Persecution

Persecuted, 30 August 2020



Blessed are Those Who are Persecuted Because of Righteousness
Blessed: The Beatitudes
Matthew 5:10-12

Series Big Idea: The greatest sermon in history is radical, revolutionary, and relevant.

Big Idea: Persecution is often a part of following Jesus, but He is worth it.

NIV: Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:10)

NLT: God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs. (Matthew 5:10)

NKJV:
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:10)

The Message: “You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom. (Matthew 5:10)

Today we conclude our eight-week series on the Beatitudes, the blessings announced by Jesus at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount. As a review, here’s what we’ve covered thus far:

Matthew 5:3    “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.

Today’s text might be somewhat irrelevant to us today in the United States of America, though some of you watching in other countries might be able to relate…and the future is uncertain.

NIV: Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:10)

There’s a scene in the movie Courageous where an employee is asked to lie about a shipment. He’s told he will receive a promotion if he does so. He refuses, putting his job on the line, only to discover it was only a test. His integrity results in a raise and new responsibility with the company. It’s a powerful example of honesty, truth, and righteousness.

But what if the outcome were different? What if Javier lost his job for being disloyal to the company? What if he was persecuted because of doing the right thing?

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:10)

According to Jesus, the kingdom of heaven would be his. Unfortunately, we presently live in the kingdom of this world, a planet plagued by sin, death, and destruction. Jesus said the kingdom of heaven belonged to those poor in spirit (the first beatitude) and the persecuted.

Have you ever been persecuted because of righteousness? Wearing a mask to love your neighbor is not persecution. Someone saying, “Happy holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” doesn’t count! I mean have you ever paid a steep price for doing the right thing? It’s been said that no good deed goes unpunished, and yet God will have the final word on Judgment Day.

It’s important to remember Jesus isn’t saying you have to be persecuted in order to experience the kingdom of heaven. The beatitudes are not instructions to follow, but rather announcements of reality. It seems like some people throughout history have acted like fools in order to be persecuted, as if foolishness is noble. If you stand on a street corner and yell at people, people will mock you, not because of your righteousness, but because of your lack of love. We are not to seek out persecution, but neither are to be surprised if we genuinely encounter it due to our obedience to Jesus.

This verse has served as a comfort to our brothers in sisters for the past two thousand years ago, those tortured and even martyred for their faith in Jesus Christ.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:10)

Jesus adds a bit more to his declaration.

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:11-12)

The words “be glad” literally mean “leap much!” I love that! We are to rejoice and leap much when we are persecuted.

We’re in the midst of an ongoing, spiritual battle between God and satan, good and evil. Sometimes we follow Jesus, other times the ways of the world. Make no mistake, though, they are polar opposites. God’s story is upside-down from the world.

Jesus never promised us happiness, or even the pursuit of happiness. He never said, “Fight for your rights,” “You deserve a break today at McDonald’s” or “Have it your way at Burger King.” The American Dream is not in the Bible! I often confuse my calling with our culture. It’s easy to forget God’s Kingdom while building our own. As USAmericans, we feel entitled to certain liberties and freedoms, and for good reason, but they’re not promised to us by God. Jesus said the opposite.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

The blessings—the real blessings—is not health and wealth. It’s not name it and claim it. It’s not financially prosperity, feel-good spirituality, self-actualization, or comfort on earth. As we’ve said throughout the series, the real blessing is God’s presence and favor. The greatest thing about heaven is God’s presence. Period. Are you pursuing God or pleasure?

Is anyone else uncomfortable? We might need to do more study on the Sermon on the Mount. It’s not for the faint of heart. He basically says do the opposite of our culture. Here are some examples:

And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. (Matthew 5:22b)

If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. (Matthew 5:29)

But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery. (Matthew 5:32)

Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
(Matthew 5:42)

But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, (Matthew 5:44)

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48)

But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. (Matthew 6:15)

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” (Matthew 7:1)

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 7:21)

Wow! Maybe we should skip that Sermon on the Mount stuff! Jesus couldn’t be serious, right? Let’s get back to our text.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:10)

I want to offer a few thoughts on persecution.

