Faithlife Sermons

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“When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne.
They cried out with a loud voice, ‘O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?’
Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.”
Almost twenty years ago, Washington Post reporter Michael Weisskopf dismissed evangelical Christians as “largely poor, uneducated, and easy to command.”
[2] In many respects, antipathy to the Faith has hardened since that time.
What was at that time a push back against anything that appeared to express the Faith of Christ the Lord has grown into a frontal assault on all that is righteous and holy.
It is indisputable that the modern world is awash with prejudice and discrimination against the Faith once delivered to the saints.
However, I hesitate to say that we are experiencing persecution—yet.
How bad are things?
And how should we who are Christians respond?
Undoubtedly, there is more opposition to the Faith today than there was twenty years ago.
Undoubtedly, supposedly knowledgeable people feel free to ridicule the faithful and to dismiss the Faith.
Without question, people feel free to mount judicial attacks against any expression of the Faith.
However, we need to keep things in perspective.
We will do well to take to heart the admonition of the writer of the Letter to Hebrew Christians, “In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood” [HEBREWS 12:4].
When I consider the cost of being a Christian in modern Iran, or in Syria, or in Cambodia or in any of a number of countries where speaking of faith in Christ the Lord will bring imprisonment, or even ensure the death of the one speaking of the Master, I am ashamed that professing Christians here would even dare speak of persecution.
When families with one member who profess Christ in North Korea will be placed in prison camps for three generations, we should never speak of our pressure as persecution.
Believers in China, Sudan, Burma and Nigeria can speak with first-hand knowledge of persecution because of the Faith—we can’t.
We have been spared the suffering our brothers and sisters are experiencing around the world today.
Peter, writing to people who knew something of persecution, urged believers, “Be sober-minded; be watchful.
Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.”
Then, he appended this notation, “After you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” [1 PETER 5:8-10].
Note how Peter transitions to an appropriate response to real persecution; he instructs those who are persecuted to fix their eyes on the Master who permits us to experience such trials.
We look to Him in full confidence that in His time He will personally “restore, confirm, strengthen and establish” us.
Any suffering we now experience will be for but a short while.
I’ve studied history for many years now.
One observation that appears to hold sway universally is that cultures in decline go through a period when they jettison the “old faith” that made them what they were.
Our western world became powerful because of the Christian Faith; it was principles that grew out of the Christian Faith that underpinned our system of laws, the advance of modern science and even the manner in which western society conducts itself.
However, this old faith must be discarded for that which is new.
The tragedy is that contemporary people now embrace any weird, wild and wonderful belief—except the Jewish and Christian Faiths that that been central to the rise and dominance of the west.
This has become for modern man an ABC moment—anything but Christianity.
What we as Christians must not do is respond as victims to the opposition we are now experiencing and which we will continue to experience in increasing measure until the Master returns.
We are not victims; we are victors.
We are not a small, persecuted minority; we are part of a great number of followers of the Christ, even in these dark hours.
We are appointed to stand firm in the darkest hour, knowing that He who conquered death is still on Heaven’s Throne.
Jesus Himself has charged all who would follow Him, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” [LUKE 9:23].
Again, the one who would follow the Master is challenged, “Whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me” [MATTHEW 10:38].
We need to hear again the earlier commission the Master issued to His disciples.
“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.
Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles.
When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour.
For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake.
But the one who endures to the end will be saved.
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.
“A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.
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 those of his household.
“So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.
What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.
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.
Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?
And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.
But even the hairs of your head are all numbered.
Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.
So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.”
And when we have heeded this command, we must realise the truth of the words that follow, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth.
I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.
For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.
And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household” [MATTHEW 10:16-36].
Modern Christians need to recall the words written to spiritual forebears who did suffer.
“The bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp.
So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood.
Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured.
For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” [HEBREWS 13:11-14].
Let’s determine that we will take up our crosses, go outside the camp and follow our Master.
No more whining, no more complaining; rather, let us joyfully and in full confidence follow Him.
THINGS WILL GROW WORSE — You’ve heard the story of the man who tried to encourage a friend when she was experiencing great problems.
“Cheer up,” he said, “things could be worse.”
So the woman who was experiencing great problems did cheer up.
Sure enough, things got worse.
I confess that I am an optimistic pessimist; I am optimistic about what God is doing, and I am pessimistic about mankind.
The greater man’s hostility to Christ and the greater his opposition to all that is holy, the greater the chaos growing out of his effort to make things better.
What is the source of prejudice against the Christian Faith?
What reasons are given to justify the present rage against Christianity?
I believe there are three sources of prejudice.
[3] There is a reaction to the evils and excesses of Christendom.
It is of no consequence to the modern mind that the Christian Faith has inspired the greatest reforms in history.
Infanticide and the gladiatorial games were banned because of growth of the Christian Faith in the ancient Roman Empire.
The abolition of slavery in the British Empire and ultimately in the United States resulted from the spread of the Faith.
In more recent centuries, the movement for women’s rights and the advance of civil rights was born out of the Christian Faith.
However, if you mention the lasting influence of the Faith, the dark spectre of the Inquisition, the Crusades and the various wars of religion will be given as reasons to ridicule the Faith.
Another source of prejudice against the Faith from within our contemporary world is repudiation of the Enlightenment.
The greatest thinkers of the West have been men and women passionately in love with Jesus the Son of God—Augustine, Aquinas, Pascal, Newton, Edwards, Watts, Copernicus, Bruno, Descartes and Robert Boyle.
And in the past two centuries, great minds submit to Christ—scientists such Heisenberg, Polanyi, Richard Smalley and Giberson; social reformers such as Martin Luther King and Charles Colson; and political leaders and thinkers such as David Lloyd George, Stephen Carter and Dinesh D’Souza.
Post-Enlightenment thinking, however, dismisses the Faith as irrational, anti-intellectual and reactionary.
For a Christian to openly stand for the Faith in contemporary life is to be dismissed as incapable of thinking, regardless of how great the contributions that believer may have made to society.
A third and final source of prejudice against the Faith arises from the erosion of faith in the modern world.
Though the Christian Faith is the primary force behind the rise of modern culture, the Faith is dismissed as “harmlessly innocuous and dangerously extremist.”
While that description sounds contradictory, it grows out of the view that the Faith is harmless when it is privatised.
Of course, most of contemporary social thought pushes to keep the Faith private, despite being silent about Islam being open and vocal.
At the same time, modern thought sees the Faith as dangerous when it is politicised; and such thinking envisions believers who live out their faith as useful idiots held captive to an ideology.
Consequently, much of modern Christendom promotes this strange doctrine of private Faith organised as a political entity.
At one and the same time, modern thought wants to dismiss the Faith as irrelevant.
Unfortunately for that point of view, the assault against the Faith puts the lie to that concept.
If the Faith of Christ the Lord is irrelevant, than why be so concerned as to assail it?
The very fact that the Faith disturbs this dying world is evidence of the power of this holy Faith.
Therefore, we who are followers of Christ Jesus the Lord must be evangelical and unashamed!
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