The great theme of the New Testament book “Acts of the Apostles” is that the Church is the privileged bearer of the life and presence of the Lord Jesus in the world, and, as such, the disciples of the Lord Jesus are empowered by the Holy Spirit to speak on his behalf, teach with his authority and continue his mission. This is all manifested in mighty deeds and marvelous signs and great wonders.
In all this, the Church is like Christ and is revealed to be the extension of his life and presence in space and time. The Lord Jesus hasn’t just disappeared into the mists of history or evaporated into a heavenly stratosphere. The Lord Jesus is present and working in his Church and the baptized are meant to be his witnesses, ourselves bearers of his life and presence into the world.
In this week’s excerpts from the Acts of the Apostles we have heard about the vicious persecution that enveloped the early Church and nearly snuffed out its life. Thus, the Church does not only bear likeness to the glory of Christ, but especially to the sufferings of Christ. In this world, in the body of his human nature, the divine Christ knew the experience of sufferings, and even now, the Lord Jesus knows sufferings in his body, the Church.
The persecution of the Church is not just a matter of historical memory but it is also a reality of the present moment. It might not be our experience, but for many Christians, professing faith in the lordship of Jesus Christ is a risk that can result in torture and death. Just this past weekend, 30 Ethiopian Christians were brutally murdered because they would not deny their profession of faith in Jesus Christ.
Our generation will be remembered as the generation that witnessed one of the greatest persecutions of Christians in the Church’s long history and our generation will be judged by the blood of these martyrs.
The witness of Christians in parts of the world where the Church is persecuted is creative and bold. What of our witness?
Today’s excerpt from Acts of the Apostles demonstrates the strategy God employed to undermine the malicious intent of the Church’s persecutors. As a result of their evil efforts, Christians go out into the world and create more Christians. The persecution ends up increasing the Church, not diminishing her. Philip’s witness to the Ethiopian servant is a sign of how Christ leads his Church through suffering and death to new possibilities and new life.
The spiritual heirs of Philip’s missionary witness endure to this day, and in fact, as I mentioned earlier, the descendents of the first Ethiopian Christians have proved themselves capable of bold witness to their faith in Jesus Christ- being willing to die rather than deny their Christian faith.
30 Ethiopian martyrs just last week.
What about our own witness to the faith?
Does anyone even know that you are a Christian? Are you ready to do what Philip did and bring people to know the Lord Jesus? How are your efforts increasing the Church and creating more disciples?
The blood of the martyrs is our judge.