In the midst of intense persecution, the disciples over and again received encouragement from the Lord, which enabled them to act courageously for the gospel and Christ. Those moments in Scripture of encouragement and courage remind Christians around the world today that we are never alone when facing persecution because of our faith.
As Christ says: “On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you” Matthew 10:18-20.
As you read the passages below, look at how the Lord’s encouragement often spurs the early Christians on to courageously proclaim the gospel in the face of sometimes imminent danger. Here are five times when the apostles were encouraged during persecution:
1. Peter and John Before the Sanhedrin (Acts 3-4:31)
After healing a cripple at the temple gate, Peter and John are put in jail and brought before the Sanhedrin. The two apostles are instructed to not preach in Jesus’ name, threatened and then released.
In Acts 4:29, the apostles return to the other Christians, and they all pray together: “Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak with great boldness.” After their prayer, their meeting place is shaken and their prayers are answered — “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.” The early Christians’ answered prayer shows how important it is to pray for boldness from the Lord to proclaim the gospel, especially when it is hard.
2. Stephen’s Vision and the First Martyrdom (Acts 6:8-7:60)
Before the Sanhedrin, Stephen delivers a bold speech, condemning them for their blindness to Christ, so much so that they put Him to death.
After his remarks, “Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God’” (Acts 7:55-56). It is after this proclamation that the Sanhedrin dragged Stephen outside Jerusalem and stoned him.
Stephen received both words to speak to the Sanhedrin and a vision, which emboldened him to stand firm in Christ even unto his death while also humbly forgiving his attackers. Stephen was the first martyr and his story bears witness to how Jesus stands alongside his people.
3. Ananias and Saul (Acts 9:1-19)
Both Ananias and Saul were encouraged by the Lord.
In Damascus, Ananias is instructed by the Lord to find Saul, a known persecutor of the Church. Ananias objects, saying “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.”
The Lord reiterates his instruction to Ananias, assuring him that Saul is His chosen instrument to spread the gospel. Despite his misgivings, Ananias obeys.
Blinded from his road to Damascus encounter, Saul is given a vision of Ananias restoring his sight. Saul is shown that there is a way forward and a path to redemption. When Ananias arrives, Saul is healed and baptized — the persecutor becomes the apostle Paul and makes the largest contribution to the New Testament. Ananias’ bravery and Saul’s redemption is a testament to Christ’s ability to turn the hearts of even the most hate-filled persecutors.
4. Peter’s Escape From Prison (Acts 12:1-19)
Shortly after the martyrdom of James (John’s brother) at the hands of King Herod, Peter is taken prisoner by Herod. The Church is described as “earnestly praying to God for him.”
In the middle of the night, an angel wakes Peter, removes his chains and guides him out of the prison.
It must have been heartening for both Peter and the Church that so earnestly prayed for his safety to have Peter rescued. The apostle goes on to be a leader in the early church for a little while longer. Peter’s miraculous escape is a reminder that God’s will is always at work and that we are never alone.
5. Paul Willingly Goes to Rome Despite Imminent Persecution (Acts 20:13-38; 21-23:11)
Paul felt called to Jerusalem, despite not knowing what would happen to him (Acts 20:22-23). He is accused by a mob, arrested and put on trial. The mob becomes so violent that the Roman guards begin to worry they would kill Paul.
After all he endured in Jerusalem, the Lord tells Paul, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify in Rome.” Not long after, Paul appealed to Caesar and was sent to Rome for trial. While under house arrest, Paul continued to preach the Gospel boldly for two years, illustrating how the mission to tell people about Christ remains the same.
We invite you to join us in prayer for persecuted Christians around the world, that they will receive the Lord’s encouragement to stand courageously for the gospel of Jesus Christ and be reminded that they are not alone. Consider praying through our 5 Ways to Pray for Persecuted Christians.
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