Wear the Crown
Happiness in persecution? You’ve got to be kidding, right? Can you imagine all those Christians in the arena about to be devoured by dozens of half starved lions and one of them gets up and says, “Hey gang, let’s sing! Ready? ‘I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart, down in my heart, down in my heart ... ‘”
Sounds pretty ridiculous doesn’t it? Yet, this is exactly what Jesus is telling the throngs who have followed him up that mountainside. We do not have to look very for within the Scriptures to find examples of those who could, and did, rejoice in persecution. Peter and the apostles were persecuted, but they rejoiced that they could suffer for the Lord, (Acts 5:41). Paul and Silas were beaten and imprisoned, but they found grace to sing at midnight, (Acts 16:25). The Bible says that Jesus, as he trudged up the slope of Golgotha, did it “ ... for the joy set before him enduring the cross, and despising its shame ... “
Happiness in persecution? Sure there is. The happiness is not in the persecution, but in the knowledge of why we have been singled out. We can be happy in persecution because it is evidence that we are committed to Christ, and this pleases our heavenly Father. Our reward is a Crown of Righteousness which Jesus Himself will give us.
I. THE FACE OF PERSECUTION
- "But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 8We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh." (2 Corinthians 4:7-11, ESV)
- when we think of persecution most of us think of the early church and the Christians being fed to the Lions in the Roman Coliseum
- actually, the very few Christians were ever killed in the Coliseum
- it was the Circus Maximus – the arena where the chariot races were run – where most of the Christians of Rome were tortured and killed
- ILLUS. The reigns of the Roman Emperors Diocletian and Galerius at the end of the third and beginning of the fourth century marked what historians call The Great Persecution. Before then, persecution of the church had been sporadic and regional. It was Diocletian and Galerius who instituted an Empire-wide persecution of believers. Beginning with a series of four edicts banning Christian practices and ordering the imprisonment of Christian clergy, the persecution intensified until all Christians in the empire were commanded to sacrifice to the gods or face immediate execution. Over 20,000 Christians are thought to have died during Diocletian's reign.
- Jesus speaks of this in Matthew 5:12 “ ... for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you."
- the Apostle Paul, writing in the Book of Hebrews, says of the Old Testament prophets:
- "Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground." (Hebrews 11:36-38, NIV)
- ILLUS. A Catholic missionary by the name of Francis Xavier first introduced Christianity to Japan in 1549. More missionaries followed and soon a thriving Church existed in Japan. In 1633 the Shogun Tokugasa signed an edict outlawing the Christian faith, and he vowed to crush the Church in Japan. In 1622, 51 Christians were executed at Nagasaki, and two years later 50 were burned alive in (Tokyo). In 1633 some 30 missionaries were executed. Over the next several years 4,000 were executed and others died in prisons or in exile. They were speared to death, crucified, beheaded, drowned, or dismembered. In 1865, when Japan was opened to the western nations for trading, Christian communities that together totaled some 60,000 Christians were discovered. These Christian communities had perpetuated the faith in hiding for two centuries.
- ILLUS. One of the most horrendous acts of carnage took place on the other side of the world in France–a Christian nation. In this case it was Christian persecuting Christian. We’ve come to call the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. In October 1572 French Catholics went on a Holocaust-type rampage, killing every Protestant they could find. Men, women, and children fell in heaps before the mobs and bloodthirsty troops. In one week, over 100,000 Protestants perished. It is said that the rivers of France are so filled with corpses that for many months no Frenchmen ate fish. In the valley of the Loire, wolves came down from the mountains to feed upon the bodies.
- ILLUS. In 1900 the Boxer Rebellion in China saw 189 missionaries and their children, and 32,000 Chinese Christians are martyred.
- ILLUS. Between 1894-1923 the Ottoman Empire conducted a policy of genocide against the Christian population living within its territory. The Sultan, Abdul Hamid II, issued an official governmental policy of genocide against the Armenians of the Ottoman Empire in 1894. Over the next thirty years, systematic massacres took place. In one town of Adana alone government troops killed over 20,000 Christian Armenians. During the thirty years of genocide, 1.5 million Christians were slaughtered.
- ILLUS. During the 20th century, the Communist dictators of the Soviet Union systematically set out to destroy any vestige of the Church in Russia. Toward that end, the Communist regime confiscated church property, ridiculed religion, harassed believers, and propagated atheism in the schools. Organized religions were never outlawed. It is estimated that some 20 million Christians (17 million Orthodox 3 million Roman catholic) died or were interned in gulags.
