"Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you." (Matt. 5:11-12)
Acts 4 records the first account of persecution of the newly born church which increases in intensity throughout the book of Acts and has continued for 2,000 years. Yet, to the degree the church (or individual believers) has compromised its witness to Jesus' message of repentance and salvation through Him alone (Acts 4:12), to that degree, we have lost our salt and light influence and have been accepted by the world system. As the religious leaders said to Peter and John in vv. 17-18, if you keep quiet about Jesus we won't bother you. ["Satan usually directs the persecution today not at the physical body, but at the ego. He directs his persecution at pride or acceptance or status, etc. And it's really very effective. He doesn't threaten the Christian by saying if you witness, I'll cut your head off. He threatens the Christian by planting within his mind the fact that if you witness you might lose your job or your status or somebody might think you're strange. And it's a sad thing, while the church today is not being killed physically, the church has succumbed to a kind of living spiritual death." John MacArthur on Acts 4]
V. 7 – "By what power, or in what name, have you done this?" Can you see how the lust for power and prestige in the sight of man among the religious leaders had so corrupted them that instead of rejoicing in the miraculous healing of this poor, lame beggar, they anxiously plotted and planned how to maintain their power over the Jewish people? Yet, when you believe that this life is it, as the Sadducees did, you can understand why they grasped for power and the wealth and prestige that went with it. And though the Pharisees said they believed in heaven (Acts 23:6) they loved temporal power and wealth as well. 14 "Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, were listening to all these things and were scoffing at Him. 15 And He said to them, "You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God." (Luke 16:14-15) Even as NT believers in Jesus and eternal life we can be tempted to desire temporal things (esteemed by man but detestable to God) more than a passion to live for God's glory and the joy of pleasing Him as Peter and John model for us.
Vv. 8-12 – Peter answers their question about who has the power (them or Jesus) with great boldness. This is the same Peter who denied our Lord just a few weeks earlier and now preaches the Jesus who they had just crucified. "Let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead-by this name this man stands here before you in good health. 11 He is the STONE WHICH WAS REJECTED by you, THE BUILDERS, but WHICH BECAME THE CHIEF CORNER stone. 12 And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved." The key to Peter's boldness is seen in v. 8 – he was filled with the Holy Spirit, which comes as we empty ourselves and surrender to God to do His will regardless of what it may cost us. Peter was speaking fearlessly to the same powers that crucified Jesus and they could have done the same to him.
Vv. 19-20 – "But Peter and John answered and said to them, "Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; 20 for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard." When God-ordained human authority (Romans 13) violates God's clear will, we must do as Peter and John did here. (see other examples in Exodus 1 & 2; Daniel 3 & 6)
Prayer partners, prayer focus and prayer power – The prayer seen in vv. 23-31 is one of the most powerful prayers in Scripture and it resulted in the house literally shaking (an immediate answer to their prayer for more signs and wonders) and all the disciples speaking the word of God with boldness. They prayed in one accord (one purpose – for God's glory through Jesus through signs and wonders and bold preaching); they prayed Scripture that exalted God as "Absolute Master" (Gr. despotes) Who is in total control of all that happens and uses the evil of man for His own ultimate good purposes (esp. the cross as seen here and "all things" Rom. 8:28). They did not pray for persecution to end but that they may have confidence to speak His word with boldness (which He answers immediately – v. 31). Would you like a prayer group like this?
The Bible says in many places that there is joy and blessing in persecution and trials if we handle them the way God calls us to. Matthew 5:11-12 as seen above and a few others all say this: 12 "Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you." (1 Peter 4:12-14) "So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name." (Acts 5:41) " And if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him." (Rom. 8:17) 5 "For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ." (2 Cor. 1:5); 7 "So that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ." (1 Peter 1:7) 10"After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you." (1 Peter 5:10) 16 "Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. 17 For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, 18 while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal." (2 Cor. 4:16-18) "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." (James 1:2-4)
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION AND APPLICATION
1. What is your main take away from the message and table discussion and how can you apply it to your life?
2. "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you." (Matt. 5:11-12) Do you believe that you will be blessed if you are persecuted for witnessing to Jesus as this Scripture clearly states? Does persecution for Jesus make you rejoice and be glad? Do you believe your reward in heaven for witnessing and being persecuted for Jesus is truly worth the temporal suffering for a few years in this life? In other words, do you believe what Jesus says in these verses and all the other passages on persecution and trials seen above are true?
3. Read all the passages on persecution and suffering above and underline all the positive aspects.
4. Prayer partners, prayer focus and prayer power – Note the prayer in vv. 23-31. Do you have prayer partners who will pray with you like this? As we see our life as being on mission for Jesus as seen here in Acts 4 and as Jesus commanded us all to do (Matthew 28:18-20) everywhere we go (with family members, work associates/customers/suppliers, neighbors, and wherever we may be), then we will realize our great need for God's power and seek out other mission-minded believers to pray with us as seen in this prayer.
5. If you wrote the letter to God that I suggested in my e-mail, share at your table some of the things you asked for.