Many Christians from the time of the early church, have been persecuted for their faith. Indian Christians, because of their allegiance to Christ, have been labelled as foreigners, accused of being anti national and propagating a western religion. In spite of their active involvement in the betterment of the Indian society for centuries, they have been falsely accused of not contributing anything towards national development. In both small and big ways, Indian Christians have been severely persecuted and systemically marginalised for their faith. In response, some have spoken publicly of their plight asking for help, but many others have quietly prayed, surrendering themselves to God and His will for their lives.
How should the church respond in the wake of persecution? What should our attitude be towards our persecutors? How should we pray to God when we are persecuted? In Acts 2:23–31, Peter and John had just proclaimed that salvation is found in no one else except in Jesus (Acts 4:12). The religious leaders summoned them and warned them not to speak anymore in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John responded to them saying “Judge for yourselves, whether we ought to listen to you rather than to God, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19–20). So they were further threatened and released. Peter and John returned to a waiting and praying church.
What Do We Learn from This Episode?
1) United in Prayer (Acts 4:24a) – The believers did not seek political asylum, neither did they retreat and hide until things got better. Instead, they drew their strength from the only source they always relied upon – God himself. They came to God in sincere and humble prayer.
2) God is Sovereign over all (Acts 4:24b) – They prayed by appealing to the sovereignty of God. This shows their understanding of their God. He is not a small, petty household god, rather He is the one true God, sovereign and powerful over all.
3) God is Creator of all Things (Acts 4:24c) – They recognised that the God they worshipped is the Creator. He is the one who made the heaven, the earth and the sea and all that is in them just by the word of His mouth and it all came to be, out of nothing.
4) Suffering will come (Acts 4:25–26) – Through the mouths of the prophets and King David, God said that there will be those will oppose Jesus and His followers and this was coming true. Suffering for the sake of Christ is a real prospect for those who truly follow him.
5) God’s enemies are real (Acts 4:27) – God’s enemies plotted against Jesus, seeking to destroy and demolish God’s kingdom and destroy the church. They thought that they can go against God’s plans and purposes and succeed, but were grossly mistaken.
6) Jesus is God’s anointed servant (Acts 4:27a) – Jesus is God’s appointed and anointed servant to bring about God’s redemptive plan of salvation for humankind. He is the one of whom Genesis 3:15 spoke of as the offspring of the woman who would crush the head of the serpent. He is the long-awaited Messiah, the sinless and perfect Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world (John 1:29,1 Pet 1:19).
7) God foreordains all things for His glory (Acts 4:28) – God foreordains all things to fulfill His redemptive plans. This may sometimes include sufferings for the saints but something good comes out for the glory of God and the good of those that love Him (Rom 8:28). What happened to Jesus was preordained by God, who used evil men such as Herod and Pilate and all who conspired together to kill Jesus, so that through His death and resurrection, salvation and hope would be available to all who believe.
8) Boldness to Preach the Word (Acts 4:29) – It would have been a legitimate request, if the believers had prayed for the violent men to be annihilated, but they requested that they be given boldness so they can continue to preach the Word. Suffering for the sake of our faith should only embolden us to proclaim the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ with renewed vigor and passion.
9) God heals and performs wonders (Acts 4:30a) – It was not Peter or John, or any of the other apostles or the disciples, who could heal people. It was the power of God, displayed in mighty signs and wonders and healings. The church prayed that God would stretch His hand and heal and show his power through signs and wonders.
10) Jesus’ name will be exalted (Acts 4:30b) – Ultimately, the goal is that Jesus’ name would be lifted high and exalted. It is by the name of Jesus alone that souls are saved, bodies are healed, lives are changed, and communities are transformed. Our prayer should be that Jesus is always exalted in all we say and do.
11) The power of God was displayed (Acts 4:31a) – God answers their prayer by a miraculous show of power. The ground on which they were standing together in prayer became a holy ground—a battlefield, but not against flesh and blood, but against powers of darkness and evil in high places (Eph 6:12).
12) The Holy Spirit poured out (Acts 4:31b) – It is fascinating to see that God’s response to the church’s prayer was not to dispatch the heavenly armies for protection or to silence the perpetrators. Instead, he fills them with the Holy Spirit and emboldens them to proclaim the Word of God. The believer’s prayer for boldness had been immediately answered.
How should we respond when faced with suffering and persecution for the faith? We must come together in unity and concerted prayer, acknowledging God as the Sovereign Creator of the world, reminding ourselves that He foreknows and ordains all things. He will exalt his anointed son, Jesus Christ, and, through the proclamation of the word by God’s people, will draw many to himself for the saving of their souls.
Let us pray and ask the Lord for boldness to proclaim his word.