“The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.” (Acts 5:41)
Peter and John had healed a cripple by the temple gates by invoking the name of Jesus. The Sanhedrin called them to account for their actions, ordering them not to speak in the name of Jesus in the future. They refused, and the Sanhedrin was furious, wanting to put them to death. A Pharisee, named Gamiliel cautioned them that if what the apostles were doing was of human origin, it would eventually fail, but if it was from God, the Sanhedrin may find themselves fighting against God.
Then in a phrase easily overlooked because it is a part of a larger story, the Book of Acts reports that the Sanhedrin “had them flogged” before they let them go. (Acts 5:40)
Imagine! For healing a lifelong cripple, the Sanhedrin had the apostles beaten with whips. In Roman times this was done by stripping the person of his clothes, tying his hands to a post and beating him with a whip that had leather straps and sometimes pieces of nails or other objects at the end of the straps to more deeply tear into someone’s flesh.
While we may step back in horror today at such cruelty, we are reminded of Jesus’ last Beatitude, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven.” (Mt. 5:11-12)
And what was the apostle’s reaction to being flogged? Luke tells us that they rejoiced for having been worthy to suffer for the name of Jesus.
Several years ago at a colleague’s retirement party, I honored him for the way he treated people with care and respect. In doing so, I told Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan who came to the aid of someone who had been attacked by robbers and left to die by the side of the road. Apparently I unknowingly offended someone when I made reference in the story to a Levite and a Jewish priest who had passed by the person having been robbed. The next evening I received a threatening phone call. I was accused of maligning Jewish people and their religion, and that the caller said he would get even with me.
The caller did not allow me to apologize or explain what I was trying to say with the parable, only that I should watch out because he was going to get even. I can’t say that I rejoiced like the apostles, not knowing how the caller was going to get even,
Of course, my small example does not begin to compare to the way Paul and other early Christians were persecuted, or for that matter, the millions of Christians that are being persecuted in the world today. Christianity Today International reports that 215 million Christians experience at least a high level of persecution. One example cited twenty-three Christian leaders that were killed in Mexico in 2017.
While Christians in our country have not experienced persecution as in some countries, we are not immune from this concern in view of societal trends dealing with life, marriage, and sexual conduct.
But Jesus says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt. 5:10)