Sunday, June 25, 2017

Persecuted for Righteousness Sake

Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, 22 and you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 23 When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.
 24 “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant [4] above his master. 25 It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign [5] those of his household.
26 “So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. 28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. [6] 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? [7] And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. 32 So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, 33 but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 10:21-33 (ESV)
“And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake but the one who endures to the end will be saved.”
Jesus gives his disciples a pep talk. He is sending his twelve out to preach in his name. He was hated by the world. He is hated in this world. He exposes our sin. He destroys our delusions of grandeur. Even in his day, he was hated. He warns the disciples. “It isn’t going to be any easier for you.” “It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher and the servant like his master.”
This is why Christians can find a certain amount of comfort amidst the persecution. If no one hated us, would we really be Christian? Of course, today we live in a culture that is still greatly influenced by Christianity. Much more so than one would think. Sometimes the influence is a little twisted and confused, but it is still there. Things people take for granted today are developments that would not have happened in any other society. Freedom of Religion is one of those things. We take it for granted. We know that no one can be forced to believe the gospel. So we don’t try to force it. We preach it. We shout it from the rooftops as it were. When this was being written the rooftops were often used as pulpits in small villages where perhaps there was no synagogue. Somewhat the same way the pope will often address crowds gathered at the Vatican from a window on the second floor. Jesus taught the disciples in the dark. He preached to the crowds, and then he explained what he had said to them as they walked. He instructed them concerning the gospel as they walked, as they gathered around campfires, as they sat by the roadsides. He instructed them in the way that fathers were commanded to teach their children in Deut. 6. And he regarded them as his children, as he does all his disciples including you. What they had been taught on a personal level they were now to proclaim to the world, but just as their teacher was hated, so they would be hated.
But it can be an odd thing to take comfort in your persecution. A person has to be on guard against a persecution complex, like Jehova Witnesses who think they are doubly blessed by the stranger slamming the door in their face. Peter says it:  “But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. 16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.” (1 Peter 4:15-17 (ESV) I had a professor for missions once, Dr. Douglass Rutt. He once said it to the class like this. “You will be hated for the gospel’s sake. But make sure it is for the gospel that you are hated and not because you are just a jerk.” That’s probably a paraphrase, but it hit home.
We can often just be jerks even when it comes to the gospel. It comes about when we have no patience with others who may not understand the faith the same way we do. Or perhaps in overzealous enthusiasm, we rush out to get into a fight or a debate about some particular article of faith. Perhaps we argue Creationism vs. Evolution with little to know understanding of the church’s own historical teaching concerning the nature of creation, and even less concerning current scientific research. It’s not anything new, Augustine in the fourth century complained about Christians doing that very same thing. Maybe it is that we try to force other people to live in the manner we think we should be living, even though we ourselves fall way short of that goal. Of course, we can’t help that people will judge us based on their past experience with Christians either. But there was a time when Christians were actually persecuted because they believed in the forgiveness of sins. Now, this is something it seems only garners persecution from other so-called Christians. The world hardly knows that Christians believe in such a thing because about all they experience from Christians is judgment. And they know there is something a bit off about this when Jesus is known for having said don’t judge. That you will be judged by the same measuring stick with which you judge others.
But let it be known, the world will still persecute you for believing in the forgiveness of sins. You don’t have to be a jerk to be persecuted for Christ’s sake. It will come. It will come from those who refuse to understand how a sinner like you can go to church on Sunday. They don’t believe you should judge others, but they will call you a snob for having sinned all week long, perhaps absentmindedly snubbing them at work, or losing your temper, maybe you gossiped and slandered them, and you still have the gall to get up on Sunday morning and act as if your toilet smells of roses. When in fact, the reason you come is the complete opposite, or at least it should be, it isn’t because you think you have been perfect, but because you know you have fallen short of the glory of God in life, you haven’t reflected the love of Christ for sinners in your life, at least not as perfectly as you would have liked. And you know there is only one answer to that, to confess your sin to God, and receive the forgiveness of sins from Jesus, that you may grow in faith and love having been nourished by his word, and being strengthened in the faith and the forgiveness of sins, would even be able to forgive those who persecute you for the sake of righteousness, praying with Jesus himself from the cross, “forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.” And then it is because you are the body of Christ, the disciple of Jesus, that they persecute you as they persecuted him. But hold fast for in him alone is their salvation.

Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen. 

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