This is the first recorded incident in the New Testament of opposition to the growth of the church. No doubt Luke has described it because its details have important lessons to teach his readers then and today. As we noticed in yesterday’s reading, opposition often comes from religious people, is part of the devil’s strategy, and yet it does not prevent people becoming Christians.
Opposition to the church is increasing in western society. We should not be surprised. Yet as we reflect on his description, there are some verses from the Gospels that we should keep in mind, one each from three sermons preached by Jesus, because they can give us a perspective on the issue that we may not immediately notice.
The first is the words of Jesus uttered in the Upper Room: ‘In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world’ (John 16:33).
The second are words that Jesus had taught earlier in the Olivet discourse: ‘But be on your guard. For they will deliver you over to councils, and you will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them…. And when they bring you to trial and deliver you over, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit’ (Mark 13:9-11).
The third verse is from the Sermon on the Mount: ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you’ (Matt. 5:10-12).
What is the perspective we should have? In these three verses we have the certainty of persecution, the divine help promised in such situations, and the proper perspective (of joy and anticipation of a future reward) to have when opposition comes.