This week's Bible Study - November 29, 2015
When Opposition Strikes
Quotes of the Week:
Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.
When Opposition Strikes! - This lesson seems to be so out of place in our society today, doesn't it? We know nothing of opposition, right? Actually, I was talking with a co-worker this week about how messed up our world seems to be getting. We have seen so many allegations of things and protesting and decrying of events that may or may not have happened, and at the same time, we have seen terrorism rise on a global scale. People seem polarized on one side or the other on almost everything. I have friends that are Democrats and others that are Republican, and while the vast majority say little, some spend an inordinate amount of time blaming the world's problems on the other side! In our day to day dealings, we see opposition to all sorts of views on almost every level, and in those cases, people seem to have drawn a black or white line, when in fact, the line might more likely be, pardon the reference, fifty shades of grey.
As believers, there are things that we should stand on, but we seem to be about standing on things of less significance. When it is all said and done, as believers, we know that one's eternity is based on the response that they have towards Jesus Christ. Either Jesus is their Lord and Savior, offering forgiveness for their sins, or it seems that He is seen (by them) as some sort of historical lunatic or of no value to them personally at all. There are many other views, from one side to the other, but it all boils down to whether you claim Christ as your Savior or not. Many have turned from their faith due to things that have happened in their lives. Since this life is all we know, it is understandable how one's worldview can truly be rocked by events in life. The untimely loss of a parent, spouse, sibling or child has made many people question their faith and ask why God allowed that. There are myriads of other things in life that we will likely never be able to explain or understand, but in the end, the one true thing that matters in life revolves around Jesus Christ.
Our churches take social stances at times, which they probably should. As believers, we should be the people that God would have us be in our dealings with others each day. The way we live is important, but at times, our churches can become so focused on doing the good things that they forget the main thing. And, similarly, believers can get so focused on doing the right thing and avoiding the wrong thing that they blow right past the main thing; that is, their relationship with Jesus. On the other hand, we have others who talk and talk about Jesus Christ, but then turn and treat others horribly. There must be some balance, to be sure.
We know opposition to all sorts of things, so the title "When Opposition Strikes" is intriguing, as we think about how we may be opposed or of the opposition in our world. However, in the background for this lesson from earlier in Acts 23, we see that the opposition came when Peter and John would not stop talking about Jesus and the many things that He had done. They had recently healed a man, who was lame from birth, and who routinely begged outside of the temple. Because of this they were able to share of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and how He had been prophesied by the Scriptures.
Their opposition came from the religious establishment, who were greatly disturbed because of their teaching about Christ, and who went as far as to seize them and put them in jail. On the following day, when they were questioned, Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said that he could not help but speak of Jesus. They could not stop speaking about what they had seen and heard and they could not help but point to the death and resurrection of Christ. The leaders had to let them go, because they saw that the people were praising God for the things that had happened, and were fearful of the crowd's reaction if they punished Peter and John for the miraculous things that had happened.
The religious rulers were amazed at the courage of Peter and John, and how, though unschooled, ordinary men, they spoke in such a way that even their detractors realized something amazing had happened in their association with Jesus. In an effort to put a stop to their influence among the people, the rulers commanded Peter and John not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. Peter replied, "Which is right in God's eyes; to listen to you or to Him? As for us, we cannot stop speaking what we have seen and heard". Although there were many more threats to these men, the rulers ended up letting them go because they knew that they couldn't punish them as the crowd was obviously amazed, praising God for the miraculous healing of the well-known previously lame beggar.
When Peter and John had been released, they went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. It was important that they share their experience with others, who would be encouraged. I have often thought of how many times I have benefitted from hearing how God has worked in other's lives. Berkley and I are parts of a Bible Study that meets every couple of weeks and another that meets each week. In both of these groups, we have many believing friends that have been an inspiration to us, and we are hopefully an inspiration to them as well. Often, we see how God is at work in somebody else's life that we can do nothing but praise Him. We have seen how God has brought healing in some cases and how that has brought glory to His name. We have heard stories of how God has spoken to people in their jobs and through the things that they do. It is an encouragement to us when we hear that God is active in the lives of people today. But what if we stay silent? We are robbing others of the opportunity to hear that God is active and alive and at work in the lives of ordinary people. We shouldn't see it as bragging when we share how God has worked in our lived but instead see it as a way offer encouragement to others.
In this case, the response of the people was to raise their voices together in prayer to God. When we see how God is at work in the lives of His people, it can create a desire within us to praise Him and it makes us more fervent in our own prayers. One important point that is noted is that they prayed together. It is good for us to have a personal prayer life, but we should also be spending time praying with other believers (when possible). Do you have other believers with whom you can pray? Just as we are encouraged by sharing events in our lives with each other, we also receive benefits when we pray with others.
This group of believers addressed God as Sovereign Lord and attributed the creation of the heavens and the earth and the sea, and everything in them to the Creator. They recalled how God had spoken through many people in their history. In particular, they referred to the Holy Spirit who spoke through their father David in regards to "why the nations rage and the people plot in vain. The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the Lord and his anointed one." In our day, we see the antagonism that so many people seem to have towards the Lord. It is honestly very difficult for those of us who are believers to understand, as we know the peace, comfort, joy and forgiveness that we have through the Father. It seems odd that people would revolt against the many blessings that we are given through a relationship with Him. On one hand, it seems inconceivable that one would revolt against God, but on the other hand, we unfortunately all know what it means to take God for granted; heaping our expectations upon Him, as if our needs are the center of the universe. When God doesn't act as we may have hoped, many people tend to fight against Him. Surely, we understand some of the response of the world.
