As sixteen-year-old Lady Jane Grey stood on the scaffold on a gray winter morning, she looked calmly out over the crowd of spectators. Then, mustering the strength she had asked God to provide, she spoke with such a poise and conviction that even her executioners were moved.
After a brief and customary admission of guilt (all those condemned to death had to admit to the justice of their punishment), Jane emphasized what mattered to her more than anything in the world. “I pray you all, good Christian people,” she said, “to bear me witness that I die a true Christian woman, and that I look to be saved by none other means but only by the mercy of God and the merits of the blood of His only Son Jesus Christ.” She confessed some past sins, particularly love of self and the world, thanked God for His mercy, then asked for prayer, but was careful to add, “while I am alive,” thereby pointing out the futility of the Roman Catholic belief in prayer for the dead.
Jane had ruled England for less than two weeks, during one of the most turbulent times of its history. Young King Edward VI had just died of a pulmonary illness, leaving unconfirmed orders for the installment of Jane to the throne. Taking advantage of strong popular support, Mary Tudor, Henry VIII’s firstborn, swiftly gathered her forces to claim her rights to the crown. Jane was arrested, confined to a section of the Tower of London, tried, and found guilty of treason. Initially, Mary seemed bent on showing mercy. That was until Jane’s father was caught as part of a conspiracy to overthrow the government. At that point, Jane became too great a risk to Mary’s reign. As long as she was alive, someone could try to free her and set her up again as queen. Her death sentence was sealed.
We know relatively little of Jane’s life until Edward’s death and the enactment of his will, but she emerges as a typical teenager from the few documents available. Her early letters reflect a simple desire to move away from home and a pleasing demonstration of literary skill. Her often romanticized complaint that her parents didn’t appreciate her love for higher studies sounds, in reality, like a teenager’s attempt to elicit sympathy at a time of personal frustration. Even her teacher, John Aylmer, had serious concerns when she started to display a seemingly vain interest in fashion and music.
Strangely, it’s in this ordinariness that we may find the greatest encouragement for ourselves and our children. When this very normal young girl had to face sudden humiliation, imprisonment, and eventually death, the Scriptures and theology she had consistently and almost inconspicuously learned, day after day, as a young girl—mostly in church, school, and family devotions—took prominence in her life.
Her theological training stands out particularly in her account of a three-day discussion with John Feckenham, an abbot sent by Queen Mary to persuade Jane to accept the Roman Catholic faith. Utterly convinced that “faith only saveth,” Jane confidently and passionately dismantled Feckenham’s arguments regarding the mass by pointing out that Christ sacrificed Himself once and for all on the cross and that He was offering an ordinary piece of bread while present in body with the disciples when He said, “This is my body” (Luke 22:19).
Her familiarity with Scriptures is also obvious in the letters she wrote during her imprisonment, particularly one to Thomas Harding, her former chaplain, who had renounced his faith in the gospel. In just one paragraph of that boldly explicit message, she very naturally quoted about eleven Bible verses.
Finally, her last letter to her younger sister Katherine echoes the words of comfort and instruction Jane must have heard in her younger years:
Desire, sister, to understand the law of the Lord your God. Live to die, that by death you may enter into eternal life, and then enjoy the life that Christ has gained for you by His death. Don’t think that just because you are now young, your life will be long, because young and old die as God wills. . .. Deny the world, defy the devil, despise the flesh, and delight yourself only in the Lord. Repent of your sins, and yet don’t despair. Be strong in faith, and yet don’t presume. With St. Paul, desire to die and to be with Christ, with whom, even in death, there is life.
Jane inscribed the same phrase that she wrote to her sister—”Live to die, that by death you may enter into eternal life”—in the dedication of her book of prayers that she left to her jailer. In her last days, her death as a Christian was the only thing that mattered, and she embraced that task with diligence and devotion.
It’s sometimes easy to see ourselves or our children as the younger Jane—attending almost routinely or even distractedly to the means of grace and the study of God’s Word, seeing little fruit—but Jane’s life is an encouragement to persevere. If we are grounded in the gospel and sound theology, trials will not catch us unprepared. They will strengthen the faith that “comes from hearing,” while “he who began a good work in [us] will bring it to completion” (Rom. 10:17; Phil. 1:6).
Simonetta Carr is the author of numerous books and biographies, including her newest book Anselm of Canterbury, which is part of the Christian Biographies for Young Readers series.
To be incarcerated physically I’m told is difficult to deal with. Locked up for hours per day, cut off from loved ones and surround by darkness and evil. Do you know that many of us are in prison in our minds. What about you? Are you in an emotional prison right now? You may not have thought about it that way, but if you are holding unforgiveness or bitterness toward someone who has wronged you — whether it was five, ten or thirty years ago — that is an emotional prison.
God’s Word promises that if you’ll step out of that prison and become a prisoner of hope, He will restore back to you double for your trouble! That means if someone wrongs you, instead of getting negative and bitter, your attitude should be, “they just did me a favour. They just qualified me for double!” That’s the attitude of a prisoner of hope.
Today, lock into an attitude of victory that says, “I won’t be defeated! Things may look impossible, but I know God can do the impossible. I may have been treated wrongly, but I’m not worried. I know God is my vindicator. It may be taking a long time, but in due season, I know I will reap if I just don’t give up.” Stay strong and in the place of hope today, knowing that you will come out with double! Hallelujah!
“Return to the stronghold, you prisoners of hope. Even today I declare that I will restore double to you.”(Zechariah 9:12, NKJV)
Yahweh, today I choose to release those who have wronged me. Father, I refuse to live in an emotional prison, please change my mental location. God, I know You are my vindicator and redeemer. Make me a prisoner of hope and I receive Your promise today that You will give me back double for all my trouble, in Christ’s Name! Amen.
Some of the few people that Jesus met before His crucifixion were a leper and a redeemed woman. While many sought to take His life, He found solace with a leper and a previously sinful woman. As Jesus, ‘was reclining at the table in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head’ (Mark 14:3). The woman was Mary ‘(called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out’ (Luke 7:2), thanks to Jesus. Mary was among ‘some of the women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases’ (v2), and so whenever Jesus would go with His disciples, the women would also follow and even ‘were helping support them out of their means’ (v3). And so when Jesus was in Simon the Leper’s house with His disciples, Mary was also there.
When those present saw what Mary was doing, they strongly rebuked her, ‘Why this waste of perfume? It could be sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor’ (Mark 14: 4-5). Jesus responds by saying, ‘Leave her alone. Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me . . . You will not always have me. She has done what she could’ (v6,7,8). Jesus recognizes her willing effort and actually ties it to a heavenly mandate. ‘She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial’ (v8). In doing what she could, Jesus does even greater for her, more than she could ever do for herself. He says, ‘I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her’ (v9). A simple act was not unnoticed before Jesus, and He in turn offered her a lasting continuity for her name.
Simon the Leper also did what he could for Jesus. According to the Jewish regulations, a ‘person with such an infectious disease must wear torn clothes, uncover his head, put a covering upon his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’. As long as he has the infection he remains unclean. He must live alone; he must live outside the Camp’ (Leviticus 13:45-46). As a leper, Simon could not freely mingle with others and hear Jesus speak in the Synagogue or among crowds. However, he did what he could. He opened his house for Jesus. Jesus seeing his open heart for Him even reclines at his table, signalling that He made Himself comfortable. As a result, Simon, labelled a leper, enjoyed God’s one-on-one communion and companionship, even in his degraded state.
Another man who had the privilege of communing with Jesus was Zacchaeus. When the Tax Collector wanted to catch a glimpse of Jesus, he climbed a tree. Upon seeing him, Jesus tells him to, ‘come down immediately. I must stay at your house today’ (Luke 19:5). Although Jesus was only ‘passing through’ (v1) Jericho, He stayed a night because of one simple occurrence. In desiring ‘to see who Jesus was’ (v3), Zacchaeus did what he could and climbed a tree to see Him. Although he was ‘a chief tax collector and was wealthy’ (v2), his position or wealth did not bring him closer to Christ. Instead, in his struggle of ‘being a short man’ (v3), he climbed a tree to see Jesus. At that time, he cared less about his reputation. By doing what he could, Jesus says to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house’ (v9). A simple act led to salvation, because when Jesus sees our willing hearts, He goes before us.
Are you making excuses out of your deficiencies? Are your possessions, conditions, or attributes keeping you from seeing Jesus? While our deficiencies seem to be magnified before our eyes that they become a stumbling block to clearly seeing Jesus, He cares less about them, and does not even consider or take them into account. Paul writes, ‘Brethren, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weakthings of the world to shame the strong. He chose lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him’ (1 Corinthians 1:26).
When we, out of our weakness and deficiencies, take a step of faith towards God and for His cause, the impact touches His heart, causing an explosion of all His graces towards us. He then magnifies our impact, to shadow our weaknesses and deficiencies. He takes countless more steps to direct us further, and give us a lasting blessing. When four lepers took steps of faith to go to the enemy camp of the Arameans to look for food during a time of famine, ‘the Lord caused the Arameans to hear the sound of chariots and horses and a great army, so that they said to one another, ‘Look, the king of Israel has hired the Hittite and Egyptian kings to attack us!’ So they got up and fled’ (2 Kings 6:6-7). Little did they know that it was God who magnified dainty footsteps of four lepers who only did what they could. The lepers did not only find food, but found ‘gold, silver, and clothes’ (v8), and more than that, liberated the City from siege. In the same way, when we do what we can, and take a step of faith, God does ‘exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think according to the power that works in us’ (Ephesians 3:20), because ‘his strength is made perfect in weakness’ (2 Corinthians 12:9).