We need to pray for our brothers and sisters who are being persecuted.

In the decade of the 2000s, there were over 1.6 million Christian martyrs. Many predict at least one million will be killed because of their faith in Jesus in this decade. Can we put a human face on those who are suffering? God is present to those who are persecuted. That’s the blessing. Can we be present? To learn more about the Persecuted Church, go to
Persecution.com.

We need to expect persecution.

I’m not suggesting we should seek persecution, but we need to expect it. Paul told Timothy,

In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, (2 Timothy 3:12)

Jesus was certainly persecuted! Following Jesus means following him into death, too, whether it’s literal or figurative. It’s not about us. It’s about Jesus. He said,

“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. (John 15:18-20)

We need to endure persecution.

Paul wrote,

We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world—right up to this moment. (1 Corinthians 4:12)

This would not be a good recruiting tool for Christianity on a billboard! But this is what it means to follow Jesus.

We need to embrace persecution.

Peter set a great example for us. It is believed that when he was martyred, he was supposed to be crucified like Jesus, but he didn’t feel worthy so he requested that he be crucified upside down! He wrote,

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. (1 Peter 4:12-13)

However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. (1 Peter 4:16)

So What?

Are we conspiring with the things of this world—money, sex, power—or God?

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:2)

People often ask about how to know God’s will. There it is! Turn away from the world, fill your mind with Jesus, and you will be able to test and approve God’s will. It might be messy. It could cost you your job. It’s possible that your life will be disrupted. But it will be so worth it in the end.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:10)

Holy troublemakers live with prophetic imagination. They refuse to go with the crowd. They take the high road, do the right thing, love well, and honor God in everything they do.

If you were on trial for following Jesus, would there be enough evidence to convict you?

´╗┐Stu G of The Beatitudes Project asks some great questions:

Who and what am I colluding with? The dominant powers at play in the world—or the one who shared the message of the Beatitudes?

What am I resisting?

Are there situations in everyday life where I’m being forced to go with the flow? What would happen if I said no?

Who am I speaking out for? The homeless in my town? The woman at work on the receiving end of sexual jibes? The effeminate guy at school who’s getting bullied?

If I speak out—if I resist—am I willing to suffer for it? Because it might just happen.

One holy troublemaker, Mother Teresa, had this pinned to her wall in India:

People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered.  Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.  Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies.  Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you.  Be honest and sincere anyway.
What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight.  Create anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous.  Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, will often be forgotten.  Do good anyway.
Give the best you have, and it will never be enough.  Give your best anyway.
In the final analysis, it is between you and God.  It was never between you and them anyway.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:10)

Live a life worthy of persecution. And remember, no matter what the cost, Jesus is worth it. You are blessed. God is on your side.

Credits: Some ideas from The Beatitudes Project, Life.Church

You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

You can watch this video and others at the First Alliance Church Video Library
here.

John: Arrested & Beheaded, 5 May 2019

John: Arrested & Beheaded
Series—Mark: The Real Jesus
Mark 6:14-29

Series Big Idea: The shortest gospel is filled with good news about Jesus!

Big Idea:
John sacrificed everything for Jesus…who sacrificed everything for John and us.

“Oh how I love Jesus/oh how I love Jesus/oh how I love Jesus/because he first loved me”

How much do you love Jesus?

It’s hard to quantify love. It’s challenging for most people to even define “love.” But how important is Jesus to you…really?

Today we are continuing our series Mark: The Real Jesus. I know, it’s been a while. September 3, 2017 was the last Sunday in this series! Sometimes you just need a break! We’ll have more breaks before we finish this, the shortest of the gospels or “good news,” biographies of Jesus. With the recent celebration of the resurrection of Jesus, we’re going back to look at his life, his ministry, the three years or so prior to Holy Week. And today’s text is about one of the most devoted followers of Jesus, John, who was arrested & beheaded.

