[I will keep this short so you can take time to watch a contemporary version of the book of Acts.]
Why am I following Jesus?
In a peaceful place where I can live out my faith without being persecuted, it’s read the Acts of the Apostles as events that happened a long time ago. With smartphones, and airplanes, and human rights declarations, our world can seem very different–better–superior than the hostile world that Peter and Stephen, Paul, and the rest of the first Christians lived in:
While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.
They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas and expelled them from their region… And the disciples were filled with joy and the with the Holy Spirit. Acts 13:50, 52
They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city thinking he was dead. Acts 14:19
The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten. After they had been severely flogged there were thrown into prison. Acts 16:23
This week, however, I watched a contemporary version of the book of Acts.* As I listened to the stories of Iraqi Christians who were persecuted by ISIS, I got a glimpse of a world of where people are kidnapped, killed, expelled from their homes, and beaten because of their religion.
These ordinary Christians challenge me to reflect on why I am following Jesus. Is it for comfort? Tradition? Culture? Because it makes me feel good?
They could have escaped if they had given up their faith in Jesus and converted to Islam, but they didn’t. Why did they stand firm?
From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.
“You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.
Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” John 6:66-69
As I listened to these believers share what happened to them and how they responded, I found myself asking:
Would I too be willing to risk death for eternal life?
Would I too forgive those who caused me to lose my job, my house, my community?
Would I too pray for those who persecuted me?
These everyday saints encourage me to say yes.
[*It takes just a half hour to hear what it can mean to follow Jesus in our world today.]