In our Sunday morning series, ‘Battles and Blessings’, we are looking at the fact that battles and blessings often seem to be like the parallel tracks on a railway line: we experience both simultaneously in our lives. This certainly seems to have been the case in the early church, when opportunities and opposition went hand in hand.
In Acts 3:1-10, we read of an amazing, astonishing miracle: the healing of a man lame from birth. Then Peter gives a sermon explaining what has happened and further testifying to Jesus being the Messiah, disowned and killed by the crowd and the authorities (Acts 3:14-15) but raised to life by God and therefore capable of healing, forgiving and restoring not just one man, but the whole earth. (Acts 3:15-26) This was clearly a great opportunity for witness, which Peter seized with gladness and boldness, but the result was not unmitigated blessing. Instead, Peter and John were arrested while speaking and were jailed. (Acts 4:1-3) As John Stott puts it, “This comprehensive testimony to Jesus as rejected by men but vindicated by God, as the fulfilment of all Old Testament prophecy, as demanding repentance and promising blessing, and as the author and giver of life, physically to the healed cripple and spiritually to those who believed, aroused the indignation and antagonism of the authorities. The devil cannot endure the exaltation of Jesus Christ. So he stirred up the Sanhedrin to persecute the apostles.” (‘The Message of Acts’, John Stott, P 95)
Paul reminds us that we are engaged in a spiritual battle, not one against flesh and blood (Eph 6:10-18). Life will not always be easy, and there will at times be opposition, even from those we counted as friends (Jesus was betrayed by a disciple, not an outsider, and many of the Psalms recount the pain of betrayal and hurt at the hands of a friend.) Our response when opposition comes can vary. More often than not, opposition shakes our faith, causing us to question God. We feel forsaken and wonder why a loving God can ask us to endure such things. But the response of the apostles was very different. Ultimately, they rejoiced ‘because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.’ (Acts 5:41) If we can learn to do the same, we will seize the opportunities God gives us as Peter did and endure the opposition we face with confidence and unswerving devotion to God.