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Entries in Martyrs (1)

Tuesday
Nov082016

Society under Siege: Christian Persecution

John 15:18-20; 16:1-4.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on November 6, 2016. 

In A.D. 1560 English preacher and historian John Foxe published a book called Book of Martyrs.  He felt that it was important for Christians to understand the history of persecution and those who had given their lives for the sake of serving Jesus.  Let me quote from the first paragraphs of this book.

“By the time the apostle John put the finishing touches on the book of Revelation, he alone among the original disciples remained alive.  All of them suffered for Christ, with most dying violently for His sake.  The witnesses of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ willingly exchanged their lives for the high privilege of declaring that life-transforming miracle.  As has often been pointed out, people don’t usually endure torture and painful death for something they know to be a lie.  Those who told the world, “He is risen!” stood by their claim in the face of threats, suffering, and death.  Their examples in dying left a lasting legacy.  They set a high bar of faithfulness for generations to come...  Make no mistake; the shoot that grew from the root of Jesse was abundantly watered by the blood of the martyrs, some whose names we are honored to know; others whose stories wait to be told in the great account of God’s ways in the throne room of heaven.”

Starting with Stephen, John Foxe described many stories down through the centuries up to his current time in the 1500’s.  The Christian martyrs were only stepping into a long line of righteous people down through the ages (starting with Abel) who paid with their lives for believing and living for God.  They were hated without a cause.  If you are going to try and follow Jesus then you need to come to grips with the reality that those who have chosen wickedness have always sought to shut up and kill the righteous.  This has not changed in the “modern age” of today.

The World Hates Followers of Jesus

In John 15 we are given an account in which Jesus described what was lying ahead for his followers.  In it Jesus refers to “the world.”  Though we don’t have time to do a deep study on this term, suffice it to say that sometimes the word can refer to the globe itself and sometimes it can refer to most of the people of the earth.  However, in the New Testament the phrase is often used in a different way as Jesus does in this chapter.  Here Jesus uses it to describe a global system of thinking and living in this world that has been developed and is controlled by wicked, spiritual beings that are in league with Satan.  Thus there is a spiritual dynamic that has caused the shape of the world’s governments, cultures, economies, and people.  All of these are by in large under the sway of these spiritual beings.  They are able to do it through their twisted teachings and ideas.  When persecution comes to believers, it is always at the hand of an individual or group of humans.  But, whether knowingly or unknowingly, they are merely the tip of the spear. 

It has always been understood that the Gospel of Jesus is a light to those who have been living in the darkness of ignorance created by these spiritual forces.  By the Gospel’s light, humans can be called out of bondage and slavery to this world system and brought into the kingdom of Christ.  Thus the Church is a divine rescue mission, much like that of Desmond Doss portrayed in the new movie “Hacksaw Ridge.”  Though his battalion had been obliterated by the Japanese, he continued to go back into danger to save the wounded.  He stated that he kept praying each time he went back out, “Lord, help me get one more, just one more!”  Jesus is not telling us that the world hates us in order to make us hate people.  Rather, he wants us to understand completely what we will run into while we try to save people.  It will be a war-zone.  Thus Jesus commands His followers, “Love your enemies.”  May we have the same heart of courage that Desmond Doss had as we go back into this world system each day.

Why does Jesus use the conditional “if” in verse 18?  It can’t be because he is not sure that there will be persecution.  He makes that abundantly clear later.  It seems that the conditional is used because not all believers will have the same experience.  The hatred of this world is not in question.  What is in question, is the how and degree of hatred we will encounter.  Depending on your time and place of living, you will encounter resistance that goes from mild, passive aggression all the way to an in-your-face brutal attack.  Here in the United States of America we have been very sheltered.  But across the world Christians suffer severe brutality at the hands of people who are caught up in this world system.  It would be easy to think of ourselves as the blessed ones.  But, the truth is that the Church is always most dangerous to the spiritual enemy when it is being persecuted.  It is always more vibrant and capable of displaying Christ when it is openly attacked.  Much like Samson, we can find ourselves without power and blinded.  But the grace of God will always work powerfully through the repentant one.

The hatred of the world system is not really against Christians. Jesus highlights that the source of the hatred is because Jesus has chosen us out of the world.  The choice of Jesus marks believers.  They become targets to those spiritual beings that hate Christ and any who would dare follow Him.  Jesus was the first man to live perfectly outside of this world system.  He began a divine rescue mission in Israel that has gone to the ends of the earth.  This counter attack has raised the hackles of these wicked, spiritual powers.  Their precious system of bondage and control is threatened by those who follow Jesus.  Many persecutors don’t even understand their own hatred because it has a spiritual source.  That is why the unswerving faith of many martyrs has led to the conversion of some who tormented them.  It is only through Christ that we can tell someone who threatens our life, “You can cut me into a million pieces.  But, each one of them will cry out, “Jesus loves you!”  Thus Jesus reminds us that we cannot be greater than our master.  If we truly follow Jesus then we will be mistreated by most and only loved by some.  If we make avoiding persecution our goal then we will veer off the path that Jesus has blazed before us.  Thus His words, “Pick up your cross and follow me!” are a statement that implies that there is a certain amount of persecution ahead of all who dare follow him.

