The New Testament was written specifically to first century Christians.
Certainly, contemporary American Christians can read it, enjoy it, and be instructed by it. But, if we are to get the most out of it, we must do some studying and use our God-given imagination.
Because when we read our Bibles, as we sit in our comfortable chairs, in our air-conditioned homes, while sipping on some delicious coffee, in a country that is known for its religious freedoms, we are far removed from the world in which the Bible was written.
To get the most from the New Testament Scriptures, we must realize that some of the letters were written from a prison cell. Most of the letters and books were written to people who knew all too well that following Jesus would almost certainly guarantee persecution – possibly death.
In my Bible reading this morning, I was reflectively reading through Acts 5. The Apostles were preaching about Jesus and telling unbelievers how they could come into right relationship with God. The unsaved religious leaders saw that these Apostles were infringing on their turf and demanded that the preaching in Jesus’ name cease – immediately.
Listen to an encounter that the Apostles had with the religious leaders. Even more importantly, observe how the Apostles responded to the fact that they were threatened and beaten.
“and when they (the religious leaders) had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. Then they (the Apostles) left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.” (Acts 5:40–42)
(wording in parenthesis is mine)
That is simply amazing! Those Jesus-followers were beaten and forbidden to preach in Jesus’ name.
How did they respond?
They celebrated the fact that they were determined to be serious followers-of-Jesus by their peers, and so much so that they were beaten for it. And then they kept on telling others about Jesus – something that would almost guarantee further beatings.
Something in this seems to speak loudly and clearly to contemporary Americanized Christianity. We enjoy religious freedom – but it has made us soft. If we were persecuted for our faith, we would probably seethe over the injustice. We may even be surprised at who would abandon the faith if they had to suffer for it.
For that reason, we require an extra measure of grace to experience our God in the profound way that Christians in persecuted countries have enjoyed (and are enjoying) Him.
Let’s pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ who understand all too well what it’s like to suffer for their faith.
And then let’s pray for ourselves – that the blessing of our religious freedom doesn’t become a curse that keeps us from experiencing a profound, satisfying relationship with our Lord.
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