Conclusion (Acts 5:40-42)
The protection God gave his people did not mean that they would not suffer for their faith. Their flogging (v. 40) was a severe torture in which the cat-o-nine-tails, nine long strips of leather imbedded with sharp pieces of rock and shell, was whipped across their backs 39 times. Often such abuse led to permanent damage or worse.
Despite such persecution, the apostles “left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” (v. 41). What a transformation from cowardice to courage. If you and I can grow to the place where we welcome persecution as an honor, knowing that our Lord considers us strong enough to face such suffering for his Kingdom, realizing that we threaten the enemy enough to force such antagonism, we will have grown mature indeed. And our church will be as powerful and significant for our Father as was theirs.
Water on a grease fire only spreads it. Persecuting true followers of Jesus only strengthens their resolve and ministry. Tertullian was right: the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. Rather than dissuading their proclamation, the Sanhedrin’s abuse led to the opposite response, as the apostles “never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ” (v. 42). In public and private, in the temple and from house to house, nothing could stop their army from becoming the most powerful spiritual movement in human history.
Now God stands ready to use us as he used them. Where are you afraid to stand for your Lord? Where might your class members face such fear in their lives and faith? The angels of God stand ready to protect us; the Spirit of God stands ready to empower us; the providential work of God will employ unlikely sources to aid us. All that remains is for us to step forward in faith, no matter our fears.
I will not forget the time a noted pastor spoke to one of my seminary classes about the power of God and told the following story. A member of his congregation was jogging through a city park one night. She sensed a dangerous presence, and prayed quickly and earnestly to God for his protection. Nothing happened to her. The next day she read in the newspaper that another jogger, running through the same park, had been attacked. She went to the police with her story, and agreed to testify in the assailant’s trial.
A lawyer asked the man if he had seen the woman running earlier through the park. He said that he had. The attorney asked why he had not attacked her. He replied, “I started after her, but suddenly a giant man appeared at her side, running with her, and scared me away.” She never saw him, but he was no less real.
Who’s at your side today?