Summary: If and when we are persecuted, how shall we resond?
The Christian Response to Persecution
In America, where I live, we formally have freedom to worship and express our religious views. I use the word “formally” because there is increasing erosion to these freedoms. We have not suffered the severe persecution our Christian brothers suffer in places like the Middle East, China and North Korea. Although I would like to continue n this freedom, I realize that times are changing even here. How shall we deal with persecution, if and when it arrives here? And where it has already arisen in this world, what do we do to comfort our brethren? If we don’t feel the pain of their suffering, then we are poor Christians indeed.
We can be thankful that God has given us the Scripture to stand upon. And in the Book of Acts, we see much persecution of the early church. We do not have to develop a new theology of dealing with persecution. We instead need to look at the Book of Acts. How did they respond to persecution? The Bible says that the Scriptures have been provided for our instruction. So it would be foolish indeed not to study them. Martyn Lloyd Jones, a British pastor and theologian of the last century, points us to the Book of Acts as the blueprint of God’s church. It is the DNA of what our church ought to be.
The Bible teaches us that all who would live godly lives in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution (2 Timothy 3:12). Jesus teaches again and again about the reality of persecution. We might not desire it, but God uses even our suffering to our benefit (Romans 8:28). So, realizing that we have to respond to persecution, let us examine Acts 2:23-31 to see what we can learn.
Peter and John, and probably the healed lame man, were released from the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin would like to have done away with them, but they feared the people. We will see a progression of persecution in Acts. The next time, they would be beaten, and then Stephen would be stoned. It is good to know that God will not let us be tempted above our means to resist (1 Corinthians 10:13). God provides for us, even when we might be tempted not to preach or teach in Jesus’ name like Peter and John here, or when we are tempted to deny Jesus or water down the gospel to avoid persecution.
Peter and John had said they had to obey God rather than man to the Sanhedrin. So even before they left the Council, they had boldly stated that they would continue preaching and teaching in the name of Jesus. They would not stand down. They were dismissed and returned to the rest of the church. The Greek literally reads: “And they came to their own people.” The Book of Acts repeatedly stresses the unity of the early church. I would suppose the rest of the body had been in prayer for Peter and John, It does not say so here, but it can be implied from other passages in Acts that they did. They were all in this together. This should be in the DNA of the church today as well. The first response to persecution is to stand together with the persecuted members of the church. Their pain is our pain.
Peter and John told them what had happened. How did the rest of the church respond? We should note that they responded in unison. It wasn’t Peter, John or another spokesman. They responded together. This must have been the work of the Holy Spirit in the Church. The persecuted church cannot stand together apart from the active presence of the Holy Spirit. The Apostles had failed miserably in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus was arrested. The Spirit made all the difference.
They all responded by reminding themselves who God is. The call upon God together with the words “You, Master.” God is God. He is above all. He is the ultimate power in the universe. This is because He is the Creator. They remind each other that He created the heavens, the earth and the sea. God, then, is bigger than the problems they faced. The church under persecution realizes that God is sovereign.
Then they zero in on their identification as God’s people. God had spoken to their father David. He had spoken by the same Holy Spirit who was now directing their unified response to persecution. God had spoken through David in the second psalm which they now quote. The Church stands in times of persecution by remembering that they are God’s chosen people. They also realize that the answer to persecution is grounded in the promise of Scripture. We have the advantage of having the New Testament as well as the Old to draw upon. God speaks to them through the Scripture, through the written Word.