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The Difficult Road

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Our new brother in Christ, Andrew, went into Brownsville this week to take care of some business. Andrew told me that he was praying with people all day long. He prayed personally with more than 24 people by the end of the day and had the opportunity to lead one man to Christ. That man had the opportunity to lead his brother to Christ the following morning.
I had asked Andrew to exchange a handful of old foreign currency we had laying around. There were bills from Venezuela and Canada and Brazil. These had come back with family on mission trips for many years. Some of it had been in my father's desk drawer since the late 80's.
Andrew agreed to help us out and stopped along the way at the currency exchange office. The lady at the exchange office took one look at the currency and called Border Patrol. It turns out that it's illegal to carry certain foreign currency in the USA.
Instead of being understanding, Border Patrol tackled Andrew and wrestled him to the ground and took him to detention for questioning. In the end it turned out that Border Patrol overstepped their authority and had to release him, but not before Andrew had the opportunity to share his faith with the officers who arrested him and their sergeant.
By the end of the day Andrew and I had the opportunity to take a meal to a family in need and we were able to proclaim the name of Christ in one of the darkest corners of the lower valley.
These officers were not persecuting or mistreating Andrew for his faith, but the point here is that he did not miss the opportunity to share his faith boldly before the agent in charge. The agent claimed he was not a Christian, but he did recognize Andrew’s faith and that God was working in the situation.
So… note to self… put that foreign currency away...
Today we are continuing our series on the Sermons of Jesus, specifically we are in Jesus’ Missionary Discourse, which is located in Matthew 10...
Matthew 10:16–23 NASB95
16 “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves. 17 “But beware of men, for they will hand you over to the courts and scourge you in their synagogues; 18 and you will even be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. 19 “But when they hand you over, do not worry about how or what you are to say; for it will be given you in that hour what you are to say. 20 “For it is not you who speak, but it is the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you. 21 “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. 22 “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. 23 “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.
Father God, you are our God most high. We praise your Holy name above all. We worship you and put you above all. Please help us to be bold for you, God. Help us realize when people so desperately need you. Give us strenth and compassion to be able to speak boldly the name of Jesus Christ and proclaim the Good News before our neighbors, friends and colleagues. Lord, I know that you are working right here in Los Fresnos. I pray that you would bring souls to Christ right here and shine your magnificent light across the valley. Father, please give me mental clarity, precision of speech, and a heart for your people as I speak your word to your people this morning. Amen.
Today’s message goes into some detail of some troubling topics for young minds including persecution and methods of death. While I won’t detail any gruesome details of death and torture, I do want to give you a warning, in case you have children here who might be sensitive to such subjects.

Instructions for Future Disciples

Last week we spoke of the naming of the apostles and a missionary journey that Jesus sent the apostles to bring the gospel of the kingdom of heaven to Israel. If you’ll recall, I told you that the mission that the apostles were sent to complete was not a mission for us to take up. It was specific for their work at the time the assignment was given.
This section of the text that we are focusing on today seems to take a jump forward in time. It does not match the instructions given to the apostles, but seems to be addressing future disciples.
The Apostle’s Missionary journey is not documented for us. But we do know that their journey was taken to generally friendly territory in Israel. While Jesus was gaining attention among the Israelites and even getting negative attention from the religious elite in Jerusalem, He was still a popular favorite among the people of Israel.
In verse 16 we see that Jesus begins to prepare his disciples for a more frigid and even hostile reception as they preach the Good News of Jesus Christ. Jesus tells His disciples in verse 18 that they will have the opportunity to give their testimony to the Gentiles. This is contrast to His earlier statement in verse 5, which says “don’t go to the Gentiles.” This contrast leads us to believe that Jesus is talking about a different time frame.
We can certainly see that some of the events detailed here are recorded in the book of Acts, but we do not see Jesus’ return recorded in Acts. Given the vicious persecution indicated in this passage, most scholars agree that this message has shifted from the immediate future of Jesus’ time to a time far in the future, much closer to the return of Jesus Christ.
This period of time leading up to the return of Christ is what we call the Great Tribulation. Much of it is outlined in the books of Daniel and the Revelation. This is a time that we have a great deal of prophetic imagery telling us what to expect when that time comes. But as prophetic imagery goes, it can be difficult to interpret in advance and much easier to understand in hindsight. But much of the prophecy speaks about a worldwide open hostility against the Jewish people and the followers of Jesus Christ.
I won’t be covering this aspect of the Great Tribulation today. My goal today is to reveal to you the truth in Jesus’ words here in Matthew 10. Jesus teaches here that the Great Tribulation will be a time of opposition, a time of opportunity, and a time of obligation. This could very well be a time that someone in this room could experience.