“To live outside of God’s will puts us in danger; to live in his will makes us dangerous.” – Erwin McManus

Before we look at this dreadful event, I want to begin with some background information on John the Baptist.

At the beginning of the book of Mark, we are introduced to John the Baptist.

And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. (Mark 1:4-5)

John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 1:6-8)

John’s father was a priest, usually a hereditary role which John chose not to accept, becoming a fiery preacher, paving the way for the Messiah.

He’s immersing people in the Jordan River, a process called baptism which symbolizes a death and resurrection, washing away that which is old and become a new creation.

We are planning a baptism on May 26. If you’ve never experienced baptism as a follower of Jesus—infant baptism is different—I’d love to invite you to be baptized, to publicly declare your faith, and to symbolically die in the water grave and come out as a forgiven, purified, resurrected follower of Jesus.

But back to John. The Judeans, crushed by Roman rule and the high priests, found John refreshing. He was not afraid of seemingly anyone. Some thought he was the Messiah. He was a revolutionary who prepared the people for another Revolutionary.

The following verses describe John the Baptist baptizing his cousin, Jesus. Why does Jesus need to be baptized? He is sinless and has no need of repentance, but perhaps it was a public way to begin his ministry.

Later John leaves the wilderness and takes on the political leaders of his time. He starts in Tiberias, the place of sin, one of the cities in Galilee. It’s ruled by Herod Antipas, the second son of Herod the Great, the tyrant who tried to kill baby Jesus (Matthew 2:7-16). Herod Antipas wanted to be the king of Judea but, instead, became the tetrarch of Galilee.

John decides to call Herod to repentance, a gutsy move. Can you imagine confronting a Roman ruler, calling them out over their sins. Keep in mind his sins were many. The Jews are struggling under the Roman Empire while Herod lives in luxury.

Of all of Herod Antipas’ sins, one is most notable. While visiting his half-brother Philip in Rome, he fell in love with Herodias, Philip’s wife. He married her after divorcing his first wife. To make things even more complicated, Herodias was the daughter of another half-brother, so Antipas marries the woman who is both his sister-in-law and niece! You thought your family tree was messed up!

In the politics of the day, Herod’s job is primary to keep peace in Galilee. If a rebellion breaks out, Herod loses his power. John calls for repentance and may have appeared to have been gathering a rebellion, so Herod has John imprisoned in the Fortress of Machaerus, 100 miles from Tiberias. It’s an awful place, distant from John’s followers. In the day, prison was barbaric. There was no rehabilitation, only punishment and breaking.

While John is in prison, Jesus’ ministry grows and it is his popularity and his followers are sent out to preach repentance, turning away from their sins and toward God. They are also driving out demons and healing the sick, which leads us to today’s text in Mark 6:14.

King Herod heard about this, for Jesus’ name had become well known. Some were saying, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.” (Mark 6:14)

Herod Antipas wanted to be called king, though he was technically only a tetrarch, ruling a fourth part of the nation.

Others said, “He is Elijah.”

And still others claimed, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of long ago.” (Mark 6:15)

Who is Jesus? How you answer this question is remarkably important.

Jesus was obviously special. He was a dynamic leader, a marvelous teacher, and a miraculous healer. He was quickly becoming an incredibly popular person among the crowds. Even John is unsure of the true identity of his cousin, Jesus. You may recall Elijah never really died, but was taken directly to heaven, so his return was plausible.

Herod gets into the discussion of Jesus’ identity, wondering if he wasn’t John raised from the dead.

But when Herod heard this, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!” (Mark 6:16)

Now Mark provides us a flashback.

