Back when I was a youth minister, I took my first youth group to New York City on a mission trip. We worked with kids from the Dominican Republic in Washington Heights. I’m from Alabama and hadn’t experienced anything like NYC. I was blown away. The whole time I walked around that huge city, I marveled at how different it was. This was especially true in Washington Heights where all the signs were in Spanish. I remember thinking, “This is a totally different world.”
When I read Acts 5:17-42, I feel like I am reading about a world that is different from my own.
The world of Acts was a world of persecution. In the Western world, we don’t have to worry about this. We can teach and preach and even those who do not like what we say will leave us alone. They will not beat us and put us in prison. It’s a very different world indeed.
But that is not what seems so otherworldly to me. What Strikes me most is how they respond to the imprisonment and the beating.
The apostles are arrested and put in prison. Then to everyone’s great relief, they are supernaturally freed by an angel. But instead of enjoying their freedom, they go out and preach again, doing the very thing that got them put in prison in the first place. So, they are brought in again and beaten before being released.
There is no record of complaint. No cries of injustice. No plans for revenge. No, they rejoice because they have been treated terribly, just like the One they follow.
Their response to being imprisoned? They go back out and publicly preach Jesus. Their response to being beaten? Joy, because they had suffered like Jesus.
These apostles lived in a world so foreign to the world I live in. I live comfortably in a world where I demand my rights and complain about my pain. I walk around in a world paved with expecting pity for hardship. But I don’t want to reside in that world.
I want to reside in a world where my freedom is about Jesus and my suffering is about Jesus.
Maybe you do too. How do we get there?
If you are anything like me, your first inclination will be to resolve to do better, to be more willing to do things that might bring on suffering. That’s not a terrible way of thinking, but if that’s all that drives me, I will just get worn down and give up. And that sounds like a world of my own making anyway.
No, sheer determination was not the thing that fueled the apostles’ desire to live for Jesus. They lived like this because they believed the gospel— to the point that it was their only hope for this life and the next, as the old confession says. They lived in a world where the gospel left no room for fear; where suffering couldn’t crowd out joy.
Oh, to live and believe in that world.
Written By Matthew B. Redmond