Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Why Are Christians Hated?

For the past several weeks, we have been looking at the idea of Christians being persecuted. We looked at Paul's writing to Timothy stating that "all that wanted to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" (2 Timothy 4:12). These words trouble many people today because of the certainty that is behind them. Why do Christians have to suffer persecution? Well, to simply put it, because Jesus said it would be so.

As Jesus was sending out his disciples in Matthew 10, he told them plainly what they were to face. The things that they would face would be harsh and unrelenting at times. They would be brought before councils and kings to give witness of him. Jesus told them not to worry about what to say because the Spirit of the Father would give them the words to speak. In the face of great times of trouble, Jesus reminds them who is in control and to whom they are to have allegiance; God and God alone!

Even with Jesus telling his disciples these truths, we may still question why the world hates us so. If we are simply living for Jesus and haven't really bothered anyone, then why hate and persecute us? Jesus gives us the answer in John 15. In this great teaching, Jesus is revealing who he was and how we relate to him. In John 15:5 Jesus says:
"I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing." 

Jesus is telling his followers that life in him is a total dependent life. To live means to be in him and him in you. Our life becomes immersed in him and Jesus lives in and through us. This is the Christian life! 

But there is something that we must know as followers, which explains why they world hates us so much. It is found in verses 18 through chapter 16 verse 4. 

"If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father also. If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: 'They hated me without a cause.'
"But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.
"I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, not me. But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you."

Please read that text again slowly! 

Jesus reveals to his disciples why the world hated them; they hated him first. Why would people hate Jesus? They hate him because he came and spoke to the world and the world became guilty of its sin. Jesus says that there is no longer any excuse for sin. His very life makes it where we must come face to face with our sinfulness. People do not like this. So this is why they persecuted Jesus and persecute his followers. By this they think they serve God but they are actually showing that they hate God. 

We may not fully understand this but we need not worry. Jesus is providing the Helper to lead us into truth and through the Spirit we will be witnesses of him. We need to know these things so that when these times come, we will not give up. We will be strengthened to stay the course and keep the faith. 

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

For Jesus (Part 2)

In the last post we looked at the words that Paul shared with Timothy about what happens to those who want to live for Jesus. He says that they will be persecuted. We know that this idea is very unpopular for most Christians in America today. We have bought into the deception that we should not be persecuted at all but received with open and loving arms by everyone we come into contact with for the gospel's sake. This is not reality. Jesus shared from the beginning that it was not an easy life for these who would follow him.

In Matthew 10 we read that Jesus had called and sent the Twelve Apostles out to the cities of Israel to share the good news. They had been given authority to do powerful signs that would show that God was truly doing something great in their midst. But before the disciples went out, he told them that it was going to be difficult. Here is what Jesus said to them:

"Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpent 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, not 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." (10:16-25 ESV) 

The first thing that I notice is the certainty of persecution that Jesus speaks about. He uses the word "will" several times. He is not speaking as if persecution could or might happen. He says that it WILL happen! His disciples would suffer and this suffering would happen because of him. 

Secondly, Jesus gives them encouragement. He reassures them that they do not need to worry about a defense for themselves. They did not need to rely on their own knowledge or understanding to speak to their persecutors. He promised that the Father would give them the words to say through the power of the Holy Spirit. They just needed to rest in him and he would provide!
I believe that too many times we make things worse by trying to figure out what needs to be said. We over think things and rely on our smart to defend our actions or beliefs. It is important for us to trust God and know that he is in control of all things. Our greatest times of witnessing for the Lord have come when we didn't know what to say. We, in that very moment, just simply relied on him and he did what we could not do. Thanks to be unto God for his faithfulness!

Lastly, Jesus puts the struggle of being persecuted into perspective. When we think that it is wrong for Christians to be persecuted we are actually saying that they are better than Jesus. Reread verses 24 and 25:
"A disciple is not above his teacher, not 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."

Truly no one likes to go through things like being beaten or put into jail. No one wants to die, but look at what they did to Jesus. Do we really expect any less? Do we think that we are better than him? Are we really that prideful and arrogant? Well yes, we are if we really believe that Christians should not be persecuted.

I read a devotional written by John MacArthur titled, "Are You Avoiding Persecution?' In is he talks about a man who started a new job and was worried that his coworkers may harass him if they found out that he was a Christian. When he came home from his first day on the job, his wife asked how things went. He answered, "They never found out I'm a Christian." To this story MacArthur writes:
"Silence is one way to avoid persecution. Some other ways are to approve of the world's standards, laugh at its jokes, enjoy its entertainment, and smile when it mocks God. If you never confront sin or tell people that Jesus is the only way to Heaven, or if your behavior is so worldly no one can distinguish you from the unbelievers, you will probably be accepted and won't feel the heat of persecution." He goes on to say: "If you take a stand for Christ and manifest Beatitude attitudes, you will be in direct opposition to Satan and the evil world system. And eventually you will experience some form of persecution."

Hearing words like these, and especially Jesus' words, are not very comforting to us if we have become accustomed to being accepted by the world around us. We want to argue with this idea and try to justify how we have been living a life free of even the mildest form of persecution.

Please hear me out. I am not saying that we should go looking to be persecuted. And I am not saying that we shouldn't run from it either. Jesus says that we are to run to the next city if we are being persecuted in one city. What I am saying is that we should rejoice in and through the persecution. I remember reading in the Book of Acts where the disciples had been put into prison for teaching and healing in the name of Jesus. Acts 5:40-42 says:

"and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus."

Did you see that? They rejoiced! They saw it as an honor to suffer for the name of Jesus. Do we react this way? I will say that for myself, I haven't responded to being made fun of or rejected because of Jesus in this way that the Apostles did. Honestly I will admit to this. How about you?

Why are we so resistant to persecution? Maybe it is a lack of understanding of the teachings of Jesus concerning being persecuted and how to endure. Next time we will turn our attention to John 15 to search out more teachings of Jesus about this matter. Until then, may your trust ever be in Jesus!