- we have stopped burning people at the stake
- we have stopped disjointing people on the rack
- we no longer have inquisitions
- however, many Christians around the world do
A. THE BIBLE SPEAKS OF PERSECUTION BY CRUEL ACT
- though most of us will never experience real physical persecution of the kind our Christian forefathers did, many fellow believers around the world are not so lucky
- in Matthew 10:16-36 Jesus paints a picture of what many saints are experiencing
- for believers in places like China, Indonesia, Pakistan, India, and virtually any place where Islam is the dominant religion, believers fully understand what Jesus meant when he said, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves ... “
- around the world tonight, Christians are being persecuted for their faith
- some will be beaten and tortured for their faith
- some will be arrested and thrown in jail for their faith
- some will be betrayed to the authorities by a brother or a close friend because of their faith
- some will be maligned or disparaged because of their faith in Christ
- these things may not happen to you, but if they do, be aware that you are in good company
- “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." (John 15:18-19, NIV)
- ILLUS. In places like Bhutan, public worship by non-Buddhists is illegal. Christian families have been forced to seek refuge outside their country because of their faith. In China, hundreds of Christians, from evangelical house church members and teachers to Roman Catholic priests and bishops, are currently in Reeducation Through Labor camps. Chinese Communist government leaders have declared their intent to eradicate Christianity in China, saying they will “strangle the baby in the manger.” Despite their efforts the underground church in China is flourishing. In North Korea, Christians are arrested and never heard of again. In Columbia, South America dozens of Christians, including key leaders, have been brutally murdered in the past several years. Churches have been burned to the ground, women have been raped, and families forced from their land. In Iran, being a Christian is considered apostasy. Christians are arrested, threatened, imprisoned, and tortured simply because of their faith. Christians are kept under heavy surveillance with their phones tapped and letters routinely opened. Others have lost their jobs or have been refused employment, housing, and education. Many Iranian Christians simply disappear for days, weeks, months, or years. Some are never seen again. In Saudi Arabia, the government offers rewards of up to $8,000 for information about secret worship services, which are then raided to arrest believers. Christians are regularly rounded up, jailed and eventually deported. The list could go all in all and end on. Around the world in places like Cuba, Djibouti, Egypt, Indonesia, Laos, Libya, Morocco, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, Somalia, Sudan, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, and Yemen, Christians are being persecuted for no other reason than they are Christian.
- that means that by the end of this day 400 brothers or sisters in Christ will have been martyred for the faith somewhere in the world
- ILLUS. Nina Shea, the director of the Center for Religious Freedom. A few years ago she wrote a book entitled In the Lion’s Den which chronicles anti-Christian persecution around the world. In it she writes: “Millions of American Christians pray in their churches each week, oblivious to the fact that Christians in many parts of the world suffer brutal torture, arrest, imprisonment and even death – their homes and communities laid waste – for no other reason than that they are Christians. The shocking, untold story of our time is that more Christians have died this century simply for being Christians than in the first nineteen centuries after the birth of Christ. They have been persecuted and martyred before an unknowing, indifferent world and a largely silent Christian community."
B. THE BIBLE SPEAKS OF PERSECUTION BY SLANDER
- “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me." (Matthew 5:11, NIV)
- slander is making a false spoken statement damaging to a person's reputation
- in the early days of Christianity the believers were falsely accused of all kinds of things
- they were called atheists by their neighbors because they would not worship the pagan gods
- they were called immoral because they would frequently meet in secret places where who-knows-what would take place during their “love feasts”
- today we now it as The Lord’s Supper
- they were called unpatriotic because they confessed loyalty to Christ as King and refused to worship the Roman Emperor
- have you ever been slandered because of your commitment to Jesus Christ?
- have you ever been termed a goody-two-shoes at work or school because you wouldn’t participate in a certain activity?
- if so you’ve been slandered for the faith
- have you ever been called a prude because you failed to appreciate lewd sexual jokes or stories?
- if so you’ve been slandered for the faith
- have you ever been called a stick-in-the-mud because you refused to drink or gamble or party-hearty?
- if so you’ve been slandered for the faith
- Many Christians Will Be Persecuted by Slander
C. THE BIBLE SPEAKS OF PERSECUTION BY REPROACH
- Jesus was constantly insulted by the religious people of his day
- at one point the Pharisees even called him the Son of Satan
- reproach simply means to be insulted to your face
- this is the kind of persecution that is prevalent in America today
- we see it in the purging of Christianity from the government and from government property
- we see it in the muzzling of public officials, employees, and appointees
- we see it in the anti-Christian bias in Universities and higher education
- we see it in the public attacks on Christians and Christian values by the Michael Moore crowd
- we see it in state endorsement of non-Christian values like homosexual marriages and the legalization of sodomy
- we see it in the media and Hollywood’s open war against Christianity
- conservative Christians are fast becoming the politically expedient group to reproach in our society
- make disparaging remarks about Homosexuals, or Blacks, or Hispanics, or the Poor, or the Handicapped, or Muslims, or Buddhists, or Hindus, and you’re likely to be ostracized from polite society, you’ll be told that you have a psychological malady, and you’ll be strongly encouraged to receive sensitivity training
- but, make a disparaging remark about theologically Orthodox Evangelical Christians and few in our society will even lift an eyebrow
- ILLUS. Some of you may remember that early on in his campaign, even Republican John McCain couldn’t help taking a swipe at Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, calling them an evil influence simply because their politics are guided by their biblical convictions and Christian values. You may not agree with their politics or even some of their theology, but Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell are not evil. Hitler and Stalin were evil!