For Herod himself had given orders to have John arrested, and he had him bound and put in prison. He did this because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, whom he had married. For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” (Mark 6:17-18)

It’s hard to imagine the audacity of John calling out Herod. We don’t really know all of the context other than we know Herod liked to listen to John. Whatever the case, there was obviously tension between John, Herod, and Herodias.

So Herodias nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she was not able to, because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him. (Mark 6:19-20)

Herod was interested in hearing John, though it may have been a political maneuver. Remember, Herod’s chief responsibility was to keep the peace.

If you’ve been going through Mission 119 with us, you may recall recent Bible reading through several of the prophets. The role of prophet—proclaiming God’s truth, forthtelling—is no for the faint of heart. Sometimes God calls us to do difficult things, even confronting people in love over their sin. This is not judging or condemning, but rather pointing people to life, to truth.

How do you react when you’re confronted about something? We all hate criticism by strangers or venomous attacks by insecure people trying to tear us down. But what about when a loved one throws out a “help me understand?” For many years, my first instinct toward any constructive feedback was defensiveness. As I get older, I’m trying to listen first and then respond with grace. I can’t say I’m good at it. My pride gets in the way.

Some people can’t handle the truth. They want to follow their pleasures rather than God. They’ve been given the choice, that free will. Followers of Jesus, however, must be open to loving correction. But remember,

"God judges, the Holy Spirit convicts, we are to love." -Billy Graham

Finally the opportune time came. On his birthday Herod gave a banquet for his high officials and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. When the daughter of Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests.

The king said to the girl, “Ask me for anything you want, and I’ll give it to you.” And he promised her with an oath, “Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom.” (Mark 6:21-23)

This must’ve been some kind of dance…or Herod had been drinking some kind of booze…or both! Imagine offering up to half of your kingdom as thanks for a dance! And it’s Herod’s birthday! The only thing I can think of in the Bible as outrageous is Esau exchanging his birthright for a bowl of lentil soup…or Jesus offering us his very life on the cross!

Salome, Herodias’ dancing daughter, is already a married woman and Antipas’ stepdaughter. Herod makes an incredible offer to Salome—to impress his guests—and the response is equally shocking.

She went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?”

“The head of John the Baptist,” she answered.

At once the girl hurried in to the king with the request: “I want you to give me right now the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” (Mark 6:24-25)

There was no argument or delay. At once she hurried to request John’s head…on a platter! What detail! What audacity!

The king was greatly distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he did not want to refuse her. So he immediately sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. The man went, beheaded John in the prison, and brought back his head on a platter. He presented it to the girl, and she gave it to her mother. On hearing of this, John’s disciples came and took his body and laid it in a tomb. (Mark 6:26-29)

What a way to go!

How much do you love Jesus? John was obedient, even unto death. He sacrificed everything to remain obedient to the call on his life, speaking the truth in love.

This story is hard to imagine—a man beheaded for obeying God—yet today in our modern, sophisticated world, many of our brothers and sisters face persecution every day. Two days ago, the BBC said, “Christian persecution ‘at near genocide levels’” in parts of the world. One in three people suffer from religious persecution and Christians were the most persecuted religious group, according to a report ordered by Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

The world saw the reports of more than 250 killed on Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka, just the latest of attacks upon Christians which includes church crackdowns in China, torture in North Korea, Indian Christians arrested for sharing their testimony with a small group, …and that’s just scratching the surface. On average, 11 of our brothers and sisters are killed every day for their faith. That would wipe out our church in a month! For more, visit
Persecution.com.

What would cause someone—John the Baptist or anyone—to allow themselves to die for their faith, to be persecuted for their beliefs, to be tortured for their obedience to God? Love.

Here’s the thing:

Jesus sacrificed everything for you, including his life.

If you think it’s crazy for a human to die for God, how much more radical is it for God to die for a human? That’s what we remembered last month on Good Friday.

