Worthy of Suffering

Scripture Focus: Acts 5:38-41
 38 Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. 39 But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”
40 His speech persuaded them. They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.
41 The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. 

Reflection: Worthy of Suffering
By Erin Newton

In a typical counseling session, I begin stories like this: “I had to perform CPR on my child” or “I felt so sad and had to cry.” In a gentle voice, my counselor redirects my words, “You get to…”

I have learned, in time, that her gentle redirections have been a way to change my perspective on the traumatic event. “You get to be the parent of a medically dependent child.” “You get to love someone so much you need to cry.” The pain is always present, but I’ve learned to see the honor of participating in such suffering.

The book of Acts presents the powerful genesis of the church. The Spirit which hovered over the waters in creation descends upon the women and men in the Upper Room. At creation, the breath of God gave life to the newly formed humans. In Acts, the divine tongues of fire bring gifts to the newly formed church. As the church set forth to bring salvation to the people, the apostles healed the sick and performed many signs and wonders.

Although we read the story with excitement and joy, the early church was met with opposition and persecution. The miracles and signs were viewed as problematic and irritating. Every time the work was hindered, the apostles persevered.

The gospel was so important they had to..no, they got to continue preaching through many dangers.

Through the words of Gamaliel, the apostles’ lives were spared. But their flesh was not. They were flogged, just as Jesus has been flogged. They carried on their backs bruises, gashes, and pain.

As they walked home from that meeting with the Sanhedrin, warned once more to keep quiet about Christ, they rejoiced. They got to suffer for Christ. They got to endure pain in the name of the Gospel.

Rejoicing because you suffer is not a typical reaction. It is something given to you by God. It is the joy that surpasses understanding.

I’d like to say that I understand their joy and share in the same but it’s not always the case. We often need a gentle voice that helps us reframe our pain and suffering.

The backs of the apostles undoubtedly hurt for a long time. Pain is not something we smile away. There is the opportunity, at some God-given time afterwards, to rejoice in suffering. May we ask God for this type of joy. 

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Send forth your strength, O God; establish, O God, what you have wrought for us. — Psalm 68.28

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Reading

Leviticus 8 (Listen 5:06)
Acts 5 (Listen 6:49)

Read more about In Trouble for Good
There are still Christians today who rejoice in being persecuted. But are they suffering for the name of Jesus or for something else?…for healing…or for harming?


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Costly Obedience

Scripture Focus: Acts 5.29-32
Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than human beings! The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a cross. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins. We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”

Reflection: Costly Obedience
By L.E. Mulford

In this short speech, Peter emphasizes obeying God in opposition to obeying the Sanhedrin. This was highly offensive to them because they viewed themselves as the spokesmen for God and did not differentiate between obeying their interpretation of the Old Testament Law and obeying God. 

Jesus did not follow the Sanhedrin and yet perfectly fulfilled the Law (Matthew 5.17). If God does not desire that we follow the 600+ legal requirements found in the Old Testament, as Galatians 2.16 demonstrates, what then does obedience to God look like?

If faith is our trust in God, obedience to God in doing good works is the natural expression of that trust. We are not meant to earn our faith through obedience, but rather to demonstrate our faith through obedience. James 2.17 goes so far as to say that faith without works is dead. 

In modern times, we don’t usually wrestle with the idea that we are bound to the laws of the Old Testament or to its Levitical priesthood. However, there are other unwritten laws and sometimes even religious leaders in our modern culture that many of us feel compelled to obey. So how can we discern whether our obedience is towards God or towards the power structures and the patterns of our culture—even our religious culture?

As with most things, we can look to the example of Jesus. What did his obedience cost him? What has my obedience cost me?

Jesus’s obedience took him to death on a cross (Philippians 2.8). 

What may be harder for each one of us to answer is this: have I obeyed even when it hurts? It might cost my bank account, my privacy, my personal space, or my rights. Can I love God and my neighbor by obeying God even when it doesn’t make earthly sense? If I have faith, and if I trust Him, then I can. 

The love of Jesus took him to the cross to die. He asks us to take up our own cross in obedience daily, to live every day by dying to our own rights, and to love and serve our neighbors. 

Does your love for God and your faith in Him give you the freedom to obey Him—even when it hurts?

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Let them know that this is your hand, that you, O Lord, have done it. — Psalm 109.26

Today’s Readings
Isaiah 47 (Listen – 2:52)
Acts 5 (Listen – 6:49)

Read more about Between Gerizim and Ebal
The tribes standing on Gerizim would pronounce the blessings that would come from obedience…

The Church of Acts

Acts 5.38-39
Keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. 

Reflection: The Church of Acts
By John Tillman

Everyone loves a good start-up story. The work of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs working away in their garages is enshrined in the Disney attraction, Spaceship Earth at EPCOT, as a key moment in the history of humanity’s advancement. 

But the most unlikely of start-up stories, is recorded in Acts. Christianity entered a marketplace of religious ideas that was glutted with more attractive, easy to follow religions that stroked the deepest lusts of humanity’s urges. 

The hostile empire of Rome was very protective of its state religion. Christianity had no political backing. No cultural influencers. 

In a sermon, Timothy Keller asked how Christianity “not only forced the most powerful state in the history of the world to come to terms with it, but even was able to outlive and survive the complete destruction of the very civilization and government that sought to destroy it?”

There’s not an investor that would have given the early church a dime. Nothing accounts for the speed and scale at which Christianity spread.

Gamaliel, of the Sanhedrin, wisely saw that the young group of untrained men had little chance of success short of the miraculous intervention of God. His policy of non-interference did not seem to win out, however. A few short chapters later, Stephen will be stoned by this same group and Gamaliel’s own student, Saul would become a scourge to the community of Christians.

Yale historian Kenneth Scott Latourette, in his seven-volume series, A History of the Expansion of Christianity, concludes:

“It is clear that at the very beginning of Christianity, there must have occurred a vast release of energy, unequalled in the history of the race. Without it, the future course of the faith is inexplicable… Something happened to the men who associated with Jesus. That burst of energy was ascribed by the early disciples to the founder of their faith. Why this occurred may lie outside the realms in which historians are supposed to move.”

Acts is not a step-by-step program to cut-and-paste into modernity. It isn’t a start-up handbook. The growth of the early church was and remains inexplicable. But it is no flash-in-the-pan start-up. The light of the world cannot be hidden under our bushels of greed—at least not for long.

The clue Luke gives us is in the title—Acts. They will know we are Christians by our love. By our actions. Let us be found working when he comes.

Prayer: A Reading
Jesus taught us, saying: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that bears no fruit he cuts away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes to make it bear even more. You are pruned already, by means of the word that I have spoken to you.” — John 15.1-3

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Judges 1 (Listen – 6:49)
Acts 5 (Listen – 5:08)

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Readers’ Choice Submissions

It is once again time for us to seek out the voices of our readers and hear from you about posts from the past eleven months that have challenged and comforted you and helped you find new meaning in the scriptures.

Readers’ Choice posts will be republished during the month of August and periodically throughout the Fall.

Follow the link to fill out the form. Feel free to fill out the form multiple times for multiple submissions. Please limit your submissions to posts published this calendar year, between September of 2018 and today.

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Read more about Jesus with Axe and Fire
May he baptize us in fire, making of us a light for the world and a spark to ignite God’s love in our communities.

Read more about Names of Christ—Vine, Resurrection, and Door
Do the pleasures of the world seduce you? Turn all the more to the Cross of Christ to find solace in the sweetness of the vine that clustered there.