- Bible thumpers ...
- Fundamentalists ...
- Censorists ...
- Bigots ...
- 50 years ago, if you really wanted to offend your neighbors, you lived an immoral and a degenerate life
- today, if you really want to offend your neighbors, live a truly holy life!
II. THE FAITHFUL WILL BE PERSECUTED
- I have always had a little trouble with this whole idea of persecution
- ILLUS. The pastor I was saved under – Martin Brockett – preached that if you were not suffering for Christ or being persecuted for your faith in some way, that you probably were not really living for Jesus.
- "Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." (2 Timothy 3:12, NASB95)
- I read that verse, and I think back to what my preacher said, and I think to myself, “Ya know, I’ve never had a red-hot poker shoved into my eye, so I must not really be living for Jesus.”
- maybe if we used words like opposition, or challenged, or hindered we would have a better understanding of what Jesus is talking about
- many of you, most likely, have indeed been hindered or challenged are opposed because of your faith
A. REMAINING FAITHFUL DOCTRINALLY WILL BRING RESISTANCE
- actually believe the bible; actually take Jesus at His word, and you’ll meet resistance
- ILLUS. Maintain that homosexuality is a sin, as the Bible so thoroughly teaches, and you’ll be branded a ‘homophobe’ and you’ll not advance very far in most major U.S. corporations
- ILLUS. Believe John 14:6 – that Jesus is the only way to heaven – and a lot of your friends, co-workers, classmates, and even family will accuse you of intolerance.
B. REMAINING FAITHFUL ETHICALLY WILL BRING RESISTANCE
- sometimes we are encouraged to be less than honest in their dealings with others
- when you are honest because that is your Christian conviction, you may be ridiculed
C. REMAINING FAITHFUL MORALLY WILL BRING RESISTANCE
- some things are immoral, have always been immoral, and will always be immoral
- immorality needs to be opposed and when you do oppose it, don’t be surprised when you experience opposition
- ILLUS. Tell your class mates the you want to remain a virgin until your wedding night, and most of your friends will look at you like you’ve just fallen off the turnip truck.
- ILLUS. Tell your friends that, no, you don’t want to snort a line of cocain, or take a ‘toke’ and you might be called weird or even a coward. That’s OK, be weird – and most definitely be afraid.
- ILLUS. Wear a “Jesus Loves You” pin at Disney World during their Gay Pride Day and see what happens!
III. GOD CALLS US TO BE FAITHFUL, AND WHEN NECESSARY, TO BARE THE CONSEQUENCES OF OUR FAITHFULNESS
- ILLUS. John Wesley was riding on his horse to a meeting of fellow Methodists when it dawned on him he had not been persecuted for three days. "Maybe I've sinned or been disobedient," he thought to himself. He got off his horse, got on knees, and began to pray right there by the side of the road. A man on other side of road recognized the evangelist—whom he disliked. He bent over, picked up a large rock, and heaved it at Wesley. It bounced off the road, just missing pious evangelist. Wesley eaped to his feet and shouted, "Thanks be to God! Everything's all right. I still have God's presence with me." And with that he got back on his horse and continued his journey.
- “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me." (Matthew 5:10-11, NASB95)
- anytime you or I serve Jesus Christ with honesty, integrity, and loyalty, we may find ourselves opposed, or challenged, or hindered
- but please notice that we are blessed only one we are persecuted because of righteousness
- being persecuted because you’re an obnoxious jerk or the schoolyard bully doesn’t count
A. HAPPY ARE YE WHEN YE ARE PERSECUTED
- “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you." (Matthew 5:11-12, NASB95)
- we can be happy in opposition because persecution indicates the genuine character of our faith
- we can be happy in persecution because Christian character is purged and made maturer through suffering and opposition
- we can be happy in persecution because it is followed by great reward in heaven
Never forget that God is on His throne. He will punish evil. And He will bless all of His faithful servants and reward those who have been persecuted for his names sake.