Living in a Hostile World (Acts 4:1-31) | Jared Betts

The Results of Preaching Christ

In our last portion of Acts we discussed that the purpose of preaching was neither to point people to themselves, nor to ourselves, but purely to point people to repentance and faith in Christ.[1]

We understand from Scripture, as well as by Peter’s example, that in order to do this, we must deal with the seriousness of sin from the vantage point of God. We must wield that good, holy, and righteous thing, which is a reflection of His glory, that is the Law, so that people might come to the knowledge of their sin, realize they are not what they ought to be in the eyes of Him with whom we have to do, and are, therefore, destined to perish forever under His eternal justice.[2]

In other words, we are to wield the Law in such a manner that leaves people, metaphorically speaking, dead. We do this as people who at one point in time received the same fatal blow the Law delivers, and really continues to deliver in our lives as we gaze upon the glory of God growing in the grace and knowledge of Christ. This means that we do not wield the Law in a sanctimonious manner as if we are superior to others, but rather as people who were once darkened in thought and deed, and dead in sin, but whom God graciously made alive by shining in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.[3] We are what we are, because of His grace. As Titus 3:3-7 says:

For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another. But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”

We are what we are because God first loved us and gave His Son to be the propitiation of our sins.[4] We uphold the Law so people might see the beauty of Christ, and turn to Him in light of His mercy, and for His forgiveness and life that He freely gives to all who call upon Him. The Law kills, so the gospel can make alive.

This week we see the results of such preaching. The first result we should observe is that people were saved through the message preached. Luke records for us that after Peter employed the foolish means of preaching to declare the foolish message of the cross, that God was well-pleased to call people to Himself through such foolishness and save those who turned to Christ in faith. Acts 4:4 says:

“Many of those who had heard the message believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand.”

Let us recall that the book of Acts is all about Jesus Christ building His church through His people proclaiming His gospel. He said in Matthew 16:18, after Peter confessed Him to be the Christ, the Son of the Living God, that:

“Upon this rock I will build My church!”

The rock upon which Jesus constructs His church is the truth confessed by Peter. The message of the gospel is that sole clarion call in the world whereby the Good Shepherd calls to His lost sheep and builds His body. In John 10, Jesus said:

14 I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, 15 even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd…27 My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; 28 and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.”[5]

            After Peter faithfully preaches the message of life to the crowd in Acts, people are saved through the living and enduring word of God.[6] Upon listening to the message of truth, the gospel of salvation, those who believed were sealed in Christ with the Holy Spirit and baptized into the body.[7] His lost sheep heard His voice and became one flock with one Shepherd. He gave eternal life to those He called to Himself, and no one will ever be able to snatch them out of His hand.

As Luke records, “the number of the men came to be about five thousand.”Like the times when Jesus fed the multitudes with some fish and a few loaves of bread, this number does not reflect the many women and children who had come to believe as well. It would not be farfetched to assume that close to 10,000 people had come to make up the body of believers at this point in the account of Acts, and it was all through the Spirit applying to people’s hearts the teaching of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen again. Truly, the power of God unto salvation is His gospel. With it, Jesus is building for Himself a holy temple with living stones that “the gates of Hell will not overpower.”

It is important that we understand the latter part of Jesus’ statement, because the second thing we should observe in our text, which will be most pertinent to our studying today, is that people suffer for the message preached. Hell seeks to triumph over the church. Hell will do everything in its power to prevail, but it will never be able to overpower the church which Christ builds. We come face to face with the truth that Paul wrote for us by inspiration of the Holy Spirit that “those who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”[8]

            Since suffering is a reality for every genuine believer striving to live to the glory of God, there are at least two things we want to consider when looking that this text:

  1. The hardness and hostility of fallen man who inflicts such suffering.
  2. The humble and honoring conduct of the subjects of suffering.

In the end, we are left not only with a reminder of the aggression of this world toward Christ, but with the answer to the question: How do we, as Christians, live in a world hostile to Him and consequently us?

The Servers of Suffering

Let us begin by observing these servers of suffering, who descend upon the two Apostles as they were speaking to the people. Luke identifies them as the priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees.