Jesus did so much more than save your life. He offers to save your eternity, and he exchanged his life for yours on the cross. What more do you want Jesus to do to prove his love for you? No, he’s not a cosmic genie who is going to instantly give you everything you pray for, because he knows what’s best. Sometimes a miracle is best, but in this life as we experience suffering, it is not without purpose. God uses trials to strengthen our faith, help us identify with and help others, and give us a yearning for the next life. I’m not saying it’s always fun or easy, but neither was the cross. Today we remember the extraordinary sacrifice of Jesus…not because we’re so great, but because our sin was so great…and his love is so great.

Honestly, I’m almost embarrassed to talk about giving God a tithe—10% of your income. It’s silly to think one hour out of 168 each week is a sacrifice. I scoff at the notion spending a little time overseas is super spiritual or noble.

Jesus died for us, family! That’s a really big deal! Who else has shown you that much love? Can we not reciprocate?

Following Jesus requires a sacrifice, including your life—dead or alive.

Jesus doesn’t want fans or part-time followers. He wants fully-devoted disciples, men and women and children who are willing to live and even die for the one who died for them. After describing God’s incredible love and sacrifice for us, the writer of Romans wrote:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. (Romans 12:1)

How much do you love Jesus? This is what it means to love and follow Jesus. Become a living sacrifice—and maybe a martyr. Give it all! Die to yourself and surrender to God. I’m not just talking to spiritual seekers here, I’m talking to all of us. How committed are we to God? Really? John the Baptist was all in…and so was Jesus.

Persecution may come to Christians in this nation. We could use a wake-up call, actually, not that I want persecution, but the church in the west is nearly dead, friends. When we feel persecuted by someone saying, “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas,” we’re living way too comfortably! I know there are threats to certain freedoms we have enjoyed, but we are still a very blessed people. And let’s not forget what Paul wrote:

If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. (1 Corinthians 12:26)

We need to remember our brothers and sisters in prayer. I know Sri Lanka and China and the Middle East seem so far away, but they are family. Finally,

No sacrifice for Jesus will ever be too great…or regrettable.

Jim Elliot, before he was martyred in Ecuador, said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

This life is so short. I know it seems like…a lifetime. But imagine a timeline of eternity. How much of that timeline would represent the century or so we’re on this planet? You couldn’t even see it! As one song says, “It will be worth it all/when we see Jesus.” In two chapters, Jesus says,

For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? (Mark 8:35-36)

Jesus gave everything for us. God for humans. Can we not return the favor?

You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

Smyrna: Persecution, 10 July 2016

Smyrna: Persecution
7 Letters: Revelation 2-3
Revelation 2:8-11

Series Overview:
Revelation is the Gospel according to Jesus. In chapters two and three, he speaks to seven churches, offering both correction and encouragement. Each is relevant to our church today.

Big Idea: The church at Smyrna was commended for enduring persecution.

Smyrna
is the third-largest city in modern-day Turkey, now called Izmir. It presently has about 2.5 million people. Heather and I were blessed to have been able to visit it earlier this year. It’s about 35 miles north of Ephesus. Smyrna/Izmir is a cultural center which claimed the poet Homer as a native son. The name, Smyrna, means “myrrh,” an ordinary perfume also used as anointing oil in the tabernacle and for embalming dead bodies (a prophetic gift given to Jesus). Unlike Ephesus, there are Christians in Izmir today, though perhaps only two churches in Izmir have more than one hundred people. Turkey may be the most unchurched nation on the earth.

Revelation was written at the end of the first century around AD 95. At this time the movement of Jesus was still relatively new and spreading across the Roman empire. Emperor worship was required for all Roman citizens. Disobedience was punishable by death. Needless to say, it was not an easy time or place to be a follower of Jesus.


Revelation 2


“To the angel of the church in Smyrna write:

These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again.
(Revelation 2:8)

Revelation is about Jesus. He is eternal. He was, is, and always will be. He endured horrific suffering, died a brutal death, and was resurrected from the grave. Jesus is the First and the Last. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.

