persecution

Trouble Is Normal

But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. But when the disciples gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city, and on the next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe. When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed. Acts 14:19-23.

Here’s that persecution that Jesus promised. We seldom see this, but we also seldom see this level of obedience to preach the Gospel and advance the kingdom of God. At least, we don’t see it in America. In other countries there is plenty of persecution and martyrdom, which tells me they must be doing something right, even if all they are doing is being recognizable.

How do you identify a Christian in America? Is it by what he does, or does not do? Whatever you do, if it is recognizable that you believe in Jesus, it will set you apart. It will make you a target. But that is what we are called to do. You may think that the free exercise of your religion is merely attending church. But that was never commanded. Preaching and teaching and bearing witness to the Gospel is commanded. And that can get you in trouble, if you do it right.

Persecution Causes Growth

And Saul approved of his execution.

And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.

Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip, when they heard him and saw the signs that he did. For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who had them, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was much joy in that city. Acts 8:1-8.

Immediately after the martyrdom of Stephen, a great purge was launched against the believers in Christ. It was so aggressive that many of them fled Jerusalem. This had the unintended consequence of scattering them like seed throughout the area. And that seed started germinating new life everywhere.

It is interesting that although the apostles remained in Jerusalem, when Philip went to Samaria, the power of God went with him, even though he was not designated as an apostle. It is evidence that what Jesus commanded them was coming to pass.

“And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs. (Mark 16:17-20).

Haters Gonna Hate

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father also. If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: ‘They hated me without a cause.’

“But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.” John 15:18-27.

If God has chosen you, be sure to know that the unchosen will not like you. Every kid that has ever been the teacher’s pet knows how true this is. You become the reminder that the rest did not measure up. You become like Joseph, who was doted on by his father, and loathed by his older brothers, who were torn between killing him and selling him to the slave traders.

Nevertheless, we are given the Holy Spirit, sometimes referred to as the comforter. And it sounds like we’ll need one. This is not the first time Jesus warns His disciples that they will be hated for His name’s sake. There is a cost to count, but, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18).

The Inscrutable Jesus

Some of the people of Jerusalem therefore said, “Is not this the man whom they seek to kill? And here he is, speaking openly, and they say nothing to him! Can it be that the authorities really know that this is the Christ? But we know where this man comes from, and when the Christ appears, no one will know where he comes from.” So Jesus proclaimed, as he taught in the temple, “You know me, and you know where I come from. But I have not come of my own accord. He who sent me is true, and him you do not know. I know him, for I come from him, and he sent me.” So they were seeking to arrest him, but no one laid a hand on him, because his hour had not yet come. Yet many of the people believed in him. They said, “When the Christ appears, will he do more signs than this man has done?”

The Pharisees heard the crowd muttering these things about him, and the chief priests and Pharisees sent officers to arrest him. Jesus then said, “I will be with you a little longer, and then I am going to him who sent me. You will seek me and you will not find me. Where I am you cannot come.” The Jews said to one another, “Where does this man intend to go that we will not find him? Does he intend to go to the Dispersion among the Greeks and teach the Greeks? What does he mean by saying, ‘You will seek me and you will not find me,’ and, ‘Where I am you cannot come’?” John 7:25-36.

We often forget that Jesus was already known by a lot of people before He ever healed anyone. He was a local boy whose father was a carpenter. He and His family went to Jerusalem every year for religious feasts. He was a nice kid that never caused any trouble and was probably on the honor role every semester. But suddenly He comes out as a great teacher and miracle worker. And maybe He’s the Messiah?

Jesus did challenge and continues to challenge the systems of this world. If He was not the Son of God, and His claims were not true, who was He? How did He become the central figure of human history? Why do millions continue to put their faith in Him year after year, sometimes putting themselves in great peril to do so?

Jesus willingly put Himself in peril, even giving up His life in an excruciatingly painful way, to become the Savior of the world. Was He a nut, or was He the Son of God? I was born and raised in Troy, New York. I come from an undistinguished working class family, and I’ve been a household servant for forty years. Today I tell random strangers that I am an ambassador for Christ, and that God is no longer holding their sins against them because of who Jesus is and what He did for them. Am I a nut, or have I heard the voice of God? You will have to listen to find out.