Persecution. Oh the loaded word. Most people don't like the sound of it because it carries with it a negative connotation. Some may say that it's a "religious" word.
But I beg to differ.
While most forms of the word may in fact be related to one's religious affiliation, I'm sure completely nonreligious people have felt the sting of interrogation. Or been put-down or judged for who they are, what they believe—or lack there of—or what job they have, who they marry, among a thousand other reasons.
But, before I get off on some tangent (I like to do this in speech and on paper)….. I grew up in one of those towns with that teacher who, honest-to-goodness, really pushed for not only quality writing, but quantity. Yes, quantity.
And I am not just making this up based on fragments of a memory. I'm sure the teacher's motive really had to do with the kiddies writing as little as possible for each assignment asked of them and he wanted to make sure they pushed themselves a little more.
Anyways, I was reading Acts this morning. What a great book. I literally stayed away from this book for the first four years of my disciple life. I admit it's because I had tried to read it, but the writing was so rich with history, verbiage and stories, that I couldn't finish. Only until I picked it up for the second or third time and began to read it straight through, did I find so many wonderfully, spiritually flavorful examples and principles that can be applied to my everyday life.
The passage I read today really challenged my heart. Here, I'll paint the scene for you:
The apostles were brought in and made to appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. 28 'We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,' he said. 'Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.”'
29 Peter and the other apostles replied: 'We must obey God rather than human beings! 30 The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a cross. 31 God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins. 32 We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.'
33 When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death. 34 But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honored by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while.35 Then he addressed the Sanhedrin: 'Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men. 36 Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing. 37 After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered. 38 Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. 39 But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.'
40 His speech persuaded them. They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.
41 The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. 42 Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.
Read that again. Verse 41: "The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name."
The apostles left rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name, or for Jesus. I admire the fortitude these men had. They were flogged, jailed, persecuted, ridiculed, scoffed, among other things, yet they left rejoicing because they were considered worthy.
When I look at my life, can I honestly say the same thing? Do I rejoice when I am persecuted or when life doesn't go my way? Do I see that God has a MUCH bigger plan than what I can see or understand? Do I realize that though God is mindful of the details of my life and cares about the desires of my heart, that it really is NOT about me?
I hope this scripture puts into perspective the attitude we should have. And, I am not just taking about the attitude of acceptance, though an argument can be made for how difficult and amazing this place can be, but let's take it a step further. Can I honestly thank God for the trials I am going through, the disappointments I have had, all in the name of Jesus? Or am I living life for myself?
"Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything."
"Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we[a] have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we[b] boast in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we[c] also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us."
God seems to think that "we should rejoice in our trials." Who has ever heard of such a dichotomy?
The disciples did. They weren't phased by the Pharisees' ignorance, nor were they tempted to please men. Like Jesus, they knew exactly who they were and why they were sent: to save the lost and bring the good news of Jesus to the Gentiles and beyond.
"For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ."
I hope you remember that whatever you are going through, that God loves you first-and-foremost, and that he is working for your good (Romans 8:28). Try and look deeper to what God may be doing outside of yourself. I've heard stories from friends who were literally disowned by their parents when they became Christians, only for their family members to declare "Jesus is Lord" a few years later.
Stand strong and take joy not only in your trials but if you are working, standing, preaching, talking, sharing, or loving God, let people say negative things. You will be considered worthy of the Name!
"If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first."
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