Sunday Sermon: ‘Willing to Suffer for His Name’

Standard

audio

Today is a day that has been set aside for Christians around the world to consider and pray for their fellow brethren who are being persecuted for their faith in Jesus Christ. According to ministry known as Open Doors, there are over 700 Christians each month who experience some form of violence committed against them, simply because they are a Christian. Nearly thirty Christians somewhere around the world today will suffer someway today for their faith in Christ. Among them will be at least ten that will be brutally put to death. According to this same resource, over 300 Christians are martyred each month because of their faith in Christ.

Persecution has been a part of the church since its very beginning. That is why the New Testament is full of encouragement for believers to stay strong during such times of suffering and to not turn away from Christ. That is also why the rest of the church is commanded to pray for those who are suffering.

Hebrews 13:3 Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. ESV

1 Corinthians 12:26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. ESV

Consider what Jesus said –

Matthew 25:35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: 36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. 37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? 38When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? 39 Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? 40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

We know that those words were initially spoken regarding those who will help Jewish Christians who will be persecuted during the Tribulation Period; yet could we not say that Christ feels the same way about those who reach out to help those who are being persecuted today? Jesus said – “Inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” A part of our duty as a follower of Christ is to minister to those who are being persecuted for the Christian faith.

I. The Reality of Persecution

1 Peter 4:12 Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: 13 But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. 14 If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified. 15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters. 16 Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf. 17 For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? 18 And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear? 19 Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator.

The subject of suffering and persecution is not something that we like to hear about. Every once in a while the word ‘persecution’ is thrown around in the church, yet for most of us, it’s not a part of our everyday life as it is with many Christians around the world. However, according to The Pew Research Center, over 75% of the world’s population lives where there are severe religious restrictions (and many of these people are Christians).  Also, according to the United States Department of State, Christians in more than 60 countries around the world face persecution from their governments or surrounding neighbors simply because of their belief in Jesus Christ.

Every day, perhaps every moment, somewhere around the world a believer is suffering for his or her faith in Christ. That is why organizers have encouraged us to set this day aside for us to paus and to pray for our fellow believers.

A. What is Persecution?

One resource[1] defines persecution as this: “Any hostility experienced …as a result of one’s identification as a Christian.” According to this resource, persecution can range from: “verbal harassment to hostile feelings, attitudes and actions… beatings, physical torture, confinement, isolation, rape, severe punishment, imprisonment, slavery, discrimination in education and employment, and even death.”

I’m sure that this is not something that any of us want to hear about. We would much rather put this out of our minds and pretend it doesn’t exist. But it does exist and our Lord told us to expect it.

John 15:18 If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. 19 If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. 20 Remember the word that I said unto you, ‘The servant is not greater than his lord.’ If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you…”

The Apostle Paul wrote – “…all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” (2 Tim 3:12)

B. Why Are Christians Persecuted?

According to Christ, there are two primary reasons why Christians will be persecuted:

1. Because They Represent What is Right

Jesus said – Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:10

Being persecuted ‘for righteousness’ sake’ simply means that we are hated and attacked simply because we choose to live by the standards and principles set forth in God’s Word. Again to quote our Lord –

John 3:19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. ESV

Whenever a Christian speaks out concerning what is right and what is wrong according to God’s Word, their words are as offensive to those living in spiritual darkness as an overhead light is to someone who has been sitting in a dark room.

2. Because They Are Associated With the Savior

Matthew 5:11 Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.

Time will not permit me to point out all the passages of scripture in the New Testament that have to do with someone being persecuted because they are a follower of Jesus Christ. Suffice it to say that it’s in every book of the New Testament, from the Gospel of Matthew to the book of Revelation.

Persecution has always been a part of cost for serving God in a sinful world. It began with the first martyr whose name was Abel. No doubt you will remember the story from the book of Genesis. Adam and Eve had two sons: Cain and Abel. The Bible says that Cain became angry with his brother one day and slew him. Why did Cain kill Abel? The Bible says – “And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brother’s righteous.” (1 Jn 3:12) Cain killed Abel because Cain was of the darkness and Abel was of the light.

But persecution of the righteous did not end with Cain and Abel. Jesus spoke of the persecution of the prophets. (Mt 5:12) The three Hebrew children were thrown in a fiery furnace because of their unwillingness to bow and worship an idol. Daniel was thrown into a lion’s den because he bowed to prayed. Elijah was hunted and persecuted by the wicked queen Jezebel. Amos, Jeremiah and Isaiah were all persecuted because they preached the truth. Persecution did not end with the prophets. It continued into the New Testament with John the Baptist and the Lord Jesus. John was beheaded because he spoke out against Herod’s sin. Jesus was persecuted because He came to offer us forgiveness. As we continue to study through the Bible we see that persecution happened to the church. It is believed that every one of the Apostles, except for John, were martyred. John was boiled in hot oil and then exiled on a rock called Patmos. Persecution continued after the death of the Apostles. One resource estimates that as many as 200 million Christians have died for their faith in Christ.[2] Persecution still exists today. It has been reported that more Christians were put to death for their faith during the 20th Century, than in all the other centuries combined. [3]

C. Where Will Christians Experience Persecution?

As I have studied for this message, the Spirit has impressed upon my heart to point out three areas where we as the followers of Christ will experience persecution.

