In Acts 5, the Apostles are brought before the Sanhedrin who are enraged that they have turned Jerusalem upside down by teaching Jesus and the resurrection. After some deliberation, the Sanhedrin had the Apostles beaten and then ordered them not to continue preaching Jesus. Given Jewish custom each Apostle was probably beaten 39 times with a cane. This was not a minor punishment to shake off easily. Then comes Acts 5:41 “They therefore departed from the presence of the council rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the Name.”
I have never understood that verse. I mean, the words are easy enough to understand. I know what the sentence means, but I have never been able to grasp how they could feel that way. “Rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer”? It doesn’t make sense! One of the outstanding things about the Bible is how human it is. The people described in it act like people would normally act in those circumstances. Even when the cultures differ, we can understand why people with those cultures would act the way the Bible says they act. Except this verse. In all the Bible, this is the verse that has always rung untrue for me: these are supermen, not real people! I’ve heard sermons and sat in Bible classes about this bit of scripture and the preachers/teachers try their best to explain, but my biggest impression of those sermons/classes has always been that they don’t really fathom the idea either. Really, how can anyone think that it is an honor to suffer? Keeping the faith through suffering, yes. But to be counted (or considered) worthy to suffer is an honor? I don’t get it.
Or didn’t until after I had completed teaching my class on Job. A few weeks after I had concluded that class I thought of Acts 5 and a lightbulb went off. You see, in the class we had discussed how God had carefully picked Job as the person to go through these trials. Notice that in Job 1 it is God who calls Satan’s attention to Job by holding Job up as an exemplar of what a righteous person should be. By allowing Satan to persecute Job, God was proving that the righteous will love Him because of who He is, not because of blessings being showered down. Job lived that. Instead of cursing God, as Satan predicted, Job glorified God and worshipped. Satan was proven wrong and is not heard from again in the book. God had carefully picked Job as the one who could undergo suffering and triumph in his faith. Oddly, it was a compliment from God that Job was allowed to suffer.
Think about your job. Doesn’t the boss have certain people he goes to when really tough tasks come up? They are the best workers he has available. He isn’t punishing those people with hard work, he just knows that they are best equipped to handle it. The hard task shows his confidence in those employees and is, essentially, a compliment. So it is when we are allowed to suffer for the Name of Jesus. God understands that we can handle those trials and come through for Him. (1 Cor. 10:13). It is an honor to be chosen to suffer for Him.
Let me tell you, if God were to replay the events of Job today, He wouldn’t pick me as the person He held up to Satan. When I said that, most/all of my class nodded in agreement that they would not be picked either. It takes true spiritual maturity and deep faith to accept all that Job handled in those first two chapters and to then say “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord”. In picking Job, God considered him worthy to suffer for Him. I’m not sure there is a higher compliment God gives. And this is why the Apostles rejoiced that they had been considered worthy. It reinforced for them God’s faith in them. And that would make anyone feel good.
If I never find myself suffering for Christ, maybe it is because He has no confidence in me. In that case, I need to step it up so that I may join in the Apostles’ rejoicing one day.