This church was told to worship the emperor or die. As they faced death, they heard from the One who both experienced and conquered death. Earlier Jesus had said

Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matthew 10:28)

This life is short and temporary. I know…it’s easy for me to say today in an air-conditioned building in a nation who celebrated freedom this past week. It’s quite another to be a refugee fleeing ISIS. Nevertheless, Jesus knows suffering…and He knows the suffering in Smyrna.

I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich! I know about the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. (Revelation 2:9)

N.T. Wright notes:

“…the Jewish synagogue in Smyrna has become a ‘satan-synagogue’ – not just in a vague, general, abusive sense, but in the rather sharply defined sense that, as ‘the satan’ is, literally, ‘the accuser’, the synagogue in town has been ‘accusing’ the Christians of all kinds of wickedness. In particular, in a city where Roman imperial presence and influence was everything, the Jews would have been exempt from taking part in the festivities of the imperial cult . . . and they may well have been accusing, to the authorities, the Christians who were claiming that exemption as well. Perhaps it was accusations like that, with social and political consequences, that had given Smyrna’s Christians a taste of poverty in an otherwise rich city (verse 9). All this is at the heart of the message to Smyrna.”

Jesus was aware of their suffering. They were very poor, likely because of their faith. Jesus is aware of our lives, too. He sees every sacrifice we make to honor Him. He knows when you take the high road, resist temptation, and speak the truth in love. Following Jesus was not and is not politically correct.

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. (Revelation 2:10)

If you could know the future, would you want to? Jesus is predicting persecution for ten days. Many scholars believe this is not 240 hours but rather figurative since a ‘day’ in literature like this sometimes means a year or more (which may explain why it has taken Jesus more than 2000 years to return “soon!”).

I love how Jesus blames the devil for the persecution.

Our enemy is not Trump or Clinton or Obama.
Our enemy is not blacks or whites or police.
Our enemy is not Muslims or Hindus or atheists.
Our enemy is not Buckeyes or Wolverines or Spartans.
Our enemy is the devil, satan, whose playbook is simple: steal, kill and destroy.

Satan used Roman soldiers. He used Hitler and the KKK. He is using secular humanism, ISIS, and violent religion. But people are not the enemy.

Smyrna was considered a city with a crown due to its architecture and location. Jesus never criticizes the Smyrna church, instead urging them to remain faithful when the persecution comes.

They did. Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna was burned alive in AD 155 or 156 after refusing to sacrifice to Caesar. A student of the apostle John, Polycarp refused to renounce Christ, saying, “For 86 years I have served Christ, and He has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my king and my Savior?”

Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death. (Revelation 2:11)

There are two types of death. The first is the death of the body. We will all experience this within a hundred years or so. Jesus has “been there and done that” already. The second death, though, is more significant. It will do for the entire personality what the first one did for the physical body. John will address this in chapter twenty.

His point, though, is fear not. What’s the worst that can happen? You die and spend eternity with God! For the Christian, this life is as close to hell as we will ever get. For the non-Christian, this is the closest they will get to heaven! To be victorious may mean to die a martyr, eliminating any fear from the second death. To be victorious is certainly to know and follow Jesus.

So What?

The persecution of Christians is growing in the United States. It should come as no surprise to us. While I don’t particularly long for suffering, Jesus never promised us rainbows and lollipops in this life. Instead, he told His first followers

In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33b)

There MAY be a message in this text for us, to prepare for persecution and to be faithful no matter the cost.

There is definitely a message in this text for many of our brothers and sisters who daily face poverty, persecution, and even martyrdom. Paul wrote to the church in Corinth:

If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.


Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. (1 Corinthians 12:26-27)

21 Martyrs video

What Can We Do?

The burden is overwhelming. This past week Russia essentially made it illegal to talk about Jesus anywhere but inside a church. Our brothers and sisters—including those in the Alliance—could face persecution for simply sharing their faith online or even in their own home!