1. From the World

Jesus said that everyone who does what is evil, hates the light lest his deeds be exposed. Paul said that everyone who lives a godly life shall suffer persecution.

2. From Within the Church

It might surprise you to hear me say that persecution may come from within the church. Yet we must remember that Jesus said that not everyone who calls Him Lord, knows Him as Lord. There are false prophets and false teachers within what we call the church. Even today there is a growing movement of those who claim to be Christian, but neither know the Lord, nor strive to live according to His Word. Paul tells us that in the last days there will be some who will – “have a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof.” (2 Tim 3:5) One translations says that – “They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly.”

3. From Within the Home

It may shock you for me to say that persecution may come one day from within our own families, yet that is exactly what our Lord told us.

Matthew 10:32 Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. 33 But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.

34 Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. 35 For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. 36 And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.

37 He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.

What is Christ telling us in this passage? Is He telling us to turn against our families and to hate them? Obviously not. Christ is telling us that the day may come when some of us will have to make a choice between our family and Christ. As the world around us grows darker, much of this darkness will try to creep into the home. As various members of the family are influenced by the culture, they will begin to question and reject the principles of the Christian faith. Perhaps some of you are already beginning to experience this.

 II. Our Response to Persecution

Every serious student of the Bible knows that persecution is a reality. No doubt many of you have already experienced it to some degree. Therefore I think that the most important question for us to answer is not – ‘Will I experience persecution?’, but ‘How will I respond?’

A. Do Not Be Ashamed of Christ or His Gospel

Matthew 10:32 Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. 33 But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.

Peter writes –

1 Peter 4:16 Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf.

B. Consider It an Honor to Suffer for Your Savior

As I have studied the Bible over the years, it seems to me that much of the New Testament, and especially books like Peter, James and Hebrews were originally written to encourage God’s people to remain faithful during their times of persecution. Consider these words from Peter –

1 Peter 4:12 Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: 13 But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. 14 If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified.

Jesus told His disciples to not be surprised when they experienced hatred from the world. The reason the world hates Christians is because they hate Christ. Yet, rather than shunning this, the early Christians embraced it. The Bible says that they “…rejoiced being counted worthy to suffer shame for his name.” (see Acts 5:41) The question has sometimes been asked – “If you were arrested and charged with the crime of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”

C. Pray For Strength and Boldness For Those Who Are Being Persecuted

Today is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. One man who is very involved with Christians who are being persecuted wrote this –

“Every time I ask a persecuted Christian what we can do for them, the answer is always the same: ‘please pray for us’… ‘Pray that we stay strong and bring up our children in the faith for which their fathers gave their lives.’” [4]

Many of those who are suffering around the world desire boldness and courage, more than they desire deliverance. For them to have such is in line with scripture. Jesus said to His disciples –

Luke 12:11 And when they bring you unto the synagogues, and unto magistrates, and powers, take ye no thought how or what thing ye shall answer, or what ye shall say: 12 For the Holy Ghost shall teach you in the same hour what ye ought to say.

Sometimes I wonder if I would be strong enough to remain faithful to the Lord if I was arrested, beaten or tortured. Even more so, I sometimes wonder how I would respond if this happened to a member of my family. Yet I find encouragement in knowing that the Lord is going to give me an extra portion of His power if that moment occurs.

1 Peter 4:14 If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you…

Why is it important that we pray for spiritual boldness? It is because fear and intimidation is a major part of Satan’s attack against the church. The Apostle Paul spoke of this as he addressed the subject of spiritual warfare.

Ephesians 6:18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. 19 Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should. NIV

Satan is doing all he can to silence the church and to keep us from preaching the gospel. The root meaning of the word ‘persecution’ is to pursue after someone in order to make them run or flee. Attached to this word is also the idea of fear. Satan wants to make us be afraid so that we will be silent, rather than telling the lost how they can be saved.

It is for this reason that we need to pray much for spiritual boldness. We need to pray for spiritual boldness, not only for those who are currently being persecuted, but for ourselves as well, our spiritual leaders, and our children.

______________________________________________________

[1] OpenDoors.org

[2] http://www.bobneill.org.uk/news/persecution-christians-21st-century

[3] http://seekingtruth.co.uk/persecution.htm

[4] http://idop.org/en/why-pray/

Comments are closed.