‘Jesus said, ‘I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their abundance; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything- all she had to live on’’ ~ Mark 12:43-44
All right, let’s turn to Romans chapter 8 again this morning. Romans chapter 8. We have been considering in some depth the ministry of the Holy Spirit in this chapter, and we are profoundly enriched by what Paul gives us here of divine insight into the Spirit’s work. What prompted the series emphasizing the Holy Spirit is a feeling in my own heart and the sense – and I think it’s an accurate one – that there’s a member of the Trinity who gets left out in Christian worship and Christian discussion and Christian teaching and in Christian living, and He is the very member of the Trinity to whom we are most indebted for our Christian experience, and that is none other than the Holy Spirit.
Just in general, Christian worship today is more about style than it is about substance. It’s more about feeling than it is about fact. It’s more about self than it is about the Savior. It’s more about therapy than theology. It’s more about the secular than the sacred. It’s more about good feelings than the glory of God. And as we have endeavored to look at the woeful state of Christian worship today, it strikes us that while we do give some attention to God the Father and sing songs about His attributes, and we give much attention to Christ and sing songs about His person and work, very little is said about the Holy Spirit. If we are to worship God fully and totally, we must worship Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Many Christians know very little about the ministry of the Holy Spirit. There is so much error floating around about the Holy Spirit that people avoid saying much about the Spirit for fear they might contradict the popular thinking of the time. But we must worship God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit in the full sense and full knowledge of the revelation of each member of the Trinity, and so we’ve been endeavoring to understand the wonderful, blessed ministry of the Spirit of God. We sort of laid it out that the Father planned redemption, the Son provided the means of redemption in His death and resurrection, and the Spirit produces the work of redemption in us. He is the agent that brings about the actuality of the plan that God initiated and that the Son validated; He is the one who activates it.
We must understand the biblical ministry of the Holy Spirit. We’re warned in Scripture about not grieving the Spirit, not quenching the Spirit, not insulting the Spirit, not blaspheming the Spirit. Little wonder that we’re warned about those things because that seems to be a very common thing. So we’ve been trying to reconnect with things that are clearly revealed in Scripture that maybe we have let lay dormant for a long time with regard to the Holy Spirit, and we have been learning that it is the Holy Spirit who regenerates us. John 3: “We are born of the Spirit.” It is the Holy Spirit who convicts us of sin and righteousness and judgment, John 16. The Holy Spirit even participates in our justification. First Corinthians 6:11 says: “The Spirit, it participates in our justification.” Second Corinthians 3 tells us that it is the Spirit who sanctifies us, moving us from one level of glory to the next in conforming us to the image of Christ.
We’ve learned in Romans 8 that it is the Spirit who confirms our adoption as sons of God. The Spirit takes up residence in us. The Spirit gives us assurance by witnessing with our spirits that we are the children of God. First Corinthians 12 says the Spirit baptizes us into the body of Christ by which we become one with every other believer. In that same chapter, it says that the Spirit gives to us spiritual gifts by which we serve Christ and minister to the body. It is the Spirit who assists our prayers. In Jude 1:20, it talks about praying in the Spirit. It is the Spirit who strengthens us in the inner man, Ephesians 3:16. It is the Spirit who guides us, as many as possessed the Holy Spirit are led by the Spirit, we saw in Romans 8. It is the Spirit who produces fruit through us, attitude fruit, love, joy, peace, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, self-control, and all kinds of righteous activity as well. It is the Spirit who delivers us from sin, enabling us to be obedient to God. It is the Spirit who illuminates the Word and is our internal resident truth teacher.
And on top of that, the capstone of those things, it is the Spirit who secures our eternal glory. It is the Spirit who secures our eternal glory, and that great ministry of the Holy Spirit is the theme that I pointed you to when I read the Scripture, Romans 8:18 to 39. That entire section is focused on that one glorious reality, that salvation is forever. That salvation is forever. That we are protected by the power of God unto that final glorification and that inheritance laid up for us that does not fade away, undefiled, reserved in heaven. The Spirit secures our eternal glory. In Scripture, He seals us to the day of redemption. He is the guarantee, the first installment, the down payment, the engagement ring, the first fruits. He is the power of God. He is the protector of every believer until one day He is the one who raises us to eternal glory, even as He raised Christ from the dead.
All of this, of course, cause to worship the Holy Spirit. This is the true doctrine of the Holy Spirit as over against all the false misrepresentations and blasphemies against the Holy Spirit that are so common and popular today.
So Paul has been going through these verses, starting – actually, he mentions glorification in verse 17, then starting in 18, running all the way down to verse 30, he has given us this great, glorious argument for the eternality of our salvation. That if you are saved, it is forever. It is forever. And the culmination of his argument comes in verse 30, that whoever God predestines to be conformed to His Son, He calls in time with an effectual call to salvation. Whomever He calls, He justifies, and whomever He justifies, He glorifies so that the people who are glorified are the people who were predestined. No one is lost in the middle. This is what Paul presents to us. This is the purpose of God. This is the work of the Holy Spirit. So Paul has been telling us that all things in our lives, whatever they are, God causes to work together for our eternal good and glory because we are the called according to that purpose and we have come into a love relationship with Him.
I’ve taught this doctrine all my life. I teach it with passion because it’s so clear in Scripture, and yet through all of my life and ministry, I have had to debate people who reject the idea that salvation is forever. I was in a former military base in Belarus outside the city of Minsk where the Communist soldiers were stationed during the great Russian Empire. It was turned into a kind of a camp and I went there with some pastors, and I was giving a message and I made reference to the fact that eternal – that salvation is eternal, that once you are regenerated, it is forever, and you can anchor your soul in the confidence of the hope of eternal glory. And afterwards – it was all pastors who were there, Belorussian and Russian pastors, and they came to me and they said, “We think that’s wrong.” And I said, “Well, you need to give me some time in the morning to answer all your objections.”
So I got up in the morning, went and had a little bowl of something, I don’t know what it was, for breakfast, and I went into the meeting. And they were rubbing their eyes – they’d been there all night. They stayed up all night collecting all the reasons why I was wrong. And so I started in with one after another, after another, after another, after another. I understand that. I don’t want to argue with them, I want them to enjoy their salvation. I want to get them out of the fear of losing it. I want them to rejoice in the hope that it’s secure. It was a gift I was trying to give them, and they kept pushing it back, and I had to give it again and again and again and go through every objection and every argument through a long day. I understand that. Paul understands that.
So when you come to the end of verse 30, Paul now anticipates objections. He knows somewhere, someplace there’s a group of people who have stayed up all night and they’ve figured out some objections. And he knows what they’re going to be because there are only certain things you can argue about. Paul knows this: that there are only two possibilities, that some person can cause you to lose your salvation or some circumstance. That’s all you’ve got. That’s complete. That’s all the categories there are. And so the question is: Can some person cause you to lose your salvation in spite of the work of the Holy Spirit, in spite of the provision of Christ, and in spite of the purpose of God? Or if not some person, can some circumstances cause it to happen? So overwhelming, so powerful that you forfeit your salvation? That becomes the subject of verses 31 to 39.
The first part, verses 31 to 34, answers the question: Is there a person who can cause you to lose your salvation? Verses 35 to 37, Is there a circumstance that can cause you to lose your salvation?” And then a glorious wrap-up at the end of the chapter.
Now, Paul introduces this, and we’re just going to take point one about persons. He introduces this in verse 31: “What then shall we say to these things?” What then shall we say to these things? What things? The things concerning eternal salvation. The subject since verse 18 has been on the eternality of salvation, that God has secured us in His purpose, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us, God works all things together for our eternal good, that if we have been foreknown and predestined to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ, we will get there and none of us will be lost, that all who are called are justified and glorified – all those things that relate to an eternal salvation that cannot be lost. What shall we say to these things? What’s your response? That’s the question. What is the conclusion you want to draw?
Well, Paul knows that there are going to be people who will protest this. They’re going to say salvation can be lost. It’s a wonderful thing, but it can be lost because there are certain persons and there are certain circumstances that can cause us to abandon it or to have it taken away from us, to forfeit it. So Paul says, “Okay, let’s consider the persons.” Is there a human being or human beings who can take away our salvation? Can have such power over us? Such influence over us that they can remove what God has given for us? That’s embodied in the question at the end of verse 31: “If God is for us, who’s against us?” The who here is looking at persons, people. Is there a person who can take away your salvation? You say, “Well, who would ever want to do that?” Lots of people that are offended by your Christianity. Maybe your spouse. Maybe your children wish you weren’t saved and would do anything they could to get you off this kick. Unsaved family members.
Matthew 10, Jesus said He came to bring a sword and set people against their family, be hated by father, mother, sister, brother. How about secular educators? You send your child off to the university – do you think the agenda there is to confirm the faith of those that are professing Christ? I don’t think so. I think they would do everything they could to destroy that. What about the collective immoral indoctrination of our society? You think it’s the goal of the culture and the society in which we live to stabilize your convictions in Jesus Christ? Or to destroy them? Do you think they want to confirm your faith in the Bible? Your view of creation? Your view of the end of the age? Your view of eternity, heaven, hell? Or do they want to destroy that? Do they want to separate you from that? Do they want to cast doubt into your mind?
The whole culture is set against you. There are all kinds of people, because they all operate in the kingdom of darkness, who would do anything they could to separate you from your faith and your salvation. False religionists would do it. Cult leaders would do it. False teachers would do it. There are plenty of people who would do it and plenty of them have influence and power and impact and sophistication. And Paul says, “If God is for us, who’s against us?”