The Sadducees are of particular importance to us, because even though they were a small sect of religious leaders, they were the most influential, and this was no doubt due to the fact that the office of High Priest was always assumed by one. The Sadducees were wealthy landowners and of noble class in society. They rejected the oral traditions so dear to the Pharisees, and adhered only to the written law. They also denied the existence of angels, rejected the sovereignty of God and the biblical concept of predestination believing people to be the masters of their own destinies, and most importantly they did not believe in the resurrection of the dead and thus any eternal reward or punishment.

Notice these men are greatly disturbed by two things. First, they could not stand that Peter and John were teaching the people. The Apostles were considered uneducated and untrained men. That is to say that the crowds were being taught by men who had not been officially trained in the school of rabbinic thought. According to the world’s standard, they had no formal credentials, and yet there they were teaching upon the turf of the “supposed” learned.

Second, not only were these unqualified men doing an intolerable thing by teaching the people, but they were teaching something contrary to what the leaders sought to influence in the hearts and minds of the people. They were proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. Peter’s preaching revolved around the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the One whom they had delivered up and disowned and put to death.[9] Peter was testifying that God raised Him from the dead, and that people must therefore heed His word’s and forever live as He does or be utterly destroyed forever.[10] He taught something that stood in opposition to what they wanted taught.It is no wonder that while Peter and John were speaking, they quickly came upon them:

“And they laid hands on them, and put them in jail until the next day, for it was already evening.”

            When we consider these men descending upon the disciples because they are greatly disturbed by what they are doing, we should understand two very clear principles about the unbelieving world:

  • The world, to various degrees, will neither tolerate noncompliance to its standards nor worldviews which counter its thoughts and teachings.

In other words, the world will only tolerate that which conforms to it. The Scripture is inundated with examples of this, but the greatest is seen with our Lord and the religious leaders of Israel.

In their self-righteous pride, the religious leaders thought the Christ would come and welcome them with open arms. That He would walk like them, and talk like them, and think like them, and love what they loved, and hate what they hated. After all, is not that “all the ways of a man are clean in his own sight”?[11] Is it not that, “Every man’s way is right in his own eyes”?[12] From their perspective they were the pinnacle of perfection in thought and deed. Surely their ways were clean and right. The Christ, therefore, would be just like them.

Jesus, however, went and dined with tax gathers and sinners. What is the Pharisees response? They say, “Why is He eating and drinking with such people?” In essence, “Why is he doing what we do not?” Throughout His ministry they question Him about things He does that they do not, or things He does not do that they do, and what does Jesus reveal to them? I am one with the Father, and we are nothing like you:

“If God were your Father, you would love Me…you are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father.”[13]

He did not embrace them, He exposed them as blind hypocrites and condemned them for it saying:

27 You are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. 28 So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness…how shall you escape the sentence of hell?”[14]

They thought that God was just like them, but Jesus revealed to them that they neither knew Him, nor were they known by Him as His children. Their self-righteous system perpetuated death, but He and His gospel brought life. Rather than turning from their sin and self-righteousness and trusting in Him, they further hardened their hearts to the Prince of Peace, contrived a plan to kill Him, and carried it out. They did not tolerate noncompliance to their standards or teachings that countered theirs.

Mankind, in its fallen state, hates God because He is not like them. He is light and they are darkness. When the God of unapproachable light is revealed, mankind is exposed for who they truly are and what they truly love; sinners enamored with evil. They, therefore, hate the Living God! Jesus says:

19 This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.”

Jesus Christ is the Light that has come into the world, and He said of it in John 7:7:

            “It hates Me because I testify of it, that its deeds are evil.”

Since the world abhors the Living God and His Christ, it is only natural that it abhors those associated with Him. Consider a part of Jesus’ high priestly prayer to His Father on behalf of believers in John 17:14:

14 I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.”

Again, the world will neither tolerate noncompliance to its standards, nor beliefs contrary to its thoughts and teachings.

