by Samantha Shrauner
During my last year of school, I was single-minded in the pursuit of one goal: a clarinet audition for a concert band of the best players in my region.
Practice had never been high on my priority list before, but for months I spent hours practicing. I took lessons. On car rides and in spare moments of school lessons, I took nerd to a new level and used a pencil as a stand-in for my clarinet. The work and the lack of dignity paid off: I made the band.
An accomplishment that was unfortunately cut short when an ice storm forced the cancellation of the band concert (Texas weather has little regard for dream fulfilment).
Along the way, my focus on the coming audition helped me stay focused when obstacles came up. I learned how to keep going on days when I didn’t feel like practicing. Apparently, I had no concern for the way I looked in front of others; no external pressure was going to keep me from my efforts. For months I pursued my goal without letting obstacles overcome my motivation. I would do very well to model my Christian life now on my effort to learn the clarinet as a seventeen-year-old.
Challenges in life, both internal and external, often keep us from pursuing God and making Him known to the world around us.
We know that it is important to share our faith and diligently learn from Scripture, but pressure from outside and conflict within can draw us away.
How can we persevere in the work that God has given to us when the difficulties of the Christian life tempt us to abandon it?
In Acts 5:17-42, the apostles demonstrate a single-minded devotion for the ministry that God has given them. They are challenged by authorities who imprison and hurt them. Though the authorities use all their force to pressure the apostles to end their ministry, the apostles keep their focus on what God has called them to do. From this passage, we can learn how God is the basis of the apostles’ single-minded ministry and how Christ’s finished work puts the apostles’ single-minded focus into context.
17 But the high priest rose up, and all who were with him (that is, the party of the Sadducees), and filled with jealousy 18 they arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison. 19 But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, 20 “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life.” 21 And when they heard this, they entered the temple at daybreak and began to teach.
Now when the high priest came, and those who were with him, they called together the council and all the senate of the people of Israel and sent to the prison to have them brought. 22 But when the officers came, they did not find them in the prison, so they returned and reported, 23 “We found the prison securely locked and the guards standing at the doors, but when we opened them we found no one inside.” 24 Now when the captain of the temple and the chief priests heard these words, they were greatly perplexed about them, wondering what this would come to. 25 And someone came and told them, “Look! The men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people.” 26 Then the captain with the officers went and brought them, but not by force, for they were afraid of being stoned by the people. Acts 5:17-26
The apostles’ ministry was the proclamation of the good news and the demonstration of God’s power. This work was done in the temple, the centre of Jewish life and faith. Previously, the authorities have arrested Peter and John for proclaiming salvation in Jesus’ name. Jewish leaders forbid the apostles from preaching Jesus. However, the apostles continue the work that God has given to them, and in Acts 5:18 we read that all the apostles were arrested.
On the same night, they were arrested, an angel of the Lord releases them from prison. Darrell Bock highlights that “The act shows which side God is on.” (1) God had overcome the guilty verdict that the authorities had pronounced on Jesus by raising Him from the dead, and now God overcomes the unjust imprisonment of the men he has sent to proclaim salvation.
God is more powerful than the men who stand against the apostles.
The angel instructs the apostles to return to the temple and preach. As soon as the next morning comes, the apostles return to the temple and continue to proclaim the gospel. The apostles show by their actions that they are not afraid of what the authorities may do to them. They do not run and hide but return and preach Jesus in public. The authorities arrest the men again as soon as they discover that their securely held prisoners have been released. The apostles demonstrate by their actions that their concern is with God’s will, not the will of the authorities who have the power to beat and kill them.
God is the one who enables and orchestrates the work that his people do. Jesus promised the apostles power in Acts 1:8 to witness from Jerusalem to the very ends of the earth. From the very beginning, the apostles do not preach from their own power, but by the power of the Holy Spirit. They know what they have witnessed and they know the work that God has set before them. Their single-minded pursuit is to make Jesus known.
