May 14, 2015

Persecution Will Come

In recent days the world has been made aware that Christians around the globe are being hunted down, slaughtered, murdered, and even beheaded for proclaiming the name of Christ. For being called "Christian". While this is heartbreaking on too many levels to count, it should at the same time come as no surprise to disciples of Jesus. Egyptian Christians beheaded. Libyan Christians murdered. Chinese Christians hunted down and arrested. All around the world there are believers who can read many of the Psalms and actually empathize and identify with them.

"Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy!" Psalm 57

"Rescue me from my enemies, O God." Psalm 59

"I cry to you for help, for my heart is overwhelmed." Psalm 61

"Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death..." Psalm 23

I could go on.

As this persecution increases - and it will continue to increase - there are several questions that we (as Christians) must ask ourselves. And we need to examine these questions now, not later. The first question is this:

Do I truly, wholly, completely believe Jesus?

If so, consider Jesus' words to his disciples in Matthew 10:
"I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves." He goes on and says, "You will be dragged before kings" and that they will "deliver you over." "Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved."

Sure, we believe this for the first disciples. We also believe it for those we assume will be the last disciples. But we disassociate any such idea from someone in our day, in our time, and in our land. This can't be us! Can it? Not now. Think again.

Do you truly, wholly, completely believe Jesus?

Bonhoeffer, in his book The Cost of Discipleship, affirms his belief. First, Bonhoeffer says, "It is not our judgment of the situation which can show us what is wise, but only the truth of the Word of God. Here alone lies the promise of God's faithfulness and help. It will always be true that the wisest course for the disciples is always to abide solely by the Word of God in all simplicity." Bonhoeffer not only establishes his complete trust in Jesus and His Word, but then goes on to expound on what it means for you and me. And then is where we must answer the second question:

Have I truly, wholly, completely determined to follow Jesus?

Bonhoeffer continues:

"The messengers of Jesus will be hated to the end of time. They will be blamed for all the divisions which rend cities and homes. Jesus and his disciples will be condemned on all sides for undermining family life, and for leading the nation astray; they will be called crazy fanatics and disturbers of the peace. The disciples will be sorely tempted to desert their Lord. But the end is also near, and they must hold on and persevere until it comes. Only he will be blessed who remains loyal to Jesus and his Word until the end. But when the end comes, the hostility towards Jesus and his disciples will be made manifest the whole world over, and only then must the messengers flee from city to city, in order that they may proclaim the Word where it can still find a hearing. If they run away then, they will not be running away from the Word, but holding fast to it."

Jesus said, "You will be hated. You will be hunted. Family will disown you. Friends will turn against you. The nation will ultimately burn you at the stake - whether literally or figuratively. Persecution will come. And I am not warning you so you can hide from it. I am sending you out, straight into the heart of it."

Here's why I'm pouring these thoughts out. Here's the beautiful, divine irony in all of this. The hate, brutality, and opposition that the disciples faced in Jesus' day, the centuries to follow, and even the most recent decades that have just flown by, would have never been known of. Many of the stories and lives of those who have been persecuted and martyred over the centuries have never been known or told. Only God knows. A hundred years ago it took weeks - if not months - for simple news to travel across the country. Then the radio came. It played a major role in the patriotism that won World War II. Then the television. TV possibly single-handedly swayed the momentum of a country fighting a war in Vietnam. The view of something is much more stunning and attention-getting than just the simple news of it. We watched in 1991 as missiles were fired into Iraq. It only took moments for the news of 9/11 to travel around the globe and everyone watched in paralyzed shock. Please understand the obvious trend: news travels faster every single day. So fast forward to now. See the bigger picture.

Islamic terrorists parade a band of innocent, silent Christian men down a beach in orange jumpsuits. (You dress them in orange jumpsuits to make them appear like criminals.) The apparent leader spouts hate and quasi-fear into a camera. It's propaganda against Christians. They then take their machetes, put them to the mens' throats, and without a second thought, end their lives. And the deep blue water on the shore turns red.

And because of the internet, everyone in the world knows about it.

These Christians didn't kill other people for their faith. They didn't display the cowardice of strapping a bomb to themselves and taking other people's lives. They stood on the truth of Jesus Christ...and their lives were taken. They were sent out like sheep among wolves. Just like Jesus said. 

But what the wolves don't seem to understand is that, while centuries ago they would have gone on living like wolves, hiding in the woods, no one knowing of their ravaging brutality, today, in their attempts to broadcast fear, intimidation, and power - in their attempts to slander, undermine, and ultimately destroy Christianity - they are actually proclaiming it's message and truth all over the world. They are taking the words of Jesus and unknowingly bringing them to life off the pages of God's Word. 

Jesus said, "Persecution will come."

Jesus was innocent. He was treated like a criminal. He was silent before His accusers. He was led like a lamb to slaughter. So were these men.

In their death, the Gospel is going out to the whole world.
In their death, Jesus' words were and are being lived out:
"This will be your opportunity to tell them about me - yes, to witness to the whole world!"

Persecution will come. It's already coming.
Be decisive: Choose this day who it is your life is surrendered to.
Be prayerful: Ask God for faith, courage, and opportunity - for you & all Christians.
Be bold: We have the Good News that Jesus Christ has set us free from sin & death.
Be all of these things.
But don't be surprised.
Jesus said it would happen.

Do we believe Him?
Are we ready to follow Him?

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