Acts 14:21 After they had proclaimed the good news to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, then on to Iconium and Antioch. 22 There they strengthened the souls of the disciples and encouraged them to continue in the faith, saying, “It is through many persecutions that we must enter the kingdom of God.”
Is it? Do we have to go through many persecutions to rest in God’s realm? Jesus taught the same. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus warns the disciples that they will experience imprisonment:
“they will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name” (Luke 21:12 NIV).
So, the short answer appears to be, yes, disciples – followers of Jesus – must be prepared for persecution, for hardship, for suffering even, ‘on account of his name.’
But I am wondering about the target audience for this teaching. Does it make any difference that the conditional warning – if you proclaim the good news, then you will be imprisoned, cast out, judged, suffer and if you strive to reach the kingdom of God, then you will be persecuted – isn’t a particular, specific kind of warning for those called to preach and teach the good news? Is there application here for all followers of Jesus? Is the road to the God’s realm necessarily rocky, unpaved, painful to walk upon?
No pain, no gain. Ninety minutes of suffering for 90 years of a healthy body. Both are quips often heard in my Bikram yoga class. There’s even a position that claims to give the person a mini-heart attack as a way of preventing a real one from ever coming on. Here is what a student will hear the teacher say as they move into this position – a position in which the end game is improved balance (righteousness? God’s realm?):
Point is that expecting the persecution, the suffering, the pain is one way to be real about our faith journeys – a sort of reality check Word for me, today. The walk is difficult, painful, stops and starts, aches, losses, loneliness. But I choose to walk it knowing where it leads, knowing the end game, the final expression of the position as said in yoga. And in God language, knowing it leads me to be evermore kingdom living, in God’s realm where my restless heart – all our hearts – find love and peace.