"Paul Preached to the People"
from Treasures of the Bible - Church Age
TO CHEW ON: "And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit." Acts 13:52.
The story of Paul's first missionary journey (Acts 12:25-14:28) is a fascinating succession of ups and downs. In today's reading we see some of them.
Paul and Barnabas had reached Antioch in Pisidia. When attending the synagogue, Paul got invited to share his "exhortations for the people" - Acts 13:15. Those ended up being an explanation of the gospel (Acts 13:16-41). His emphasis on the fact that sins could be forgiven on the basis of Jesus and His death and resurrection alone (and not by keeping the law - Acts 13:38,39) was such good news to the Gentiles, they begged Paul to talk specifically to them (Acts 13:42).
Next Sabbath a huge crowd gathered ("almost the whole city"). They were enthusiastic about accepting Paul's message of hope for the Gentiles. Many of them believed (Acts 13:48,49).
But the jealous Jews "stirred up the devout and prominent women and the chief men of the city, raised up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region" - Acts 13:50.
We would expect Paul and Barnabas to be upset and discouraged by this. Not so! They were "filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit" - Acts 13:52.
What?! It's almost as if the persecution was a signal to them that they were on the right track.
Joy in the face of persecution is a theme that runs through the New Testament.
- Jesus said to expect such treatment for His sake and to "'...rejoice and be exceedingly glad…'" - Matthew 5:11,12, Luke 6:22,23.
- Peter and John considered it an honour to be persecuted for Jesus - Acts 5:41.
- Paul and Silas prayed and sang hymns after being beaten in Philippi - Acts 16:23,25.
- Paul taught about being joyful in suffering - Colossians 1:24.
- The writer of Hebrews wrote to readers who "...joyfully accepted the plundering of your goods, knowing that you have a better and an enduring possession for yourselves in heaven" - Hebrews 10:34.
- Peter encouraged readers who were in a fiery trial to "...rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ's sufferings" - 1 Peter 4:12,13.
In our democratic culture where everyone is supposed to have equal rights and can stand up for them, we have the privilege and even feel responsible to stand up for our rights as Christians in the face of unfairness, hassling, put-downs, exclusions etc. (persecution). When persecution comes we have the feeling, This shouldn't be happening to us. Maybe it's partly our fault in that we've let it happen; we haven't been watchful and outspoken enough.
But I suspect that persecution of Christians will only continue and get worse, even in democratic countries, and even where people are vigilant to do what they can to preserve rights and freedoms. It's time we (at least I) take a more realistic view of persecution, including joy in response to it.
Opposition may even be a backhanded compliment, in that it signifies we're doing something worth opposing.
PRAYER: Dear Jesus, help me to be as loyal to You and as willing to joyfully accept persecution as these New Testament people were. Amen.
Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.