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Weekly Word

Entries in Martyrdom (1)

Tuesday
Oct202015

Jesus Reveals the Future III

Luke 21:12-19.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on October 18, 2015.

This weekend I attended a conference put on by the Voice of the Martyrs.  It may seem intentional that we are going to talk about persecution and martyrdom today.  But in actuality it wasn’t.  We heard from speakers who had suffered persecution in many different places throughout the world.  However, they each encouraged us that God was using this persecution and turmoil to open doors to the gospel.  Muslims and communists are coming to Jesus among many other people.

One person from Syria said that there were places that would have been impossible to go into and preach the gospel before the civil war that is embroiling that nation started.  But now they are able to preach and see people turn to Christ in the midst of all the pain and suffering.  He then said that the Syrian Christians have quit praying for God to stop the war and have begun praying that God would glorify Himself through them in the midst of whatever they have to go through.  Is it possible that we pray for God to remove thing that we could glorify Him in the midst of them?  It is, very much so.

As we hear the Word today, may God strengthen our hearts for the battle that has already begun in our own land.  Is it dark and bleak?  Of course, but this is when the tactics of the enemy are the weakest and people are the most desperate.  A young man from Iran whose father was martyred for preaching Jesus to muslims, said that the greatest “evangelists” of Iran have been the Ayatollahs and presidents who have persecuted Christians.  Their totalitarian and brutal reign has turned people off of Islam and on to Jesus.

Last week we read how Jesus prophesied a time of sorrows that would lead up to the end of the age.  It would be filled with deception and fear in the form of: False Christs, Wars and Turmoil, Great Earthquakes, Famines and Pestilence, Fearful Sights, and Great Heavenly Signs.  Thus the disciples of Jesus would have to learn how to navigate terrifying times without being terrified and deception without being deceived.  Believers would have to face these sorrows.  However, our Hope is for something beyond national pride, social cohesion, and physical safety.  We overcome the sorrows of this world in order to receive the prize of the inheritance Jesus has held in reserve for us.  Today verse 12 shows us another aspect of this time of sorrows.

Persecution and Martyrdom will come

Even before all the other things previously listed, Jesus says that persecution would begin.  Of course we know that the Church was birthed in the midst of persecution.  Jesus himself was persecuted and martyred because He spoke the Truth.  When his disciples began to call the nation to repentance for this, they immediately suffered persecution.  Persecution has been a hallmark of those who belong to Christ; even to the point of being persecuted by people claiming to be Christians.  2 Timothy 3:12 says, “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.”  It doesn’t say at what level and in what style, but persecuted nonetheless.  In some places it is a brutal, harsh form that forces submission.  In other places it is a soft, inviting form that seduces one into submission.  Either way, to follow Jesus is to be hated by this world.

Jesus tells us that they will “lay their hands one you.”  This is a Hebrew phrase that means to take somebody physically captive, whether for jail, or a momentary beating.  It can be proper authorities or it may be a mob.  The intent is to pursue and take hold of someone in order to stop what they are doing.  This is the definition of persecution.  This world employs a variety of techniques in which it pursues Christians with the intent to squelch what they do.  Some would be brought before religious judges (synagogues) and other put into prisons by the civil magistrates.  They would even stand before kings and rulers for the sake of Jesus.  These descriptions make it clear that Jesus is talking about more than just what would happen in Israel.  It is a description of the kinds of persecution they would encounter throughout the world.  Notice that Jesus highlights that all of this will be happening because of our connection to Him.  In John 15:18-19 Jesus said, “If the world hates you, you know that it hated me before it hated you.  If you were of the world, the world would love its own.  Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”  We are not to take such persecutions personal.  It is not really about you.  It is about the Lord that you are serving.  Thus we need to see our sufferings in this respect as a badge of honor because we suffer for Jesus.

