“When they had been released, they went to their own companions and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. And when they heard this, they lifted their voices to God with one accord and said, ‘O Lord, it is You who made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and all that is in them, who by the Holy Spirit, through the mouth of our father David Your servant, said, “Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples devise futile things?” “The kings of the earth took their stand, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord and against His Christ.” For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur. And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Your bond-servants may speak Your word with all confidence, while You extend Your hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Your holy servant Jesus.’ And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:23-31).
The authorities’ ultimatum against the apostles was a threat against the entire church. Anyone caught proclaiming Christ risked arrest, interrogation, and imprisonment – or worse. Nor would the threat end with those who preached Christ openly, but would reach anyone who believed. The apostle Paul would later testify that he had sought everyone everywhere who believed the gospel, to have them arrested and brought to Jerusalem for trial and punishment.
As public sentiment against the gospel intensifies in our generation, it’s imperative that Christians take note of the hostilities. As authorities gain power, their reach won’t stop at pastors or Christian celebrities. Already, local Christian business owners are being shut down and extorted simply for practicing their faith in Christ – and it will only get worse.
To say so isn’t being negative – it’s historical. The whole of the church’s history is awash with cases of persecution and suppression by both civil and religious authorities. Foxe’s Book of Martyrs chronicles myriad incidents of ordinary Christians who were tortured and executed in the most horrific ways, solely for embracing salvation by God’s grace through faith in Christ.
What should an ordinary Christian do when facing adversity for loving Jesus? The incident in the text above shows three means of grace that are always available to us: the fellowship of the church, the power of prayer, and the presence of the Holy Spirit.
The apostles reported the incident to the church: “When they had been released, they went to their own companions and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them.” Christians aren’t meant to stand alone. The church, by definition, is a community joined together by our love for Christ – not perfect people, but sinners saved by grace. As antagonisms rise – and they will – it will be increasingly necessary for Christians to band together. The greater the pressures against us, the greater will be our need for one another.
The Jerusalem church responded to the reports of persecution by praying: “And when they heard this, they lifted their voices to God with one accord.” The church is not a political, social, economic, or military organization. We do not wage war by the use worldly means, but through the Spirit and the Word. God commands His people to call on Him: If “My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (2 Chron. 7:14). Prayer does not make us strong; it reveals God’s strength in us. God places us in situations greater than we can handle so that we’ll turn to Him and see His grace in every way.
When the church prayed, God shook their meeting place and the Holy Spirit filled the church: “And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness.” God doesn’t always shake buildings, but He does shake up His church. Looking again to Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, we see many examples of people standing tall against the worst persecution, not because they were especially exceptional people, but because God is so good to His children.
The Jerusalem church didn’t launch a political campaign, wage a military war, seek to topple cultural norms, or engage in economic pursuits. They spoke God’s Word boldly. They did what God called His church to do – to make much of Christ. By worshiping Christ openly and unapologetically, countless others came to faith in Christ and joined their chorus of praise.
May God grant His church today a measure of grace in Christ equal to the adversity in our generation.