What does he mean by that? Well, it’s a conditional sentence in the Greek that starts with a particle, ei, which is pronounced but it’s E-I. And that’s a conditional clause that should be translated “since” because it’s not about probability, it’s about actuality. It’s an actual reality put in a conditional clause, so it would be read this way: “Since God is for us, who successfully can be against us?” It’s a pretty simple argument, isn’t it? Is anybody more powerful than God? God has predetermined our eternal destiny to be conformed to the image of His Son, that His Son might be the preeminent one among many brethren. God has predetermined the end at the beginning. God called us, justified us, and He promises to glorify us, that’s His purpose. His Son intercedes for us on that behalf and so does the Holy Spirit. those two intercessors we talked about.
We know what God wants, right? We know God’s plan and God’s purpose is to bring us all to glory and lose none of us and to give us everlasting life. And we will never perish. And Jesus said, “No one will take them out of My Father’s hand.” That’s God’s promise, that’s God’s pledge. And since God is for us, what person would be more powerful? In the church, Paul warned, you can be in a church, you can be in a religious organization that claims to be Christian and he says this: “It can be a dangerous place. After My departure, savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock, and from among your own selves, men will arise – men will arise speaking perverse things.” For what? “To draw away the disciples after them.” There are people in churches that wear religious garb that stand in pulpits that teach in seminaries that want to take you away from your convictions, your faith. They want to steal your salvation. But if God is for you, are they more powerful than God?
You know, when you think about that, you go back – at least I do – to the Old Testament. The believers in the Old Testament knew God was their security. I love the words of Psalm 27. This is David: “The Lord is my light and my salvation. Whom shall I fear?” Right? If the Lord is my salvation, who would I fear? “The Lord is the defense of my life. Who will I dread? When evildoers came upon me to devour my flesh, my adversaries, my enemies, they stumbled and fell. Though a host encamp against me, my heart will not fear. Though war arise against me, in spite of this, I’ll be confident.” What are you so confident about? “One thing I asked from the Lord, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life to behold the beauty of the Lord and to meditate in His temple.” I just ask to be with Him forever. “And in the day of trouble, He will conceal me in His tabernacle; in the secret place of His tent He will hide me, He will lift me up on a rock and my head will be lifted up above my enemies and I will offer sacrifices with shouts of joy. I will sing, yes, I will sing praises to the Lord.”
Doesn’t matter who comes against us. God is for us. God is for us. “Don’t fear” – Genesis 15:1 – “I’m a shield to you,” God says. “The Lord is near” – Numbers 14:9. “Don’t fear.” It’s really the flipside of verse 28. God positively causing all things to work together for our eternal good, that’s the positive. The negative is no one can undo that. If God causes everything to work to our good, then no one can make anything work to our evil. No one can remove our no-condemnation status indicated in chapter 8 verse 1. There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus. No one, no person, no human – we’re talking about human persons, that’s our first point – no human person can do that because God is greater than any and all humans. So the objection about humans falls away in the simple statement at the end of verse 31: “If God is for us” – or since He’s for us – “who could successfully be against us?”
Ah, but a second possibility. God Himself. Can God Himself take away our salvation? Hey, the Lord gives, the Lord takes, blessed be the name of the Lord. Can He take our salvation away? Can He change His mind about us? Can He be so disappointed in us? Can we follow a pattern of sin to the degree that He takes back what He gave us? Can He see us sinning and see us being disobedient and remove from us the life that He gave us? Does He kill us? Because He made us alive. He regenerated us. We were born again, we were given new life. Does He kill us and now we’re dead again? Is keeping us saved just too much trouble?
Paul answers that in verse 32. “He who did not spare His own Son but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” Let me tell you, that’s a simple verse. I know you read it, it sounds a little bit troubling cause you can’t quite sort it out, but it’s a very simple verse. It is the classic Jewish argument from the greater to the lesser. It’s a simple argument. He didn’t spare His own Son but delivered Him over for us all. Don’t you think if He gave us His Son to save us He’ll give us lesser things to keep us? That’s the argument. The argument from the greater to the lesser. God’s love is so strong for those He chooses to redeem that He gives His own Son. The best, the most, the purest, the divine one, the highest price, the greatest cost, His own beloved Son to save us. Don’t you think He would do less than that to keep us?
And think about it this way – turn to Romans 5. When you were saved, you were saved strictly by grace. You didn’t do anything to earn it. Romans 5:6: You were helpless and you were ungodly. So God gave His Son, Christ, to die for the helpless and the ungodly, and we can say the spiritually dead and the blind and the ignorant and the wicked. And, you know, people don’t do that. Verse 7: “One hardly would die for a righteous man, though perhaps for the good man someone would even dare to die.” I mean now and then you see somebody give his life for somebody who’s a good person but that’s pretty rare. But if somebody is willing to give his life, that rare reality, the person he’s going to give his life for is going to be a good person, right? Somebody that he has great admiration for, respect for, love for. They’re not going to give his life for a bad person, for a criminal, for an enemy.
But God, in verse 7, demonstrates His love toward us, His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. We were sinners. Wretched, lost, blind, dead, godless, helpless, and He gave His Son to die for us. Much more than having now been justified by His blood, the sacrifice, we will be saved, or we will be being saved, kept saved from the wrath of God through Him. Look, if God gave His Son in death to make our justification possible, don’t you think the life of the Son of God will secure our glorification? That’s the whole point.
Verse 10: “If while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more beyond that, having been reconciled will be being saved by His life.” We were literally redeemed at the most infinite cost, the death of Christ, and we will be kept by the living interceding Christ. Even Christ gave the greater gift to save us and the lesser gift to keep us. He died to save us; He lives to keep us. If the Father gave His Son to save us when we were ungodly, gave His Son in death to save us, will He not give His Son and His Spirit in life to secure us? I mean, it’s that simple a concept, that God has done the greater in justifying us when we were unworthy, ungodly, wretched. Will He not now that we belong to Him and have been transformed and made new creatures and have righteous longing and holy affection, will He not do what He needs to do to keep us, which is far less than the giving of His Son in the sacrifice of the horrors of the cross?
Several elements in that verse, back in Romans 8. Several elements are just so wonderfully profound. Verse 32: “He who did not spare His own Son,” He didn’t hold Him back. In fact, Isaiah 53:10 says, “It pleased the Lord to bruise Him. He has put Him to grief.” He didn’t spare His Son. And I love this: “His own Son,” idios in the Greek, one’s own particular, private possession, the Son that belonged to Him, the Son of His own love, God was willing to do this for us. If He was willing to give the greatest gift of all to save us, He will do everything less than that to keep us.
The language, “He delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” Since He delivered Him over, that’s a very graphic term. Delivering over was handing somebody over to the executioner – technical term. Since the Father delivered the Son to the destruction and damnation and punishment that sin required, the rest of the verse then, “will He not also with Him freely give us all that flows out of that?” All we need to be secure?
Who delivered Jesus to death? It wasn’t Judas for money. It wasn’t Pilate for fear. It wasn’t the Jews for envy. It was the Father for love for us all. For us all. The “us all” – verse 32 – the “us all” is the “us” of verse 31. “If God is for us, who is against us?” Those “us’s” are the “these” of verse 30. “These whom He predestined, called, justified, these He also glorified.” Whoever is in the plan, the provision for them has been made, and God will add to that provision in the gift of His Son anything else that is necessary to get them to glory. I love the fact that it says “freely give us all things.” It continues to be grace, doesn’t it? Continues to be grace, we don’t earn it, we don’t deserve it, but we receive it.
Somebody says, “Okay, if persons can’t take away our salvation, if God Himself can’t take away our salvation because He’s already committed Himself to give the greatest gift and lesser gifts come easily after that, maybe there’s another person. How about Satan? Maybe Satan can do it.” Satan would like to do it. He wanted to destroy Job’s faith, right? He wanted to destroy the faith of Peter. Jesus said, “Peter, you better be careful because Satan desires to sift you like wheat.” He went before God in the book of Job and he said the only reason – to God, he said, “The only reason Job is faithful to You is because You bless him. Take away his blessing and he’ll curse You. I’ll shatter his faith.”
God turned Satan loose, said, “Go do it all, anything but take his life.” And Satan moved, and all his animals were killed, all his children were killed, and then Job was sick, then he had a bunch of stupid counselors telling him all kinds of things that weren’t true, and he was isolated in the agonies of confusion because the conversation between God and Satan wasn’t known to him. He had no idea while this was going on what the cause was, what the motive was, what the reason was. But in the middle of it all, could Satan take his faith away even when Satan had killed his family and left him only with a wife who said things she shouldn’t have said and was no help? When Satan had removed everything that he owned and possessed, when he left him so sick and so covered with boils and sores he was scraping them off with a piece of broken pottery? That would probably be the kind of extremity that would make you say, “If you’re going to lose this thing, I’m going to lose it here.”
And Satan was essentially the tormentor through all of that. And in the middle of it all, what does Job say? “Though He slay me, yet will I” – what? – “trust Him.” You can’t kill that faith because God sustains it in the midst of everything. Satan can’t do that. Satan is the accuser of the brethren, right? Revelation 12. He’s the accuser of the brethren day and night before the throne of God, accusing the brethren. Did it with Job. He did it with the high priest in Zechariah chapter 3. He’s coming to Jesus about Peter. He’s going after Paul in 2 Corinthians 12 with a messenger from Satan being like a thorn in the flesh. Satan is the accuser of the brethren. He is the tormentor. So with that background, you come to verse 33: “Who will bring a charge against God’s elect?” Well, the one who is always trying to do that is Satan. Or the beginning of verse 34. “Who is the one who condemns?” The one who does that is Satan.
Both those questions, really, are the same question. One, wanting to bring a charge that would result in condemnation. Going to God and saying, “You don’t let go of this person, let me torment this person and I’ll destroy his faith. He’s not a worthy person. He’s only serving You because things are going well. And if we make life tough enough for him, he’ll curse You. I’ll show you what he’s really like.”
