Opposition in the book of Acts
I’ve just recently finished reading reading my way through the book of Acts. A big theme of the book struck me afresh this time, which I’m not sure I’d really noticed in quite the same way before.
Acts is a book filled with examples of opposition to the gospel. The chief priests and religious leaders oppose the early disciples and try to stop them preaching. The Jewish people largely seem to reject their message, often hounding them out of their synagogues. The people of Ephesus even start a riot because they’re so offended by Paul and his gospel. And yet time and time again, we see that the disciples are unfazed by these responses. Indeed, in Chapter 5:41 we read that “the apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.” They rejoiced that they got to suffer on behalf on Jesus. What on earth is going on?
Opposition is God’s plan
Right near the start of the book and right at the end of the book we have a couple of quotes from the Old Testament that I think help explain this a little. In Chapter 4 we have a quote from Psalm 2:
“Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth rise up
and the rulers band together
against the Lord
and against his anointed one”
In Psalm 2 we see the powerful ones of the earth attempting to rise up against God, and what does God do? He laughs. Even the mightiest people on the planet are like puny ants trying to start a fight with the Creator of the Universe, and it is laughable. Peter goes on to say “Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.” When the kings of the earth conspire against God, all they end up achieving is bringing God’s purposes to pass.
Then at the end of the book, Paul gives an extended quote from Isaiah 6:
“Go to this people, and say,
You will indeed hear but never understand,
and you will indeed see but never perceive.
For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and with their ears they can barely hear,
and their eyes they have closed;
lest they should see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
and turn, and I would heal them.”
In other words, God knew that the Jewish people would reject the message of the crucified Messiah Jesus. It wasn’t a surprise to him – it was in his plan all along. Paul concludes: “Therefore I want you to know that God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!” This rejection that we’ve been seeing right through the book of Acts is all part of the master plan to fulfil Jesus’ promise to take the gospel to all Jerusalem, Judea & Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
Not fearing opposition
This encourages me. What is the number one reason I don’t share the gospel with more people? It’s got to be the fear of rejection. But the book of Acts tells me that when opposition happens, God expects it, and indeed God uses it to further his purposes. The Apostle Paul knew with certainty that if he went to Jerusalem, he would be bound hand and foot. But did that stop him going? No! He was compelled to preach the gospel whatever the cost – sometimes even because he knew that the opposition he received would only help him preach the gospel in even more places. When he does finally get arrested in Jerusalem, it allows him the opportunity to go to Rome to speak the gospel before the Emperor himself.
So don’t let the fear of opposition stop you from speaking up about Jesus. Know with conviction that God is in charge, and God is bigger than any opposition we might face. His will is that the gospel will go out to all the earth, and it’s a privilege to get to be part of that work.