I. Tribulation: Time of Opposition - v 16

The Tribulation will be a time of great opposition to the teaching of Jesus Christ. His church and His disciples will come under direct attack because of the name of Jesus Christ.
Matthew 10:16 NASB95
16 “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.
Jesus refers to His sheep (those who follow Him) during this time as sheep living among wolves. His advice for this situation is to "be as shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.”
The word “shrewd” is not necessarily in common usage these days. The word “shrewd” [Gr. φρόνιμος phronimos] means to have common sense and good judgment in practical matters. How this relates to snakes is a bit lost to us in this age. I mean we get “Wile E. Coyote” but shrewd serpents is another thing altogether. My guess is this relates back to the crafty serpent in the garden with Adam and Eve:
Genesis 3:1 NASB95
1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?”
The serpent in the garden was deceitful. This is not the same meaning that we are seeing here with shrewd. The meaning here is that the snake is smart or wise.
Be Smart but Keep Yourself Free From Sin
What Jesus is really saying here is that the opponents of Christ will attack His church and His disciples will be like wolves in the sheep pen. Jesus is using proverbial language to say “be smart, yet keep yourselves free from sin.” Pastor Warren Wiersbe tells us that the disciple during this time needs to be “tough-minded and tenderhearted.”

Persecution of Believers

Jesus warns the believers that persecution will come on many different fronts:
History of Christian Persecution
Jews persecuted Christians from the very beginning. It was the sanhedrin courts that tried Jesus and made their recommendation to Pontius Pilate. Of course Jesus was crucified by Rome and the Early Church experienced persecution at the hands of both the Jewish religious councils and the government of Rome.
Peter & Paul were martyred in Rome around 66 AD. Paul was beheaded and Peter was crucified upside down at his request, since he did not feel worthy to die in the same fashion as Jesus Christ.
Andrew is said to have brought the Gospel to what we now call Russia and the former Soviet Union. He also preached Christ in Asia-minor, the area that is now called Turkey, and Greece, where he is said to have been crucified.
Philip is said to have ministered in Carthage, which is in Northern Africa and also in Asia Minor. In his evangelistic efforts a Roman proconsul’s wife converted to Christianity. Philip was arrested cruelly put to death in retaliation for the wife’s conversion.
Matthew ministered in Ethiopia and Persia. Some old reports claim that he was not martyred, but others claim that he was stabbed and died in Ethiopia.
Bartholomew preached the Gospel in India with Thomas and also had missionary journeys to Armenia, Ethiopia and Southern Arabia. Accounts of Bartholomew’s martyrdom conflict as to method of death.
James, son of Alpheus, ministered in Syria where he was martyred by being stoned and clubbed to death.
Simon, the Zealot, ministered in Persia, where he was killed for refusing to worship the sun god.
Thaddeus is reported to have been killed with an ax in Syria.
Matthias was the apostle that replaced Judas. Tradition reports that he traveled to Syria with Andrew, where he was burned to death.
John is the only apostle thought to have died a natural death in his old age. He led the church in Ephesus and tradition has him caring for Mary, the mother of Jesus, in his home. In the mid-90’s AD, John was exiled to the isle of Patmos, where he is credited with writing the book of the Revelation.
Mark is reported to have ministered in Alexandria and was drug through the streets by a rope around his neck for attempting to turn the Alexandrians away from their traditional gods.
Luke is said to have been beheaded by Nero for preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Thomas was perhaps one of the earliest deaths of the apostles. It is said that he was martyred in India after a missionary journey into Indonesia.
Rome persecuted Christians until Emperor Constantine gave them favor by declaring religious tolerance for Christianity. Among his many acts of benevolence toward Christianity, he pressed Christian leadership to form a partnership between Roman government and Christian churches. This gave rise to the Catholic church and its many branches that later split off, such as the Anglican Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church.
Unfortunately while this effort produced a sort of peace for those who joined the Catholic church during that time, those who resisted the government religion continued to suffer persecution, this time from the church itself.
In fact this form of union between church and state is exactly the form of government that is expected to arise during the End Time Tribulation. Such a partnership between government and state is shown to be hated by God since it does not reflect his plan nor his desire for the church.
Some scholars believe that those who resisted this early Catholic church endured and rejected many of the theologies that came into being through this union of church and state. Some Baptist scholars believe and teach that Baptist roots can be found in these churches that resisted the early Catholic church. By resisting the union of church and state, as well as infant baptism, the Christians who insisted on full immersion “rebaptism” of adult converts were persecuted and martyred visciously by the Catholic church throughout the Dark Ages and into the Independence movement that led Baptists out of England and into the New World of America.
Persecution in the World Today
Today we experience very little persecution in the United States of America. We have freedom to worship as we desire and share our faith with others openly. But this is not true for many Christians in the world today. Christianity remains one of the most persecuted religious groups in the world today.
Persecution is “any hostility experienced as a result of identification with Christ. Christians throughout the world continue to risk imprisonment, loss of home and assets, torture, beheadings, rape and even death as a result of their faith.”
Countries in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East have been systematically intensifying persecution of Christians with Christian women being the most vulnerable group. North Korea has been ranked as the #1 most dangerous country for Christians for 17 years straight.
Every month:
255 Christians are killed
104 are abducted
180 Christian women are raped, sexually harassed or forced into marriage
66 churches are attacked
160 Christians are detained without trial and imprisoned
We see this persecution being perpetrated by anti-Christian religious groups, like Islam and Hindu religions, as well as governments that are either advancing the agendas of those religious groups or atheistic governments like Communism in North Korea.
End Time Persecution
In spite of international Human Rights movements to end slavery, torture, and religious persecution, these practices seem to be advancing worldwide rather than diminishing. While we can and should pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ who are living under persecution, we cannot expect these practices to go away. The Bible tells us that as we advance toward the end time Tribulation, that this practice will continue to be more common in the world.
Jesus knows that this persecution is coming. In fact, the same is revealed to John in his vision that we have recorded in the Book of the Revelation.
Revelation 6:9–11 NASB95
9 When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained; 10 and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” 11 And there was given to each of them a white robe; and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, would be completed also.
Apparently there is a limit to the number of saints that will be persecuted and at that time, Jesus will avenge the death of His saints when He returns to claim His kingdom.
Persecution in the Family
Jesus said that even family members will betray family members...
Matthew 10:21 NASB95
21 “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death.
We know that in Muslim and Hindu traditions that family members can be ostracized or even turned over for persecution based on their conversion to Christianity. But honestly this happens even among Jewish families and even Catholic families. Levels of persecution vary from area to area, but this problem is not so far-fetched in the world today.

