How should we act when we face difficulties as Christians? How should we respond in the face of difficulties that arise from our being Christian in the public square? These questions have become more frequent because of the uneasiness we are feeling at the growing opposition to Christianity in Australia, Sydney included. Christian values that only a few years ago were met with apathy at worst, are now more openly and aggressively attacked as being bigoted and indeed harmful.
Of course, we’ve seen it all around us for some time. There’s the push beyond ‘equality’ to the actual silencing of debate and opposition. There are the social activist groups willing to resort to profanity and extreme measures to single out Christians who may oppose on moral grounds some of the ideologies that are currently considered sacrosanct. Then there’s the university student who faces ridicule by faculty or other students because of their Christian faith. The parents who disinherit their children who are following Jesus, because of the shame it brings to their family’s reputation. The social group that refuses to befriend the person who goes to church, reads their Bible, and quietly speaks about Jesus to even just a few people.
These examples may have resonated with your experience, as they have with mine in recent times, yet I find great comfort in the example of the followers of Jesus in the early church. In Acts 5, we see Christians facing persecution and opposition for bearing the name of Jesus. Through them, our Lord gives us an example of how we ought to respond when we feel like we are drowning in the barrage of opposition. In this small snippet of the book of Acts, Luke writes of a group of God’s people who could be described as ‘magnetic’: they openly proclaimed the gospel and they looked to adorn the message about Jesus at every opportunity. This community lived in obedience to their Lord, and all around them lives were being changed (5:12-17). And yet it is precisely to this church, where Christ was so evident, that opposition and persecution came. The high priest and his colleagues took action, as they were filled with jealousy and fearful of the zeal of these Christians, which they could not control (5:17-21).
There is a counterintuitive warning in this for us as Christians in 2021. ‘Lukewarm’ Christians don’t get persecuted, for they do not submit to or proclaim Christ. Satan works to sidetrack those who are zealous for Christ, yet this is all the more reason for us to continue to persevere in aligning our affections with those of our Lord Jesus. I will add the caveat that there is nothing Christ-honouring about being ostracised, rubbished or scorned by others for acting out of self-interest and worldly pleasure. In healthy introspection we ought to consider our actions, and prayerfully ask that the Lord might help us to walk in his ways.
But notice the priority of preaching the gospel at every opportunity (5:21-32). When the angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail, the Christians were instructed to teach about Jesus (5:19-20). Even though they had been forbidden by the religious authorities to teach about Jesus (4:18), they went ahead and taught about Jesus anyway. Why? Peter and the Apostles show that their allegiance is to God before people. I love this gospel statement that Peter makes in front of his captors, who had the power to kill him and his brothers:
“The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead – whom you killed by hanging him on a cross. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Saviour that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins” (Acts 5:30-31).
Notice in this statement the priority of articulating that Jesus is the Christ. In fact the word ‘Prince’ used here refers to a leader, a strong one, a pioneer, who would lead the people through troubles. So, at the very centre of the preaching that takes place in Acts is the assertion that Jesus Christ is our leader, our Saviour, indeed the pioneer of our salvation. While Jean-Jacques Rousseau claims “man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains”, Christians preach that all of us are born into the slavery of sin. We require Christ, who liberates us from bondage, fear, shame, selfishness, sin and death (cf. John 8:34-36). Such a powerful and universally relevant message ought always to be priority number one.
Moreover, as we preach Christ the Saviour, and obey Christ as our Lord, we see the secret of the spiritual strength of the Christian life: obedience. Even with death imminent, Peter and the others remain resolute, and the Spirit gives them great courage (Acts 5:29-31). And astonishingly, along with courage, Christ and the Spirit bring them joy. Those early Christians, who had barely escaped death, actually rejoiced and counted it a privilege to be dishonoured for the name of Jesus (5:41)! And they were emboldened: although they were ordered not to speak in the name of Jesus again, they went out anyway – every day – and continued to teach and proclaim the good news of Jesus the Christ (5:42).
Things may be looking a little
scarier for us Christians than it has in the recent past, but I thank God that
his word encourages us not to be distracted by secondary things. What is of
first importance is telling people that Christ came to save us from our sins.
And as for the persecution that comes with that, we take comfort from the words
of our Lord: “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely
say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because
great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the
prophets who were before you” (Matt 5:11-12).
 The recent legislation in Victoria which now makes it illegal to counsel people according to the Bible’s teaching on sexual ethics and practice is one example.