Dealing with Adversity – June 28, 2009
Psalm 130, Acts 4:23-31
June 28, 2009
Things were great for the Church in the early days – at least at first. But that wouldn’t last long. And the passage we’re looking at today is about a time when the early Christians first started feeling the pinch.
Of course, there was a lot of fear and uncertainty in the time right after Jesus’ crucifixion. Even after the wonderful news of Easter started to “sink in,” the apostles were still in hiding, not knowing what was coming next. They knew something wonderful had happened, but they weren’t sure what to do about it
Then came Pentecost, and they received the power. And when we last read from Acts a couple of weeks ago, we got this great picture of those early days of the Church. We read, “They were all together, sharing all things in common…” “…and attending the Temple together, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people.”
That’s the picture at the end of Chapter 2. It’s a very “rosy picture. “And I believe it was meant to be. At that point, the Apostles and the earliest Christians “had favor with” all the people. They were still considered to be good Jews, and they took part in the life of the Temple. And people were joining their group every day. There were now thousands of them. I think we would all say that things were going very well.
Then we have Acts 3. In that chapter we have this story of Peter and John coming to the Temple, where they meet the lame man at the gate, asking for alms. You remember that story. Peter says, “Silver and Gold have I none, but that which I have I give thee. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.” And the man does, and he is healed! That’s a great story! But it’s not just an isolated event. That story and it’s repercussions go on for two whole chapters. I hope you’ll take some time to read those chapters later. If you do, you’ll come to this reading for today which is the end of that story. This is where the Apostles have to deal with the first real opposition to the new church. And that opposition would continue throughout Acts, and it would become part of the “landscape” for Christianity for the next three centuries.
The opposition started with the religious leaders. They were getting “very concerned” about all of this talk of Jesus. They thought they had dealt with all that “Jesus business,” but now it seemed to be continuing. And now all of a sudden they had to deal with this very public event at the Temple. And it wasn’t just that it was a miracle. That wasn’t their problem. The problem was that here again, the name of Jesus had figured prominently in the whole affair. And in the end, they didn’t tell the apostles to stop healing – or anything else for that matter. They told them to stop doing any of it in the name of Jesus.
All of this led up to the beginning of what would be a growing persecution of the church. It started with those religious leaders, but it would eventually involve the Romans. At first they didn’t care about all this Jesus stuff. But before long, they would. And their persecution of the church would continue until 325 AD, when the emperor Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the empire. That’s 300 years! That’s longer than this country has been in existence!
“Adversity,” and how Christians have dealt with that adversity has been part of the Christian “landscape” ever since that time. And oddly enough, that is one thing that has been forgotten, either accidentally or on purpose, by many Christians over the years. Too many people have chosen to believe that the Christian faith is one that solves all your problems, and makes life “trouble free.” And too often they even make that the reason for embracing the faith in the first place. (Whether they realize it or admit it or not!) “You got problems in your life? Come to Jesus and he’ll take them all away.”
I don’t really have a problem with the “prosperity preachers,” who say “God wants you to prosper and be wealthy. I think God wants our lives to be full. Where I disagree with that movement is when they claim the faith makes your life trouble free. It doesn’t. And Jesus never promised it would. In fact, one of the specific things he did tell his followers was that if they followed him they would be persecuted! People tend to forget that. Then when they do come up against adversity, they think there’s something wrong with the faith, like it’s not working.. Either that or there’s something wrong with them. And it seems like we can never say it enough, that Christianity does not promise a trouble free life!
When the Apostles came up against adversity, there was none of that. They didn’t question their faith. And they knew that there was much stacked against them. In verse 27 they recognized that “both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel,” were “gathered together” against Jesus. And I’m sure they were nervous about it. Sometimes we forget that. Sometimes we think, “Hey, they were the Apostles! What did they have to worry about?!” Well, there was plenty, and they were! But there was no question about the faith, or what was wrong with them that they came up against these things.
Think about it. “Both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel…” That was pretty much their whole world. Do we ever feel like that? Do we ever feel like everything and everyone is going against us? Are we ever hurting that much? Or is our adversity more subtle? Is ours a matter of those “little adversities” that are “getting to us” and just picking away at our faith, our joy, and our glory? And what do we do about it? Do we worry that we must be doing something wrong in our spiritual life? Do we question ourselves? Do we doubt the power of God? Those things are easy to do, aren’t they? One of the reasons I wanted us to look at this particular passage today is to see, right from the beginning days of the Church, what the disciples did when they came up against opposition. How did “Peter and the boys” deal with adversity?
Well, we see one of the first things they did right here where we started reading today. They had just been put on trial in the religious counsel, they had been publicly chastised and told to “cease and desist” with all this “Jesus stuff.” Then at the start of our reading it says, “After they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. When they heard it, they raised their voices together to God…” They took it to God. They poured out their hearts to God in prayer. I think you’ll agree that’s a real good place to start. But we sometimes forget even that very basic thing. Sometimes in adversity we are doubting our faith and it’s power, and we don’t see how God can have the power to do anything for us.
The Apostles dealt with that right away. Look at the very first words of this prayer. “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth, the sea, and everything in them…” In their time of trial, the first thing they did was to recognize and to remind themselves of the power of God! That was pretty good! When God first spoke to Job after he was searching all those days for answers after all those terrible things had happened to him, what does he say? “Job! Remember my power!” he said. “Remember how it was I who laid the foundations of the earth!” In the 40th chapter of Isaiah, when the people were despairing of their difficulties in their time of exile, what does the prophet say to them? “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless.” (Isaiah 40:28-29) You know that passage. It ends with, “Those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings like eagles…”
Do you believe that? Do you know that power of God? As I said, that’s easy to forget. Even when we see that power every day in the world around us, it’s easy to miss the picture of God’s power. That’s one of the reasons we’re in churches together. We’re here together to remember, and to rejoice in, and to remind each other of that power!
Then, do we “wait on the Lord,” like Isaiah said? That’s a little tricky to understand. But I’m going to tell you what it means. Are you ready? Are you ready to hear the answer? …That is the answer! When you knew I was going to say something, you were “waiting on” me. Waiting on the Lord is like that. It is “perking up our spiritual ears.” It is placing ourselves in a position where we’re ready to hear what God is going to say, and to see what he’s going to do. Most Christians don’t do that enough. Even in prayer they just plow ahead with their requests and their desires. They forget that expectancy. They forget to put themselves in a position to hear, to wait, and to know God’s power.
If you want to know God’s power, wait on him in prayer. The psalm we read, Psalm 130, is a good one to help with that. “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope. My soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning.” Try using those words when you face your own adversity. And then, remember these apostles. In verse 31, we’re told what happened. The result of their prayer was not that their adversity went away. It was not that they were given an easier time of it. “When they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and they spoke the word of God with boldness.”
We have adversity in our lives. We all do! Sometimes it’s great. Sometimes it’s those little nagging annoyances that never seem to go away, and that eat at us like a pebble in our shoe that hurts with every step we take. “But those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength.” Because God is the everlasting God. He is the one who made heaven and earth. We may not always be given answers and solutions to our adversity, but we can know his power in our lives!
Eternal God, you did make the heavens and earth and all that is in them! Help us to know your power in our lives as we wait upon you, as we remember each day to seek your presence, and to know your love and joy and peace, no matter what this life may bring. We love you, and we thank you, and we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.