Saturday, April 23, 2016

Thoughts about Persecution

A missionary once said, “There are no closed doors, as long as you don’t care whether you come back.” A Mexican gang member pointed a gun at me and told me to never come back to his neighborhood. Rocks have been thrown at me while I preached. In Iquitos, Peru riots raged as I preached in the central plaza of the city. In Pakistan, everyone who came to our crusade had to go through a metal detector and the police posted sharp shooters on the rooftops. On the final night of one of our festivals in Pakistan a car full of angry Muslims chased us and fired a gun in our direction. In Goma, Congo the sound truck was shot at and the local military commander sent soldiers with machine guns and surface-to-air missiles to protect us. In Juba, Sudan I was nearly mauled by a crowd as we passed out coupons for free food. My mother and father work in *************  and they lived through a major gun battle between some members of a Terrorist group and local police that took place three houses away from their house. I have not suffered as much persecution as Paul and the early church, but the potential has been there as I have traveled around the world. I don’t want to die for Christ, but I am willing to. If I ever face a situation where my life would be required, I would hope that God would give me strength to endure.

* In the Parable of the Sower, Jesus says that some will fall away after suffering persecution. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away” (Matthew 13:22).

* Jesus promises that persecution will come to those who choose to leave family in order to serve him. They “will not fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life” (Mark 10:30).

* In Acts 1:8, Jesus tells the disciples to be witnesses in Jerusalem, Judah, Samaria, and to the uttermost ends of the earth. However, the early Christians stayed in Jerusalem for the first seven chapters of Acts. Not until Acts 8:1, when persecution breaks out, do the Christians start to scatter and preach the good news elsewhere. “On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria” (Acts 8:1).

* The result of the scattering of the Christians because of persecution was a spread of God’s word. “Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that broke out when Stephen was killed traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, spreading the word only among Jews” (Acts 11:19).

* Paul says that no form of hardship or persecution can separate the believer from the love of Christ. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?” (Romans 8:35).

* Paul actually delighted in persecution. “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:10).

* Paul was encouraged by the faith of other believers in the midst of his persecutions. “Therefore, brothers and sisters, in all our distress and persecution we were encouraged about you because of your faith” (1 Thess 3:7).

* Paul boasted about the persecutions that believers faced. “Therefore, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring” (2 Thess. 1:4).

* Those who suffer persecution for God’s sake will receive a crown in heaven. John wrote, “Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown” (Rev. 2:10).

Persecution is always a risk for the believer. The god of this world will always hate Christians and stir up those who want to harm them. But, despite this persecution, God will sustain the believer. Ultimately, those who endure persecution and even martyrdom will be rewarded in heaven for their faithfulness.