Friday, June 12, 2009

Worthy to Suffer Shame for...

...and after calling the apostles in, they flogged them and ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and then released them. So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name. (Acts 5:40-41)

Peter and the other apostles were brought in before the Sanhedrin because they had been boldly proclaiming the Gospel of Christ all throughout Jerusalem, and people had been responding in droves. The apostles had been performing miraculous healings as God was bringing more and more people to Himself through their preaching. Finally the apostles are beaten and commanded by the Jewish rulers to stop preaching Jesus Christ, and then released. And their response to this treatment? Rejoicing. Not rejoicing that they had been released. Not rejoicing that their case and their cause had been vindicated, which it had not. No, they were filled with joy because they had been deemed worthy by Christ to suffer, and suffer shamefully, for His name.

I find this so far from what I think my response would be in this situation. Rejoicing? After being arrested for simply preaching and healing people, and then beaten and told to shut up? You must be kidding! Why, I'd be outraged. I'd be calling Jay Sekulow at the ACLJ, the Fox News crews, anyone I could find to seek justice against those tyrants. I'd demand vengeance and vindication. I know my rights and I'd want them. I'd...well, you get the picture. And I'll wager you'd respond the same.

But Peter and the others give us a far different model. They were joyful that their Lord had counted them worthy of being publicly shamed and disgraced on His behalf. They rejoiced that He had judged their faithfulness to Him and to His Gospel of sufficient authenticity and strength to suffer through such a trial. It wasn't the suffering that they rejoiced in, but instead in the knowledge that Christ had counted them worthy of such an honor. That He had given them an early "well done, good and faithful servants."

A couple of observations in bringing this passage into the 21st century American evangelical church. First observation is this: our public proclamation of the Gospel and its power and identification with the name of Jesus Christ is so weak as to rarely if ever be the cause of such persecution or shame. Oh sure, we think we are persecuted when some public institution won't let a group have a Bible study in their building, or when a nominally-Christian beauty pageant winner makes a vague moralist statement and is publicly lambasted for it. And our response is usually to seek justice or vindication, often in the legal system or the court of public opinion. But that is nothing at all like the situation we see here in Acts. Could that be due to the fact that we have such a diluted Gospel and such a wimpy witness that it hardly draws attention or opposition?

Second observation is a corollary to the first: do we also not see this kind of persecution and opposition because we as postmodern evangelicals are not counted worthy by Christ to suffer shame for His name? If we're not living as ambassadors for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20), if we aren't walking in a manner worthy of the Gospel (Ephesians 4:1), then how are we to be deemed worthy to suffer shame for His name? And if our Gospel that we weakly witness to is a stripped down, emotional, God-loves-you-and-has-a-wonderful-plan-for-your-life set of platitudes (as it so often is), then we cannot and should not be counted worthy by the Lord.

This is a challenging passage for me. I have to examine myself in both of these observations. Not just my potential response to a hypothetical situation, but my witness and my worthiness. And I also have to wonder, even if I came through this trial like Peter and the apostles, would I do what they did: "And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ." (Acts 5:42)

And would you?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

There are other ways to suffer shame for Jesus Christ today... suppose Christian parents insist their 16 year old daughter not abort an out of wedlock baby, and are avoided by friends and family for their stand; or other Christian parents love a wayward son but believe in order to obey God they must refuse to condone ungodly choices and suffer thereby.