Admittedly, much of the persecution we face in America today doesn’t result in imprisonment, torture, or execution. Instead, it results in intimidation, ridicule, and loss of rights or freedoms. You might be surprised to learn that initially, this is also the kind of persecution the early church faced. We find the first persecution of the church recorded in Acts 4. One important lesson we learn is that all persecution, whether great or small, results from a clash of authorities, a clash of kingdoms. As prophesied in Psalm 2, God has placed his king, Jesus, on the throne, and the nations rage against God’s king. Because we are subjects of King Jesus, we can get caught up in the nations’ rage against God’s king.
The question we must face is, “How will we respond when persecution comes?” We will cower under the world’s authorities? Will we retreat and keep silent? Or, will we stand in the name and authority of King Jesus and speak the gospel with boldness, no matter the cost? The first biblical account of persecution helps us answer these questions.
Remember! When we speak the gospel with boldness, we WILL be persecuted (Acts 4:1-3). In Acts 4, the apostles represent the name of King Jesus, and that authority is a threat to the authority of the old Jewish temple system. So, the Jewish authorities arrested the apostles. We shouldn’t be surprised by persecution; it’s the norm for faithful, bold Christians (John 15:18-19).
But, when we speak the gospel with boldness, SOME will believe (Acts 4:4). Persecution is not the only result of boldly speaking the gospel. While some may persecute us, others may hear the gospel and believe (Acts 4:4). So, regardless of the consequences, let us boldly share the gospel of Jesus Christ. But, since persecution is certain, what should we do when we face it?
When persecuted, continue speaking the gospel with boldness (Acts 4:5-22). This may sound counterintuitive, but that’s exactly what the apostles did. Peter and John were arrested, brought before the Jewish officials, and spoke the gospel with great boldness. Here we see four reasons why we too should continue speaking the gospel boldly:
1. We have the Holy Spirit (4:5-10). Filled with the Holy Spirit, Peter boldly proclaimed Christ and charged the Jewish leaders with killing Jesus. The promise of the Spirit is not just for the apostles, though. It is for all who believe! That’s you and that’s me. We have the Holy Spirit of God, and we should ask God to fill us with His Spirit that we may be empowered for witness.
2. We offer the only way of salvation (4:11-12 ). While many “enlightened” souls today claim that all roads lead to God, Peter boldly pointed out that the only name given by God by which we may be saved is “Jesus” (4:12). If there is no salvation outside of Jesus Christ, doesn’t that mean we should be urgently engaged in proclaiming the gospel of Jesus with boldness? Shouldn’t we share the gospel with our unbelieving family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, acquaintances – with anyone who doesn’t know Jesus?
And shouldn’t we be concerned with the million of peoples around the world who do not know Jesus? Shouldn’t we be engaged in praying for, supporting, and even sending people to share the gospel across cultures to unbelievers?
The fact that salvation is only in Christ means that we should be telling others about Christ as often as possible.
3. We have been with Jesus (4:13-14 ). We can speak the gospel with boldness because we have been with Jesus and taught by Him. Sure, the apostles were with Jesus in a unique way, but we too have the Spirit, and Jesus is with us by His Spirit. And Jesus is now teaching us as we commune with Him by His Word and participate in the Word ministry of the church (Ephesians 4:11).
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if when unbelievers came into contact with us they could tell that we have been with Jesus? Because we have been with Jesus, we don’t need a formal theological education to be able to share the gospel. We just need to tell others what we have learned from Jesus in our personal devotions, in our times of discipleship, and in the preaching of the Word.
4. We cannot help but tell others what Jesus is doing in our lives (4:15-22 ). When we’ve been with Jesus and see what He is doing, we can’t help but tell others! To be sure, our testimonies are NOT the gospel, but our testimonies are our stories of how God is at work in our lives and in our church. Let’s tell others the good things God is doing!
So, whenever we’re persecuted, let’s ask God for the grace to continue preaching with boldness (Acts 4:23-31). Persecution is certain, but so is God’s grace! When the apostles were released from prison, they joined the other disciples and prayed together, asking God to give them more grace to be able to continue preaching the gospel with boldness.
May we be known as those who walk with Jesus and speak the gospel with boldness, no matter the cost. Let’s ask God for the grace to speak the gospel with boldness whenever we have the opportunity. We will likely experience persecution, but, I pray, we may also experience fruitfulness.