Acts 15-16, Psalm 126
Many remember in shock and horror as footage became available of the 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians who in 2015 were beheaded by members of ISIS on a beach in Libya. Shortly after, a brother of two of those men was interviewed on SAT 7, an Arabic Christian radio station. He was asked the reaction in his town when they saw what happened. Surprisingly he said that there was celebration and joy in the streets. When the interviewer asked why, he was told that each of the 21 was offered life if they recanted their faith in Christ. Each and every one, including his two brothers, stayed firm in their belief in Christ despite what this meant. This was a cause for celebration. When asked what his mother would do if she saw the killer of her two sons on the streets, she said that she would invite him in to her house for lunch and share the truth of Jesus with them, for without this they had no hope.
Tertullian (155-240AD), an early Christian leader and author from Carthage wrote, "The leg feels not the stocks when the mind is in heaven." Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians, also called the letter of joy, while in prison. We read of his unjust treatment in Acts 16:22-24, "Then the multitude rose up together against them; and the magistrates tore off their clothes and commanded them to be beaten with rods. And when they had laid many stripes on them, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to keep them securely. Having received such a charge, he put them in the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks." We next read of their amazing response to this unjust treatment in Acts 16:25, "But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them." Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount told us, "Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you." We see Peter and John respond similarly after being beaten by the religious authorities in Jerusalem, we read in Acts 5:41, "So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name."
This response seems incredulous to those of us who have never really suffered persecution at this level. So many in this world seek happiness, which the word is derived from the word happenstance, which is dependent on our circumstances. If things go well then the result is happiness, if not then sadness. But joy, being one of the fruits of the Spirit mentioned in Galatians 5:22-23, is irrespective of circumstances and can not be removed from the Christian. We are told in Romans 8:31, "...If God is for us, who can be against us?" Paul goes further in 8:35, 38-39, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?...For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." The 21 Coptic Christians who were beheaded, Paul and Silas, and Peter and John all withstood their persecution because their faith in Jesus was real. And since they were all really citizens of heaven (Philippians 3:20) and only ambassadors on earth, those citizens of earth held no authority over them and therefore no real threat. This is how we experience joy in our tumultuous, unfair, out of control world that we find ourselves in.
Messages from Pastor Lloyd Pulley: