Persecution and the Christian – Part 2

Persecution and the Christian – Part 2
Matthew 5:10-12 • Gabe Morris • June 19, 2016 • Guest Speaker

Transcript

SUGAR LAND BIBLE CHURCH

Gabe Morris

Persecution and the Christian, Part 2

Matthew 5:10-12

6-19-16

Good morning. Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there; I hope you all are having a blessed day so far.  The biblical role for the ministry of the father is such a tremendous call of God and a very under emphasized topic in our culture.  You know the first command of God to the first parents were “Be fruitful and multiply,” that’s a command I take literally.  [Laughter]  Some of you in internet land will get that later but…   And throughout the Bible we discover that fatherhood is very dear to God’s heart.  He’s, in fact, the ultimate Father, isn’t He!

Can we pray:  Heavenly Father, we are in awe of  your great love, your love is so great you sent your prized possession, your only Son to us and for us.  We celebrate You, Father God, on this Father’s Day along with all the fathers here and we thank  You for being our example.  We ask that as we approach your Holy Word we do so in humility and in reverence.  Open our hearts and minds to Your Word that we may be changed to better serve you.  Use me, Father, as You see fit.  In Jesus’ name we pray… and God’s people said Amen.

Could we please turn to Matthew 5:10-12.  Three Sunday’s ago I shared a topical study with you on the Christian and Persecution.  We brought it close to home and asked the question, are we ready as the American church, are we ready for persecution.  Some beloved scholars believe that [can’t understand word] wrote about Persecution coming to America, despite her uniqueness as a country legal persecution, religious persecution, ostracization, or discrimination, social and economic persecution, public expressions of Christianity stifled, some of which we are seeing today.  We also looked at four characteristics of persecution.  Some of you caught me but I looked back on my notes and it was actually four characteristics, not five, forgive me for that mistake.

But at any rate, by way of review those four characteristics of persecution found in the Bible were: number 1, persecution as a characteristic of this world.  The unbelieving world is naturally opposed to God and His truth.  Another characteristic is Satan is the arch persecutor of God’s people and he has been since Genesis 3 where His seed and the seed of the woman would be perpetually at odds or at enmity.  A third characteristic was agencies of persecution, and the four agencies we looked at were the world, earthly governments, religious authorities and other religions, and finally family and friends.  And then the fourth characteristic of persecution is that believers or disciples should expect persecution.  Jesus, in fact, forewarned His disciples that persecution was part of the package, was part of the deal. He said if you are going to follow Me, Christ said, you must consider the reality of persecution coming upon you to the point where you may give up your physical life.  We see that in Matthew 16:24.  [Matthew 16:24, “Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.’”]

Paul, and other New Testament writers as well, they too warned their audience of persecution; that persecution may become a reality.  Paul told his son in the faith, Timothy, in 2 Timothy 3:12, he said, “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”  And so this morning I would like to continue in that vein; last time I mentioned that the primary goal of this message was to equip us as the body of Christ for the likelihood of persecution.  And so this morning I would like to share four Christian attitudes and five responses towards persecution.

So to begin, what four attitudes must a disciple of Christ adopt in light of persecution.  And since Paul’s method was to think rightly, then act rightly, I wanted to kind of imitate that approach today:  our attitude towards persecution and then our reaction to persecution, how we think about it and then how we act about it.

We learned last time that Jesus forewarned His disciples that persecution would be a reality once they decided to follow Him.  Matthew 16:24-25 says this:  “Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. [25] For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”  Jesus here is warning again His disciples; this, in fact, is a section of what true discipleship looks like.  We also know that before those words Jesus disclosed and predicted He would suffer many things from His adversaries and be killed by His adversaries.  He was clearly introducing to the disciples the idea that the life of a disciple will be comprised of these things, namely persecution and sufferings, and possibly death.  Beyond that, we discover His disciples, in fact, adopted this type of mindset because they taught it.

Peter, in the book that bears his name, chapter 4:12 says this, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you.”  And so this brings us to our first of four attitudes towards persecution and that is we should accept and embrace it, accept and embrace persecution.  Paul was explicitly saying that persecution should not be surprise as some strange thing.

We must, as the body of Christ, as the American church, wrap our minds around this idea, embrace this reality that there may be the possibility of suffering for Christ in this lifetime.  We must embrace this idea.  I would go so far as to say we should more and more entertain the idea of the thought of suffering, considering the times that we find ourselves in.  I notice to some this may sound crazy but I think we should do that so when it does come, like Peter said, we would not be surprised by it.  I tried this, I try to entertain the thought of persecution and I must say it wasn’t easy as I prepared these lessons.  I read the Scriptures, I read testimony after testimony, even watched videos of testimonies and stories of persecuted Christians, both men and women, from China, from North Korea, the Middle East, India, Africa.  And then I tried to put my American feet in their shoes.  It was troubling.  With my American mindset and my creature comforts, sitting in my office chair, as they say in the safeties of my theological ivory tower, I had a hard time putting myself and my family in a situation like that.  So many emotions, so much discomfort, so much pride, so much questions.  What if this, or what if that?  Why Lord, why would You allow something so bad to happen to Your church, Your people?

But do you remember Christ in the Upper Room, He said to His disciples in John 15:20, He said: “Remember the word that I said to you,” He wasn’t asking them, this was a command,  remember this “word that I said you, Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also. “Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also.”  Jesus was in essence saying you must embrace the reality of persecution, beloved.

Paul embraced it; in fact he encouraged Timothy to embrace it as well.  Remember in 2 Timothy 1:8 Paul said, “Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God.”  Have you ever wondered if Timothy did join in with Paul’s suffering.

At the conclusion of the book of Hebrews Timothy is mentioned and is described as being released.  Timothy was released, it could have been from prison, the Bible is not clear on that issue, but it’s a safe guess that he was in prison, simply because Paul invited him to join in him in his suffering.

Also, church tradition reveals that Saint Timothy, around the year 97, he was about 80 years old, a bishop from Ephesus, attempted to halt a procession that was honoring the goddess of Diana and you know how he halted that procession?  By preaching the gospel.  Did not Paul charge Timothy, I charge you to preach the Word, in and out of season.  [2 Timothy 4:2, “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.”]  Tradition also says that those angry pagans that he halted in enraged retaliation beat him and drug him through the streets and stoned him to death.  He joined Paul in his suffering, he did!

Please turn to Matthew 5:10, it’s only natural in our human minds, from our earthly perspective to perceive persecution as bad, horrific or evil.  But as I read in Matthew 5:10, 12, I read again and again, I soon realized that in my American mind I was looking at persecution from the wrong perspective.  What I should have done, I should have been looking at persecution from God’s perspective.  In Matthew 5:10 we see that Jesus is speaking.  This is what Christ said, Matthew 5:10, “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  Verse 11, “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.”  Blessed, that’s what He thought about; that’s what God thinks about persecution, or the one being persecuted.

This brings us to our second attitude towards persecution, we are not only to embrace it and accept it, we are to see persecution as a blessing.  Matthew 5:10, of course, is Christ’s well-known sermon, the Sermon on the Mount.  As Ed Jones said, it’s called The Beatitudes, the blessed, and despite that this sermon should be understood in the context of Christ’s offer of the Kingdom to Israel, this sermon can still apply to us today because it demonstrates the standard of righteous living for God’s people, dependence on God.  Verse 3, “The one who mourns and seeks after God’s comfort,” verse 4, “being gentle,”  verse 5, “merciful,” verse 7, “pure in heart,” verse 8, “a peace maker.” These are all righteous works that the child of God should imitate.  But then he goes on to describe persecuted people.  What’s the deal with that?  Why bring up the persecuted?  I think because Christ clearly taught that it was part of the package deal; it’s a package deal.  He was preparing His disciples, He was speaking to His disciples, He was preparing them for the coming reality of persecution.