II. Tribulation: Time of Opportunity - v 18

Matthew 10:18 NASB95
18 and you will even be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles.
Just as Jesus was taken before Pontius Pilate, believers will be taken before governors and kings and courts to explain their actions. Instead of dreading this, Jesus sees these as opportunities to share our faith before the highest and most powerful people in the land.
While our brother Andrew, who is here with us today, was not being persecuted for his faith, I shared his story earlier because I saw that it was a similar situation in which he took the opportunity to speak openly of his faith in a place where some might have been scared to bring up their faith in Jesus Christ.
Jesus wants for us to be prepared to take advantage of every opportunity possible to share our faith in Jesus Christ. This even means in some of the dark corners of our community when we have the opportunity.

III. Tribulation: Time of Obligation - v 22

The King’s Ambassadors must “endure to the end.” The obligation of the ambassador is to stay loyal to the king.
That's US! We're the ambassadors!
Matthew 10:22 NASB95
22 “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.
Jesus knows that we will go through tough times, especially as we approach His return. He tells us that endurance in faith is critical during these situations.
It was James who wrote...
James 1:2–3 NASB95
2 Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.

Expect Persecution

The Bible tells us to expect persecution rather than avoid it...
2 Timothy 3:12 NASB95
12 Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.
1 John 3:13 NASB95
13 Do not be surprised, brethren, if the world hates you.
Since persecution is something to expect. I thought it might be prudent to take a look at what the Bible tells us to do when we face persecution ...

What To Do In the Face of Persecution

When we experience or face persecution of any kind there are several principles we must keep in mind...
1 Timothy 3:7 NASB95
7 And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.
keep a good reputation.
1 Peter 2:12 NASB95
12 Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.
guard our behavior.
1 Peter 3:15–16 NASB95
15 but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; 16 and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame.
be ready to defend your faith, but defend it with gentleness and reverence.
keep a good conscience so that slander does not stick to you.
And finally, there is no shame in fleeing to protect your life...
Matthew 10:23 NASB95
23 “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.
If you can live another day to continue sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, it is better than surrendering to be imprisoned or suffer a martyr’s death.
And apparently, this will be a continuous cycle until we reach the entire world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ and we are able to witness His return.
So, in conclusion, none of us can truly guarantee how we will respond when faced with persecution. Just as a man cannot predict whether he will be brave or courageous when faced with difficult moments in life, so will be the moment of persecution. However, it is comforting to know that our response when faced with persecution will not be settled simply by our own force of perseverance and willpower to endure, but we will have the help and the power of the Holy Spirit within us to help us through such moments.
We also are not left to chance, but we have the ability and obligation to build up our spiritual faith muscles NOW rather than waiting for the moment of persecution to come.
First and foremost, the requirement to be best prepared for this time is that we must accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. We must follow Him and commit ourselves to accomplish His purpose for us on this earth.
If you don’t know Christ as your savior and make Him the master of your life, that is the first step for you. You can make that decision today.
If you consider yourself a Christian, but you don’t really pray much or read your Bible and church is completely negotiable for you, then you might just be one of those that just don’t have the spiritual strength to endure the coming persecution. I would encourage you to turn back to Christ and make Him Lord again.
The Holy Spirit might be prompting you that it is time for you to get baptized. We have baptisms coming up in a couple of weeks. If you’d like to be baptized, I’ll be glad to talk with you about it.
And of course, if you’d like to join this church as a member, I’d like to visit with you about that as well.
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