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18. God helps His people to suffer and to succeed

Readings throughout from the Bible's book of Acts. My life (put) alongside God's word, volume 1.

I enjoy sharing these Bible lessons with you. I hope some of you have been blessed as you have read them and shared them on email since 2006. In this book form I pray they will reach and help even more people. I know that those of you who have received them are in many different ministry circumstances, mostly in Sudan or South Sudan, with a few elsewhere. The same will be true of readers of the book. The New Testament was written to people in a similar variety of life circumstance.

The new Christian church, immediately after our Lord Jesus Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension, suffered as it spread. It was faced with many challenges. The fact that we live as Christians today is evidence that God helped His people to succeed. What often seemed failure to the human eye was victory in the sight of Almighty God.

Notice how God works even through persecution.[1]

1. God’s power in persecution read Acts 4:13. Peter and John were seized and jailed because of the crowd’s huge response to a healing granted to a crippled man. Their accusers “took note these men had been with Jesus”. Jesus was made visible through His followers. Outsiders could see a difference.

2. God’s pleasure in persecution read Acts 5:41-42. The apostles had been strictly ordered not to preach in the name of Jesus. Jewish leaders were afraid of being blamed by the majority for killing Jesus. God was surely pleased when His chosen apostles gladly suffered for the Name (above all others!).

3. God’s perspective in persecution read Acts 7:54-60. Stephen, the daring deacon of the early church, was killed by an angry mob. As he was dying, and praying for his executioners, heaven opened to show our Lord Jesus standing ready to welcome Stephen home. We Christians do not live for this world.

4. God is personally persecuted by persecution read Acts 9:4-5. All of the accounts in Acts agree that when Saul met the risen Lord Jesus, the voice from heaven’s glorious light said, “Why are you persecuting Me?” 22:7-8; 26:15. Whenever a Christian suffers persecution, his or her Lord Jesus suffers with him. We can lean on Him for comfort and strength far beyond our own.

5. God’s plan in persecution read Acts 11:19-21. Unnamed men and women shared the truth everywhere. They spoke about ‘Jesus, Son of God, Saviour’, as they were scattered from their homes by violent threatening and attacks. Share Christ wherever you are!

6. God’s providence[2]in persecution read Acts 12:1-3. King Herod, while Peter was miraculously rescued from the same prison cell, executed the apostle James. We do not always know why God reacts differently to similar situations, but every Christian can be absolutely confident in God’s complete sovereignty[3] over all.

7. God’s purpose through persecutions read Acts 13:49-52; 14:1-7; 14:19-20; 16:19-24; 17:6-10; 17:13-14; 19:28-34. In these later chapters of Acts, trouble follows the Christians almost wherever they go. This is because the Christian gospel is divisive. It should not surprise us. Often the leading believers simply moved on to another place – we could even say they were running away. Running can sometimes be God’s will for us. Actually they were running in the way God wanted them to, so that more and more people heard the good news about Jesus. Thousands were given the opportunity to meet Him for themselves.

8. God’s promise within persecution read Acts 18:9-10. In the Corinth home of Titius Justus, Paul was given a clear vision for the next steps of his own ministry. In spite of opposition he was to keep on going. No one would attack or harm Paul unless and until God allowed it to happen. Then, at worst, heaven waited!

9. God’s presence in persecution read Acts 23:11. In a Jerusalem barracks Paul gained courage from the Lord, Who shared with him that he would soon be able to testify to the Roman authorities at the heart of the Empire.

Perhaps the best words from Paul and Barnabas for us are the ones they spoke to the newly formed churches of Asia minor, “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God”, Acts 14:22.

Going “through” is not avoidance. We must experience hurt on our Christian journey. We can let it loosen our grip on all this world’s passing things. Our hearts can be securely in heaven long before we get there!

“Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted”, 2 Timothy 3:12.

Do you still want to live that godly life in Christ Jesus?

Like me, I hope and pray that you do.

It takes really strong men and women to stand up for our Lord Jesus Christ.

Discussion questions:

1. Why should Christians not be surprised by persecution? See Matthew 5:10-12, John 15:18- 21, Romans 12:14, 1 Peter 4:12-14.

2. Peter was rescued from prison, while James was executed, Acts 12:1-3. How do the providence and sovereignty of God help you accept two different outcomes for two good disciples?

3. What is the significance of the word “through” in Acts 14:22? The word means “from one side to the other, during the whole period of time until the end of it”.[4]

4. What does this mean in your life?

[1] In the United Nations High Commission for Refugees handbook there is no universal definition of persecution. They see what constitutes a “persecuted person” as indefinable. However, my study Collins English Dictionary reveals “to persecute” as “to oppress, harass or maltreat, especially because of religion or race”. Persecution is often systematic and carried out by one group against another. (Harper Collins: Glasgow) 1994. [2] “God’s guiding of all things to His purposes and His using the freewill of human beings to carry out His purposes.” Debbie Dodd Dictionary of Theological Terms in Simplified English (EMIS, Evangelism and Missions Information Service: Wheaton) 2003. [3] “Being in control of everything. He has power over and rules everything.” [4] Macmillan School Dictionary (Oxford) 2004


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