We see this today. Just look at how the world responds to people who do not conform to its COVID-19 policies or to those who refuse to embrace the tenants of Critical Race Theory. In the former situation, those who do not comply are deemed unloving. In the latter situation, those who do not conform are either censored or cancelled and labelled racists. Why? Because they do not adhere to the world’s narrative, and the world seeks to flaunt its perceived power.A refusal to conform is seen as a challenge to power and authority, therefore, power and authority will be asserted, and consequences will be administered.

This all proves to be very problematic for the people whom God has called out of the world to Himself, and set apart as holy and distinct from it, and commanded not to conform to it. Yes, all those who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. This is the first thing we see in our text.

            The second principle we should observe is that:

  • The world is unmoved by evidence.

To say it another way, evidence is insufficient in generating belief. We see this among these men in a couple of ways. First, by the fact that they refused to believe in Christ when they knew He arose from the dead. As the text says:

On the next day, their rulers and elders and scribes were gathered together in Jerusalem; and Annas the high priest was there, and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of high-priestly descent.When they had placed them in the center, they began to inquire, “By what power, or in what name, have you done this?” 

Peter very plainly answers their question as to whose Name and power made the lame man whole:

Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead.”

Notice what they do not do. They do not correct Peter’s assertion that Jesus is alive. They cannot because they know that the tomb is empty. They were the ones who took steps to secure the grave of Jesus and ensure that the disciples did not steal His body in an attempt to falsify a resurrection. They did this, because they knew that Jesus taught that He would rise again from the dead on the third day. Jesus said to them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”[15] He said to them after they asked for a sign:

40 Just as Jonah was in the stomach of the sea creature for three days and three nights, so the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights.”[16]

We, therefore, read in Matthew 27:62-66, after these wicked men carried out their plan to kill Jesus, that:

62 On the next day, the day after the preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered together with Pilate, 63 and said, “Sir, we remember that when He was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I am to rise again.’ 64 Therefore, give orders for the grave to be made secure until the third day, otherwise His disciples may come and steal Him away and say to the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last deception will be worse than the first.” 65 Pilate said to them, “You have a guard; go, make it as secure as you know how.” 66 And they went and made the grave secure, and along with the guard they set a seal on the stone.”

In our text, notice what the leaders of Israel do not do after Peter tells them that God raised Him from the dead. They do not accuse Peter and John of stealing the body of Christ. Even after they began to recognize them as having been with Jesus, they never charge them with theft or deception. Why? Because the Chief Priests and the Pharisees knew that the tomb was empty, and they knew that the disciples did not steel the body of Jesus. They knew this because the very guards they commissioned to secure the tomb from the disciples, witnessed the Lord and Christ of the disciples rising out of it. Matthew 28:11-15 says that:

11 Some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all that had happened. 12 And when they had assembled with the elders and consulted together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, 13 and said, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole Him away while we were asleep.’ 14 And if this should come to the governor’s ears, we will win him over and keep you out of trouble.” 15 And they took the money and did as they had been instructed; and this story was widely spread among the Jews, and is to this day.”

Do we see the hardness of these men toward God? Jesus was confirmed to these men by the witness of John the Baptist, by witness of His miraculous works, by witness of the Father, by witness of the Scripture, and by witness of His resurrection, yet they refuse to turn from themselves and trust in Him. They came face to face with the reality of the risen Christ, but instead of believing in Him, they contrived a lie and communicated it throughout the community. No amount of evidence could penetrate the hardness of their heart. They refused to believe in Christ when they knew He arose from the dead.

Secondly, the hardness of their hearts and the insufficiency of evidence in generating belief is further seen by the fact that they still refuse to believe even after Christ proves Himself to be alive by the miraculous healing of the lame man through Peter and John. After Peter tells them by whose Name and power the man was healed, Acts 4:13-16:

13 Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus. 14 And seeing the man who had been healed standing with them, they had nothing to say in reply. 15 But when they had ordered them to leave the Council, they began to confer with one another, 16 saying, “What shall we do with these men? For the fact that a noteworthy miracle has taken place through them is apparent to all who live in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it.”

We are aware by now that the rest of the account does not end with these men showing repentance toward God and faith in Christ. It does not end with them, in light of all the evidence, bowing the knee to Lord Jesus, but with them striving to get the Apostle’s to bow the knee to them.

