief priest and elders were unfriendly characters.
When you receive treatment like that given to Peter and John, it’s good to know who your friends are. When you discover the world around you is very unfriendly, you need to stay close to Christian friends. Most cases that will be a spouse, a brother, or sister, family member. But it may be someone outside your family.
When it comes to experiencing persecution for Christ, it’s a great comfort to have friends, even if it’s only one devoted friend. In the Bible David was persecuted and he had a friend in Jonathan. The prophet Elijah had a friend in Elisha. The Apostle Paul had Silas, Barnabas, Luke and Timothy.
Here in our text Peter had John, and John had Peter as a friend. Both of them had a group of friends-- they had a church family. Christian families today need the encouragement from other Christian families.
That’s what friends do.
(1) They encourage you. It’s not so simple living for Christ. We are to put God first, and that’s not always easy. The world is against you, not to mention the flesh. We are not always obedient. Good friends will encourage you. They won’t let you stay in your self pity. They will remind you of the God who loves you and is in complete control. That’s one purpose of meeting together.
24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
(2) They stay with you. They don’t forget you when life becomes very unpleasant. They are not fair-weather friends. Regardless of how stormy it gets, regardless of how difficult it gets, they are there. They help you to stay focused on God. They help by holding you accountable. They won’t tell you always what you want to hear, but they will speak straight with you like a friend should. They don’t shoot out the door when you fail. They will stay and be a friend when no one else will stay.
Proverbs 18:24 A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.
(3) They love you. Jesus gave this new commandment to His disciples.
John 13:34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.
True Christian friends don’t ignore you, judge you, or use you, they love you with the love of Christ.
12 “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are My friends if you do what I command you. 15 No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.
There’s not a greater friendship than what we have in Jesus. He’s the true Friend as well as Lord and Master. We are to model that kind of friendship with one another.
(4) They share with you. Notice in the text - “they reported what the chief priest and the elders had said to them..” When they got back to their friends, they didn’t hold back and withhold information. They shared the good and the bad. Here’s what happened to us. Here’s what was said to us. We were threatened. Facing persecution is not easy. We don’t handle it right every time. We can share our faults. James 5:16 says “Confess your faults with one another”
Look at v.32 “Now the full number of those who believed were on one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.”
They shared life together. They helped those who were in need.
(5) They pray with you.
That’s the remainder of our verses today (vv. 24-31) this is the church praying together for one another. That’s what Christian friends do.
Again from James 5:16 Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.
That’s the last part we want to look at. The prayer to God. We can talk together as friends, but the most important thing we can do is talk to God. Good friends pray one for another. We hold each other up in prayer.
II. They went to God in Prayer vv.24-31
Their prayer is very instructive for us. There’s much we can learn and benefit from this prayer.
(1) The Object of Prayer – God - This prayer is directed toward God. Never do we read of the church praying to the “departed saints”. Never in scriptures do we read of Christians praying to angels, praying to Saint Peter, or praying to Mary. Some people pray to Allah. One main reason we don’t pray to Allah is because there is no Bible verse commanding us to pray to Allah. Allah doesn’t even exist. He’s a false god. We pray to the Living God.
Sovereign Lord - Master - Ruler over all. Our God, Our Sovereign Lord has All authority. He has authority over all people, all things, and all creation. He is over all and above all. There’s not one single molecule that moves without His knowledge and His permission.
He made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them.
Psalms 50:10-11 For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills.
11 I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is mine.
God owns all the deer, all the coyotes, and all the gophers. God owns all the ants and ticks.
God owns all those wasp flying around our house this week. God owns the three dead wasp I eliminated last week. God owns the one that got in my shirt and stung me last week as well.
We are NOT the product of chance! We are NOT the result of some accident in nature.
W.A. Criswell, would say this funny poem mocking the whole idea of evolution:
Once I was a tadpole beginning to begin
Then I was a frog with my tail tucked in
Then I was a monkey in a banyan tree
And now I’m a professor with a PhD.
Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, Our Lord and God made EVERYTHING!
