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Today we observe the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted church or IDOP. 100 million of our Christian brothers and sisters around the world are persecuted for their faith in Jesus Christ. Why does God allow persecution? Why is the church growing fastest in countries where persecution is most severe?
The book of Acts opens with the very last moments of Christ’s physical presence on earth. Jesus gave His apostles one last instruction to witness to the city of Jerusalem, the area of Judea and Samaria and even to the ends of the earth and then Jesus was, “lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.” (Acts 1:9) And so the apostles did just that. The early church was growing by huge numbers. Peter preached his very first message at Pentecost where 3000 souls recognized Jesus as the Messiah. Those 3000 people didn’t know any better and so they began, “continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” (Acts 2:42)
Over the next couple of chapters in Acts we see something extraordinary take place. Opposition began to grow against this loving bunch of guys that walked and lived by faith in a passionate, authentic way. Peter had just healed the lame man and he, the lame man, and the apostles went together to Herod’s temple and find themselves inundated by the people in the portico of Solomon. Peter gives his second message where 5000 men were saved. The priests, the captain of the temple guard, and the Sadducees were, “greatly disturbed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.” (Acts 4:2) As a result, these religious leaders toss Peter and his colleagues into jail. They hold a trial and question Peter as to what authority he had to speak of such things. Peter lays it on them by answering the question of the ages by concluding that, “There is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given my men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) The apostles were released with the warning that they would not preach in the name of Jesus again.
A short while later, perhaps the next day or two, we find Peter and the apostles back at the portico of Solomon teaching in the name of Jesus, the very thing they were told not to do. Back to jail they go for the night, but this night would be different. An angel of the Lord opens the gates of the prison and tells them to go back to the temple and teach the whole message of this life. They arrived back at the temple about daybreak and began to teach. That brings us to our passage in Acts 5:27-42. I hope you’ll take the time to read this great passage.
To be sure, biblical persecution results because of our position in Christ. For those of us that follow Jesus, can we expect persecution? 2 Tim. 3:12 says, “Indeed all who desire to live godly will be persecuted.” While we may not suffer the same type of persecution here as in those top 50 countries, I think our persecution may take a different form. Satan is our enemy, our adversary and he knows and understands how things work. Our enemy can use most anything as a trip wire to get our focus away from God. Satan is not so concerned with lost people. He seeks to destroy you, to deceive you, to discourage you. Why? When people watch us, we serve as an example of Jesus Christ in the flesh. We are not Christ, but we have His DNA. While I believe the tortuous persecution will come to these United States, for now religious persecution is not tolerated . . . unless you’re a Christian. The church has taken a defensive position and has fallen back on her heals under cultural screams of intolerance and judgment. In America I believe we are spiritually persecuted. We’re told by society how we’re supposed to act and many Christians have become introverted in their faith. We become unwitting pawns in Satan’s plan.
The enemy of Jesus Christ is real. I think one of the top attacks of the enemy is confusing us with things that aren’t bad in themselves, but they misprioritze life even if for a moment. How does he do this? He attacks us. He is on the offensive. He attacks our marriages, one of the principle foundations of society. He attacks relationships pitting friends against friends. He leads us to think about ourselves rather than others. We are deceived about the truth because we form opinions of the Bible without ever looking at the Bible. When C4 first started in 2007, our leadership was committed to keeping things simple. Some of us were particularly weary of church busyness so we committed to not have activities and things every day or night of the week. Christians were so busy with church activities that there wasn’t an abundance of time to do actual ministry. Now it seems that we’re too busy for church. We have the freedom to worship the One and only true God and yet we fall in the trap of our enemy. We’ve bought the lie that we can have casual, shallow associations with believers. We’ve bought the lie that we don’t need the fellowship the early believers had. They were together continuously and we find it nearly impossible to spend an hour or two a week with believers.
I think we’re persecuted with the mind games of the devil. At least our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world can see the tools Satan uses against them. Those that oppress and persecute are visible. The enemy can be seen. Christians are fighting among themselves and attacking one another when Satan is the enemy! The world desperately needs to see the power of God that was evident in Peter’s life in us. The world needs to see that we’re confident in Christ, that we’re bold in Christ, and most of all that we’re loving in Christ. After the disciples were flogged in Acts 5:40, we come to vs. 41-42:
“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. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.”
In their time of greatest need, they continued in what they knew; they were not deterred. The time we’re supposed to draw close to Christ, we actually withdraw and blame God for abandoning us in our time of need. The principles of prayer, trust, hope that once grounded us in faith are cast aside and traded for doubt, anxiety, and fear.
These all fall right into our enemy’s plan. Shifting the focus from God to ourselves and we’re lost in a sea of despair with no way out. Will you allow your circumstances to control your faith? Or will you allow the power of Christ to shine in your life regardless of what’s going on? We often ask the question, if faced with adversity, would you deny Christ? That’s a difficult question to answer and probably the wrong one to ask. Maybe a better question is, if faced with life, would you deny Christ? Isn’t that, in essence, what we do when we abandon the fundamental principles of the faith?