These men are a testament to what Jesus said, “Unless one is born of the Spirit, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”[17] Unless someone experiences the regenerating work of the Spirit in their heart, no amount of evidence will persuade them of the truth. These men demonstrate that evidence is insufficient in producing life. You can give to the non-believer natural evidence, after natural evidence, after natural evidence of the existence of God and they will remain in their unbelief unless God works in their heart. You can engage with a non-believer and argue for the existence of God with:

  1. The Ontological Argument – The argumentation which asserts that the existence of God is demonstrated by the fact that man harbors ideas of God. Since man thinks about God, God therefore exists. This manifests itself in the “Universality of religion”. The fact that people all over the world entertain thoughts of a higher power, demonstrates the reality of One.
  2. The Cosmological Argument – The argumentation that all the created realm must have an Ultimate cause. Logic and reason demand that there must be a first cause, a Being who brought everything into being that has come into being.
  3. The Teleological Argument – The argumentation that the complexity of everything within the universe, with its order, design, and purpose, naturally points to an all-wise and all-powerful purposeful designer.
  4. The Moral Argument – The argumentation that the reality of conscience and morality in the hearts of man means that there is a moral Law Giver that transcends man and establishes that which is morally objective.

You can labor with a person night and day over the historicity of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, or the reliability of the Scripture through the science of Textual Criticism. You can provide proof, upon proof, upon proof, but unless the Spirit breathes life into their dry bones, and takes out their heart of stone and replaces it with a heart of flesh, they will remain as they are.

            This is not to say that as Christians we should not spend time studying the many evidences of the faith outside of the revealed Word of God. We should do this as it will help strengthen our understanding of the reasonableness of the faith. We should not, however, expect evidence to save. Salvation is not a matter of intellect, but of the heart. The heart needs to be regenerated, and the only Person who accomplishes this work is God the Spirit applying His living Word that has been proclaimed through His people whom He indwells. Where evidence is insufficient, the proclamation of the gospel is sufficient.

What was it that Abraham said to the rich man suffering in hell who wanted Lazarus to go back and warn his family, believing that if someone were to rise from the dead they would certainly believe? He said:

“If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.”[18]

The point is that if they will not heed the Word of God, no amount of irrefutable evidence will ever persuade them. These men demonstrate this. Since they are greatly distressed by the Word of life in Christ, no evidence will sway them.

From their hardness toward God came their hostility. We see that so the teaching of Jesus would not spread they asserted their power and authority over the Apostle’s and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. They demanded conformity and compliance, and when they perceived that Peter and John would not heed their word’s they threatened them further.

There is reason to believe that they would have done much worse at this point had their desire for approval among the crowd not restrained them. Luke says that:

“They let them go (finding no basis on which to punish them) on account of the people, because they were all glorifying God for what had happened; 22 for the man was more than forty years old on whom this miracle of healing had been performed.”

Like Herod, who wanted to kill John the Baptist but feared the crowed;[19] or the Jews who wanted to kill Jesus early on, but knew it would ruin their reputation among the people;[20] these men let them go knowing that do to anything to them in light of their healing a man who had been lame for more than forty years since birth would hurt their reputation.

The fear of man is a fickle thing. These men fear the Apostles because their teaching threatened their power and prestige over the people; however, they also feared that their power and prestige among the people would be hurt if they did anything to them. Eventually one fear will outweigh the other. The crack will grow, the dam will break, and people will suffer under the torrent.

What we have in Acts is the beginning stages of suffering for Christ. The disciples were first imprisoned and threatened. Next time they will be arrested and beaten.[21] Later, they will begin to be killed.[22] The Scripture is absolutely clear that fallen man is hardened toward God, and is therefore, hostile toward Him and His people to various degrees. It was Paul that said, “If I were striving to please men, I would not be a slave of God.”[23]

The Subjects of Suffering

With this in mind, let’s briefly observe the subjects of suffering, and how they carry themselves through it all, for there is certainly much application in this.

First and foremost, we should understand that these men would not have been surprised that they were met with such consternation, because Jesus was explicitly clear when He said to them:

18 If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.”[24]

He said to them in John 16:2-3:

They will make you outcasts from the synagogue, but an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God. These things they will do because they have not known the Father or Me.”

