Gamaliel, the wise old rabbi, had spoken (Acts 5:34-39). He was not sure that Peter and the apostles deserved to be put to death. The important question was, were they authorised by God or not? Until that question was answered there was no point in punishing them; because if God had sent them, the Council would be fighting against God. Although they accepted Gamaliel's argument about capital punishment, they could not resist some punishment. They were angry at being made to feel guilty for condemning Jesus to death (Acts 5:28), and so they flogged the apostles and again forbade them from talking about Jesus (Acts 4:17).
As the apostles left the court in pain from their flogging, they rejoiced. They understood that their pain was only because they had been faithful to Jesus: He said it would happen, so they knew they were being true to His commission (John 15:18-23). It was as though the marks left by the whips were brand-marks identifying them as belonging to their suffering Saviour (Romans 8:17). Battered and bruised, they continued to tell people about Jesus, in large gatherings and also in people's houses. Their hearts were full of joy, convinced that Jesus really is Lord of all, and compelled by the Holy Spirit to spread the good news. Their pain was not a reason to stop; it was God's validation that they must continue.
Not all suffering is praiseworthy. 1 Peter 2:20-21 says, “… how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” But suffering is part of true discipleship (Acts 14:22).
Today, many of our brothers and sisters are suffering because they belong to Christ (1 Peter 5:9). If you are one of them, rejoice that you have been chosen to represent Christ in that way, and pray for the weaker church where suffering is rare. Wherever you are, pray for suffering believers – not just for the relief of their pain but for the glory of Christ as the gospel we proclaim is authenticated by our willingness to suffer. Do not take the easy option. Jesus refused to do that.
© Dr Paul Adams