Terry R. Baughman
“When they had called for the apostles and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name. And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ” (Acts 5:40–42).
The prospects of persecution for your faith is not normally a cause for rejoicing. It is usually reserved as the subject of whispered conversation in respectful tones of sadness. The pallor of suffering and even death is discussed as the dreaded consequence of religious suppression in far-off places. We certainly would not think it to be a topic to celebrate or rejoice, and yet the New Testament speaks of this unexpected reaction by those in the early church who were subjected to the most severe persecution.
In the face of opposition and threats the disciples of Christ prayed, “Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word” (Acts 4:29). They were given boldness to witness for Jesus and they shared the story of His death, burial, and resurrection. A powerful confirmation was evidenced. “When they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31). God’s grace afforded these followers boldness to proclaim God’s Word, dramatic signs and wonders as evidence of God’s approval, and the gift of incredible joy in the face of suffering and persecution.
Steven Curtis Chapman wrote of this paradox of joy and suffering in a song when he queried, “What kind of joy is this that counts it a blessing to suffer? What kind of joy is this that gives the prisoner his song? What kind of joy could stare death in the face and see it as sweet victory? This is the joy of a soul that's forgiven and free.”
The graphic pictures are unforgettable of 21 Egyptian Christian men in orange jumpsuits bowing on bended knees in a single row on the Libyan coast before their black hooded executioners. They were minority Christians from Egypt who had come to Libya seeking work to provide for their poverty-stricken families. These men and other Christians were identified as the people of the Cross, intending it as disparaging label in a region of an overwhelming population of Muslims. Though they were offered a chance to live if they would just deny their faith and convert to Islam, they steadfastly refused to deny Christ. On the beach that day they all died singing songs to Jesus. The Gospel message of salvation will always become more powerful against the cruel backdrop of suffering and persecution.
The ultimate hope for every persecuted Christ-follower is that they may hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant. … Enter into the joy of your lord” (Matthew 25:21). A true disciple rejoices in service, can be joyful in suffering, and has the eternal hope of joy in His presence.
“If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24).