Jesus even signified to Peter “by what kind of death he would glorify God.”[25] Nowhere in the text do we find them surprised by the fiery ordeal which came upon them.

There are just a few things we should notice about how the two Apostles handled opposition, and I believe each one is a direct result of them being filled with the Holy Spirit:

  • They gave honor to whom honor is due.

Peter politely acknowledges them as rulers and elders of the people. They showed respect to them, because of the authority they held. We see a similar thing with Paul when he stands on trial before the Sanhedrin, and unknowingly talks back to a High Priest. Acts 23:1-5:

“Paul, looking intently at the Council, said, “Brethren, I have lived my life with a perfectly good conscience before God up to this day.” The high priest Ananias commanded those standing beside him to strike him on the mouth. Then Paul said to him, “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! Do you sit to try me according to the Law, and in violation of the Law order me to be struck?” But the bystanders said, “Do you revile God’s high priest?” And Paul said, “I was not aware, brethren, that he was high priest; for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.’”

It should not surprise that we see Peter honoring those in authority because he is the one who instructed the church saying:

13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, 14 or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. 15 For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. 16 Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. 17 Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.”[26]

Now we should understand that this is not a command to do whatever the governing authorities say. When we get to Acts 5, we will deal specifically with God’s design for government, and whether it is possible to submit to it while simultaneously being disobedient to it. The quick answer is, yes it is, but we will touch upon it more thoroughly in due time.

  • They did not return evil for evil.

This should not surprise us either, because Peter is the one who says:

19 For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God. 21 For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, 22 who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; 23 and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously.”[27]

Romans 12:17-21 says:

17 Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. 19 Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”         

As the Scripture says:

24 The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, 25 with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth.”[28]

We are to conduct ourselves with wisdom toward non-believers, making the most of every opportunity, and letting our speech “always be with grace, seasoned, as it were, with salt.”[29] The Scripture says:

“Keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame. 17 For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong.”[30]

We see this with Peter and John, and the proof is that their opponents found no basis on which they might punish them.

  • They were ready to give a defense of the hope that was within them.

The text says that the leaders observed the confidence of Peter and John. It is safe to say that Peter practiced what he preached when he said:

13 Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, 15 but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.”

Peter sanctified Christ as Lord in His heart, and with gentleness and reverence explained to these men that Jesus Christ, the One whom they crucified but God raised up, is the One who healed the lame man, and pressed upon their minds that:

11 He is the stone which was rejected by you, the buildersbut which became the chief corner stone. 12 And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.”

  • They demonstrate that those who know their God display strength and take action.[31]

Their response to the leaders says it all:

“Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; 20 for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.” 

Their prayer says it all too. Acts 4:23-31 says:

23 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. 24 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, 25 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?
26 ‘The kings of the earth took their stand,
And the rulers were gathered together
Against the Lord and against His Christ.’

27 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, 28 to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur. 29 And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Your bond-servants may speak Your word with all confidence, 30 while You extend Your hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Your holy servant Jesus.” 31 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.”

They found solace in the sovereignty of God. They understood that God was working all things after the counsel of His own will.[32] Just as it was a part of His predetermined plan that the Christ must suffer, they understood that so must they, and they could speak the Word with more boldness knowing that He was with them guiding them. They understood that suffering for Christ is a sanctifying tool of the Sovereign.

It was Peter who comforted a church suffering under the reign of Nero. Sadistic Nero, who would have Christians crucified, or torn apart by wild beasts for his amusement, or impaled upon posts and set on fire to illuminate his courtyard. What truth did Peter remind his hearers of in order to comfort them as they endured such suffering? He said:

1 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood: May grace and peace be yours in the fullest measure.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.”[33]

The greatest comfort he could give them was to remind them that they were foreloved by God, and that He had predestined them to be conformed the image of His Son. He was the One who called them. He was the One who justified them. He was the One sanctifying them through all circumstances. He is the One who would one day glorify them.

