The life of being a gospel witness is a constant paradox. We see it again and again in Acts 5:12–42.
The gospel message is offensive. Though the church gathered regularly at the temple, “no one else dared to join them” (Acts 5:13; cf. John 6:66–69) And yet when the Lord’s message was preached, the church grew: “Believers were added to the Lord in increasing numbers—multitudes of both men and women” (Acts 5:13–14).
The early church also faced constant opposition—jealous enemies (v.17), arrests (vv.18,26), imprisonment (v.18), censure (vv.28,40), floggings (v.40), and threats of death (v.33). And yet no matter how hard they tried, those who opposed the early believers were unable to stop the gospel from going forth with power.
People brought the sick and laid them on cots in the streets, hoping their ill and infirm might be graced by Peter’s shadow (v.15). The apostles weren’t magicians, but as with the bleeding woman who touched the fringe of Jesus’s garment (Luke 8:44), healing power came.
When Jesus’s followers were later imprisoned, the angel of the Lord came and freed them from their jail cells. The apostles weren’t escape artists, but they experienced God’s liberating power so they could “Go and stand in the temple, and tell the people all about this life” (Acts 5:20)
They were to be witnesses of this powerful, persecuted, paradoxical life. Christian witness brings healing and salvation along with harsh criticism and gawking stares. It’s a paradoxical reality that’s shaped by the paradoxical pattern of Christ’s life.
Before the Sanhedrin, Peter proclaimed, “The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had murdered by hanging him on a tree. God exalted this man to his right hand as ruler and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins” (vv.30–31).
Life through a murder. Glorious exaltation from an act of evil. Brothers and sisters, “We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him” (v.32).
As a Christian, do you know this paradoxical pattern? Once we’ve experienced Christ’s power, it’s easy to be discouraged when griefs and sorrows again raise their ugly heads. But just as there is no resurrection without the cross, there is also no avoiding battling besetting sin, being rejected by friends and family, or enduring difficulty and suffering in this life.
Hardship isn’t just a before-I-met-Christ experience. As the apostles’ lives (and later their deaths) make clear, difficulty comes to Christians over and over again throughout their lives. And yet, when the trials come (or endure), we can live the paradox, facing them like those early believers who rejoiced that they were counted worthy to be treated shamefully on behalf of His name (v.41).