This is what Satan does, I think, all the time. He’s night and day before the throne of God, bringing accusations against the saints. Can he succeed? The answer comes in verse 33: “God is the one who justifies.” Literally, “God is the one justifying.” God alone condemns and God alone declares righteous. And if God declares that we are righteous in Christ, He can’t at the same time declare we are guilty, right? And there is no higher judge. Believers are always being accused. I think that goes on in heaven all the time. Satan is always trying to make a case against our salvation, against God loving us, against God declaring us righteous and just. But God has already rendered His final verdict, and the final verdict, based upon his own sovereign purpose, the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, the provision of Christ in His death and resurrection, activated by our faith, is that we have been declared righteous, we have been declared just, and that settles it.
There’s no higher court, that’s the whole point. There’s no court of appeals above God. God is the only court. God is the only court in the universe when it comes to sin and judgment and justification. There is no other court. And it is God who is justifying His people, and no accusation from Satan against them can stand. And no effort on the part of Satan to bring destruction into their lives can stand.
God doesn’t always prevent that. I know you hear the prosperity preachers say that Jesus wants you healthy, happy, and whole in every sense, but that wasn’t Job. That wasn’t Peter. Peter got sifted like wheat that night, didn’t he, around the fires of the trial of Jesus, denied Jesus over and over again. Paul had his thorn in the flesh and his immense amount of suffering. Satan, with all that he could bring about in the lives of these men and in the lives of other believers that God allows him to go after for his own purposes, all that they can do can never change our standing before God and God has rendered us righteous. That’s why Charles Wesley said, “Bold shall I stand in that great day, for who ought to my charge shall lay, fully through Thee absolved I am from sin and fear, from guilt and shame.”
Please notice, back in verse 33, this is because we are God’s elect. Who will bring a charge against God’s elect, those that were foreknown, predestined? God already has determined their justification. So when Satan tries to bring us before the bar of God, we don’t arrive as outlaws and we don’t arrive as criminals; we arrive as God’s elect, already declared righteous.
Well, there’s only one possible person left outside of us who might decide to let us go, turn us loose, and that would be Christ. What about Christ? Could He give up on us? He brought us in, could He throw us out? Verse 34. Christ Jesus, is He going to condemn us? He died, He was raised, He’s at the right hand of God, and He’s interceding for us. He’s not going to be the one because there are fourfold realities there, fourfold protection, shall Christ that died? He’s the one who died, the obvious point. When He died, He received in full the punishment for all our sins. That’s why He died. He was sinless. There was no guilt in Him. He died in our place, bearing our punishment. He’s not going to condemn us when He took our condemnation.
Secondly, not only did He die, but He was raised. In other words, His atonement was propitious, it satisfied God and God validated His work on the cross by raising Him from the dead. His resurrection is the affirmation of the accomplishment of His atoning work on the cross. Christ’s death paid in full the penalty for all the sins of all the people who will ever believe through human history and to indicate that, God raised Him from the dead.
And that’s not all, there’s a third element. So you have Christ paying in full for our sins, you have the Father validating that His payment was in full for our sins by raising Him from the dead, and then thirdly, who is even at the right hand of God, like Psalm 110:1, “The Lord said to My Lord, ‘Sit at My right hand.’” God highly exalted Him because of His work on the cross, gave Him a name above every name, seated Him at His right hand, and every knee bows to Him. He ascended to the right hand of the throne of God because He had fully accomplished our eternal salvation.
So you pull those together, the complete work of Christ on the cross, through the resurrection, and in His exaltation and His ascension all indicates that our salvation has been paid for in full and God is totally satisfied. And as if that’s not enough, end of verse 34, “He also intercedes for us.” He also intercedes for us. That’s the high point. He keeps on interceding, keeps on, keeps on interceding. Hebrews tells us that He’s our great high priest, right? That He ever lives to make intercession for us. He ever lives to make intercession for us. He stands at the very throne of God at God’s right hand and He intercedes for us. Any accusation that comes against us, He becomes the lawyer for our defense who says, “Paid for in full by Me personally.” He is our high priest forever, Hebrews 6 says, our high priest forever, who anchors our hope, which is sure and steadfast within the veil.
So persons that could take away our salvation? Not any humans, not God, not Satan, not Christ. Only one possibility. What about ourselves? You say, “I know people like that. I wouldn’t blame God. I wouldn’t even blame Satan. They were in the church, they believed, they sang the songs, they came to Bible study, they said they believed and then they left and they denied Christ and they went away. They lost their salvation.” Did they? Is that what happened? They seemed saved to me, some of them are in your family, some of them are close, maybe your children. Are you asking yourself what happened? What about those who believed or seemed to believe and then they left?
First John 2:19 gives us the answer to that. First John 2:19. Oh, we all know people like this. I’ve known them all my life. Many of them in this church. Did they lose their salvation? Did they just give it up themselves? Listen to 1 John 2:19. “They went out from us” – and we all know people who’ve done that – “but they were not really of us, for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us, but they went out so that it would be shown that they all are not of us.” Never real. Tares among the wheat. Rocky soil. A little life starts to appear to show, no fruit, and they wither and die. Weedy soil, choked out by the love of the world and riches and the cares of this life. We all have people like that. But they went out from us because they never were really of us.
But for those of us who are real and genuine believers and we have the witness of the Spirit in our hearts in that regard, we’ve seen His fruit evidenced in our lives, our love for the Lord, our love for the truth, our love for the Word, our love for other believers, all these things, our love for things that are holy and pure and good, our salvation is forever secure. And this is the pinnacle capstone ministry of the blessed Holy Spirit. If you don’t believe in that, then that is an insult to the Spirit. That is an insult to the Spirit who is doing in the life of a true believer something that that true believer denies that he’s doing and rejects. The Father planned our eternal salvation, the Son provided and purchased our eternal salvation, and the Holy Spirit produces and perfects our eternal salvation.
So much for persons. There is no person who could take away your salvation. Jeremiah 31:3 sums it up. God says this: “I have loved you with an everlasting love,” and I rest my weary soul in this confidence. Let’s bow together in prayer.
And we’re going to just have a word of prayer and then meditate against quietly at the end as Steve plays the organ for us. That little time of meditation is good for us to think about what we’ve heard and let it settle in our hearts, and then the prayer room will be open to my right, the members center is open, the visitors center is open, and those of you who need spiritual help, you need to be sure about your eternal destiny, the prayer room in the front to my right, come, there’ll be folks who would love to speak with you and do so kindly and wisely.
Father, we thank You for the continual feast that we enjoy from Your Word that feeds our souls, gives strength to us, produces joy, hope even in the face of difficulty in life. Thank You for the mighty work of the Holy Spirit in securing our eternal glory. And we know that if we are truly Yours, we’ll never lose that salvation, as if we could lose it and the Holy Spirit would have to start the work all over again and do it again and maybe again and again and again. There’s nothing in the Scripture that even intimates anything like that exists, but rather this is a work that You deemed to do and set out to do and will do. And we honor You, Father, and we honor You, blessed Son. We honor You, Holy Spirit, for all that You have done for us who are unworthy, all by grace. Fill us with joy and hope and eagerness for what You have for us as long as we’re here and then for what You have prepared for us when we enter into Your presence. Bring those to You who do not know You and have not yet received this gift of salvation. May they awaken in faith to embrace Christ as Savior and Lord, we pray in His name.
Being full of heaven means to walk in the fullness of God’s blessings. Your heart cannot be full of heaven until you are emptied of hell.
Our hearts cannot be full of faith unless we are first emptied of fear, pride and sin. To receive of God’s fullness, we need to be emptied of all our self. Not I, but Christ be formed in me.
The young man was full of pride and could not empty himself for Christ. His heart was full of sorrow because he loved his wealth more than God.
But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions. (Matthew 19:22)
Ananias and Sapphira’ hearts was filled with deceit and lies. Another victim(s) of loving money more than God, despite being in a time when great wonders were happening.
But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land? (Acts 5:3)
Cain was full of jealousy and anger against Abel. When we are full of bitterness and anger, it shows. Evil natures cannot be suppressed when we give room for it in our hearts. It will eventually manifest.
But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell (Genesis 4:5).
When their hearts were full of sin, they ended up manifesting its effects.
What are you full of dear believer?
How can we be full of Heaven?
1. Fullness of the Father (Ephesians 3:19) 2. Be filled with the Spirit (Acts 4:8) 3. Walk in the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:13) 4. Abound in the joy of the Lord (Psalms 16:11) 5. Fullness of faith (Acts 11:24)
Emptied of His glory, God became a man. To walk in earth in ridicule and shame. Jesus won the victory we needed; all we need is to stay faithful till the end. Maranatha, Praise God and Amen.
Although the priest argued for forgiveness, the message was lost on students
The Archdiocese of Boston forced Daniel Moloney to resign from his chaplain role at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology after students and alumni complained that Moloney brought up George Floyd’s past criminal history in an email to students.
Although Moloney, a Catholic priest, was making an argument that Floyd’s past should not justify his death, the fact that he brought up Floyd’s rap sheet at all prompted some to protest the chaplain’s message to campus officials and file bias complaints over it.
“George Floyd was killed by a police officer, and shouldn’t have been,” Moloney wrote in his June 7 email to the Tech Catholic Community, a group of Catholic students on campus.
“He had not lived a virtuous life. He was convicted of several crimes, including armed robbery, which he seems to have committed to feed his drug habit. And he was high on drugs at the time of his arrest. But we do not kill such people. He committed sins, but we root for sinners to change their lives and convert to the Gospel,” the priest wrote.
“ … In the wake of George Floyd’s death, most people in the country have framed this as an act of racism. I don’t think we know that. Many people have claimed that racism is major problem in police forces. I don’t think we know that.”
The e-mail was republished in its entirety by New Boston Post.
