As Jesus prepared His disciples for the journey which lay ahead of them, He warned them of persecution–religious persecution that most of them would experience. He assured them of progress, yet the price of progress would be costly.
I’ve been pondering the experience of conversion, as depicted by Scripture, as part of my plan for working with interns in my role at Heritage College and Seminary. In Acts 9 Ananias, an ‘ordinary’ believer is assigned the task of heading to Straight Street to meet a ‘crooked man,’ in order to be God’s instrument of guiding Saul in the early steps of his new relationship with God and with God’s people. Ananias balks at the request, citing his awareness of Saul’s conduct and authority.
Acts 9:15,16 “But the Lord said to Ananias, ‘Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”
Progress despite Persecution! Paul will make great progress with the gospel message. He has been chosen to carry the Lord’s name before the nations of his world, gaining access even to Caesar’s household. (Philippians 4:22 – “especially those who belong to Caesar’s household.”) Yet with high privilege comes high responsibility. The price of success would be suffering. The price of progress? Persecution.
Isn’t this exactly an example of the prediction made by Jesus to his disciples in Mark 13:9-11?
“You will be handed over….and flogged….you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses.” There will be persecution, but significant progress in gospel advancement. These disciples will be “arrested and brought to trial,” yet fearlessly they must stand because the Holy Spirit of God will empower their testimony in the hour of testing.
Study Church History, keep up to date with ‘The Voice of the Martyrs,’ read Foxes’ Book of Martyrs, visit countries where believers are oppressed and you will see this tension has continued. Progress despite persecution.
How are we to respond? Read speculative novels and promise these ‘suffering saints’ that God will never let this happen??? Consider Hebrews 13:3 and I Peter 5:8-9 and ask yourself, ‘How should I be applying these texts?’
“Remember those in prison, as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.” (Hebrews 13:3)
“…Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.”
Suffering is normal and having one’s country’s culture ‘endorse’ or ‘approve’ Christianity is not to be expected. Do we have a ‘Christian nation?’ I’m a political news ‘junkie,’ but in the midst of the current political turmoil in Canada and elsewhere, let’s hear the renewed clarion call of Christ – “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness….” As we follow this instruction fully we may discover afresh that our experience follows the long established pattern of Mark 13 – real progress despite persecution.