Notice in verse 10 and 11 the words “blessed.”  “Blessed,” it comes from the Greek word makarios, which means happy.  This word spans literally all throughout the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation.  This is a very interesting and important concept.  In the Bible God is in the blessing business and unlike Chick Fil A He’s open on Sunday.  In the Old Testament it affirms that God is the source of blessing, of all blessing, of all favor and well-being that’s bestowed on a man that’s called a blessing or in Hebrew it’s called berakah, God is the source of all blessing.  In fact, many Old Testament statements, like blessing to this life is to a personal relationship with God.  And in the New Testament statements of blessing, however, it links blessing, not only to this life but also to the next. 

 It’s so interesting to learn what God has blessed as we look through the Bible.  In Genesis the Scripture says “God blessed them,” Adam and Eve, “and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it….”  He was talking to the first parents.  God blessed them with children; children are a blessing, did you know that?  God blessed the 7th day, Genesis 2;3.  [Genesis 2:3, “Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.”]

God blessed Abraham, He said, “I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens” speaking of his descendants.  Not only that, God said “in your seed all nations of the earth will be blessed.”  [Genesis 22:18]

He also blessed Sarah with a child.  God blessed the patriarchs. He blessed His people.  He blessed the armies of Israel.  He blessed David and many of the obedient kings of Israel, He blessed them.

He blessed the latter days of Job after he was persecuted by Satan.  Scripture says the LORD God Almighty is blessed forever.  Our Lord and Savior, Christ Jesus, is blessed.  “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the” what? “Lord.”  [They took the branches of the palm trees and went out to meet Him, and began to shout, ‘Hosanna! BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD, even the King of Israel.’”  John 12:13]

Mary was blessed among women.  [And she cried out with a loud voice and said, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!’”  Luke 1:42]

This is huge, “Blessed is the one who God credits righteousness apart from works,” Romans 4:6.  Paul is saying the one who is saved by faith is truly blessed.

Did you know that communion is described as “the cup of blessing” in 1 Corinthians 10:16, it says, “Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ?”  It’s a cup of blessing.

The church, His body is blessed, they’re blessed “with every spiritual blessing,” Ephesians 1:3 says.  “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.”

James 1:12 says, “Blessed is a man who perseveres under trials” [“for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.”]  It’s fascinating to see what God has blessed.

Again, Matthew 5:10, “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness… [11]   Blessed are you when people insult you, and  persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.”

In the eyes of God those who endure persecution are blessed… blessed!  And if God sees persecution as a blessing I too must adjust and renew my thinking to conform to His ways.  Blessings in the Bible reveal God’s divine favor and wellbeing on the beneficiary.  The disciples knew this.  In 1 Peter 2:20 Peter said, “…But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God.”  In the next chapter, chapter 3, verse 14a, says, “But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed.”

Acts 5:40 as well says, “They took his advice” this was Gamaliel, the high priest’s advice for letting them go, the apostles were seized, “and after calling the apostles in, they flogged them and ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and then released them.  [41] So they”, the apostles, “went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name.”  And let’s not miss that last part of the verse, they were “rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer …for His name.”

If you ever find yourself in a circumstance of persecution, rejoice my friend, because He saw fit to test you and is, in fact, selecting you for a glorious reward.  The rest is up to you, if you want to endure it, if you want to pass the test in order to receive that reward it’s up to you.

Let’s not forget Matthew 5:11-12, “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.”  And then verse 12 says, “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great….”  In light of persecution we ought to embrace it; we ought to see it as a blessing.

And the third attitude, we should not fear it.  We should not fear it!  Since Christ forewarned us about persecution and Paul encouraged us to embrace it, since God sees it as a blessing, would it not be logical and in our best interest not to fear it?  The Lord allowed me to do a sermon on fear and anxiety and worry a while back and we learned that God Himself in Scripture explicitly commands us not to fear and not to worry, nor be anxious.  Anything short of that is sin.

He also commands us not to fear persecution, or those who persecute you.  In regard to those who persecute you Jesus, in Matthew 10:28, He says, “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”  In regard to persecution itself the righteous Judge in Revelation 2:10 says, “’Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days.”  It goes on to say, “Be faithful until” you’re uncomfortable… oh, wrong version, that’s the prosperity gospel version, “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.”

What’s interesting is that even though he places His beloved people, the church, in circumstances such as persecution, in that God considers us still… valuable… VALUBALE!  If we look back on Matthew 10:28 he says, “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.  [29] Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.  [30] But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  [31] So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.”

There’s a beautiful verse in the book of Hebrews, the author references the book of Psalms, it’s in Hebrews 13:6b, the latter part of the verse, it says, “THE LORD IS MY HELPER, I WILL NOT BE AFRAID. WHAT WILL MAN DO TO ME?”  We should not fear persecution.

This brings us to our fourth attitude towards persecution; we shouldn’t be ashamed of it.  Don’t be ashamed of it.  We should NEVER be ashamed of persecution.  Peter again, in 1 Peter 4:16 says, “but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name.”

As well in 2 Thessalonians 1:4, Paul said about the church in Thessalonica, “Therefore, we ourselves speak proudly of you among the churches of God, for your perseverance in faith in the midst of all your persecutions and afflictions which you endure.” He spoke proudly of those who were persecuted, he was not ashamed of them.   Proud of persecution?  Paul says not only you are to be proud of persecutions but jumping overjoyed with it.

2 Corinthians 7:4, Paul says, “Great is my confidence in you; great is my boasting on your behalf. I am filled with comfort; I am overflowing with joy in all our affliction.”  What?

Now these attitudes will not come automatically as a Christian.  Remember the famous request? Lord, I need patience and give it to me now.  It doesn’t work that way.  Adopting and embracing these biblical attitudes regarding persecution will involve learning about it and cultivating them, perhaps through an accumulation of experiences all throughout life; reliance on God, obedience to God.  I don’t believe in such a thing as coincidence in a Christian’s life.

Speaking of life experiences, my family and I went through a minor but very uncomfortable experience this past Thursday.  We were at the grocery store in our van and our van broke down and we were stranded.  The van wouldn’t start, it was getting hot and humid, our newborn [can’t understand word] screaming her head off, [can’t understand word] was trying to comfort her of course, Jonah, our three year old son, of course, is tired and restless and irritating his sister.  I thought the car broke down because we were low on gas and thank God we were close to a gas station, I went back and forth three times and filled the gas tank with this little gallon gas can; back and forth, nothing!

Then I went into panic mode, I started getting defensive, moody, short-tempered; I’m irritated and I find myself praying, Lord, can You just start our van?  You know, we just want to go home, that’s it, that’s what I want.  Everyone was coming out of the grocery store, I was so embarrassed, it was a very uncomfortable experience.  We were there for close to an hour trying to start our van.  We had all the doors opened, the back gate of the van was open it was so hot, it looked like we were having a tailgate party or something, all the kids were running around, very comical but….  It was so hot we just decided that let’s just walk home, let’s call the tow truck, get it towed to the auto shop and we walked home.

And as we walked home I was thinking, man, I need to get home, I’ve got to work on my sermon on persecution.  [Laughter]  And it dawned on me, I’m like if I’m acting and I’m thinking like this in a very minor, uncomfortable situation, how would I act in a major event like persecution?  And I thought to myself, I am not ready… I am not ready for persecution!  I didn’t expect my van to break down, it caught me off guard.  I was surprised.  And in light of persecution I think we should be talking about it more, thinking about these things, praying about our fellow Americans being persecuted.  Just like Peter says, when it comes we won’t be surprised if it does happen.  We should embrace the idea of persecution.  We should see it as a blessing.  We should not fear it nor be ashamed of it.

Now that we looked at the four attitudes towards persecution let’s look at five responses to persecution.  Our first response should be to rejoice in it.  Let’s look at Matthew 5:10 again, “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  [11] Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.”  Here it is: [12] “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great….”

I would like to take note of the structure of Matthew 5:12.  Jesus is saying rejoice because of persecution, not in spite of it.  There’s a difference.  Persecution should cause us to rejoice; suffering should cause us to rejoice.  The word “rejoice” there is the Greek word chairō which means rejoice, be glad, or exceedingly joyful.   The book of James echoes this idea in James 1:2-4, we all know these verses, “Consider it all joy, my brethren,” he’s talking to believers, “when you encounter various trials, [3] knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” [4, “And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. “]

You also read in Acts 5:41, we read it earlier; listen to how the apostles responded after they were publicly humiliated; they were flogged.  It says, “So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name.”  They were exceedingly joyful.  Can you imagine what that looked like, that they’re persecuted, you say what?  They just endured a flogging.  I looked up “flogging” and it means whipped, scourged or lashed.  These guys walked away with welts and probably bloodied up and bruises, multiple bruises and they walked away rejoicing?  What a testimony!  What a testimony to their persecutors.  What a testimony of God’s grace.

Speaking of testimonies, Paul has this testimony of rejoicing in the midst of persecution.  Remember when Paul and Silas were in prison, in chapter 15 of Acts, verse 22, it says, “The crowd rose up together against them, and the chief magistrates tore their robes off them and proceeded to order them to be beaten with rods.  [23] When they had struck them with many blows, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to guard them securely;” it goes on to say in verse 25, “But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.”   If we find ourselves being persecuted we ought to rejoice.  Paul said in Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!”

This brings us to our second response, we are to endure persecution.  If we find ourselves in persecution we should endure it.  Now when I say “endure” this is not a grin and bear it type of endurance; it’s not a posture of indifference or stoical manner.  The biblical description of endurance is to persevere patiently.  In fact, the Greek term for endure is hupomenō which means to take patiently, to persevere under misfortune and trials and to hold fast to one’s faith in Christ.

Christ said in Matthew 10:22, “You will be hated by all because of My name,” we talked about that last session, you are hated by all in the world, “but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved.”

In other passages of Scripture the Bible teaches to endure persecution actively AND passively.  And what I mean by this is in regard to actively enduring it, for example, Paul invited Timothy to “Suffer hardship with me as a good soldier of Christ.”  [2 Timothy 2:3]  In other words, if you find yourself presently suffering for Christ, do it as a good soldier of Christ; actively endure it.  And with regard to passively enduring it that would mean what are you doing now in light of coming persecution?  What are  you doing right now about it?

Psalm 119:87 says, “They almost destroyed me on earth,” they “almost” did, “But as for me, I did not forsake Your precepts.”  So what we are doing today at this moment can be regarded as passively enduring persecution, we’re learning about it, we’re preparing ourselves, we’re equipping ourselves, we’re learning about it from God’s Word.  We are called to endure persecution.

2 Corinthians 1:6 says, “But if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; or if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which is effective in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer.”  Jesus, in Luke 21:16-19, He says this, “But you will be betrayed even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death, [17] and you will be hated by all because of My name. [18] Yet not a hair of your head will perish.”  Here it is,  [19] “By your endurance you will gain your lives.”  That endurance, that’s hupomenō, endure.

Before we move on to the third response I would be remiss if I kept this verse from you.  Paul said in Philippians 4, he said, [10] “But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned before, but you lacked opportunity. [11] Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.”  Enduring, be content in your endurance.

A third response is to flee from it. Wait, hold on here, a minute ago you said rejoicing, and endure it, now you’re telling us to flee from it?  Hey, don’t persecute the messenger, I didn’t write the Bible.  There’s something that we have to remember.  I didn’t cover this in the first message; there are forms, various forms of… and there are degrees of persecution found in the Bible and in everyday life.  There’s ridicule, there’s all kinds of  harassment, economic harassment, physical harassment, imprisonment, torture, death.  In the Bible there are instances where Jesus and His disciples fled from persecution and they taught it as well.  If you escaped with your life you live another day to preach the gospel…Amen!

Jesus fled persecution, premature persecution.  Remember when Jesus was born, who plotted in his sick mind to kill all the male children in Bethlehem, two years and under?  It was the angel of the Lord that warned Joseph and Mary to go flee to Egypt with the child.  In the book of John, when Jesus revealed His deity to the Jews, he says, “Before Abraham, I am.” Jesus said to them, that is in John 8:58.  [‘Truly, truly, I say to you], before Abraham was born, I am.’”  Some of the Jews did not take that too kindly.  In fact, Scripture said, “Therefore, they picked up stones to throw at Jesus at Him, but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple.  Jesus fled.

In Matthew 10:23 Jesus taught it to His disciples.  “You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved.  [24] But whenever they persecute you in one city, flee to the next; [for truly I say to you, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel until the Son of Man comes.]”  This was this fleeing persecution, this was to be the ministry pattern of Paul the apostle when persecution became so severe where he could no longer be effective in his ministry he left and he went to another city.  We are to respond with rejoicing, with endurance.  If possible we are to flee persecution if it hinders our ministry for Jesus we are to flee.

This brings us to our fourth, be selfless in it; instead of thinking about yourself place an emphasis on your persecutors; pray for your persecutors.  We know this verse, Jesus commanded us to “love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you.”  In Matthew 5:44 Jesus said it differently, “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”  Or He says the same.  Jesus prayed for His persecutors, He said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they’re doing.”  [Luke 23:34.]

Your persecutors don’t know.  Look at Stephen when he was persecuted, stoned to death, he prayed a one sentence prayer, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.  [Acts 7:60, “Then falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them!’ Having said this, he fell asleep.”]

If possible, perform acts of kindness towards them.  What?  There’s something so divinely powerful and transcendent when the children of God behave in a manner that is totally against our world system, our culture.  Paul said…, he actually quoted the book of Proverbs; in Proverbs 25:21-22, he says, “If your enemy is hungry,” feed him, “give him food to eat;  and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; [22] For you will heap burning coals on his head,” and look what it says, “And the LORD will reward you.”  This clause, “For you will heap burning coals on  his head,” this alludes to an ancient custom.  When a person’s fire went out in their house that person would go to their neighbors and get some live coals to rekindle their fire.  And how would they retrieve their coals?  Through a pan, a coal pan, and this involved some danger and discomfort for the person carrying them; these are live red hot coals.  But giving coals to a neighbor was an evidence of their neighbor’s love.

Likewise the person who receives good in return for evil naturally feels uncomfortable, even though he received the good gift.  I would go so far as to say that something spiritual is happening here.  The neighbor’s discomfort or conviction arises over his guilt for having wronged his neighbor in the first place.  So returning good for evil not only secures the blessing of God, that’s verse 22b, “And the LORD will reward  you,” it also convicts the wrongdoer of his  ways, verse 22a, for he “will heap burning coals on your head.”  The reasons this is so important is because Jesus Himself exampled this.

And this brings us to our fifth and final response to persecution, and this is a big one: be rooted in God’s Word and prayer.  In regard to God’s Word there is an interesting statement that Christ made when He explained the parable of the sower, remember that, the sower.  There was one sower, but the seed fell on four types of soil, or ground: beside the road, on the rocky ground, among thorns and among good soil.  And notice what he says about the rocky ground.  I’ll start from the top.  Mark 4:14, “The sower sows the word.  [14’ These are the ones who are beside the road where the word is sown; and when they hear, immediately Satan comes and takes away the word which has been sown in them.  [16] in a similar way these are the ones on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy; [17] and they have no firm root in themselves, but are only temporary;” here it is, “then, when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately they fall away.”

He was clearly teaching being firmly rooted in God’s Word is a divine assistance in persecution.  I don’t know how else to say this but if the Bible is not a priority in your home don’t expect your children to act Christian.  If you have children (who can read of course) living under your roof and they are not reading the Bible on a regular basis there is something wrong with you, mom and dad, period.  This is the most basic and fundamental lesson we can teach our children, so that they would not depart from it when they grow older, Proverbs 22:6.  [Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it.”]  If I could exhort you parents, before you teach them piano, before you teach them baseball or soccer or whatever, whatever you teach them, teach them a love for God’s Word.  Teach them a love for reading the Bible.  Read it with them, read it in front of them.  Read it as a family, do whatever it takes to make reading the Bible second nature to them.  It will be the best thing you do for your children.

And then what they do when they leave home is between them and God.  I’m not saying to forsake them, I’m saying fulfill your role as a Bible believing parent.  Raise them up in the Lord.  Be rooted in God’s Word and in prayer.  One thing about prayer in regard to persecution, James 5:13 says this: “Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray.”  I think it’s safe to say that this statement included persecution if anyone among you are suffering, “is anyone among you suffering?” because he mentions those counted as blessed who endured in verses prior.  Hupomenō, he says, denoting those who were persecuted.  I don’t think James, the book of James or that verse means sickness because in the next verse he says is anyone sick, then he must call for the elders and so forth.

[James 5:14, “Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord;”]

Is anyone among you suffering?  Then he must pray.  This call to prayer under persecution is echoed by Paul as well, “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit.”  Ephesians 6:18, [“With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints.”]

In Acts 16:25 we read earlier, when Paul and Silas were in prison, remember that, they were praying and singing hymns of praise to God.  [Acts 16:25, “But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.”]  Listen to what King David said, in the middle of persecution he said this in Psalm 143:9, “Deliver me, O LORD, from my enemies; I take refuge in You.”  We sang about this.

I hope  you are seeing that persecution is a very large theme that runs throughout the Bible and to avoid it, as some Christian circles do, is to do so at our peril, especially considering the times that we are in.  We are living in unique times; we should be thinking about this more and more as Christ draws nigh, not to consume us but to prepare us.  This is so very important because whenever the Bible talks about persecution many times there is something attached to it, in some places it’s referred to as a reward, in other places it’s referred to as a crown of life.  And if God in His sovereignty is so pleased to place any one of us under some form of persecution, some degree of it, whatever it is, rejoice, jump for joy, because it means three things: one, we are prime candidates for the crown of life.  Two, God is setting us up to entrust us too  yield more authority as we look towards the coming Kingdom, the Bible says you will reign with Him.  And three, He is, through this crown, Andy said it last week, giving us a greater capacity to worship Him for eternity.  You can see for yourself, study the crown of life and see for yourself.  So it would behoove us as the church to prepare and be ready for the possibility of persecution.  Jesus promises this.   Amen.  This is a very hard message to do.

So how do I prepare for persecution?  Our attitudes toward persecution is one of an acceptance an embracement; we should see persecution as a blessing.  We should not fear persecution nor be ashamed of it.  And if we find ourselves in persecution I should rejoice in it, we should rejoice in it, we should endure it patiently.  If possible we should flee from it.  If our witness for the Lord is not affected, that it would halt us and if we can, flee from it.  Be selfless in it, pray for our persecutors, acts of kindness towards our persecutors.  And then finally, be rooted in God’s Word and prayer.

Now those of you who are here for the first time, who are unsure about your salvation I mentioned this at the conclusion of our last session together, I said don’t let the idea of persecution cause you to walk away from Jesus Christ.  Don’t let it cause you to walk away and not believe in Him because the Apostle Paul said this in Philippians 3:8, “I count all things to be lost in the view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus, my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all

things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ.”

Paul counted the cost of persecution.  In fact, he counted all things as rubbish, as a loss, “that I may gain Christ” he said.  That would mean becoming right with God is the most important thing you can do at this very moment.  The benefits of knowing Christ far out exceed, far exceed everything else, including persecution.  And so how do we become right with God?  Form a relationship with His Son, you believe on the gospel message of Jesus Christ.  And the gospel message is what Christ has done for you; Christ lived a perfect life in your place.  Christ died in your place.  He was buried for you and he rose again for you, and presently sits at the right hand of God.

In John 3:16, “whoever believes in Him,” WHOEVER one condition, “whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  Believing in Jesus Christ seals the deal.  Amen.  And if you’ve done that you are now called a child of God; you have entered into the family of God.  You will now live in eternity with God.  Reap the benefits.  And for those who are unsure, I’m available to talk at the end of the service.  Can we pray.

Father, thank  You for Your Word and how it teaches us about persecution and how to prepare for persecution in mind and in deed.  Lord, bless us, cause us to run after You, teach us to love Your Word, teach us to dispense that to our children, that love for Your Word.  Bless this congregation, bless  Your church.  I pray that we have a safe and joyous Father’s Day, we honor you, in Jesus name, and God’s people said, Amen.