SEE Colossians 1:15-17
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
The Early Church – knew this GOD-- Sovereign Lord - They never called HIM “the Man Upstairs”
Or “Higher Power” - He is God who made everything…. And by him all things consist “held together”.
(2) The Motivation for PRAYER - V.25 “who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit…
The Fuel or MOTIVATION for prayer comes as that prayer is ROOTED in the Scriptures. Here is the church praying and quoting Psalm 2:1-2
The Holy Spirit gave David these words which are recorded in Psalm 2 - God gave information long ago concerning the coming of Christ.
God by the HOLY SPIRIT told of HOW THE HEATHEN WOULD RAGE against the LORD and HIS ANOINTED.
The Early Church SAW the connection - (see v.27) “for truly in this city….”
The Early Church SAW the “providential hand of God” (see v.28) The crucifixion of Jesus did NOT take God by surprise! It was prophesied in the Old Testament. In Psalm 2 you see the GENTILES… the unbelieving world plotting in vain….. the kings of the earth coming against the LORD and His Anointed…but the same Psalm tells of the Messiah’s victory.
Here’s a lesson for us! We can combine prayer times with Bible reading. Our confidence and faith comes from the Bible. We can pray back to God the scriptures we are reading.
Example #1 Do you need some spiritual wisdom in dealing with some issue?
Pray James 1:5 - Heavenly Father, You have invited us to ask “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” So Lord Jesus I ask for such wisdom. And remember the context of asking for wisdom is when you are under trials and tribulations.
Example #2 Are you praying for someone to be saved?
Pray Romans 10:1 Lord Jesus, I pray as Paul did in Romans 10:1 “Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved.” and I pray according to 2Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
The bible is filled with promises - here is the fuel, the motivation for prayer.
God’s Word has this promise from God “ I will never leave you, nor forsake you” (Heb. 13:5) “But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.(Phil 4:19)
When you sense loneliness you can pray Hebrews 13:5, or when you have a great need of some kind, then pray Phil 4:19.
(3) The Mission of Prayer - vv. 29-30
What is the mission of prayer? Or What is the purpose of prayer? What is prayer’s priority?
We learn the purpose of prayer in the LORD’S PRAYER… Our Father who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name….thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
We pray for God’s purpose to be fulfilled. We pray for the mission of God to be CARRIED OUT>
Lord, look on their threats - they did NOT pray for comfortable accomodations!
They did not pray to be comfortable… they prayed for boldness to do what??? Grant to your servants To continue to speak your word
· They saw themselves as “servants” the word is “slave” no right of their own… they belong to the KING; Their LORD, their MASTER…
· All they desired was to be FAITHFUL in speaking the truth with boldness…
· The MISSION and PURPOSE of this prayer - was not to escape the possible consequences for preaching the name of Jesus; but rather to embrace those consequences, if need be. The mission was not to seek COMFORT; but to be obedient and have perseverance in declaring the gospel.
23 And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.
That’s the mission of prayer - Lord, your will to be done… Your will is that we “deny ourselves”. If following you requires denying some personal comfort, then that’s what will do.
“Taking up my cross” is the mission. No one could take up the cross that was only meant for Christ. But there’s a cross God has designed just for you and just for me.
The hymn “Must Jesus Bear the Cross Alone”
“Must Jesus bear the cross alone and all the world go free?
No, there’s a cross for every one, And there’s a cross for me.
They prayed for boldness to speak God’s Word; they prayed for God to heal the sick, and for signs and wonders to be performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.
Did God answer the prayer? That’s the last part…
(4) The Answer to Prayer v.31
God answered their prayer. Peter and John stood before the Sanhedrin and they faced the possible outcome of becoming martyrs in the infant days of the church. They may have been a little rattled in their boots about their ordeal, but one thing is for sure – God rattled the house. God shook the house in response to their prayer meeting.
God shook the place.
They were filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.
That’s what they prayed for – boldness - God gave them boldness.
What about the prayer for God to continue doing signs and healing the sick?
God answered that prayer. SEE chapter Acts 5:12 - and you note the prayer was answered.
God will answer your prayer when you come like the early church.
Pray that God will change your heart and make you more like Christ.
If you are not saved, ask the God to change your heart so you will love the Lord.