Monday, March 7, 2011
Suffering for Jesus
Picture by Travis Silva at http://www.creationswap.com/media/7002
Previously, under the post Heirs of God, I pointed out that there is suffering involved in being co-heirs with Christ. It sounds like a difficult thing to embrace becoming a Christian, doesn’t it? I mean, who really looks forward with anticipation to suffering? But Paul and other early Christians looked at suffering much differently than we do. I don’t believe for a second it’s something they “enjoyed.” However, suffering for the name of Jesus motivated them.
Let’s try to put this in perspective. Think of someone that you love so much that you would lay your life down for them. Is that your child? Your spouse? A parent maybe? How about a close friend? Paul put it this way in Romans 5:7: “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die.” That’s pretty significant, isn’t it?
But how is our love for Jesus? The same as or slightly better than those close to us? How about loving Jesus more? Let’s go a step further. How about loving Jesus that goes above and beyond anything or anyone here on earth? How about your own life? Jesus said, “Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” That’s raising the bar pretty high, right? Jesus also said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.”
Is Jesus really advocating hating someone? No, because that’s not consistent with 1 John 2 where John explains that no one can claim to be “in the light” if they hate their brother or sister. Not only that, but John explains later in the same letter that in 1 John 4 God is the epitome of love. It would be contrary to His nature to advocate hate toward someone. 1 John 4 also says that, “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar.”
A better explanation, then, of Jesus’ statement in Luke 14 is to understand that He often used hyperbole to emphasize many of His points. This is similar to Luke 6 where Jesus tells someone to take a plank out of their eye before taking a look at the speck in their brother’s eye. Do you think someone really has this huge log sticking out of their eye? No. Hyperbole is “an extravagant statement or figure of speech not intended to be taken literally.” So what Jesus is really saying then is that in comparison to your love for Him, your love for anyone else ought to be so insignificant that it appears to be hate toward those that are close to you.
So when we discuss the disciples’ motivation in the early church to suffer, and even die, for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ, how much do you believe they loved Jesus? I would wager a guess that not many Christians in this nation understand this concept. What amount of persecution have you endured by being a follower of Jesus? To put it more bluntly, how many people know you’re a Christian? Are you a closet Christian? Do you only make it known on Sundays in church? Jesus had something to say about those who are afraid to acknowledge Him:
26 “So do not be afraid of them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. 28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. 30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
32 “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. 33 But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven. (emphasis mine)
Maybe you’re a Christian who is vocal about Jesus. I would still be surprised, other than a few exceptions, that anyone here in this nation has endured persecution that comes close to other Christians in China, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, or Saudi Arabia to name a few. But that may change. Times are changing. Our culture is changing.
How do you think homosexuals view Christians these days? Have you read the news recently? There’s a clear picture of where our nation is headed by looking at the events surrounding homosexual issues in the U.K. But what about here in the U.S.? Not surprisingly, circumstances are changing rapidly here as well. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has labeled many prominent Christian organizations as “hate groups.” Is this point to criticize homosexuals? Not so much as to point out the fact that there are indeed different forms of persecution and that Christians in the United States should be prepared for this as well.
This is, however, not to compare the struggle of Christianity here in the U.S. to places like Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, there is a brother who is enduring the worst conditions of any Christian other than being stoned to death or being decapitated. One paragraph explains it all:
He was forced to appear before a judge without any legal counsel and without knowledge of the charges against him. “Nobody [wanted to be my] defender before the court. When I said ‘I am a Christian man,’ he [a potential lawyer] immediately spat on me and abused me and mocked me… . I am alone between 400 [people with] terrible values in the jail, like a sheep.” He has been beaten, mocked, and subjected to sleep deprivation and sexual abuse while in prison. No Afghan lawyer will defend him and authorities denied him access to a foreign lawyer.
Other real stories of persecution are taking place daily. Such as in Orissa, India. Hindu extremists are daily attacking Christians, beating them, and even injuring pregnant Christian women along with their children. Some Christians are fleeing from their homes and villages for refuge fearing larger-scale violence, such as the kind that took place in 2008 that resulted in 100 deaths in the Kandhamal district.
Then there is the issue of the Book of Revelations, or rather The Revelation to John. And also Daniel. The end time prophecies, though they’re difficult to understand, definitely point out that things are going to get pretty bad. In Revelations 2, there’s this angel saying that the Church in Smyrna will suffer persecution, even to the point of death. The point is is that we can’t expect things to continue as normal. The problem for most of us is that we have become complacent to the point where we don’t expect the end times to come during our lifetimes. But what does Scripture say about this state of mind? 1 Thessalonians 5 says:
Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.
We really shouldn’t be so complacent. We need to be alert and aware of the events taking place in our world today. In Luke 21, Jesus describes what the signs will look like. One of the things He says is this, “And he told them a parable: ‘Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.’” Question. Are you prepared if that day were to come tomorrow? How is your faith in Jesus Christ? If someone were to come into your home tomorrow and say, “Deny Christ or die,” how would you respond? Are you willing to suffer for the name of Jesus? Are you willing to confess Him and die for Him? Or is Jesus someone who just makes you feel good as long as it doesn’t inconvenience you? Because these events could happen soon. Maybe in our lifetime.
The real question is: How much do you love Jesus? Are you willing to suffer for His name’s sake? First, you must ask yourself about being willing and able to do what it takes. Count the cost for being a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus said:
27 And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
28 “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? 29 For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, 30 saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’
31 “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. 33 In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples. (Again, emphasis mine.)
There are those who do represent Christ and are willing to give up everything, those who suffer and are persecuted for His name’s sake. These people don’t take the decision to follow Jesus lightly. Many of these potential believers know that once they decide to follow Jesus, they could lose everything. Many are even ostracized from their own families. It would seem like a slap in the face to forsake the religion or traditions of their ancestors. But many of them do count the cost knowing these things will happen. In some parts of the world, making the decision to follow Jesus and identify themselves as Christian means death. With that in mind, they obviously know what’s at stake, but in their hearts they are deeply in love with Jesus and are willing to go the distance.
Organizations like the Voice of the Martyrs, the Spirit of Martyrdom, International Christian Concern, and Gospel for Asia provide much needed assistance to our brothers and sisters who struggle to share their faith in heavily persecuted areas of the world. Regularly, Christian brothers and sisters are putting their lives on the line by just sharing the Gospel. Passing out Bibles, having a Bible study, or holding church in the basement of someone’s home is seen as a crime and is often sought out by local authorities to bring them to “justice.” Read their stories. Read about their amazing faith in the midst of some of the most difficult of circumstances. Then ask yourself, “Can I do this?” Then ask yourself, “How much do I love Jesus?” One day you just may have to answer that question as an heir of God.