Great Commission Day is a reminder not only of God’s activity in our world to seek and save the lost but also satan’s activity to steal, kill and destroy. We can give to the Great Commission Fund and support our spiritual siblings who are on the frontlines in other lands.

We can pray.

Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. (Hebrews 13:3)

https://www.persecution.com

Fear Not

This is not a happy topic, but it is not without hope. The battle is real but Jesus will ultimately win the war. But we must remain faithful.

My friend Lewis Winkler wrote,”
The worst thing that can happen for Christians is to forsake their Lord and compromise their calling just to retain some tattered vestige of public praise and cultural power. Christianity’s power does not come from the accolades of societal approval and respect from those who don’t love God. It’s a power that at its weakest is stronger than the strength of men, and it comes only from being faithful to Jesus Christ, no matter what the cost. To know the supernatural power of His resurrection, we must be willing to suffer humiliation and shame. We must be willing to die with Christ. There is no other way.

Each morning Pastor Craig Groeschel declares a number of affirmations. One of them says, “
Pain is my friend. I rejoice in suffering because Christ suffered for me.”

That’s an attitude we can all embrace. We need not fear suffering or pain or persecution. We need not fear death. We serve a Savior, Sanctifier, Healer, and Coming King who has conquered sin and death. And He is with us! Therefore, whom shall we fear?!!!

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Hated, John 15:18-16:4, 23 June 2013

    Big Idea: The world will hate true followers of Jesus, but He is with us.

    Introduction

    As we continue our series on the Gospel of John, Jesus continues His farewell address to His eleven disciples prior to the crucifixion. Today’s text is especially sobering, especially in our USAmerican culture that values safety, comfort, pleasure, and popularity. I honestly wish passages such as this were not included, yet they are God’s Word and a vital reminder to us about the realities of following Jesus.

    Jesus said

    “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. (18-19)

    Do you like to be liked? We all love to be surrounded by friends, family and fans that love us.

    Do you like to be criticized or even hated? It’s a silly question.

    A child of God cannot be popular with the world.

    I’ve heard of some Christians that act like jerks to people and blame Jesus, saying that they are martyrs for their faith. Jesus is not saying we’ll be hated because
    we offend people. He said we are not of this world and, therefore, as children of God, we serve Him and not the world.

    There are two extremes that are dangerous. The first is syncretism. This is when we look and act just like everyone else. If we do not reflect the light of Christ in the darkness, we are just as dark as our surroundings.

    The other extreme is separatism. This is when we avoid the world, separating ourselves, ignoring the darkness and keeping the light to ourselves.

    We are called to participate in the
    missio dei, the mission of God. We are called to be light in the darkness. The darkness hates light, but some will be drawn to it.

    Virtually everything Jesus said and did was revolutionary and radical. He said the first will be last. He said to save your life you must lose it. He said to serve rather than be served.

    Expect to be hated in the process.

    Expectations

    I believe one of the most important things in life is expectations. It is one of the secrets to peace and contentment. Let me explain.

    When I do pre-marital counseling with couples, I confront two very different, broken human beings, each with a lifetime of experiences and baggage. That may not sound pleasant, but that’s reality. Often, people enter a marriage expecting the other to meet their needs and, as one actress famously said, “complete.” Needless to say, the expectations are frequently unrealistic.

    On the other hand, I remember one couple that asked me to marry them. I knew them both and the extensive challenges each had, yet when we discussed their expectations, I was overjoyed to learn they were modest and honest. Because they entered marriage knowing they would face many difficulties, it’s not surprise to me that many years later they are among the most happily married couples I know.

    Jesus did not want to paint a fantasy picture for His followers, past and present. Throughout His ministry, He “raised the bar,” challenged people, told them to count the cost, and even watched many turn away, unwilling to make the necessary sacrifices to be His disciple.