A Christian that comprehends this truth can be:

“Afflicted in every way, but not crushed. Perplexed, but not despairing. Persecuted, but not forsaken. Struck down but not destroyed.”[34]

They understand that God is working all things together for their good, and there is nothing that can separate them that can separate them from the love of God.

Peter and John, and the rest of the believers, knew their God, and they took action and displayed strength in the face of suffering because they understood it was a tool in His hand for His glory.

The Blessing of Suffering for Christ

Christians, the Scripture says that “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”[35] In Philippians 1:27-30, Paul said this to the believers at Philippi, and keep in mind this is the same Paul who was often in danger, frequently imprisoned, and beaten times without number.[36] It is this Paul who says:

29 For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, 30 experiencing the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me.”

My friends, it was Jesus that said:

13 You will be hated by all because of My name, but the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.”[37]

He said:

33 These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”[38]

Suffering is a certainty for all those who desire to live Godly in Christ. In Christ, we are saved from the wrath of God, but we are never promised to be saved from the wrath of man, rather we are guaranteed it. How then do we live in such a hostile world? How do we take courage? How do we endure?

Like the Apostles, we should not be surprised when it happens, we should continue to show honor to whom honor is due. We must not return evil for evil. We must always be ready to give a defense for the hope that is within us. We must display strength and take action knowing that suffering for Christ is a sanctifying tool of the Sovereign.

            Suffering for Christ:

  1. Sterilizes the church by removing tares from among the wheat and separating sheep from the goats.[39]
  2. Spreads the gospel by driving faithful Christians into other communities where they will proclaim Jesus.[40]
  3. Sanctifies us closer to the image of Christ.

We should, therefore:

“Exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope.”[41]

We should consider it all joy when we encounter various trials:

Knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”[42]

Do not be afraid of man. Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world. As I have said before, man can ridicule you and mock you. They can reject you. They can physically abuse you and imprison you. They can even strip you of your life, but they can do nothing to your life in Christ. Nothing can separate you from His love. No one can strip you from His hand. He will never leave you nor forsake you. He will be with you always. He is working all things together for your good, and that good is your eternal glorification with Him.

As Peter says in 1 Peter 4:12-19:

12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; 13 but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. 14 If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 15 Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; 16 but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name… 19 Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.”

Let us end in Matthew 5:10-12 with the words of Jesus, the Author and Finisher or our faith, who endured the cross and such hostility by sinners against Himself so that we clinging to Him through faith might not grow weary and lose heart.[43] Jesus says:

10 Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

May we, therefore, do as the Apostles did, and rejoice when we “have been considered worthy to suffer for His name.”[44]

[1] 1 Corinthians 1:18-24; 2 Corinthians 2:15-17; 4:3-6; 1 Thessalonians 2:4-6

[2] Romans 3:20,23; 6:23

[3] 2 Corinthians 4:6

[4] 1 Peter 4:10

[5] John 10:14-16,27-28

[6] 1 Peter 1:23

[7] 1 Corinthians 12:13; Ephesians 1:13

[8] 2 Timothy 3:12

[9] Acts 3:13-14

[10] Acts 3:15, 22-23

[11] Proverbs 16:2

[12] Proverbs 21:2

[13] John 8:42,44

[14] Matthew 23:27-28,33

[15] John 2:19

[16] Matthew 12:39-40

[17] John 3:3

[18] Luke 16:31

[19] Matthew 14:5

[20] Mark 12:12

[21] Acts 5:40

[22] Acts 8:1-3

[23] Galatians 1:10

[24] John 15:18-20

[25] John 20:18-19

[26] 2 Peter 2:13-17

[27] 1 Peter 2:19-23

[28] 2 Timothy 2:24-25

[29] Colossians 4:5-6

[30] 1 Peter 3:16-17

[31] Daniel 11:32

[32] Ephesians 1:11

[33] 1 Peter 1:1-9

[34] 2 Corinthians 4:8-9

[35] Acts 14:22

[36] 2 Corinthians 11:23-27

[37] Mark 13:13

[38] John 16:33

[39] Mark 4:5-6,16-17

[40] Acts 8:1-4

[41] Romans 5:3-4

[42] James 1:3-4

[43] Hebrews 12:2-3

[44] Acts 5:41

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