Every person who trusts in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins has the Holy Spirit living inside them. We as Christians have the same power that God gave to the apostles, and we are called to carry the same message of salvation to those around us. When opposition, whether subtle or overt, tempts us to remain silent, set your foundation on who God is and what he has done. Do not fear those who stand against the gospel, but remember that God is sovereign over every authority and institution. Proclaiming the gospel may lead to suffering and persecution, but God has called us to a single-minded ministry to make Christ known.
When pressure outside causes you to shrink back in fear or embarrassment, remember who God is and proclaim God’s word with single-minded joy.
27 And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, 28 saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man's blood upon us.” 29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. 31 God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Saviour, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”
33 When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. 34 But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in honour by all the people, stood up and gave orders to put the men outside for a little while. 35 And he said to them, “Men of Israel, take care what you are about to do with these men. 36 For before these days Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. 37 After him Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him. He too perished, and all who followed him were scattered. 38 So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; 39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” So they took his advice, 40 and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 41 Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonour for the name. 42 And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ. Acts 5:27-42
When the council challenges the apostles, they respond that they must obey God rather than men. This is not a flippant response, but rather a willingness to follow in the path of suffering that Jesus also walked. Apart from Gamaliel’s intervention, Peter’s declaration of Jesus would have ended with the apostles’ death.
Why are the apostles so willing to defy the authorities, knowing that it may result in suffering and death? They are willing because Jesus is the Messiah, who died and was raised from death and now offers “repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.” This witness is more important than the apostles’ lives. Darrell Bock says, “The importance of this message is the reason the angel tells them to disobey the leadership’s prohibition on preaching about Jesus.” (2) This is not an attempt to ‘stick it to the man’ or revolt against the authorities that God has put in place. The apostles disobey because souls are at stake, and they are willing to die so that others can be saved.
Because of Gamaliel’s reasoned argument, the apostles are not put to death. However, the authorities do beat them and repeat their charge that the apostles must not preach Jesus. Rather than being deterred by physical violence, the apostles are full of joy. They rejoice because “they had been considered worthy to suffer shame” for telling people about Jesus. When Jesus was killed, these men hid in fear. In the power of the Holy Spirit, they rejoice to suffer because it means that they have been faithful to proclaim salvation in Jesus’ name.
The death and resurrection of Jesus have the power to alter our perspective of ministry.
As we witness about our faith and proclaim salvation to a world that does not know, we carry on the ministry of the apostles.This may bring suffering and persecution, but in the power of the Holy Spirit we can follow the example of the apostles and endure with joy.
Persecution may be a result of evangelism, but our focus must remain on the faithful proclamation of our Saviour who died and rose again. Do not fear suffering, but do not seek it out either. Samuel Ngewa writes, “While our motive should not be to stir up bees, should they be stirred up by the faithful presentation of the word of God, we should faithfully bear their stings.” (3) Throughout the history of the church, enemies have persecuted Christians who have faithfully proclaimed the gospel. Around the world today, Christians face pressure, violence, and death for their witness. We should expect opposition when we share the shame of the cross and the audacity of the resurrection. However, we must focus on the victory of Jesus to avoid developing an unhealthy emphasis on persecution. We must not turn our faith into an “us versus them” battle, but extend the gospel even to those who would seek to silence our witness. When the fear of suffering tempts you to remain silent, remember what Jesus has done. Follow the example of the apostles and proclaim God’s word with single-minded joy.
Persecution is a sober fact of the Christian life and one that we may well face. When Christians beliefs are ridiculed or cast as evil, when the church is viewed with suspicion or labelled unfairly, go to God’s word and see who God is.
Remember again what God has done and how he provided a Saviour for the forgiveness of sins.
Remember how God raised Jesus from the dead, and how vital it is to share the news of eternal life with urgency and great joy. The angel released the apostles from prison so that they could continue to share the whole message of this life: to proclaim the gospel from beginning to end. We have been set the same task, and we can learn the same single-minded devotion to making Christ known. Let us go out into the world, into our streets and to our families and share the news of the hope that we have.
Against every kind of opposition we face, may we proclaim God’s word with single-minded joy.
(1) Darrell Bock, Acts, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007), 236
(2) Bock, 239
(3) Samuel Ngewa, “John” in Africa Bible Commentary, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006), 1322