Although Moloney’s argument aimed to promote justice and forgiveness, that message seemed lost on many of its readers.
An article in The Tech campus newspaper reports that MIT’s dean for student life, Suzy Nelson, said administrators and the bias response team received reports about Moloney’s email.
In an email to student and faculty leaders June 12, Nelson wrote Moloney’s message “contradicted the Institute’s values” and “was deeply disturbing” and that “by devaluing and disparaging George Floyd’s character,” Moloney did not “acknowledge the dignity of each human being and the devastating impact of systemic racism” on “African Americans, people of African descent, and communities of color,” The Tech reports.
The Archdiocese of Boston told Moloney to resign from his role as chaplain at the school on June 9, according to the Boston Globe. The move came after more than 60 people attended a forum hosted by Tech Catholic Community on June 9, according to the school newspaper.
Terrence Donilon, a spokesman for the archdiocese, told WBZ-TV “While Fr. Moloney’s comments should not reflect on the entirety of his priestly ministry, they nonetheless were wrong and by his resignation he accepts the hurt they have caused.”
Moloney told the Boston Globe on June 16, “I regret what happened, I regret it was misunderstood, I regret that [it] became difficult for me to be a voice for Christ on campus.”
Moloney is a published author at First Things, The Wall Street Journal and National Review. He used to work at the Heritage Foundation as a senior policy analyst for the DeVos Center for Religion and Society. His doctoral dissertation focused on justice and mercy, the subject of a recent book he published as well. He also maintains an active Tumblr page but has not explicitly addressed the controversy on it.
Despite a global lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, some 117,000 people from around the world expressed an interest in committing their faith in Jesus after hearing the Gospel through virtual events hosted by evangelist Nick Hall and his young-adult ministry Pulse during the week of Easter.
Pulse led two major events during the week, namely, Leader Check-In and a Good Friday service that featured several high-profile Christian speakers, including Francis Chan, founder of Cornerstone Church in Simi Valley, California, who now lives in Hong Kong.
“I’m guessing this is the strangest Good Friday you’ve ever had,” Chan told viewers during his quarantined Good Friday presentation broadcast in nearly 100 countries, including Japan, China, Nepal, Thailand, India, Kenya, Nigeria, Ukraine, and Russia, and was translated into 40 different languages.
“You’re used to being in a church building with a crowd of people celebrating the cross of Jesus, but I actually think that there’s something fitting about you being alone because most of you are watching this by yourself or maybe with your family in just a small group,” he said, noting that being alone can be a golden opportunity to connect with God.
“That’s why there’s something good about you being alone right now. It’s one thing to yearn for Him and scream for Him when everyone else is there because the crowd may move you to that. But this Good Friday [it’s good] for you to have some quiet and some isolation so that the core of your being, not just your lips, the core of your being will connect with Him,” Chan said.
Other speakers featured during the Good Friday service were: renowned apologist Ravi Zacharias, bestselling author Max Lucado, NFL Super Bowl Champion and Hall of Fame Coach Tony Dungy, and the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez. Worship was courtesy of Christian singers Lauren Daigle, Michael W. Smith, Kari Jobe and Cody Carnes.
“We were literally getting smartphone photos from all over the world — from Nigeria to India and China — of families gathering in their living rooms, around 18-inch cathode-ray TVs, laptops and HD screens watching our services,” Hall said in a release shared with The Christian Post about the collective reaction to the event. “The doors to our church buildings may have been closed, but the church has not closed. We are living through a Great Quarantine Revival, and I think God is just getting started.”
At the Leader Check-In event hosted on April 8, ministry leaders and pastors were encouraged ahead of the Easter weekend. Bible teachers and bestselling authors such as Ann Voskamp, Beth Moore, Chan, David Platt, Rodriguez, Priscilla Shirer and Lecrae offered practical advice anchored in the Word of God.
“This Easter may have been the most significant in a century,” Hall said. “The fields have never been more ripe for harvest as people search for hope and meaning during this global pandemic. It may very well be the greatest opportunity we’ve had to share the Gospel — but we will miss it if we don’t care for our pastors and ministers now.”
One of my favorite moments in the resurrection story is when Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene. This beloved woman had just endured the worst three days of her life in witnessing the unjust and inhumane persecution of our Lord. The helplessness of watching someone you love and adore be wrongly accused, brutally beaten, and mercilessly crucified is beyond. Then, as if this wasn’t enough to wreck a person from the inside out, she finds Jesus’ body missing from the tomb. The emptiness in that cave a heart wrenching visual of the inconceivable void in her soul.
While succumbing to her sorrow, a man Mary believes is a gardener says, “Woman, why do you weep? Who are you looking for?” Mary implores the man to tell her where Jesus is if he has taken him away so she can go get him.
This is when the drumroll of the story starts for me. When my heart races and all the feels swell beneath my skin as Jesus responds with one word, “Mary.” She turns to him in total recognition and cries out, “Rabonni!”
Oh, the heart bend of this moment. To be called by name and immediately feel the wash of utter knowing. Both to know and be known—the great yearning of humanity.
Two simple words, Mary hearing her name and responding in kind, created an intimate and profound interaction of cosmic proportions. The raw beauty of their loving exchange takes my breath away every time.
Isn’t this the kind of relationship and seamless communication we long for with Jesus? To be so in tune with his presence that the mere whisper of our name causes us to instantly cast aside our fear and concern and embrace his existence? I’m certain Jesus longs for the same. This is where I offer up the connection between Mary Magdalene and our role as mom.
Just like Mary, we are no stranger to pain and sorrow. We, too, endure days, weeks, and even seasons of fear and confusion in raising our kiddos. The primal ache of watching our children and those we love suffer in any capacity is not lost on us. Jesus sees all of this and is aware of the heavy in our hearts. In these moments, I believe he also asks us why we are weeping.
Mommas, what if beneath the hum of our tear-soaked pleadings, we need only listen for the whisper of our name? What if, like Mary, merely hearing our name is all we need to feel the wash of utter knowing? Imagine the sweet relief of feeling seen, heard, loved, and adored in our most trying moments as moms simply because of a one-word whisper.
The truth is, Jesus is always calling us by name.
And the underlying message is this:
“I am right here. I feel your pain. I see your suffering. I hear your prayers even when they don’t leave your lips.
In all your exhaustion, I am sending you the strength to press on. In all your trials and struggles, I am sending you the resolve to overcome. In all your confusion and guilt, I am whispering tender guidance and an abundance of grace. In all your fears, I am sitting beside you, offering solace and protection. In all your anger, I am breathing soothing air into your lungs. In all your sadness, I am wiping the tears from your eyes. In all your overwhelm, I am brewing up healing laughter.
When I say your name, I want you to know you are loved. You are adored. You are worthy. Just let me love you. That’s what I came here to do.”
Is there a greater love than this? A more profound means of feeling seen and understood?
What reassurance Jesus offers us day in and day out if we bend our ears and listen. Jesus’ comfort and adoring is only an attuned ear and a whisper away at all times.
May we have the ears to hear and the heart to know as Mary did.
Let’s open to the Word of God, the fourth chapter of Acts, and we’re looking at a chapter that essentially is built around one single theme, the predominant part of this chapter running down through verse 31 looks at the persecution that came against the early church, the persecution that came against the early church.
The Book of Acts, as you know, is the history of the first church. It gives us something about the inception of that church, its birth on the Day of Pentecost, born in a miraculous display of Holy Spirit power. We then looked at the very early weeks and months of the church when thousands of people were being converted. By the time we get into chapter 4, the number may well have exceeded 20,000 people who, in a flurry of Holy Spirit regeneration, were added to the newly born church.
But soon into chapter 4, in fact, at the very outset of chapter 4 where we begin to get an idea of how many believers there are, we also find the first persecution. If I can take you back to the beginning of the fourth chapter, let me read the opening verse. They were speaking to the people: “As they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to them, being greatly disturbed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they laid hands on them and put them in jail until the next day, for it was already evening. And many of those who had heard the message believed; and the number of the men came to be about 5, 000.” Men, there, meaning males. Add females, add to the 3,000 on the day of Pentecost, and those being saved daily, the Lord adding to the church as we learned at the end of chapter 2, and it’s pretty easy to get to a number like 20,000 believers.
They don’t have an organization. They don’t have structure. They don’t have a building. So they’re still collecting in the temple. They pose an imminent threat to the system of Judaism, which has already been assaulted by the Lord Jesus Himself whose name they all proclaim. It was that Jesus that the system and the establishment rejected and had the Romans execute. They had been preaching that He is alive from the dead, and it is by His power that the church has come to life and continue to grow, and it is by His power and in His name as one who is alive that they healed the man at the beginning of chapter 3. This healing of a man that everybody knew was a beggar, a beggar who had sat for a long time. Later in this chapter, it tells us that he was in his 40s, and much of that time, no doubt, had been a beggar and a very familiar site by the gate called Beautiful, sitting there every day, begging. This was a man who had been lame from his mother’s womb, so no doubt started early as a beggar.
The miracle, literally, was known by everyone in Jerusalem, added to the credibility that Jesus was alive, because when Jesus was alive, He was a healer. He was a miracle worker. Now, He was still alive, and He was transmitting His power through the apostles. The threat, then, to Judaism and the threat to the leaders of Israel was very, very serious. They saw it as a religious threat. They also saw it as a political threat. They saw that the impact of this movement exploding in their city, contrary to what they expected; they expected we kill the leader, cut off its head, and the rest dies.
Well, that didn’t happen. He did rise from the dead. The leaders knew that. They bribed the soldiers to lie about it, and now they’re threatened by the reality that not only is He alive, but He’s continued to unleash His power to draw followers, and even to do miracles.
