CHAPTER 13-THE FIRST PERSECUTION OF THE CHURCH:
Acts 3 & 4
It is interesting to recall what Christ said to His disciples to prepare them for what they were to face after He left them. John 14; "But beware of men: for they will deliver you up to the councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues" (#Mt 10:17); "And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever...But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you" (#Joh 14:16,26); "They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service...Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you" (#Joh 16:2,7). To be forewarned is to be forearmed.
The infant church was not to be popular and at ease very long. "And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved" (#Ac 2:46,47). The first persecution after Pentecost is recorded in Acts 3 and 4. Consider:
1. The Occasion: healing of the lame man at the Beautiful Gate.
2. The Cause: Peter's sermon. He explains the miracle.
Negatively: Why marvel at what you have witnessed? It was not done by us, not by our power or piety we deserve no credit or glory.
Postively: God has done this to glorify His servant Jesus whom ye denied and delivered up to death when Pilate wanted to release Him. "But ye denied the Holy One and the Just, and desired a murderer to be granted unto you; And killed the Prince of Life, whom God hath raised from the dead; whereof we are witnesses." (#Ac 3:14-15).
Peter says "that through ignorance ye did it, as did also your rulers" (#Ac 3:17). They had without knowing it fulfilled what God had said through all the prophets. Paul: "If they had known it the princes of this world would not have crucified the Lord of Glory." Ignorance did not excuse them, for Peter calls upon them to repent and be converted that their sins might be blotted out, and that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.
Now this sermon by Peter arouses the anger of the Sadducees, "And as they spake unto the people, the priests, and the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees came upon them, being grieved that they taught the people, and preached through Jesus the resurrection from the dead" (#Ac 4:1-2).
3. The Source of Persecution: religious leaders or the Sadducees. The first persecutors of the church were religious people, Sadducees and the Pharisees. The Roman government tolerated all religions and licensed them. When they conquered a country they would allow the people of that country to practice their religion. And so the Jews were permitted to practice their religion. But when the Romans discovered that the Christians were distinct from the Jews, here was a religion that was not licensed and it became a target for persecution from the state.
Most persecution of the people of God has been in the name of religion. One might recall the massacre of the Hugenots of France on St. Bartholomew, August 24, 1572. Bartholomew was one of the twelve apostles but in the New Testament there is nothing said of him other than that he was one of the apostles. But according to ancient and unreliable tradition, he was a missionary to many countries. The Roman Catholics have made a saint of him and named a day in his honor. Now in the 16th century there was a long war between the French Protestants and Roman Catholics. Charles IX was King of France and after making a treaty with the Hugenots and when they felt safe to practice their religion, they were massacred in great numbers on August 24,1572. The Roman Catholics deny that they were responsible for this wholesale murder, but Gregory XIII who was Pope at that time celebrated the event with a big bonfire and had a medal struck to commemorate the event.
And one might recall the persecutions of the Baptists in early colonial days when the Church of England was the state church in Virginia and Massachusetts and other colonies. One day some Baptist preachers were hailed into court for preaching without Episcopal license. Patrick Henry heard about the trial and hurried to the place where they were being tried. He hurried to the clerk and asked for the paper of indictment. In a very dramatic way he held the paper aloft and said something like this: "What are these men being tried for? This paper says for preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. Are there no thieves around here to be hailed into court? Have all the murderers been apprehended, that you must try men for preaching the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ?"
And so the Roman Catholics are not the only people who have engaged in religious persecution. One might recall the suffering of John Bunyan, who lay in Bedford jail twelve years for preaching without a license in England. Many times Bunyan was offered his liberty if he would quit preaching. But every time he would say, "Let me out today and I will preach tomorrow."
And so the apostles when ordered not to teach or preach any more in the name of Jesus, simply replied, "What do you think we ought to do obey God or men?"