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"While Peter and John were addressing the people, the priests, the chief of the Temple police and some Sadducees came up, indignant that these upstart apostles were instructing the people and proclaiming that the resurrection from the dead had taken place in Jesus. They arrested them and threw them into jail until morning, for by now it was late in the evening. But many of those who had listened had already believed the Message -- in round numbers about five thousand." Acts 4:1-4 (The Message).
The time of favour was over! Persecution began to rain down on the apostles like lava from an erupting volcano. They were insisting that Jesus was alive and doing miracles to prove it. This 'routine' execution of a man the Jewish religious leaders claimed was a blasphemer had backfired on them and now it had come back to haunt them. They thought they had silenced Him and squashed the movement that had sprung up around Him but instead, they had actually poured oil on the fire and it was spreading faster than they could contain it.
What was it in these religious leaders that made them so determined to stamp out the truth and silence their opposition? What is it in any religious organization that is willing to kill to promote their own beliefs? Murder is justifiable in their eyes if they cannot force their beliefs down the throats of their 'enemies'.
Just as fiercely as God protects man's right to make his own choices, even to damning himself to the rubbish heap if he so wills, so fiercely do some elements of the human race, and especially in the name of some 'god', call it what they will, demand the right to force others to embrace their beliefs or die.
One of the worst elements of Adam's rebellion against God was the ingrained determination to control other people. It is the root cause of conflict, from conflict between individuals to conflict in homes, in society, in nations and in the world. We all want our own way and we get it at the expense of others.
But why is it that the worst expression of control between people happens over their religious beliefs and practices? More people have perished in religious persecution over the centuries than all the wars put together. That tells us just how deep-rooted this flaw is in human nature.
Some one hundred and fifty million believers died at the hands of the Church during the Inquisition. And what of the people who perished under the Nazi regime, under communism and in countries today where religion is legislated and where to convert is an automatic death sentence?
People who control are often people who were controlled. This produces insecurity expressed in anger which can only be relieved by controlling others. Put this together with an inborn suspicion and hatred for God and you have a recipe for religious persecution. Strong leaders who control become a hierarchy of controllers with enough power to subdue millions through fear. At the root of it all, amazingly, is....money and power.
Scratch under the surface of every dictatorship and every autocratic regime and you will find the glint of gold and, of course, money is power! What these religious persecutors had not bargained for was a group of fearless people who refused to be silenced, even on pain of death, because they were convinced of the truth that Jesus was alive. Nothing could change that. Where lies controlled the people through fear, the knowledge of the truth had set them free from fear and not even the threat of death would shut them up.
For these religious persecutors it was too late; too late to put the lid on something they had inadvertantly opened up by their passion to control.
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