So in chapter 4, we have the beginning of the persecution of the church, which is still going on today. I told you last time that current figures would indicate that there are about 100 million Christians in the world, right now, in this year, that are under persecution. And I’m not talking about those that are socially abused, or alienated. I’m talking about those that are actually under the threat of bodily harm and death. As many as 100 million. Well, all of that persecution which will continue to go on until our Lord comes, and even after the rapture of the church, there will continue to be an antichrist world in which Christians will be slaughtered far and wide. This persecution, all is launched here, and it is launched initially because it is a threat. The growth of the church is a threat to apostate Judaism.
Now, we’ve all known, I think, those of us who are believers who’ve lived in the world at all, we’ve all known a measure of alienation, being ostracized. We’ve all understood that to one degree or another. We know what it is to have to forfeit friends, family. We know what it is to be under pressure not to speak for Christ, or it might threaten our position in the world in some social structure, be it a job, or a school, or whatever. We all understand that. That’s part of the persecution. But the kind of persecution we’re going to see here threatened life and limb.
Now, to start with, I want to just kind of back up from this, as I often like to do to maybe give you a larger perspective on persecution. And by the way, those of you who are under persecution, I trust that the Lord will encourage you by the things that we’re saying in this series. Now, we have to understand that persecution is a trial, all right? Persecution is a trial, and trials are for our benefit. I know that is perhaps not the way we think of persecution. There are people, well-intentioned I assume, who are busy lobbying to get our government and other governments around the world to bring a halt to persecution, to stop the persecution. And while it’s certainly noble to call nations that are killing people to stop killing them, and nations that are threatening people to stop threatening them, imprisoning them, harming them; at the same time, it must be noted that none of this happens outside the purposes of God. This does not lessen the culpability of those who do it. But we need to be reminded that persecution is a trial, and trials have a positive impact. They’re designed by God to that end.
Listen to James 1. James 1 verse 2. “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you 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.” There is unmistakable revelation that trials produce a tested faith that yields endurance and causes a believer to be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.
In verse 12, James then adds, “Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial, for once he has been approved, having stood the test, he will receive the crown of life, which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.” So there is a promise that trials produce a perfected faith, and an eternal reward. They have benefit in this life, and they have benefit in the life to come.
Peter understood that. Listen to 1 Peter chapter 4. First Peter chapter 4. “Beloved,” verse 12, “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. But to the degree that you shared the sufferings of Christ, that would be unjust persecution and suffering. Keep on rejoicing so that also at the revelation of His glory, you may rejoice with exaltation, for if you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.” There again, a fiery ordeal. What is this fiery ordeal? Well, Peter is writing a letter to persecuted believers, aliens, chapter 1 verse 1, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, Bithynia, who were chosen. These aliens to the world system are under persecution. Verse 5 says they’re being protected by the power of God through faith. They are to rejoice, because now, for a little while, 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 or result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. There’s nothing more precious in this life than a tested faith. Nothing worth than wondering if you’re saved. Worrying if you might not be a true believer.
How can you be sure? You can be sure if you’ve gone through a fiery ordeal. You can be sure if you’ve gone through an extreme trial, you’ve gone through a great test. You can certainly be sure if you’ve gone through dire circumstances of persecution and your faith is rock solid, and it survives, and it endures, and it grows, and it is perfected. And then, you rest secure in the confidence of that assured faith.
Trials produce that, as well as we see in all of those, an eternal reward. So here are the writers of the New Testament telling us that we should, in the midst of trials, rejoice, that we should, in the midst of trials, welcome their product, their fruit their result, and that we should look forward to our heavenly reward. The apostle Paul talks about a terrible trial he was experiencing in 2 Corinthians 12. He says, “There was given to me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. He said, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’” Paul’s response, “If power is perfected in weakness, if faith is perfected in trials, then I will rather boast about my weaknesses so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” Then he says this: “Therefore I am well-content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with difficulties, and with persecutions for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
He knew that persecutions brought about spiritual strength. Persecutions brought about a tested faith. Persecutions brought a tested faith. Persecutions produced a greater eternal reward. He also knew that persecution was inevitable in preaching the gospel. Philippians 2:17. “Even if I am being poured out as a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all.” If I lose my life getting the gospel to you, I rejoice.
Similarly in Colossians 1:24, “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake.” I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake. What sufferings is he talking about? It was all persecution. Beaten with rods, whipped by the Jews, stoned, shipwrecked, in danger from robbers, rivers, everywhere he went. Natural disasters, natural and supernatural enemies, demons. He found joy in all of that, in all of it, because in his weakness, he became strong. And as he became strong, his faith was perfected, and his joy came out of the confidence of a perfected or assured faith. He also had great hope for his eternal reward.
Listen, the world hated Jesus. He said that. They hated Him, really, with an insatiable hate that could only be satisfied when they had Him dead, and then He rose from the dead and continued to live through the apostles and through His church. And so, as Paul said, believers who follow after Christ receive in their bodies the wounds intended for Christ. We take the blows meant for Him. It isn’t that they hate us; it’s that they hate Him, and He’s not here, so they attack us. But it is in this sense that all believers who suffer persecution must view their persecution. It is designed by God to produce a perfected faith. It is designed by God to produce maturity, assurance, joy, and eternal reward.
In Mark 13:13, we read, “You shall be hated of all men for my sake.” In 2 Corinthians 1:5, the afflictions of Christ overflowed toward us. To the Corinthians, Paul says he was always bearing in his body the dying of Jesus Christ. He says to the Galatians, “I bear in my body the marks of Christ.” He even prayed for more, that I may know Him, and fellowship of His sufferings. Philippians 3:10. For the Christian then, persecution is a noble expectation. It produces growth and glory, and maturity, and assurance, and blessing, and encouragement, and reward, and is part of who we are. It is one of the privileges of our union with Christ.
Some of you may be saying, I never thought of persecution that way, but that is the Bible’s way to think about it. That is how the church learned to think about it, through the very revelations of Scripture that I’ve just recited for you.
Now, as we come to chapter 4 of the Book of Acts, the church is going to learn this. The church is going to learn the blessing and benefit of persecution. Those who were persecuted in the past have all entered into the eternal reward, and if they were here, they could give testimony of the glory of that reward. The sufferings of this world, they have learned, are not worthy to be compared with the joy that will be ours in the presence of the Lord. We have a far greater weight of glory awaiting us.
Well, the early church is beginning to learn this. And as chapter 4 unfolds, there are some principles that arise as we watch how they handle persecution. I’ve identified seven of them, and I gave you three last time. We’ll work on giving you the rest this time. One could simply ask the question: how did the early apostles and the early church handle persecution? By what means? The answer is here. First of all, we started in verse 5 to look at the response, and the first thing I told you last time was, this is the first principle of facing persecution: be submissive to it. Be submissive to it. That is precisely how they responded. When everybody gathered together against them and confronted them, they saw it as an opportunity to preach the gospel to the Sanhedrin. They wound up sitting in the middle of the gathered rules and elders and scribes of Jerusalem, with Annas, the high priest, Caiaphas, John and Alexander, two other of the elite blue bloods related to the high priestly family. All of them from that descent. They took Peter and John, placed them in the middle of the encircled Sanhedrin, and began to ask them questions. This is the first necessary response that the Lord providentially has brought me to this place and this is going to give an opportunity that probably couldn’t be gained any other way.
There was no resistance. That’s what we see here. It’s really an argument from silence. There’s no struggle here. They knew that even as new believers, that God had allowed this. They were content with that. They waited for God’s purpose to be unfolded. This is God plan. Everything they’ve seen has been God’s plan. From the death of Christ, the resurrection of Christ, and then it was all explained that this is the meaning of the Old Testament prophecies, and they understood all of that for the first time. We see them pour out references to the Old Testament. For the first time, the apostles do that in the Book of Acts because they understand it.
So it’s all coming clear to them, the whole unfolding plan of God, and they submit to it. The second thing we saw last time, the second principle that rises out of this persecution is they were filled with the Spirit, verse 8. Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them. They were beyond their own strength, like Paul. They were in the midst of weakness. They had no human resources. They had no one who would get them out of this situation. They didn’t know what they were to say, but they remembered the words of Jesus who said, “Take no thought in what you’ll say. I’ll put the words in your mouth.” That, by the ministry of the Holy Spirit. So there, we find Peter yielding up fully control to the Holy Spirit.
Now, that’s not just some kind of nebulous expression. What it means is peter didn’t try to operate in his own strength, in his own wisdom. In fact, it parallels James 1. You remember in the next verse, after we read that trials have a perfecting work, producing endurance in a completed faith, we read immediately after that, these very familiar words from James. Remember them? “If any of you lacks,” what? Wisdom. Let him ask of God who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it’ll be given to him, but he must ask in faith without doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind, for that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
In other words, throw yourself completely, trustingly on the power of God, which means: yield to the Holy Spirit, in the midst of the trial, in the midst of the struggle. So, we saw that last time, the necessity of calling on God, and crying out to the Holy Spirit to take over and fill your life, and give you the words and the understanding and the wisdom to deal with it. This is triumphant.
The third thing and last point that we looked at last time was, in the midst of persecution, boldly use it as an opportunity to present the gospel. Boldly use it as an opportunity to present the gospel. Verse 8, Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them. And this is bold: “Rulers and elders of the people, if we are on trial today for a benefit done to a sick man as to how this man is has been made well, let it be known to all of you and to all of the people of Israel that buy the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by this name, this man stands here before you in good health. He, that is, Jesus Christ, is the stone which was rejected by you, the builders, but which became the chief cornerstone. 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.” This is really so powerful.