As the people continued their pray, they recalled how the crucifixion of the Lord's anointed holy servant, Jesus, came about. The rulers, including Herod and Pontius Pilate met with the Gentiles and the people of Israel to conspire again Jesus. If you were them, and you only knew what they knew at that time, wouldn't you have to say that it was the biggest travesty of justice of all time? Jesus was condemned for something that He didn't do. Jesus, the One who cared so deeply for others, was treated so horribly. The focus of the disciples and the believers could have stayed on that for all of time, causing them to forget the glorious resurrection of Christ. While our disappointments are on a whole different scale than how Jesus was unfairly treated, we know that we can become so obsessed on wrongs that have been done to us, that we actually end up keeping ourselves from enjoying the many blessings we have been given. That's not to say we ignore what has happened, but if it becomes the focus of our 'everyday lives' (especially years after the fact) we are only hurting ourselves and we can easily forget all the wonderful things that have happened in our lives.
The people went on to say that those who conspired against Jesus only did what God's power and will had decided beforehand. In short, if God had not had the death of Jesus in His plans, no man nor plan conceived by man would have been able to accomplish that task. As they focused on the power of their Lord, they prayed for Peter and John, that the threats against them would be hindered and that they would be enabled to speak God's word with great boldness. They asked for God's hand to be stretched out on them to be able to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of Gods holy servant, Jesus. Isn't it incredible that you and I can pray to the same God who has such a history with His people, answering prayers and providing for their needs? We often forget the amazing resource we have in seeking God through prayer.
As Peter and John found themselves facing opposition and dealing with the threats of the religious leaders, others prayed for them and for their ability to be enabled to continue to do what God called them to do. That prayer is amazing, when you think about it. If you had good friends who were serving the Lord somewhere dangerous, would your prayers be more for their safety and security, or more that they would be enabled to continue to share God's word. Honestly, it would be hard to pray for someone to continue if we knew that they were almost certainly putting their lives in peril each day. However, when people have God's call on their lives and are willing to follow it, our prayer should be as these people, asking God to protect them from their threats, but that they would be able to share the gospel clearly. The closer we are to those who are serving often leads to the prayer leaning more towards safety over the other concerns, which is understandable. But the bottom line is that we do need to be praying for those who are sharing God's word.
They finished their prayer and the place that they were meeting was shaken. We read that not only was the place shaken, but they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly. Wow!!!! Have you ever been in a place that you felt was shaken after prayer? I have experienced some pretty powerful emotional experiences in worship and prayer services, but never like that. And, then they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.
Isn't it amazing to think of how the willingness of Peter and John to take a stand resulted in many other people praying for them? And, then through that prayer, the people that were praying became emboldened to speak the word of God boldly. I think of those commercials that were popularized by Mastercard, in which the things that money couldn't buy were priceless. I find that odd that it was for a credit card (focused on your spending), but the commercial stuck with many. Stay with me here and follow that commercials thought process - Peter and John standing before the religious leaders with confidence. Great. The others praying to God to ask Him to enable them to continue to be with them. Greater. The fact that the ones who had prayed were filled with the Holy Spirit and could share the gospel on their own. Priceless!
Peter and John had to take the initial stand and become emboldened to say what God intended for them to say. It was likely very difficult for them to consider that their words landed them in prison. However, their lives had been dramatically impacted by Jesus Christ and they could not simply keep quiet. Perhaps you are the Peter or John among a group of believers and through your lead, God may be able to do some great things in your midst. Has God worked in your life in some amazing way and if so, have you told others about it? You can never fully know how sharing something God has done in your life will be applicable to others. We certainly need to employ wisdom before we share situations that are 'delicate in nature', but sometimes God is prompting us to share a story from our life that is very dark and painful - and for obvious reasons, we are hesitant. It can be emotionally draining to recall some of those events, but if we know that God wants us to share it, we need to be obedient and trust that He will protect our heart and minds as we tell our story. We just can't know how God will use it. But if we find we want to share those types of stories to proclaim and elevate ourselves, we are completely in the wrong and our focus is in the wrong place. In those moments, I've found uttering a simple prayer of "God, confirm in my heart if you want me to share this story. If not, I pray you will seal my mouth shut!" Every prayer is heard and sometimes those are more genuine than the ones we utter at other times.
Peter and John had many people praying for them. They were concerned for their safety and through Peter and John, they were drawn to their knees to pray to God. Have you ever considered the things that draw people towards prayer? It generally is not when things are going well, but when there is some sort of opposition that is being faced. It could be acts of terrorism that draw people to God. Do you remember how many churches were flooded with people on September 12, 2001, seeking God? If anything, it made the resolve of many people stronger. It could be a medical diagnosis that has rocked your world. Either you or someone close to you may have received word of a disease. Personally, this has hit Berkley and I with my diagnosis of ALS a few months back. I know in many ways it has knocked us off our feet, but it has also driven us to pray and to seek God in ways we didn't before. It could be the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job, financial difficulties or many other things. When life starts falling apart, do you fall to your knees?
Peter and John could go back out in the streets and through the towns impacting people as they went along the way. But, when all those who prayed were filled with the Holy Spirit, the gospel became shared in workplaces, homes, neighborhoods and among so many others who would never see Peter and John. Isn't this true for us today? We do pray for those who are out on the 'front lines', as missionaries and pastors, that they would have an impact. And, we are filled the Spirit as believers today. You and I take the gospel with us and we live our faith in the places we work, live and play. As you deal with every circumstance in life and as you are in the presence of so many people, are they seeing the love of Christ? Are you allowing the Spirit to use you to impact others? How much more would the gospel expand and how many more lives would be impacted if we were willing to stand against opposition and share our faith with others, even in just the things we do each day? Our prayer for you (and us) is that you will realize that you can make a difference in the lives of many people and that you will take that opportunity to live for Christ each day, in spite of the obstacles that we all face.