And now, O Lord, hear their threats, and give us, your servants, great boldness in preaching your word. Stretch out your hand with healing power; may miraculous signs and wonders be done through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” After this prayer, the meeting place shook, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. Then they preached the word of God with boldness. Acts 4:29–31 (NLT)
Acts 4 recounts the aftermath of what happened when the lame man was healed at the temple gate. The authorities were in an uproar and arrested Peter and John. They wanted to censor them or in contemporary terms “deplatform” them. In other words, they wanted to shut them up.
We should not be surprised to find resistance. Throughout much of history and even today throughout much of the world, there is hostility to the gospel message, so what can we learn from these early followers of Christ as they dealt with opposition?
First, they did not stop declaring the salvation message (Acts 4:8-12). Their arrest gave them an increased platform and a wider audience, and they made the most of the opportunity. It was just as Jesus had foretold: (Matthew 10:16-20, Luke 12:11-12).
What happened next is priceless: When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. Acts 4:13 (NIV). There is no greater accolade than to have people notice that we have been with Jesus.
At this point, the authorities realized that popular opinion was against them. They threatened once again: But Peter and John replied, “You can judge for yourselves—is it better to listen to you or to God? It’s impossible for us to stop speaking about all the things we’ve seen and heard!” Acts 4:19–20 (TPT)
After a few more threats, they let them go. Let us focus on what happened next. Peter and John returned to the community of believers and reported what had happened. Next, they did not discuss what happened or whine about the authorities or complain about how unfair it was; they immediately lifted their voices in prayer (Acts 4:24).
At no point during this prayer meeting do we hear them asking God to stop their persecution or relieve them of the troubles that they faced. They state the facts and ask God to take notice of the threats against them and see what they ask God to do: …Empower us, as your servants, to speak the word of God freely and courageously. Stretch out your hand of power through us to heal, and to move in signs and wonders by the name of your holy Son, Jesus!” Acts 4:29–30 (TPT)
Could we be spending too much time asking God to get us out of difficult situations, when he is the one who allowed it to happen so that he might receive the glory? Jesus prayed for the disciples: I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one. John 17:15 (NLT). In the same way that you gave me a mission in the world, I give them a mission in the world John 17:18 (MESSAGE). What do you think would happen if we spent less time asking God to keep us out of difficulty and more time asking for strength?
At that moment the earth shook beneath them, causing the building they were in to tremble. Each one of them was filled with the Holy Spirit, and they proclaimed the word of God with unrestrained boldness. All the believers were one in mind and heart. Selfishness was not a part of their community, for they shared everything they had with one another. The apostles gave powerful testimonies about the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great measures of grace rested upon them all. Acts 4:31–33 (TPT)
When we have grown accustomed to mild or benign resistance and opposition, real persecution can bring a shock to our lives, so it is important that we remember these things. Jesus promised that he would always be with us: …be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:20 (NLT) He will give us the words to say: …don’t worry in advance about what to say. Just say what God tells you at that time, for it is not you who will be speaking, but the Holy Spirit. Mark 13:11 (NLT)
Peter tells us that we should not be surprised by the trials that we will face (1 Peter 4:12) and he goes on to tell us: Keep your guard up. You’re not the only ones plunged into these hard times. It’s the same with Christians all over the world. So keep a firm grip on the faith. 1 Peter 5:9 (MESSAGE)
We must resist the inclination to feel sorry for ourselves or to whine and complain about the unfair treatment and realize that we are to live as aliens and strangers and that we serve our Lord as his ambassadors. Amen!