True goodness unsettles people. It might seem a strange thing to say, but time and again it has been demonstrated in the history of the church. Jesus himself was of course the perfect example of this: but it didn’t take long for his followers to discover the same reality. Opposition to the early Christians began remarkably quickly – in today’s passage, Peter and John return from their first grilling by the authorities. What had prompted it was, of all things, an outstanding miracle. A man had been spontaneously healed, and Peter had spoken to the crowd which gathered about the powerful name of Jesus.
It is a sobering reminder that commitment to living a life of peace, kindness and welcoming the supernatural intervention of God is no guarantee that we will not face trouble. Shining the light of Jesus inevitably reveals darkness elsewhere, and there is in some humans a hatred of the idea that they might not be masters of their own destiny: that they might ultimately have to answer one day to a Higher Power, a Greater Being. We might obey the State, and be model citizens, in most things. But our truest and highest allegiance is to God, and powerful people in particular are prone to resent the idea that they can never ultimately control us, because our minds and spirits are free – with the uncomfortable implication that their power is limited, even puny, compared to the Lord of the Universe.
So perhaps it is not so surprising after all that Christians have often been seen as subversives, a threat to the natural (corrupt, human) order. Every time the power of God is revealed, the flaws of human power are laid bare, and it is this sense of losing control which led the authorities to try and force Peter, John and the early Christians to stop.
But where there is opposition, God’s grace is greater. That is also a common theme of the history of the church. And here in Acts 4 we see the believers not only unite in prayer but also experience the power of God again: ‘the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly’ (v31). God’s presence through his Holy Spirit was made all the more available to those under pressure because of their faith.
Let’s notice, though, what the believers prayed for: an end to opposition? An easy time from the authorities? Not a bit of it. They prayed for more miracles, more opportunities to share their faith.
The great encouragement to any of us facing opposition to our faith is that God will give us more grace, more love, more spiritual power: in short, more of Himself. The challenge is that He may not remove the opposition: rather give us grace to push through it and out the other side.
Today let us pray this grace for all those around the world facing these challenges. Let’s use Acts 4 as our prayer for them. And, if this type of challenge happens to be your situation too, take heart: God is with you in it. ‘When we come to the end of ourselves, we come to the beginning of God.’ Amen.