Summary: As we SURRENDER our will to the Spirit of God, He will EMBOLDEN us to faithful testimony for Christ, even in the face of opposition.
As we continue our study this morning through the book of Acts we have seen the fledgling congregation in Jerusalem experience tremendous gains. The Holy Spirit descended upon them in power on Pentecost Sunday which resulted in the mighty wonders of God being declared to thousands of Jewish pilgrims who had traveled to Jerusalem for the festival. We saw the result of that outpouring as 3,000 souls were gloriously born again and regenerated by the power of God’s Spirit and were baptized into the membership of that church.
We saw their life together as a church focus on the essential elements and fundamental ideals of church life. They were continually devoted to the apostles’ teaching, the fellowship, the breaking of bread, and the prayers.
Last week we saw an example of God’s miraculous work through this church as a middle-aged lame beggar who suffered from a physical birth defect was gloriously healed. The result of that healing was first, he walked, jumped and praised God in the temple and second, it drew a crowd of thousands to witness this miracle. Peter took this crowd gathered as an opportunity to once again preach the good news of Jesus.
At this point the church of Jesus Christ is only a few weeks old and already it is having significant influence and impact in the city as they seek to fulfill the missions’ mandate. But as we get to chapter four we see the very first instance of opposition against the church. Though this is the first instance of persecution it’s certainly not the last. For the last 2,000 years Satan has – through human agents – brought tremendous persecution and opposition against the church of Jesus Christ.
During the first three centuries of church history it was the Roman Empire that brought the bulk of persecution against Christians. Disciples of Jesus were systematically thrown to wild animals, crucified, turned into human torches and brutally tortured in all the sadistic ways evil men could devise. Uncounted thousands of martyrs met their deaths with a calmness and serenity that absolutely unnerved their tormenters.
And though the intended result of the hostile persecution was to squelch this movement - to impede it's continued growth and expanse - the exact opposite happened. The persecution which came upon the church actually served to purify and strengthen Christ's church.
Now we today in our part of the world we have rarely faced this intense kind of persecution because we name Jesus as our Lord – but this kind of vicious opposition to Christ’s church has existed throughout the last 2,000 years and it will continue to exist. There are at least two reasons I can so confidently say that opposition will continue to perpetuate. First, Jesus promised it. He said in John 15: 18“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” John 15:18-20
Just as sure as Jesus was beaten and killed so will his followers be beaten and killed. In the next chapter of John we find this warning from Jesus: Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. John 16:2
That’s the first reason I can say with confidence that Christians will continue to experience brutal persecution against them – Jesus promised it. But the second reason I can say that is because Satan is the prince and power of the air; he’s the ruler of this present darkness. And as long as he has the ability to brutally oppose Jesus and kill His followers, he will do so with all the vim and vigor he can muster.
We should never be lulled into thinking that the governments of this world will be sympathetic to the cause of Christ. All human governments in this world are under the dominion of the prince of this world - they're under the influence of Satan. We as Christians are first and foremost citizens of heaven, our allegiance is to the Kingdom of God; the flag we salute first is not the stars and stripes, but we salute the banner of Jesus. And as such we are foreigners, aliens and strangers in any earthly kingdom. Thus it should not come as a surprise or shock to us that governments, political groups, factions and insurgents will oppose Christians – and even today in our world that opposition is brutal.
Case in point, the 21 Christians who were mercilessly executed by the Islamic State last week. They marched those 21 believers to the shoreline of the Mediterranean in Lybia and systematically beheaded each of them. This screen shot of the video released by their murderers Wednesday shows these brothers on their knees. The caption at the bottom reads, “The people of the cross, the followers of the hostile Egyptian Church.”