It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword. When he saw that this met with approval among the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also. This happened during the Festival of Unleavened Bread. After arresting him, he put him in prison, handing him over to be guarded by four squads of four soldiers each. Herod intended to bring him out for public trial after the Passover. So, Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him. (Acts 12:1-5).
A successful coach prepares his sports team for any situation with one aim in mind and that is to win games. In the beginning of book of Acts, we see that Jesus gave us our mission as a church. Like a sport team’s mission is to win games our mission is to be Christ’s witnesses, to spread His gospel to the rest of the world. In Acts 12 we see that the persecution was heating up at this time, Herod was laying violent hands on James and Peter, who were close disciples of Jesus. So, the question is how did Jesus prepare them for this situation? How were they prepared to face opposition to their mission to spread the Gospel? We are going to take a look on ways that Jesus prepared them and the ways that He still prepares us as His people.
First one is Beware. Beware that there is opposition to the gospel, beware that there is persecution that will come to those who want to proclaim the name of Christ. In Matthew 10 as Jesus was sending out His twelve disciples, He told them, “I am sending you as sheep in the midst pf wolves.” He told them to beware of men because people are going to hate them because of His name. Jesus was very honest and direct about this, He never shied away from it, He never sugarcoated it. He told His disciples constantly and He said, “if they can persecute me what do you think they going to do to you.” The Bible itself is very clear on this issue, 2 Timothy 3:12 says, “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” All will be persecuted. And this is not a new idea or a New Testament thought but this was going on since the beginning of mankind. We know that the first murder recorded in Bible was Cain killing Abel. If you look at 1 John 3:12-13, it says, “..because his actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous. Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you.” Ever since Adam made that choice to disobey God, there are people who either obey God or disobey God. It’s been going on since the beginning of mankind that whenever there was those who want to follow God there will be those who oppose them. It says do not be surprised if world hates you. Yes, we do get surprise. We got caught off guard way too often. Why is that? Because of the kind of society and culture we live in, we are just so used to things being done for us, everything is made to give us comfort and easy accessibility, everything is made and geared to make our lives easier. We’ve gone to the point where everything in our lives gear towards- what can make me more comfortable, what can make my life easier. And unfortunately, that’s how we approach God. I think we see God as just another thing in our lives who going to make things easier and comfortable for us. So, we take the way we approach society and that’s how we approach God. Because of this mindset, we are going to be caught off guard. We thought we signed up for something easy, we thought we signed up for an easy life. We thought God is just going to push all the buttons for us and open and shut all the doors for us. But the Bible is very clear, beware if you choose to follow Christ, know what you are signing up for. Jesus never shied away from this, Bible doesn’t shy away from this but we always kind of ignore those passages.
Second, when persecution or opposition does come, how do you treat those people who oppose you? In Matthew 5:43-44 Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighborand hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” This is a hard thing. When we perceive that something wrong is done to us, we automatically want to retaliate. We want justice, even in the most minor things. So, why it is so hard, why we can’t just love our enemies as Jesus said. I think for us to truly love others, especially our enemies, we have to identify the pride in our life. I think we represent Christ the worse, when we are driving. The littlest things on roads can just set us off and we become so mad and angry on people. So, even in the most minor things, we just let our pride get ahead of us. But the priority should be, how are we representing Christ in our actions, not how am I going to be personally avenged for someone pulling out ahead of me. So, how do we just put pride to the side. I think what we need to do is to realize who we are following. We are following Christ; we need to follow in His humility. In Philippians 2:6-8, it says, “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death- even death on a cross!” If there is anyone who ever had the right to retaliation, it was Jesus. Jesus never did anything wrong. He was persecuted, bruised for us and eventually died, so that we can have life in Him. He is asking us to do the same, He is asking us to love our enemies, the way He loved us when we were sinners. So, put our pride to the side, follow in Christ’s humility and just understand that vengeance belongs to God. Vengeance doesn’t belong to us. God is the only one who judges fairly. God is the only true judge; He is the only one qualify to do that. If we can realize that and put that in His hands and understand that, in the end, He will make everything right, then we can go on and proceed in our mission, even to those who oppose us.
Third is to rejoice and be glad. Which is harder- to love your enemies or to just be happy about persecution? It’s probably harder to be happy about a situation you just not happy about. Because you can love someone without liking them but how do you just be glad about things which you are not glad about. How can we rejoice and be glad in the face of persecution and hardship? Jesus said in Matthew 5:11-12, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven.” I think that’s the key right there, He said rejoice and be glad because great is your reward in heaven. As Christians, we need to have this eternal mindset, we need to have this overarching view of everything including eternity, including heaven, instead of just being so caught up in what’s in here now. If we are so caught up in the here now, obviously we are going to be disappointed most of the time. This world is broken, it’s full of pain and suffering. The instant when it seems like something is going right, something goes wrong for us. But if we understand our lives in the view of eternity then we should be able to rejoice because we know the ending. God has revealed to us what’s going to happen in the end; He will establish His kingdom, He will get rid of all the horrible things of this life, we will get to live in eternity with Him. But we don’t understand this, we kind of just have this narrow mindset, we just have this view of what is just right in front of us. That’s why sin is so appealing, sin is easy to access, sin is something which you enjoy for a second and then you die. When we don’t have that eternal perspective on things, and we try to make the things of this life into heaven on earth then of course we going to fail, and we are just going to be defeated all the time. But if we can truly see what God has for us, if we truly focus on what’s coming then we can be happy in every situation. Not only is this going to help us but think about our mission which is to proclaim the name of Christ. Think of how that’s going to affect others if they see us glad in every situation. Think about a game of your favorite team which you were planning to watch on TV this week and then you heard the comments of the coach that he is not certain about his team’s win because they are not in that level yet. Why would you just waste a minute watching a team that’s just going to lose and if their coach is saying that they are going to lose? This coach has defeated attitude. Think of it in terms of us as Christians, if we walk around with this defeated attitude, who is going to want to be in our team. Who is going to want to hear what we have to say about anything? And we don’t have an excuse unlike that coach, we know the ending, we know that we are going to win, we know that God wins. So, we should rejoice and be glad. When people see that we are rejoicing and glad even in hardships, they going to wonder what they have that I don’t have, what’s the reason they can be happy in these dark circumstances? And that’s when we are going to able to point them to our Hope, which is Christ Jesus.
These are few ways Jesus had prepared His disciples and us to face persecution. This is how He expects us to react to them. Number one- Beware, don’t turn a blind eye. Number two- love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you. Number three- Rejoice and be glad. Those aren’t easy things. I know they are easy to say; they are easy for me to write but when it come to actually doing those, they are hard things. But let’s consider the One who is asking us to do these. Let’s consider the Christ whom we all are following. The God we serve and the God who asks us to walk through these hard things is a God who had walked through those Himself. The Jesus we follow, the Jesus we serve is not a God far away. He is with us in every hard situation. When Paul was Saul and he was persecuting the Church, Jesus asked him- why you are persecuting Me, He didn’t say why you are persecuting My people, He said, “Why are you persecuting Me?” He is still with us today.
“What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:31-39.