A Miracle Sparks Controversy
In Acts 3, Peter and John headed to the Temple at Jerusalem to pray (v. 1). At the gates of the temple, a lame man laid asking for alms (v. 2) Lame from birth, the alms the man received provided his only source of income. Peter saw him and immediately walked up to the man. Think of that. How many times do we come across individuals who are begging or seeking financial assistance and choose to avert our eyes, cross the street or just ignore them right out? Not Peter. He saw the man and made his way right to him (v. 3-4). The man asked for alms, but Peter let him know that he and John possessed something greater than a shekel, a talent or any other piece of money (5-6). Peter offered the lame man his hand and commanded in the Name of Jesus the man should rise and walk (v. 7).
The man could have refused. Receiving his miracle may have been an enticing idea, but it would have also meant an end to his means of making money. The guaranteed pity and casual recognition from the crowd would come to an end as well. He had been living on the bare necessities of life for so long, it would have been easy to accept that as his fate.
However, this man was ready to be free from that bare lifestyle. It testifies to us that we too can aspire for something greater than a bare lifestyle. We may need healing, but we have gotten used to our illness, especially if it is something we have dealt with for a long time. We may need a miracle, but we have settled into the lifestyle of lack. We may just need a fresh start, but our existence in the valley has made it impossible to fathom living on the mountain. The lame man didn't see it that way and neither should we. Jesus Christ is ready to do the work. We simply need to reach out and grab him just as the lame man grabbed Peter's hand (7-8).
This monumental event immediately caused a stir in the temple. They knew who the lame man was and that he had suffered his aflliction from birth (9-10). Those who witnessed this event ran to meet the men who had performed the miracle (11). Peter took the opportunity to proclaim Jesus to the people. Much like in the Acts 2 message, Peter utilized the knowledge he had of scripture and tried to tailor it to the people and their own knowledge of scripture. He quoted Moses (v.22-23). He declared that the prophets had foretold and believed Christ's coming (24-25). Finally, he claimed that the promise of Christ was theirs for the taking (26).
When we are used by God for his purposes, there is always a greater opportunity waiting. Christ doesn't allow miracles and healing and other mighty acts to occur without the intention of the greatest promise to go forth: His Spirit. Peter proclaimed to the people that they needed Jesus and could only have Him if they would repent and receive Christ's Spirit (19-20). We must do the same.
The Beginning of Sorrows
This would be a great place to stop. However, there is a chapter four of the Book of Acts. When the Sanhedrin, the Roman Captain charged with keeping the peace and the Sadducees - men who did not believe in the spiritual elements of Jewish faith - saw what was happening, they took Peter and John and put them in prison (Acts 4:1-3). We see that the corrupt religious officials, the secular government concerned with keeping the status quo and those seeking to subvert moves of God's Spirit are at the center of trying to snuff out a mighty move of God. Corruption, secularism and subversion are the three biggest enemies of the church. It has been that way since the beginning. They bring with them violence, unrighteous compromise and immorality.
Side Note: These groups' efforts didn't prevent five thousand people from turning to Christ, though (v.4). Even when we are attacked, challenged and ridiculed, God will not let our efforts go fruitless.
Peter and John were put on trial by the same men who helped to condemn Christ to death (6). They challenged the two of them, but Peter and John did not back down. Peter claimed that he and John had laid hands on the lame man and that it was through the Name of Jesus - the only name that can save - that the man was healed (8-12).
Peter's words testify to us that we must not back down when challenged. It would have been easy to deny that they spoke Christ to save their lives, but they fully embraced their calling in the face of potential danger and death. We cannot back down from our faith when challenged. We must fully embrace it and express it with all the love that Christ has placed in us.
The Church Responds
The priests no doubt wanted to kill Peter ad John right then. However, they could not because of the physical evidence that stood before them: the healed lame man (14-17). Instead, they threatened the two and sent them on their way (18-21). They would later go on to report this to the Church. This leads us to the first response to persecution by the Church. They did not complain or sulk. They did not plot a revenge attack. They praised God with a Psalm of supplication. The result was an earth shaking move of God that would see the Church become even more emboldened (v. 24-37).
The early Church didn't sit around feeling sorry for itself or try to compromise with their challengers. They went to God and laid their needs at His feet in a prayer of praise and supplication. When we face adversity in our lives, we must not react within the bounds of our reason or ways. We must go to God and speak His Word back to Him. When we do, God will move in the midst of us and shake our world in a good way. It will lead us to draw closer to Him and to those around us who are progressing in Christ as well.
The Ultimate Price
This story would be the first time the early Church faced persecution, but it would not be the last or the most fierce. Later on, Stephen - a man chosen by his peers to represent them to the community - would be apprehended and brought before the same group of priests. He too would quote God's word to his accusers, but he would face a greater punishment than Peter or John. He would lose his life for Christ, but in his death he lifted up his eyes to God and forgave his accusers.
We may not always come out of our trials and tribulations unscathed. There may be damage done to our lives. We might not lose our lives, but we could lose our jobs, a relationship or even face physical and psychological abuse for our faith. Even so, we must stand righteously before God and pray that the Lord would be merciful with those who accuse, challenge and persecute us. It's what Stephen did in Acts 7, and he was simply mirroring Christ as he hung on the cross (Luke 23:34).
Mercy For the Sake of the Mission
Later on, a man named Saul would go out and seek to obliterate the Church. However, Christ dealt with him directly in Acts 9. This was no doubt a response to similar prayers like what we saw in Acts 4. However, it is the response of the faithful when Saul was converted that most concerns us. Ananias was called directly by God to pray for Saul. In spite of his concerns, God assured him that he would be okay.
Saul would be converted through the prayers of Ananias and the acceptance of the Christians in Damascus. However, he later faced resistance from certain Christians in Jerusalem. A man named Barnabas took him under his wing, though, and the two went on to start churches and set the world on fire. Saul eventually became Paul and was the greatest winner of Gentile souls in the Early Church. Without that merciful action by Barnabas, we wouldn't have had arguably the greatest missionary to ever live.
When someone who was once an enemy of God, His cause and us is brought into the faith, we cannot deny them. It's easy to say merciful words like Steven, but it also takes merciful actions like Ananias and Barnabas to rescue souls from a world bound by hate and wrath. When we take those actions to convert and disciple people like Saul, we may very well be empowering a person who will bring the gospel to countless souls we could never reach ourselves.
Response is Greater Than Our Trials
These are no the only instances of persecution in the Book of Acts, but they give us a window into how the early Church faced and responded to persecution. They did the work that God called them to do even though they knew they would face push back. Once challenged, attacked and persecuted, the early Church didn't back down. They professed their faith and reached for new converts. We must hold to our convictions and faith and be willing to stand up for it in a way that is not violent or resentful. When persecution does come our way, we cannot spit in anger at our persecutors. Instead, we must forgive and pray that God would show mercy on them. However, it takes more than just words to respond like the early Church. When the opportunity arises, we must extend hands of mercy to bring people into the faith and to develop them into what God desires. It may be that, through our boldness and our words and actions of mercy, we bring someone to Christ who will affect a great and marvelous change in this world! Thus, even as the Empire of this world strikes back at us, we will overcome and advance Christ's cause in the face of adversity.
We will continue our look at persecution in its modern forms next week on our Patreon Page. Join up today for just $2 and you will get access to all of the content we have uploaded there and get to help us further advance the cause of Christ! Click here to join.
Chris Farris is the author of The Way, a manual detailing how to implement the Beatitudes into your life. He review events and other media and offers other insights into writing and working for the Kingdom of God.