The World Hates God the Father

The world not only hates Jesus, but in verse 21 and following we see that it actually hates God the Father too.  This is a critical point.  The Pharisees claimed that they loved the Father and that was why they put Jesus to death.  Of course this same excuse has been used down through history.  Religious people often persecute others in the name of God.  This doesn’t make it right.  Nor does it make Christianity (following Jesus) wrong, either.  Jesus tells us that the world actually doesn’t know the Father.  Now that would be one thing if Jesus were just talking about the Romans and other nations outside of Israel.  But Jesus is talking even about the leaders of Israel.  For all of God’s revelation through Abraham, Moses, David, and the prophets, Israel still had no clue what God was really like.  The problem does not lie in God.  The problem lies in us.

Think about Noah and his family after the flood.  They all know the truth about the ancient world and what God has said and done.  But within 100 years their grandchildren are being led by Nimrod to try and connect to the wicked “gods” of the pre-flood era at Babel (Babel means Gate of God in their language).  Nimrod led his generation to rebel against the God of heaven and join in league with Satan.  Why?  He had been spiritually deceived by those evil spirits.  They always get into people’s minds and lie about the Creator in order to get humans to leave the freedom of Christ and come into the system of bondage and slavery that Jesus called “the world.”  Thus the Jews in the days of Jesus had the truth at one time, and yet, little by little, they had rejected the heart of what the Bible was saying and instead recreated God in their own image.  Thus multitudes had grown up in a system of ignorance and darkness.  Their actions proved that they didn’t really know God.  Otherwise they would act like Him and not like Satan. 

A part of you may protest that there isn’t just one system in this world.  It is true that there are many different cultures, religions, philosophies, etc. in this world.  On the surface they may all look vastly different.  Yet, they do have one thing in common; they all reject the truth of God and supplant it with wisdom supplied by these fallen, wicked, spiritual powers.  The deception is that you think you are different.  The Pharisees thought they were different than the Romans.  When in fact, they were connected to the same deceiving, lying spirits.  Jesus was a divine litmus test to show Israel and the rest of the world this principle.  Litmus paper has a property that it will change colors to show whether the solution you put it in is acidic, basic, or water.  All of the solutions look the same.  But when you dip in the litmus paper, the truth is known.  Thus God sent Jesus into a “Holier than thou” culture to show it that they were just as acidic as the Romans.  In His grace, God gives moments of clarity to a nation so that they can see the truth of what they have been choosing.  Don’t choose the world.  Choose to follow Jesus regardless of the fall-out.  The cross itself is proof of God’s love for sinners who are in bondage.  It is proof of the righteousness of Jesus, and the way that we should go.  Whose side are you on?

In verse 24 Jesus points out that because of what he did, they would be without excuse. God does not hold us accountable for what we do not know.  But He is faithful to put truth in front of us throughout our life.  In that case, we know far more than we would like to be accountable for.  If we reject God’s truth then we become accountable.  Today the world has had nearly 2000 years of the grace of Jesus demonstrated to it.  As we approach the Day of Judgment, we must see that the world is without excuse.  That is why in Acts 2:40 the apostle Peter proclaimed, “Save yourself from this crooked generation!”  Are we not just as perverse and twisted as they?  Is not the nature of mankind becoming more and more twisted every day?  Instead of becoming like this world we must learn to flee the destruction and run into Jesus.  Put your trust in Him today.  Otherwise, you will only perish under judgment without excuse.

The World has been Deceived

I will finish by looking at the first part of John chapter 16.  There Jesus reveals the deception that the people of the world are under.  Jesus tells them that the day will come that they will be kicked out of the synagogues (that is the Jewish version of a church) and they will be put to death, all in the name of God.  You see the leaders of the Jewish religion were deceived.  Do you not see that even Christianity itself is just another useless religion if it doesn’t actually follow Jesus?  Religion that is not connected to God can only destroy your soul.  Why?  It does so because at its root we are deceived away from Christ by those Spiritual Powers that rule this world.  Yes, the Pharisees were “good” Jews by the definitions of their “world.”  Many Christian leaders are “good” by the definitions of the Church system today.  I tell you that Jesus knows these problems.  He has true leaders and true Churches that are following Him.  It is only by following the ways of Jesus and the Spirit of God that we can be saved from this world system.  Otherwise, you will be sucked into a delusion that has been tailor-made for you.

If you are a Christian today, you need to stop playing any games with God.  It is not about your denomination.  It is not about everybody having to believe everything that you do.  Yet, at the same time we have to quit playing the game of “Don’t say anything to disturb my precious beliefs, or I’ll kill you.”  We may not actually say that last part, but it describes what is often in the heart of people who have become religious instead of becoming like Jesus.

Am I following the true Jesus, or am I following a cardboard cut-out Jesus?  Maybe I am following a bobble-head Jesus that smiles and always gives the thumbs up sign.  These “false” Christs cannot save us.  When you are in the middle of severe persecution, you will need something far more substantial than that.  Thus Jesus warned us ahead of time, so that we could know that we are on the right path when persecution comes our way.  It may not be what we want, and we should never romanticize persecution.  Christians in the Middle East are at the ends of themselves and what is happening to them is grossly evil.  Yet, when we find ourselves in the face of great persecution, may we pray, “Lord, help me save one more, just one more!”

Christian Persecution audio