Commitment to the Gospel
ACTS 4 & 5
By Kenneth Harrod
James’s New Testament letter is packed with wisdom for believers, and in chapter 1 he has something profound to say to Christians who find themselves at both ends of the socio-economic spectrum. Those who are low down should consider themselves to be exalted, while those who are rich should take pride in humiliation. Why? Because although our temporary material circumstances do have practical implications, it is our status in Christ that has ultimate, eternal significance.
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In Acts chapter 4 the Apostles have their first taste of the opposition that Jesus had warned them of.
We read in the previous chapter, chapter 3, that a man had been healed by the Lord – healed, we might say, virtually on the very doorsteps of the Jerusalem Temple!
Peter – accompanied by John – had then taken the opportunity to preach the gospel; to preach about Jesus; to declare Him to be the Author of Life. Peter proclaimed the gospel, which meant – as it always means – calling people to repent; to turn to Christ.
As a result (see the beginning of Acts 4) they are arrested by the Jewish authorities.
But in the face of intimidation and hostility their commitment to the gospel is unwavering. ‘There is salvation in no one else.’ they declare, speaking of Jesus (Acts 4:12; ESV).
The Jewish authorities – the powerful men of their day – saw their boldness and, we are told in the next verse (4:13), ‘were astonished.’
The outcome on this occasion is, as verse 18 tells us, that they were threatened. They are charged ‘not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus’.
And there are places in our world today where Christians face similar threats.
‘But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard’” (Acts 4:19-20).
They are released, and promptly organise a prayer meeting. What do they pray for? They pray for boldness to go on preaching the gospel (see Acts 4:29). And God answered their prayers.
But that doesn’t mean that the opposition then went away!
In fact, the Apostles are arrested again in Acts chapter 5. Again, they are confronted – about what? About their preaching. The Jewish leaders say to them: ‘We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching’ (Acts 5:28).
Again the Apostles reply: ‘We mut obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Saviour, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins’ (Acts 5:29-31).
Now on this occasion they are beaten before being released. In other words, the opposition has actually escalated! And, of course, in time many of those Apostles would pay with their lives for their commitment to the gospel.
In a recent edition of Release International’s magazine Voice (Oct-Dec, 2020) we told the stories of several pastors in India who had faced similar threats – ‘stop preaching about Jesus!’ – and yet who, like the Apostles, had been undeterred … and who had paid the ultimate price.
So what is our response to this? What is our response when we hear these kinds of stories today?
We don’t put suffering Christians on a pedestal – the way the world does with its heroes. Rather, we are to give all the praise, all the glory, all the honour to the God who gives sustaining grace to His people.
And in doing so, we pray that God will continue to give that grace: grace to remain faithful to the gospel; grace to boldly preach that gospel – even in the face of hostility and oppression.