Summary: Are we living Christian lives or just fooling ourselves? Is there a comfortable cross for us? Let’s consider the Lord’s own life and calling as we reflect on the prisoner Paul.
Paul took prison ministry seriously. In fact, the last 8 chapters (21-28) of Acts record Paul’s imprisonment and mission work as a prisoner. While the messenger is a prisoner, the message continues to go forth and impact the world! This is another confirmation that the cause of Christ is of God and all efforts to stop it are vain. Nothing can stand in the way of God. Nothing can prevent his purposes from coming to completion. Nothing!
Persecution, hardships, opposition from the government, imprisonment, you name it… all have been tired and all have failed to undo the advancing kingdom of God. Perhaps the greatest test of all to the Christian faith is not powerful opposition, but peaceful prosperity. It is during these times that some of God’s people become relaxed and spiritually weak and flabby. While we may be experiencing peaceful prosperity here, and we may become spiritually lazy and compromising with the world around us, there are other quarters of this planet where the kingdom of Christ faces great trial and tribulation. Did you know that there are followers of Jesus Christ today who are in great danger and suffer bitter opposition?
The "Voice of the Martyrs" is a group that monitors Christian persecution today. You may be surprised to learn that there have been multiplied thousands of people killed in just the past few years because of one thing: They claim to believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God and they dare to call themselves Christian in a place where such a claim is unacceptable.
That is hard for me to understand or grasp. All my life there has been relative peace and safety extended to those in this country who name the name of Jesus Christ and call ourselves Christian. From my childhood even the entertainment industry bowed to the censorship of Christian influences. Such things as sexual immorality, swearing and even partial nudity were banned from any television. Public schools regularly had prayer and even scripture readings. Jobs and sports didn’t interfere with Sundays and Wednesday nights as these were reserved for church attendance. Indecency laws protected our children from immoral garbage in most arenas of life. The Bible, by in large, though not obeyed, was at least respected as God’s word. Fornication, adultery and homosexuality were considered terrible blights in anyone’s life, and sins of which to be deeply ashamed and repented of.
These were the post depression and post World War 2 days. God had gotten the attention of a whole generation of Americans at the cost of a host of lives. Today, that attention has turned to other things and it appears that it is time for God to get our attention again.
What will the days ahead look like for us? Listen to the words of Psalm 78: 34 Whenever God slew them, they would seek him; they eagerly turned to him again.
35 They remembered that God was their Rock, that God Most High was their Redeemer.
36 But then they would flatter him with their mouths, lying to him with their tongues;
37 their hearts were not loyal to him, they were not faithful to his covenant.
38 Yet he was merciful; he forgave their iniquities and did not destroy them. Time after time he restrained his anger and did not stir up his full wrath.
39 He remembered that they were but flesh, a passing breeze that does not return.
40 How often they rebelled against him in the desert and grieved him in the wasteland!
41 Again and again they put God to the test; they vexed the Holy One of Israel.
42 They did not remember his power-- the day he redeemed them from the oppressor,
Listen to verse 34 again: 34 Whenever God slew them, they would seek him; they eagerly turned to him again.
What in the world is going on here? You would think that just the opposite would occur. Some think that if God gave us everything we wanted, we would surely love him and seek him, wouldn’t we? I mean, isn’t that what makes sense to us? Why would anyone run to God when he allows terrible things to fall on us? How can we trust in a God who punishes us for sin and disciplines us to make us holy? I admit that I don’t understand all of this, but I read about it throughout the entire Bible. And have we not seen this here? I think of 9/11 and how just after the attacks our government leaders stood together and sang "God Bless America" on the Capital Steps. (How soon we forget). There is a redemptive and purifying quality to suffering that God’s word reveals over and over again. It is like the fire that purifies the precious metals. But it is more.