Are You Ready To Be Persecuted? (Article 18-16)
For a true believer in Jesus Christ, life can be hard. Why? Because the world is hostile toward Him. In fact, we even find many religions hostile toward Christ, especially when He is at the center of who we are, how we behave, and above all, what we believe. Just as it was in the time of our beloved Savior, the words of Christ are not popular in today’s world. Sometimes we may be surprised because persecution often comes from the religious world, where you would expect a receptive audience (John 16:2): “They will make you outcasts from the synagogue, but an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God.” Before his conversion, the apostle Paul thought that he was being faithful to his Jewish faith by imprisoning and killing Christians. After his conversion, the Jews persecuted him and other early Christians (2 Thess. 2:14-16). Centuries later, the Roman Catholic Church instituted the Inquisition to try to stop those who preached the true gospel. Religion has always been a major perpetrator of persecution. Jesus pinpoints the heart of the problem (John 16:3), “These things they will do because they have not known the Father or Me.”
Expect To Be Persecuted. Relative to persecution, Christ tells us in Mathew 5:10 of a special blessing we will receive when He says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for my namesake, For they will inherit the Kingdom of Heaven”. To be persecuted means to be vexed or oppressed. In the case of believers and followers of Christ we should expect and be prepared to be persecuted. Why? Because the world opposes God and rejects who He says He is and the truth Christ brings to the world. As believers in Christ, we live and must be prepared to be persecuted and suffer in a world that is dominated by demigods. The world’s demigods believe happiness is found in riches and power. They believe that victory is achieved by one’s own hand instead of God’s hand. They believe they can control their own destiny, and by way of their own intellect, knowledge, abilities, and technological inventions, can alter their direction, thinking, behavior, and understanding to save humanity. They believe that being “right” is more important than being “righteous”. When the God’s truths are not convenient to accept, the world’s demigods create new truths. Given the above, why should we, as follows of Christ, be surprised that we will be persecuted by those who do not believe in or follow Christ’s teachings? Despite this reality, Christ calls us to have compassion, forgiveness, and love in our hearts toward those who hate us. In fact, our call is to persistently pray for those who reject and persecute us.
Understanding Why It Is All Necessary. As Christ’s Disciples, we must see Him in three dimensions. First, we must see Him as the “Great Divider” and second, as the “Prince of Peace.” It is only by seeing Him in these two dimensions can we see Him in a third dimension as our “Lord and Savior”. See, although there is the promise of having peace by way of Christ, we must first endure the consequences of Him first “dividing” the world. I know this may be difficult to understand when we know Him to be the icon of love who came to bring peace and with it His messages of peace on earth and peace through love. Even at Christmas time, we are reminded that a Child is born, a Son is given and He's going to be called the Prince of Peace. Even the angels announced to the shepherds that Christ would bring peace on earth. The Jews had this expectation that when the Messiah came, peace would come with Him. However, Christ sets the record straight in Luke 12:51 when He says "Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth? I tell you, no; but rather division." Wow, talk about a right turn as it relates to Jewish expectations. After all, Psalm 72 tells the Jews that in His days, the righteous would flourish with an abundance of peace. Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, proclaimed that upon the coming of Messiah, the Sunrise from on high would visit us to guide our feet into the way of peace. Jesus himself said to a harlot in Luke 7:50, "Go in peace," and to a woman that He healed from a hemorrhage, "Go in peace." And didn't Jesus also say to His disciples in John 14, "My peace I leave with you. My peace I give unto you"? And didn't He say in John 16, "These things I have spoken to you that in Me you might have peace"? Yes…Christ did say all these things and “yes”, what Christ tells us, He means. So, what’s the deal here? Is Christ one who invites division while expecting peace amidst the resulting strife? The answer is “yes” He does. See, we must understand that Christ’s intent was not to bring peace to the world as one would understand it to mean as it relates to a type of national peace, which at the time was what the Jews expected with the Messiah’s arrival. The peace that Christ talks to is an inner spiritual peace that can only be achieved by our faith (trust) and our hope in Him.
Peace Can Be Found In Only One Way. There cannot be world peace, until Christ reigns in man’s hearts for it is in the hearts of man can the Kingdom of Heaven be found. For those who believe in Him, by way of faith, they will be saved. For those who believe and desire to live for the world and don’t believe in Christ, they will have no peace and will be loss for eternity. It is only from this perspective can we understand that in order to find peace, Christ had to first divide us and once divided, make clear to all who believed in Him, the way to salvation. It was out of love for us that He did it this way, so we may understand, and then by His own death, be saved. Christ had to make known to us the two opposing forces in the world – those who believe in the truth and those who would reject the truth. In turn, this gives rise to two opposing forces thus causing the non-believers to persecute (oppress and make suffer) those who do believe.
Preparing To Endure Persecution. When Jesus was with the disciples, He was the lightning rod for persecution. But after He returned to the Father, they would catch the brunt of the opposition. Christ knows that it will not be easy to be a faithful witness to Christ in this hostile world, but there is a way to endure. The way to endure is to remain focused on God’s Glory and trust in Him – Jesus Christ - the King of Kings, the Son of God, the Son of Man, Prince of Peace, our Savior, and our Lord. Note however, that our focus must be on Christ. If we focus on own sufferance and loss we will fail to endure the persecution in that way Christ intends us to be able to endure. We see initially this was the case with disciples prior to and immediately after Christ’s crucifixion. For example, in John 16:5-6 Christ states to His disciples “But now I am going to Him who sent Me; and none of you asks Me, ‘Where are You going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart.” The point here is that the disciples were not thinking about Christ’s returning to His glory with the Father and what that would mean, but rather on their own sorrow that Jesus would not be with them any longer. They were focused on their needs, not on Jesus’ glory and His kingdom purposes. Also, in John 14:5, Thomas said, “Lord, we do not know where You are going …” But neither man was really interested in learning where Jesus was going as much as in protesting that He was leaving them. So, the Lord is saying, “None of you is really interested in knowing where I am going. You’re just focused on your own sorrow over My leaving.” So, although the disciples have asked about where Jesus was going, they were really just self-absorbed in their own loss at His leaving them. They didn’t have the big picture of the Lord’s returning to the right hand of the Father and of His sending the Holy Spirit to empower them for the task of the great commission.
We Have More Than Enough to Endure. The application for us is, to be effective witnesses in this hostile world, we need to take our focus off of our feelings and needs and focus rather on the Lord’s glory through the spreading of the gospel to all peoples. Even if we are persecuted, His glory should be our aim. But we can’t accomplish that task in our own strength. Thus, the Lord adds …to witness to a hostile world, we must have the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus makes a claim that most likely startled the disciples when told them in John 16:7: “But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.” We often think, “Oh, how wonderful it would have been to have been on earth with Jesus.” That’s true, but Jesus says that we have it better because we have the Helper, the Holy Spirit, with us. He lives within us to comfort us, encourage us, and empower us to bear witness for Christ. As we saw in John 15:26-27, the Spirit bears witness, but He does it through us.
Yes, we have something in us that the disciples during Christ’s time on earth the disciples didn’t have in them – the Holy Spirit – God’s own power, knowledge, and attributes. With the Holy Spirit in us, He will convict the world through our witness.
We must welcome and embrace persecution. For as we do by way of the Holy Spirit’s power, we know we can endure and with this, know we are the Children of God!