How emboldened are these disciples? You say they’re essentially just in the church for weeks. The church is newly born. They’ve just been literally given the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. They received the indwelling Spirit. They’re filled with the Spirit. How in the world could they have such assurance and confidence and boldness? The answer? They knew all that the Old Testament had said but didn’t understand its meaning. They knew all that Christ had said but were shaky and foggy about its meaning. But when Christ rose from the dead, met them in the upper room, and for 40 days explained the meaning of everything, all of it came together in completion. Now, their theology is full, and rich, and historic.
Jewish people who are converted to Christ are the only converts who can drag their former religion into the new one. If you’re a converted Buddhist, you can’t bring anything with you. If you’re a converted Hindu, you can’t bring anything. But if you’re a converted Jew, you bring everything and you understand it, and that’s what was happening to them. They were new in the sense of New Covenant converts, but they had such a vast education that now all had become clear. They understood the plan, the purpose. There is Peter there in verse 11, rattling off Psalm 118 verse 22 to show again this experience of now for the first time understanding even isolated portions of the Old Testament. They preached the exclusivity of the gospel.
What did they do in persecution? Soften the message? No. Broaden the message to be inclusive, so no one is offended? No. They preached the exclusivity of salvation in Jesus Christ and in no one else. Now listen, they start throwing around Old Testament verses, and they do this with confidence, and this shakes the rulers in the Sanhedrin. Verse 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.
Now understand, they, like the rest of the Jews, had been raised on the Old Testament. They knew the content without knowing the meaning. But now, all of a sudden, with their teacher after His resurrection explaining it all to them for 40 days, with the Holy Spirit becoming an internal resident truth teacher, they are profoundly educated in an understanding of Scripture. And so, they speak with confidence about salvation in Christ and Christ alone. And this shocks the Jewish Ph.D.’s who are supposed to be the only ones who can speak with certainty. They’re astounded that these uneducated Galilean fishermen say what they say with such boldness, such confidence, and who talk like they knew what they were talking about. They’re really stunned by this. They obviously know that this is beyond what they should expect, and they began, end of verse 13, to recognize them as having been with Jesus. They were like Jesus. Confident, assured, authoritative.
Remember in the Sermon on the Mount, what shocked the crowd as He spoke as one having what? Authority. They saw the same boldness in the apostles they had seen in Jesus. They saw the same forthright fearlessness they had seen with Jesus. And neither Jesus nor these men had ever set their foot in any rabbinical, authorized school. And yet, they taught as if they had authority. Certainly, none of them, not Peter or John, or any other apostles, in one sense, could handle the Old Testament the way Jesus did, but this is what they were used to from Jesus. None of them could be as assured and as bold and confident as the omniscient Son of God, but it was very much the same.
That leads to a fourth principle. Be obedient to God no matter the cost. Be obedient to God no matter the cost. The leaders have a problem on their hands. They are looking at the man who had been healed standing with Peter and John. He’s still there. Remember? That’s how the scene started, right? Well, when Peter and John came to the Sanhedrin, they brought the man, the living illustration. They didn’t know what to say in reply. They were in no position to deny the miracle. There’s the man. Can’t deny that. They’re not in any position to question the disciples’ understanding of the Old Testament. They could’ve repented. They could’ve said, “We were wrong. Obviously, Christ is alive because His power is at work.” They didn’t. They have to figure out a way to deal with this.
So, in verse 15, they ordered them to leave the council, and then they began to confer with one another. They take them out of the room. They don’t set them free. They just get them out of there so they don’t hear the deliberations. And they say, “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.” Does that tell you about unbelief? How stubborn is unbelief?
All right. The miracle happened. It’s a notable miracle. The whole city knows it’s a miracle. We can’t attempt to deny the miracle. What are we going to do with these men. This is a tough problem. Oh, by the way, there’s no law against healing people. There didn’t need to be a law against it ‘cause nobody could do it. There’s no rule against a good deed. And furthermore, Peter and John were popular with the people. How popular were they? 20,000 people by now or about that make up the church which, as far as they’re concerned, doesn’t appear as a church, but a mass movement against them by the populous. They can’t kill these men or they’re going to have a revolution on their hands. That’s not good. They can’t let them go, and at least they can’t let them go doing this, teaching and healing. They’ve got to come up with something, and this is the brain trust now of Judaism. So, they come up with a solution, verse 17, “‘But so that it will not spread any further among the people, let us warn them to speak no longer to any man in this name.’ And when they had summoned them, they commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.”
That is the inevitable moment in persecution. Is it not? Every martyr came to that moment in the past. Every martyr comes to that moment in the present. We read it in the papers all the time. ISIS finds Christians, they bring them in, they say “denounce Christianity, embrace Islam or we’ll chop your head off.” That moment comes in persecution. Will you deny Christ? Will you deny Christ? You read the history of the persecution of the church, and that moment comes back again and again and again. They brought them in, commanded them never to mention the name of Jesus again.
Kind of an interesting little turn. The early believers had to be commanded to be quiet about Jesus; modern believers have to be commanded to say something about Him. We’ve come a long way from the fire of the early church, I fear. They still despise His name. They still hate Him, and they can’t get rid of His name, they can’t get rid of Him. So, they warn them. The warning implies some kind of threat, some kind of response if they fail to obey, to speak no longer to any man that name. What they mean there of course is public speaking. The verb is used to refer to actual public speech. No more preaching. So they put a ban on preaching. There are bans on preaching all over the world today. There always have been in the life of the church. So they threatened them with some unnamed retribution if they don’t stop preaching. A ban on preaching. I wonder how far away that is, even in our own country.
So how do they respond? Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge.” Boy, that is well-crafted, isn’t it? They might’ve been fishermen, but they were pretty shrewd. You need to make another judgment, gentlemen. Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you or to God. That’s it. You say, well, wait a minute. The Bible says that we are to be subject to the powers that be for they are ordained of God. Romans 13. The Bible says that we are to be subject to the king and all rulers, and to submit to them and be good citizens. First Peter chapter 2. We are to come under authority. God is ordained government. They don’t bear the sword for nothing, and we’re to be model citizens and not revolutionaries. And so, this would’ve been the time for them to say okay, we will submit because the Bible tells us to submit. We are to honor the king, and the governor, and those that are in authority over us. God has ordained all authorities for the preservation of life.
But that has limits, folks, when what men tell you to do is contrary to what God tells you to do. Then, who do you obey? You be the judge. Whether it’s right in the sight of God to give heed to you, rather than to God, you judge that. How did Daniel face that? Daniel was told: do not pray. Daniel answered that question, “I have a higher authority.” Daniel, by nature, was a submissive young man. He had demonstrated that in his training in Babylon. He was a well-rounded noble, accommodating man, and rose to a prime ministership in an alien country. But when it came to being told not to do what God commanded him to do, that’s where he had to obey the higher authority.
So what does someone do in persecution? First, you boldly proclaim the message that brought about the persecution, and secondly, with holy courage and boldness, you take your stand. You have, really, no choice. When the culture tells you you cannot proclaim the gospel, when the culture tells you you cannot read the Scripture, when society forbids you to name the name of Jesus Christ, or when society demands that you do something God forbids like allow homosexual marriage. That is an oxymoron. You have a higher authority.
Listen, they knew that they had a responsibility to government. It was Peter who wrote those words: submit yourself for the Lord’s sake to every human institution. He wrote that. He understood that. But when obeying that government makes you a violator of Christ’s command, you cannot be obedient. You must not be obedient. You will not be obedient. Chapter 5 verse 29, it comes up again. Further persecution. Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.” We must obey God rather than men. I say this not only to you, but to persecuted Christians around the world who may hear this message. When they command you to stop speaking the name of Christ, you cannot obey them. When they command you to stop preaching the gospel, you cannot obey them. When they command you to accept something immoral, something unjust, or something unrighteous, you cannot obey them.
Here we are in America, and some professing Christians have so little courage that the voice of their neighbors sound louder in their ears than the voice of God. The real secret here is the tribute once paid to John Knox. He feared God so much that he never feared the face of any man. Well, that was Peter and John. They obeyed in faith, leading the results to God. That’s boldness.
A couple of other things come out of this. Little dialogue here. It shows how opposite Judaism was from God, because they were put in a dilemma where doing what the leaders of Judaism told them to do would be absolutely contrary to God. Again, another way to demonstrate how ungodly Judaism was. It also let them know that their superficial self-designed authority was meaningless in God’s kingdom.
So, verse 20, they say it as clearly as you can say it: “We cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.” That’s how John described his experience with Christ. First John 1:1. You remember how he begins that epistle? “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at, touched with our hands, concerning the word of life.” Christ. We saw Him. We heard Him. We touched Him. We handled Him. The Word of Life. We cannot speaking about Him. This, of course, is where persecuted people have to take their stand. And if it means off with the head, burned at the stake, whatever it means, there’s no choice. Paul put it this way, 1 Corinthians 9:16: “Woe is me if I preach not the gospel.” I bring judgment down on my own head. I’d rather be judged by man than by God. I’d rather have the condemnation of an earthly tribunal than to have the condemnation of the heavenly one.
We can’t. We can’t stop speaking about what we’ve seen and heard. We can’t. When they had then, verse 21, “threatened them further, they let them go.” Why did 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.” There is a mass movement going on. There are the people who have become true believers and are now making up the church, but the whole city, the whole area is electrified by this incredible miracle, and they’re all glorifying God for what happened. Doesn’t mean they were all believers, but they all knew it was a work of God because they knew the man, verse 22, the man was more than 40 years old on whom the miracle of healing had been performed. That means for decades, they had seen this beggar in his lame condition. So they threatened him, but we don’t know what the teeth in the threat might be, but they didn’t put any. They didn’t say we’re going to do this, or we’re going to do that, because they were afraid of this mass movement, this populace.
So, they just released them. If you look over at 40, it’s a similar situation. Only this time, they put some teeth in their demands. They called the apostles in, and they flogged them. They whipped them, and then ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and then released them. So, the first time, they think the warning might scare them. The warning doesn’t scare them. The next time, they whip them and give them the same command.