Jesus has shown us what the world would do and why it would do it.  But in verse 13 he turns and tells us what God’s purpose is in allowing it to happen.  It will be an occasion for testimony.  The term translated occasion was often used of disembarking a ship when one has reached the destination.  Thus it came to be also used of the end or purpose to which one was heading.  Jesus is basically saying that though the ship be a ship of suffering and persecution, it is not headed to destruction.  Rather it is bringing us to a place where God will give us a platform one which we can testify about Jesus and the salvation that he is offering.  Thus Jesus then commands us not to meditate on what we will say at that time.  This does not mean we don’t read the Scriptures and meditate on God’s grace and the future judgment.  Rather, it teaches us to rely more upon the Holy Spirit than on our own wisdom and ability.  Jesus promises to fill the mouth of those who are persecuted for his sake with wisdom and words that the world can’t stand against.  It will be you testifying, but in another way it won’t.  The Holy Spirit will anoint you with the power of God.  He will testify through you, not as a robot, but as a willing servant.  Yes, the world will take its stand against you and resist you.  But they will not stand in the end.  No matter what they say and do (even to the point of killing believers), God will not support them.  Short of repentance, they will fall and be taken away in judgment.

It is bad enough to have enemies, but it gets worse.  Jesus tells us that we will be betrayed even by loved ones.  This is a general prophecy and thus we must see that it is not an automatic fact that our family will betray us.  However, in times of deception it will be a common pattern.  Those who are of the natural family are not always faithful to the end.  Thus the Church of Jesus becomes critical.  We are a spiritual family that is to stand together even in the midst of great persecution.  Yet, even this spiritual family has people in it who will betray us, like Judas.  Such are the sufferings of this time of sorrow that we are in.

Jesus then says that some will be put to death.  What we see here is that all will endure persecution, but not all at the same level.  Some will escape capture while others are put in prison.  Some will be released from prison while others are killed.  It is not ours to know exactly what God’s path is for us.  But, it is ours to be faithful to Christ and our fellow Christians in the midst of such difficult times.  We are not called to instigate persecution and martyrdom.  It is not our goal.  Our goal is to testify to a lost world of its sin and God’s love in Jesus.  Persecution and martyrdom are a byproduct of the clash of two kingdoms.  This is why Jesus tells us that we will be hated by all nations (this includes the USA).  This world is seduced by the wisdom of Satan and thus hates those who embrace the wisdom of Jesus.

Jesus then says that not a hair of your head will be lost.  How can he say this when he just said that some would be put to death?  There is a Hebrew phrase that we find in Scripture that has the sense of complete safety.  In 1 Samuel 14:45, when Jonathan was in danger of being killed by his father, King Saul, the people state, “not a hair of his head will fall to the ground.”  Of course we are losing hair all the time.  But the implication is that they will protect Jonathan even to the point of not even losing a hair.  We see it again in Acts 27:34.  Paul is on a ship that is about to be destroyed on the rocks during a great storm.  The soldiers are going to kill all the prisoners so as to lose none of them.  Paul then tells the soldiers not to kill the guys because, “not a hair will fall from you.”  Everyone would survive and make it to the mainland.  The soldiers would not be held responsible for losing anyone.  Notice that Jesus has changed the phrase from hair falling to the ground to hair being lost.  Thus even if the “hair does fall to the ground,” what would it mean that it isn’t lost?  I believe that the implication here is that the same God who has numbered the hairs on their head, will also take note of everything they have lost in his name.  Their sacrifice will not be lost because God will take note of it and holds for them a reward that none can steal.  Persecution is not a loss for the believer, but rather a gain.

Jesus ends with the command for believers to take possession of their soul through enduring faith.  Fear and doubts constantly assail the person going through persecution.  Like a ship on the sea, we are tossed this way and that.  Only a strong faith in Jesus will help us to weather such things without losing our souls.  Perseverance or endurance, by definition, cannot only last for a while.  It must be to the end of the trial and to the end of our life.  May we not lose our souls in this day, but rather remain under the difficulties of this time while serving our Lord.  Let us fight the good fight of faith and live a witness and testimony before the world regardless of what our flesh may fear.  This is what our Lord calls us to be.

Jesus Reveals Future III audio