Today’s New Testament lesson in the Daily Office contains a statement that has always challenged me. The apostles are detained and called to stand before the Sanhedrin because they insist upon sharing the good news of Jesus, in spite of orders not to do so. When asked why they persist in such rebellious actions, Peter famously replies: “We must obey God rather than human beings” (Acts 5:29). At this, many members of the Sanhedrin want to have the apostles killed, but they are persuaded not to take such drastic action. And so, after warning the apostles once again not to preach in the name of Jesus, the Sanhedrin has them flogged and lets them go. And then we encounter what has always seemed to me to be an almost superhuman response:
The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. (Acts 5:41 – emphasis added)
When was the last time that any of us “rejoiced” because we had been counted worthy of suffering for the sake of the gospel?
I wonder sometimes if we’ve embraced the principle that’s conveyed in this story, but we’ve failed to embrace the price that living by the principle entails. When confronting cultural attitudes or government actions that are perceived to be contrary to the teaching of scripture, I’ve heard plenty of Christians invoke Peter’s words from Acts 5: “We must obey God rather than human beings.” But then — when there are unpleasant consequences that come with obeying God — there is surprise, outrage, or dismay (as if being Christians is supposed to exempt us from hardship, persecution, and pain).
On the flip side, of course, there are those believers who experience hardship, persecution, and pain…and who want to claim that it stems from their exemplary faithfulness…when what’s really happening is that they’re being jerks!
Let’s remember: Jesus made it clear that we could expect to pay a price for obedience. (John 15:20 — “A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.”) But obedience entails not just defending the name of Jesus — and not just following the commands of Jesus — but also embracing the way of Jesus. It means loving our enemies and turning the other cheek. It means repaying evil with blessing and trusting God’s justice rather than taking revenge on our own.
Naturally, I would be greatly pleased if none of us had to endure suffering today as a result of our loyalty to Jesus. But if we do, I hope we’ll make sure that we’re persecuted because of Christlikeness and not because of our arrogance. And even more, I pray that we’ll be able to embrace such hardship with rejoicing, trusting that the One who we follow to the cross is also able to lead us into resurrection life.