From the sermon series Acts of the Apostles: The First Thirty Years
Based on Acts 5:17-26
Let’s make our final point of application.
Second, we should note that it is the church’s ministry of healing that causes the jealousy of the Sadducees to be roused and persecution to begin. We might respond, “Well, pastor, healing, as a gift of the Spirit (not as a miracle), has ceased in the church, so we cannot now provoke the state to jealousy by it. But I think if we say that, we are missing the point. The power of the miracles testified to the presence of God. The Sadducees do not believe in God. They could care less about the presence of God. They deny the miracles. It is not the miracles that they are jealous over. The social capital afforded the apostles drove the Sadducees into jealous action. The people loved the apostles because of the good they had done for them. They had stolen the hearts of the people away. This is what provoked their persecution, not the miracles themselves. The miracles divided the Sanhedrin. The miracles saved the apostles’ lives.
In a later period, the church would provoke Julian the Apostate. He was a Caesar (361-363) that arose after Constantine converted the Roman empire into a Christian Empire. He sought to destroy Christianity and revive the old Roman pagan system of worship. He would persecute Christianity on the one hand and then imitate them on the other. Christianity conquered Rome through its service of the poor. They especially served women who were nothing to Romans. Many threw little girls away at birth or sold them into slavery. Christians rescued women, filling their churches with them, and then through them excelled the Roman empire in the care of the poor. Julian tried to convert the old pagan temples into charity organizations to compete with Christian churches. He is famous for remarking that “Christians cared for their poor and the Roman poor too.” He understood how Christianity stole the hearts of the Roman citizenry. Christians had loved their neighbors even when they acted as enemies to them, even when they persecuted them. Rather than try and organize politically or militarily against Rome, Christians had simply loved them. Julian the Apostate was provoked by the social capital that kind of Christianity had built up in the empire. It was like hot coals being poured on his head. (Romans 12:20)
I would encourage the modern church to emulate the early church in Jerusalem and the later churches of the Roman empire by giving ourselves to love and service. “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (2 Timothy 3:12). We should not be surprised by persecution. We should be surprised by our lack of it. What is missing in our land is the treasury of social capital that the church has traditionally built up through love and service. Our provocations of the state are political in nature. They are not the same as the Church in the past, which provoked the state through love. All the social capital we built up in previous generations has been spent on political gambits too. Meanwhile, Christian charitable organizations like the YMCA, the Red Cross, and the Salvation Army were taken over by modern Christian Sadducees and have fallen from grace. And evangelicals have built no new institutions to replace them. It is time to build anew. If we are to successfully gain new social capital it will be done in the old way of love and sacrifice. Persecution is coming whether we like it or not. Let’s be persecuted for the right reasons. Let’s be persecuted because we have stolen the hearts of our communities, not because they view us as an unwoke or an unruly voting block.
Our collective approach to those that despise us should be to, “14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it[i] to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:14-21)
Thanks for taking the time to read the series “Burning Coals: When We Are Persecuted For Doing Good.”
May God be with you!