Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Persecution: The Unspoken Word

Matthew 5:10-12

Persecution” is a little-used term in today’s society.  The secular world would rather avoid using it because, if they correctly applied the word to various atrocities that are being committed against others, they would be forced to admit that there are those who are suffering for their faith in Jesus Christ.  To use the word in its proper context would drive Him to the forefront where He rightly belongs.  It would perhaps cause people to reconsider the reality of God and His plan for mankind.  In addition, the use of the term would validate the horrible suffering our Lord endured for the sinfulness of all humankind: the persecution He bore before and on the cross for our sake, and the persecution He is being subjected to now through His children.

Persecution upon others can come in many ways.  It can be subtle, like an expression of disgust or disdain.  It can be applied by the use of belittling words, ridicule, slander, or false accusations that attempt to slice through the heart of a Believer, or to cast aspersions on them.  Or, it can be used in its most vicious form by use of physical attacks upon possessions or persons.  Persecution has often resulted in great injury or death and is usually committed in the most atrocious manner.  The history of Christ’s church, which His children represent, is replete with examples, and the extreme violence of those committing the persecution is only limited to their intense hatred and the blackest darkness with which they are consumed.  As I have cited before, it has been determined that since Christ’s resurrection, over 70 million Christians have been martyred for their faith and the majority of them within the last century.

The Apostles understood the true meaning of persecution (Acts 5:17-18; Mark 10:38-39).  With the exception of John who died a natural death approximately 100 AD, each one was martyred for their faith and died in a horrible and excruciating manner (for specific details, see http://www.apostles.com/apostlesdied.html).  Jesus had warned each of them that they would suffer for the sake of the Gospel.  But they understood that their suffering would also bring great honor to Him and even greater eternal reward for themselves.  Perhaps the most recognizable New Testament example was Stephen’s persecution and eventual death by stoning, which Saul of Tarsus, soon-to-be-convicted-and-repentant Paul the Apostle, encouraged (Read Acts 7:1-60).  From that point forward, “a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem” (Acts 8:1), scattering the Apostles “throughout Judea and Samaria.”  Although they were forced to flee for their lives, they “preached the word everywhere they went,” proclaiming salvation through Jesus Christ (Acts 8:4), and proving that even in the direst of situations, His Gospel would go out among the nations.   The intensity with which Rome persecuted Christians was evil personified,  but opportunities were opened to preach salvation to those who otherwise may not have heard it.

Although to some it may not be apparent, hope can be found in persecution (Matthew 24:13-14).  It can be counted as a blessing that, in spite of being on the receiving end of  life-threatening trials, Christ’s message is heard (Acts 5:41).  And as Peter proclaims in his encouraging second letter to the Jewish Christians who were dispersed over all of Asia because of Rome’s brutality, their faith with which they held firm was “of greater worth than gold”, and by adherence to this faith, it would bring Christ honor and glory and salvation of their souls (1Peter 1:9).

We want to believe that, because we live in what many perceive as a “civil” and industrialized world, persecution does not exist.  The stories that are reported of organized assaults on ethnic groups in other nations rarely, if ever, tell the whole story.  Car bombings are down-played to “civilian” casualties.  Uprisings and wholesale slaughter of hundreds or thousands in northern Africa and other parts of the world are falsely labeled “tribal conflicts".  And those who are arrested, imprisoned, or disappear and are never seen again for illegally crossing borders in and out of China and North Korea are called “dissidents” or spies.  If we want to know the real truth, we must do our own homework.  We cannot rely upon the secular media to keep us informed of persecution against Christ’s children, regardless of the location on our globe.  We must root out the ugly truth ourselves by remaining diligent and aware.  It is only through The Voice of the Martyrs, China Aid, and other worthy organizations such as these that serve the persecuted church that we learn the truth behind what may seem to be just another uprising or random murder in other nations.

In spite of the fact that the stories of persecution we read and hear about are far from the confines of America’s borders, one day we can expect it here (Matthew 24:12-13).  Jesus warned there would be a time when hatred for Him would spill out upon His followers.  Although the signs are subtle, persecution in North America is increasing: recent church burnings and shootings; the attempt to remove God from our time-honored documents and public places; banning open prayer and worship in our schools and workplaces; prohibiting Christ’s shepherds from preaching God’s truths under the label of “hate speech”, to name just a few.  And because of the Islamic influence and the world’s refusal to acknowledge its violent nature for fear of offending them, there is a blatant attempt, even by many so-called evangelicals, to muffle the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  It is “political correctness” run amok and  it is only the beginning of more to come.

In light of the fact that Jesus forewarned all His children that persecution would come to them one way or another, are you ready to face it?  Each of us who claims Jesus Christ as Savior must ask ourselves if we are ready to suffer for the Gospel (Acts 5:40).  This means that whatever form of persecution comes, even in the most vile and brutal way, our faith and trust must remain firmly grounded on God’s promise.  (Read Romans 8:31-39).  We are called to endure hardships like a “good soldier”, even under intense persecution, and keep going despite the suffering brought upon us (2Timothy 2:3, 10; 2Timothy 3:10); being “prepared in season and out of season” (2Timothy 4:2); “unswervingly” confessing the “hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23).

It is imperative that we never think we will be immune to such violence, or that  our lives and those of our loved ones will never face the same type of persecution those in other nation's endure.  We must also never forget those who suffer for their faith.  I encourage everyone to do their own homework.  Get the facts concerning news reports you hear.  Join one or more of the organizations I listed and actively get involved.  It may just be a suffering brother or sister in Christ that you hear about on the evening news.  And when you do discover the truth behind the stories you hear, speak the word "persecution"  loudly and with boldness, never leaving it unspoken, so that others will hear and share in their suffering.  

With all diligent faithfulness, continue to pray for the persecuted church, that they may be bold in their witness, are able to  find forgiveness for their persecutors, and are strengthened to endure what is brought upon them.  And pray also for those who persecute, that they would come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and have eternal salvation with Him.

1 comment:

Karie said...

Great topic Karen, one we don't talk enough about, or even recognize when it happens in our society. I feel it is rampant in this country; the silencing and ridicule of our opinions because they are based on our religious convictions. But the power of our God is greater than the power of man, so we move forward with our eyes firmly fixed on Him.