    When Jesus said Christians would be hated, He meant it. He didn’t say following Him would make us happy. He didn’t promise “best life now.” He never promised us a rose garden, a castle, or a Mercedes. Contrary to the message of a whole movement of so-called Christianity, it’s not about us. Jesus said it’s about His glory. He would die, and we would, too.

    In this passage, Jesus contrasts following the world versus following Him. Like a man with one foot on a pier and the other on a boat about to drift away, we must make a choice. We can’t have it both ways.

    Are you a follower of the world or a follower of Jesus?

    We all know the right answer on Sunday morning, but tomorrow is the test. Will you go into debt like everyone else or save and give generously? Will you join the water cooler gossip or be a champion for the underdog and outcast? Will you tell that so-called “little white lie” or tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth? Will you fill your mind with the Word of God and devote yourselves to prayer or allow yourself to be entertained by the TV and Facebook?

    Are you a follower of the world or a follower of Jesus?

    Every day we answer this question with our checkbook and calendar.

    Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin. Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin. (20-22)

    He who hates me hates my Father as well. If I had not done among them what no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. But now they have seen these miracles, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason.’ (23-25)

    Jesus is the light. The darkness hates the light.

    At this moment, 50,000-70,000 of our brothers and sisters are facing hard labor and tortured in North Korea…for their faith. (
    http://www.eauk.org/current-affairs/politics/christians-imprisoned-and-tortured-in-north-korea.cfm)

    That is just one of more than 50 nations where Christians are actively persecuted for their faith.

    We must not be surprised when Jesus warned us more than 2000 years ago that this was inevitable, yet there are ways we can help, too. Visit persecution.com for details.

    “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me. And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.
    (26-27)

    The Holy Spirit is predicted yet again.

    When we are filled with the Holy Spirit by confessing our sins and inviting Him into our lives, the presence of God Almighty lives in us. We are never alone. He is with us.

    “All this I have told you so that you will not go astray. They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God. They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me. I have told you this, so that when the time comes you will remember that I warned you. I did not tell you this at first because I was with you.
    (16:1-14)

    Conclusion

    This text seems distant to us, yet at this moment many of our spiritual siblings are reading this very text from prison, perhaps from a smuggled Bible. There are a few things we can do in response:

    1. Thank God for the freedoms we enjoy. They can be removed.
    2. Pray for the persecuted. Persecuted.com is a great place for resources. See below for other ways to get involved.
    3. Reflect upon your own life. If it became illegal to follow Jesus in this country, would there be enough evidence to convict you?

    Are you a follower of the world or a follower of Jesus?

    Next Steps

    http://www.prisoneralert.com/  This website is where people can choose a country/person, etc. of their choice and the website will populate a letter with up to 12 pre-selected phrases and translate them into the prisoner’s native tongue. Once complete, you print the letters and addresses. Some cases it is sent direct to the prisoner, and in others it is sent to the embassy or elected officials. . . you can track the number of letters receive updates on who has been released.
     
    http://www.biblesunbound.com This website allows you to select a country or region of the world and send Bibles to those who have requested them. If it’s an open country, you will be sent a list of people who will receive your Bibles, so that you can pray for them as they receive and read them. And, near and dear to my heart, are the covert operations. You don’t get a list of names, but you assist in getting New Testaments into the hands of those behind closed or hostile areas (like Burma). These Bibles are delivered by courageous people who take these Bibles in at great risk. There is a map with little crosses to show you where your Bibles have been sent.
     
    At 
    http://www.persecution.com, under Give, is the opportunity to send funds specifically to the families of those who have been imprisoned for their faith and are no longer able to support their families. They also have a PSP program – which is similar to Compassion in sponsorship. In this instance, it’s a Christian worker in a persecuted country, that receives support to fund outreach and service to fellow Christians and non-believers.  http://www.persecution.com/psp this page has detailed information on what criteria is used to determine eligibility to receive support through this program.

    You can listen to the Scio podcast here. You can also subscribe to our podcast here.
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