Be faithful even if it means death

Write to the messenger of the congregation in Smyrna: ‘The First and the Last, the One who died and lived, says these things: I know your distress and poverty, but you are rich. I also know the slander of those who call themselves Jews, and are not, but they are the synagogue of Satan.’” (Revelation 2:8-9 McCord)

Most who are Christians, at least in the Western World, have never suffered persecution as the Christians did in the first century. Although we may be aware that this is always a possibility in a changing and volatile world, in our minds any persecution that might come would be from someone we don’t know, from someone who does not even acknowledge God.

Yet the early persecution we read of in the book of Acts came from Jews, those who thought themselves to be God’s people. And it was against fellow Jews who had become Christians, followers of the Messiah. Jesus had warned about this. Continue reading “Be faithful even if it means death”

God works good out of bad

It can be difficult for Christians living in the 21st century to realise the intensity of the hatred of Jews against Christians in the 1st century. As we read through the book of Acts we find that the Jews were the ones who persecuted Christians. When Paul was preaching it was the Jews who stirred up opposition against him, to the point of pursuing Paul from town to town.

Perhaps it is ironic that one of the first persecutors was Paul himself, known as Saul of Tarsus. The persecutor became a proclaimer of what he had persecuted, and was then persecuted himself! The Jews wanted Paul dead. They had stoned him once and made plans to eliminate him several times. Perhaps they hated Paul intensely because, in their minds, he had switched sides and because they could not answer his arguments about Jesus from their own scriptures. Continue reading “God works good out of bad”

Opposition to the gospel

What is it about proclaiming Jesus that stirs up opposition? This isn’t unique to our times. As Paul and Barnabas were traveling on their first journey they were constantly encountering opposition. This came from the Jews. Initially they were curious and wanted to hear more. But as Paul began to attract large crowds the Jews became jealous. They were thrown out of Pisidia.

When they arrived in Iconium “the same thing happened” (Acts 14:1 NET). Here the Jews stirred up the Gentiles and wanted to stone Paul and Barnabas – they fled to Lystra.

“In Lystra sat a man who could not use his feet, lame from birth, who had never walked. This man was listening to Paul as he was speaking. When Paul stared intently at him and saw he had faith to be healed, he said with a loud voice, ‘Stand upright on your feet.’ And the man leaped up and began walking.” (Acts 14:8-10) Continue reading “Opposition to the gospel”

The Christian’s pursuit

A blinded and humbled man fell before the voice of the Author of life. The soul-piercing question echoes through the ages, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4). Saul’s persecutions had begun with the violent stoning of Stephen, and resulted in the scattering of Christians (Acts 8:1-3).

Saul wasn’t satisfied with mere intimidation, he ravaged the church. Later, he would reveal that it was his intent to destroy the church of God through violence (Galatians 1:13). Not content with dispersing believers, in his raging fury, he persecuted Christians to foreign cities (Acts 26:11). It is here, on the road to Damascus, that his pursuit of violence led to a pursuit of peace. Continue reading “The Christian’s pursuit”

Our secure hope

Sometimes we may think that we have it bad as Christians living in the 21st century. Our society seems to be turning against anything having to do with Christianity. But when we compare our situation to those living in the first century, what we go through is insignificant.

Nero was the ruler in Rome. He persecuted Christians, resulting in the deaths of many Christians – including, we believe, the apostles Paul and Peter. As the persecution began, Christians found themselves alienated from those around them. How do you face this type of aggression day after day?

Peter began his first letter by reminding them of all that they had because they were Christians. Continue reading “Our secure hope”

Living a godly life

What do you say to someone as your life comes to its close?

As Paul wrote the second letter we have to Timothy, what memories he must have had of this younger man. He had taken Timothy with him on his travels and Timothy had learned from Paul to the extent that Paul could leave him to get on with the work that needed done for the Lord.

Yet there is always something more to say, some advice that you think the other person might need once you are gone. Listen as we read some of what Paul wrote as he knew his life was almost over. Continue reading “Living a godly life”

Speaking boldly

As the Day of Pentecost ended, all was going very well for the group of new followers of Jesus. 3,000 had been immersed in water to have their sins forgiven (Acts 2:41). The new disciples spent time together and were taking care of each other. And those around them saw this. As a result they had the “favor of all the people” (Acts 2:47 ESV). Their number increased on a daily basis.

For a while this was the situation. It is difficult to get a sense of time in the first few chapters of Acts, as Luke recorded snapshots of what was happening. It would appear that at least four years are condensed into the first eight chapters of Acts (see Gareth Reese, New Testament History: Acts, 1976: i-xxii). What Luke does record is that the new community of Christ-followers began to be seen as a threat. Continue reading “Speaking boldly”

The destruction of the temple

“Now while some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and offerings, Jesus said, ‘As for these things that you are gazing at, the days will come when not one stone will be left on another. All will be torn down!’ So they asked him, ‘Teacher, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that these things are about to take place?’” (Luke 21:5-7 NET).

Of the three accounts of the impending destruction of the temple in Jerusalem (Matthew 24; Mark 13; Luke 21), Luke’s is probably the simplest to understand. Continue reading “The destruction of the temple”