How Do We Respond During Persecution?

A Lesson from Acts 4:1-22
Trust the Holy Spirit

On the Day of Pentecost, the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:4). In verse 8, we read that Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit. Then, after they were released, they joined the other disciples and prayed. Afterwards, they were, once again, filled with the Holy Spirit (4:31).

There are people who say we never have to ask the Holy Spirit to fill us, that we were filled when we're saved. But in the book of Acts, we read that Peter, who was a believer, was filled with the Spirit several times.

What some people don't understand is that the filling of the Holy Spirit is not a one-time event. His indwelling is a one-time, permanent, unchangeable event, but we are not always full of the Holy Spirit. It's as if we are buckets filled with holes. The Spirit dwells within all Christians, but our ongoing struggle with sin and the challenges of living in this world cause these "holes," and we must be repeatedly filled.

In Ephesians 5:18, we read, "Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit."

Those who are drunk are controlled by the alcohol in their system. Those who are filled with the Spirit are controlled by Him.

Acts 5:17 says, "But the high priest rose up, and all who were with him (that is, the party of the Sadducees), and filled with jealousy."

If we're filled with something, our actions reflect what that something is, whether it's jealousy, lust, greed, anger, or—the Holy Spirit.

Someone who is not submissive to the will of God but is controlled by the flesh will be filled with sin and will react sinfully. But someone who is submissive to God's will, someone who is filled with His Spirit, resists sin. A desire to obey God's Word is a sign that we're trusting the Holy Spirit and are under His influence.

Acts 4:16-20 records the leaders' response to Peter and John.

"What shall we do with these men? For that a notable sign has been performed through them is evident to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. But in order that it may spread no further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name." So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.

What is missing from their response?

Think back to Jesus's resurrection. When the soldiers who guarded His tomb reported to the chief priests that an angel had come down from heaven and rolled back the stone and that Jesus's body was missing, the chief priests paid off the soldiers and told them to lie. They were to say Jesus didn't rise from the dead, that the disciples had stolen the body (Matthew 28:1-15).

Yet, in their official response to Peter and John, they chose not to bring it up. You would think this is the perfect time to expose the disciples. However, they knew it was a lie, and standing before them was a man healed through the power of Jesus Christ. So, the only thing they could do was threaten Peter and John and try to force them to stop talking about Jesus.

But verse 19 says, "Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard."

They refused to stop proclaiming Jesus, even though they could be killed. They would not hide the truth. After further threats, the Sanhedrin let them go. What did Peter and John do? They went back to their friends and prayed.

Verse 29 records their prayer: "And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness."

They were more concerned with God's cause and giving Him glory than experiencing security and comfort. They asked for what would lead to even more confrontation. Why? Because they were compelled to declare the truth, even if it meant losing their lives.

When we're facing persecution, we shouldn't seek to remain safe. We must boldly proclaim His Word while trusting the Holy Spirit. We must submit to His will. He will give us the words and empower our actions to give all honor, praise, and glory to Christ.

Cling to God's Word

In verse 13, we read that the Sanhedrin was amazed at Peter and John's boldness. They knew they were uneducated, common men, and were astonished at how bold they were.

Amazingly, this verse also records that the Sanhedrin recognized that "they had been with Jesus."

When they saw Peter and John, they were reminded of Christ. What an amazing compliment! When the world see's us, they should see Jesus.

So, how does this happen?

First, we must pray to be more like the Lord. When we do, we must realize that the process will include suffering and hardship.

Mark Twain once said, "What is joy without sorrow? What is success without failure? What is a win without a loss? What is health without illness? You have to experience each if you are to appreciate the other."

Without experiencing hardships, we can never know the goodness of God. So, when we pray to become more like Jesus and experience suffering, He is answering our prayer. Hardships serve as an opportunity for the Lord to develop our love, grace, and mercy.

We must pray—and we must cling to His Word. If we don't, we will not know how to rightly respond to the suffering we experience. But over time, through prayer and the study of God's Word, our thoughts, attitudes, and actions change. We grow to more closely resemble Jesus.

When we experience persecution, we're to trust the Holy Spirit, cling to God's Word, and proclaim the truth.

Declare What You Know to Be True

The Sanhedrin has just warned Peter and John not to speak in the name of Jesus, and this is what Peter and John said, "Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard" (v. 19).

There were four things they wouldn't stop proclaiming: Jesus's resurrection, how He fulfilled Old Testament prophecies, the miracles He performed, and the fact that He was the Son of God.

In verse 10, we read Peter's words, "Let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well."

The truth of the resurrection is what every believer's faith is founded on. We are to boldly proclaim this truth—even in the face of persecution.

Acts 4:11 says, "This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone."

Peter was referencing the Messianic prophecy of Psalm 118:22. (Jesus fulfilled over 300 such prophecies.)

Peter and John also couldn't stop talking about the miracles they'd witnessed. Even though the crippled man who had been healed was standing before them, the members of the Sanhedrin wouldn't believe. Their hearts were hardened.

We, too, must share the good news of Jesus, even if listeners don't believe.

Proclaim the Gospel

The Sanhedrin, looked at the crippled man who'd been healed, then looked at Peter and John and said in verse 7, "By what power or by what name did you do this?"

Peter answered, "By the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead (verse 10).

In verse 12, he adds, "And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved."

We live in a society that embraces subjective truth. What's true for you is true for you, and what's true for me is true for me—and that's ok.

But no, it isn't okay. There is only one truth. Although it has never been a popular view, Jesus Himself drew the line in the sand.

In John 14:6, Jesus said, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."

Not all roads lead to the same destination. We can never be kind enough, generous enough, self-sacrificing enough to earn salvation. Jesus is the only way to God.

We must abandon our pride, and trust in Christ alone. And when we face persecution, we're to trust the Holy Spirit, cling to God's Word, declare what we know to be true, and proclaim Jesus is the only means of salvation.

We can to do these things with boldness, no matter the cost, because the gospel is the greatest news anyone can ever receive and it is our responsibility to make it known.