That doesn’t stop anything. Then, as you know, eventually they began to kill them. But at this point, they do nothing. Verse 23. When they had been released, they went to their own, their own friends and family, and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. They just gave a report. They had stood their ground. They had been bold. No threats could’ve deterred them. This is an appropriate response to being brought to the brink in persecution when your life is threatened.
Wonderful story of John Chrysostom, summoned before the Roman emperor Arcadius, threatened with banishment if he didn’t stop preaching Christ. He is said to have said this: “You cannot banish me, for the world is my Father’s house.” The emperor said, “Then I will slay you.” “Nay. You cannot slay me, for my life is hid with Christ in God.” “Then, your treasures will be confiscated.” “That can’t be. My treasures are all in heaven, where no one can break in and steal.” “Then I will drive you from men, and you will have no friends.” “You cannot do that either. I have a friend in heaven who said I will never leave you or forsake you.” Ultimately, Chrysostom was banished to a remote place on the edge of Armenia. And all he did when he got there was preach. All the time. So they determined they had to banish him further into a terribly obscure place, and he died on the journey. No threat could break his spirit, and no threat could take him away from obedience. Boldly obey Christ in the face of persecution. Boldly obey Christ in the face of persecution.
So what did we learn? Be submissive, be Spirit filled, boldly use it as an opportunity, and be boldly obedient, no matter what the cost.
There’s a fifth principle, a fifth principle. Bind closer to other believers, verse 23. “When they had been released, they went to their own companions,” friends, “and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them.” You know, persecution produces unity. Go over to verse 32. As this persecution accelerates, the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and one soul. Not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own. All things were common property to them. With great power, the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus and abundant grace was on them. There was not a needy person among them. All who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sale and lay them at the apostles’ feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need. This is an incredible coming together. Persecution does that. It produces unity. They clung tightly to one another, dependent. The persecuted church is the united church because it draws its strengths in that corporate fellowship. Persecution inevitably produces unity. It forces believers to circle the wagons, to cling to each other, to hold on tightly.
Persecuted church, then, because expressive of its love. It becomes stronger in its union. Persecution then makes the church collectively strong. So, the fifth principle, just in that one little verse: “Bind yourselves closely together with other believers.”
Two more. Number 6, thank the Lord. Thank the Lord. When the message was given and they heard it, verse 24, they lifted up their voices to God with one accord. There’s the unity. And they said, “O Lord, it is You who made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and all that is them, who by the Holy Spirit, through the mouth of our father David your servant said,” Psalm 2, “‘Why did the nations rage and the peoples devise futile things? The kings of the earth took their stand, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord and against His Christ.’ 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, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur.”
What was their response? Just immediate praise to God. Immediate praise. They pour out true worship. They address God as Lord, not the usual Kurios, Lord, but despot. It becomes the English word, “despot,” referring to one who is the absolute ruler of slaves, the absolute master of all. They see themselves as slaves, and they praise their master. They praise their God with one accord, who is the creator of the entire universe, the God who has all of the rulers of the world and nations of the earth in the palm of His hand, the God who allowed them to gather against His Christ. And in their gathering, they accomplished His purpose, which was predestined. This is where theologians get the invisible hand to describe the providence of God, verse 28, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to accomplish.
This is praise. This is blessing God. Their response to the report then, is to praise the Lord, to lift up their praise. They recognize the guilt of Herod, Pontius Pilate, the Romans, the people of Israel. But behind it all is the invisible hand of God, affecting His predestined purpose.
This is so critical in persecution, to see that this is part of a scheme, a plan, a purpose unfolding, that God ordained before the world began. Listen. This is where your comfort comes from. This is not outside the plan. This is inside the plan. This is not outside the power of God. This is inside the power of God. This is His purpose, it is His plan, it is by His power and His will. The Old Testaments prophesied that the world would gather against the Messiah, that the kings of the earth would take their stand and the rulers would gather together, and they did, and who are those rulers who gathered against Jesus? Herod, the Idumean; Pilate, the Roman; the Romans and the Jews. The world gathered against Him, just what is prophesied in Psalm 2, and raged, the Gentiles raged, the Jews raged. But all they did in their rage was what God had predestined to occur. This is where the one in persecution finds final, ultimate comfort. This is in the plan of God. That’s how the Book of Genesis ends, in the story of Joseph. They meant it for evil, but God meant it for God. Psalm 76:10 puts it this way: He causes the wrath of men to praise Him.
So, how do you handle persecution? Be submissive, be Spirit filled, boldly use it as an opportunity, be obedient at all costs, bind yourselves together with other believers, and praise the Lord for His purpose and providence in it all.
And then, the final note. Amazing. Pray for greater boldness. Pray for greater boldness. Verse 29. “And now, Lord, take note of their threats,” after all the praise and affirmation, then comes the request. What’s your request? Get us out of this.
No. Here’s their request: “Grant that Your slaves,” your douloi, “may speak Your word with all confidence. Give us greater boldness.” That’s the prayer of a persecuted believer. Give us greater boldness, greater boldness. Amazing. You are despots. You are the absolute ruler. We are douloi. We are slaves. We are committed to whatever Your Word says. We will speak Your Word with all boldness and confidence. And Lord, undergird that speaking. Extend Your hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Your holy servant, Jesus. Undergird our preaching with more miracles, more wonders. Keep it up. And you know that that is what was happening.
If you go back to the end of chapter 2, we know that there were wonders going on. Verse 43. “Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles.” Scripture wasn’t written yet. They needed to be validated. They were validated by the miracles, and so they cry out to God: do more miracles to undergird our preaching. Give us greater boldness, and do more miracles.
Their prayer was answered fast. Verse 31. This is heaven’s response. “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.” Verse 32. “And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and one soul.” Powerful. Too many to number, now. Bold, fearless, undaunted, confident, courageous, trusting in the purpose of God. They are triumphant.
This is how to face persecution. The church, throughout its history, has demonstrated a similar triumphant character. We rejoice in the faithfulness of the saints because we’re here today because of that faithfulness. Faithful saints preserve the Scripture. Faithful saints preserve the credibility of our Christian faith. Faithful saints wrote the books illuminated by the Holy Spirit that explain the Scripture so that it could come to life through the centuries and be brought down to us. We look backwards and see many faithful persecuted believers, but we need to realize that there are many today living. There will continue to be many more in the future. Maybe some of you, who knows.
I was glancing through a book that just came out in the last couple of days called “The Upper Room,” which gives an account that I wrote of John 13 to 16. I was reminded of a little story I put in there about a young man in our church here who used to like to go down to Los Angeles and tell people the gospel. He was in the middle of Los Angeles, and he was at 7th and Broadway, and he was giving the gospel and passing out gospel tracts and sharing the gospel. And somebody came along and bashed him in the back of the head, fractured his skull, and killed him. Tried to save him by drilling holes in his skull, but they couldn’t. That’s a few years back. That’s how it is for some people right now in our world, and it could be our legacy in the not too distant future. But we can rest on the truth of the testimony of the early church in the fourth chapter of Acts, can’t we? What a great gift this is.
Father, thank You again for Your Word. We always say that, and we always mean that from the bottom of our hearts. Thank You for its glorious insights, revelation, truth. Be with persecuted believers. Use this message wherever it can be a help and encouragement to bring glory and honor to You through the faithfulness of Your persecuted saints, and give us courage and strength when we face the hostility that comes against Your glorious name. We ask these things for the sake of Christ. Amen.
The Jews celebrated their Passover Feast in remembrance of God’s deliverance from death during the time of Moses.
Origination of Passover
Moses had been instructed to lead God’s people out of Egypt and save them from the evil and ungodly Pharaoh. Because of Pharaoh’s disbelief in the power of the One True God, Yahweh sent a series of ten plagues upon the Egyptians: the Nile turned to blood and at various times the land was filled with frogs, gnats, flies, hail, locusts, and darkness. In one awesome act of God’s ultimate authority, He sent one final devastating plague: every firstborn of every household would be annihilated.
In His mercy towards His people, God would shield the Israelites from such unmerciful judgment if they would follow the instructions He gave to Moses and Aaron. The specific instructions are outlined in Exodus 12:1-11. In sum, each family was to take a lamb and all households were to slaughter their lambs at the same time at twilight after a certain number of days. Then they were commanded to paint the sides and top of their doorways with some of this blood. Once this was done and all the meat of the lamb was eaten in accordance with God’s instructions, God would spare the Israelites from death. This is what the Lord said:
“On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn — both men and animals — and I will bring judgement on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord. The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt. This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord — a lasting ordinance” (Exodus 12:12-14)
The Seder Meal
The highlight of a contemporary Jewish Pesach, or Passover, is the Seder.
The Seder meal consists of six highly symbolic elements: matzah, a roasted shank bone, parsley or green herbs, the top of a horseradish, charoset, and an egg. On each plate are three pieces of matzah (a special type of cracker or unleavened bread). Two of these pieces represent the traditional loaves used in the ancient Temple during festivals and the third piece symbolizes Passover. The roasted lamb bone connotes the sacrificial Passover lamb. Herbs symbolize springtime growth. The horseradish represents the bitter years of slavery in Egypt; charoset, a mixture of fruit and ground nuts soaked in wine, represents the mortar used in Egypt; and the egg represents the chagigah (a secondary sacrifice prepared along with the Passover lamb).
The Biblical Accounts
Accounts of what happened can be found in all four gospels — Matthew 26:17-27:10; Mark 14:12-72; Luke 22:1-65; John 13:1-18:27.
Can God change your life?
God has made it possible for you to know Him and experience an amazing change in your own life. Discover how you can find peace with God. You can also send us your prayer requests.