The film Paul, Apostle of Christ takes an unflinching look at persecution in the early days of the church. Even the movie’s minor characters reveal how dangerous it was to follow Jesus. Consider these roles listed in the credits: Beaten Woman; Beaten Man; Christian Victims 1, 2, and 3.
Identifying with Christ often came at a high cost. And in much of the world, it’s still dangerous to follow Jesus. Many in the church today can relate to that kind of persecution. Some of us, however, may feel “persecuted” prematurely—outraged any time our faith is mocked or we suspect we were passed over for a promotion because of our beliefs.
Obviously, there’s a colossal difference between sacrificing social status and sacrificing our lives. Realistically, though, self-interest, financial stability, and social acceptance have always been intense human motivators. We see this in the actions of some of Jesus’s earliest converts. The apostle John reports that, mere days before Jesus’s crucifixion, although most Israelites were still rejecting Him (John 12:37), many “even among the leaders believed” (v. 42). However, “They would not openly acknowledge their faith . . . for they loved human praise more than praise from God” (vv. 42–43).
Today we still face societal pressures (and worse) to keep our faith in Christ hidden. Whatever the cost, let’s stand together as a people who seek God’s approval more than human praise.
We might be tempted to judge the early believers who hid their faith, but are we any different? Are there times we choose to be quiet so we can hide our identification with Jesus?
When John (12:38–40) quotes Isaiah 53:1 and 6:10, it might appear that he’s blaming God for pre-determining widespread unbelief in Jesus. But when we read both Isaiah and John in context, we see that God decided ahead of time to give His people the freedom to have their own way so that He could show them how far He would go to rescue them from themselves.
John described religious leaders who, for their own political and religious reasons, were afraid to believe in Jesus (John 11:45–53; 12:42–43). Isaiah—a prophet living six centuries before Christ—wrote about a King who would eventually show up in the story and glory of Jesus (Isaiah 6:1–10; John 12:41) and in the God-given freedom of those who refused to believe in Him. Without divine revelation, they couldn’t and wouldn’t believe Christ was their Messiah.