Persecution has been a reality for the church since its inception in the first century. Christians all over the world have, and continue to suffer persecution at the hands of godless men and women. It's an aspect of our Christian walk which we have been warned of in God's word and by Jesus Himself. The Apostle Paul writes in 1Peter 4:12-16:
"Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ's sufferings ... If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you ... Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter."
Many of us, when we were new believers in Christ, thought that once we gave our lives to Christ, it would be smooth sailing along with a free ticket to heaven. But, the reality is that once we make the decision to follow Jesus, we must 'die to self' so He can live through us. When it's our turn in America to suffer persecution, it will be essential for us to change our way of thinking before we go through it.
What became very apparent to Heidi and me from our reading is this: Our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ, sometimes even tortured for their faith,
cannot comprehend the man-made 'Prosperity Gospel' preached by many Western pastors who have never suffered persecution. Persecuted Christians believe in the 'Reality Gospel' taught to them in prisons and labor camps to which they are sent for practicing their faith ... and for demonstrating their love for Jesus.
Where in scripture do we see Jesus teaching this 'Prosperity' or 'Feel good' message? Rather, He taught the TRUTH ... about life, about God, and about the Kingdom. Jesus never taught that if a person tithes a certain amount of money to the church, he would be blessed seven times the amount given. Jesus never taught that if we pray three times a day, we would miraculously receive a new car, or a pay raise from our employer, or purchase the winning lottery ticket.
And Jesus never promised us a pain-free life if we decided to follow Him.
But, what Jesus did tell His followers and those of us living in the 21st century, is that we should 'count the cost' of following Him. Following Jesus is neither easy, or pain-free, or without risk. In some parts of the world, it could cost you your life.
In Luke 14:26-32, Jesus says: "If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it -- lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, 'This man began to build and was not able to finish.' Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace. So, likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple."
Question: Is Jesus telling us in this passage that once you accept Him as your Savior and Lord, you will have no more problems, just 'smooth sailing' and a pain-free life until you get to heaven? What kind of 'Feel Good Nonsense' is this, being taught by foolish men preaching from the pulpit? Followers of Jesus are warned by the Apostle Paul in 2Tim 2:3, "You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ." Does this line up with today's feel good message?
We are also cautioned in 2Tim 3:12-13, "Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. But evil men and imposters will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived."
Listen. Jesus warned each of us as believers that, at some point, we will be persecuted for our faith. We may not be tortured or martyred like some of our brothers and sisters in Communist countries, but we WILL be persecuted to some extent. It has already started here in America by closing down the churches considering them as non-essential. Yet, you can't get Covid in the wide open abortion clinics or while participating in the riots.
In Matthew 5: 10-12, Jesus teaches us: "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven." "Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you." ("Righteousness" is the
quality of being morally upright, guiltless, blameless, honorable before God).
Then in 1Peter 4:14, Paul writes: "If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you ..."
And also in Phil 1:29, we read: "For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake."
Our persecuted brothers and sisters in China consider it an honor and a privilege to suffer for Jesus. They don't fear being persecuted, they embrace it. This is the way WE must think of being persecuted for Jesus ... as an honor and a privilege ... not as punishment!
So, why are Christians required to suffer for our faith? Because the Bible tells us, if we suffer with Him, we will also reign with Him!
Question: When God allows persecution to come to this country in its full fury:
-if Christian homes are burned or confiscated,
-if our bank accounts are seized by a socialist government (run by AOC or some
other Marxist) and given to the illegals or Black Lives Matter,
-if we are imprisoned for our faith ... How will we American Christians, respond?
-Would we say, "Thank You, Lord, for granting us the privilege to suffer for Your
name's sake? Or, would some Christians shake their fists at heaven shouting,
"Why are You allowing this to happen to me?" "What kind of God would do this
-Would we deny Christ in order to save our possessions or our very lives?
-Do we think we are strong enough in the faith to 'go to the wall' for Jesus?
Remember, even Peter denied Jesus three times before the cock crowed!
-Do we possess enough of the Holy Spirit to give us strength to endure ... to the
Remember: Only those who endure to the end will be saved!
We have to change the way we think about persecution and suffering for Christ!
--If we continue to think of persecution as a punishment rather than an honor,
or, if so many of us continue to fear death, we may not make it to the end!
Let's not forget what Jesus tells us in Matthew 10:22, "And you will be hated by all for My name's sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved."
And, in Acts 14:22, we read: "We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God."
We must be faithful to Jesus and endure to the end in order to be saved. We cannot cave to evil influences, or to our fears, or to political correctness, or to persecution when it comes to America!
In one of his messages, Pastor Adrian Rodgers, the senior pastor at Belleview Baptist Church in Memphis, TN told his congregation:
"There's a way you can escape persecution. Don't live godly. Just hobnob with the world and fail to take a stand or be distinctive, and you won't suffer persecution." "However, persecution is the thermometer that registers your love and courage for the Lord Jesus Christ."
- So, who are we to believe? Are we to believe these 'feel good preachers' trying to sell us their fake prosperity message? Or, are we to believe the Apostle Paul where he writes in 1Cor 4:10-13, "To the present hour we both hunger and thirst, and we are poorly clothed, and beaten, and homeless. And we labor, working with our own hands. Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we endure; being defamed, we entreat. We have been made as the filth of the world, the off scouring of all things until now." Does this sound like a 'feel good message'?
Let's now turn to some of the testimonies of those who have been persecuted, imprisoned and even tortured by communist, socialist and Islamic governments as well as the Nazis during World War ll. Why were they willing to go through such persecution and torture? Because they so loved Jesus.
Part 1: Richard and Sabina Wurmbrand
Richard and Sabina Wurmbrand were both born of the Jewish faith and lived in Romania. Not only did they experience a conversion to Christianity through faith in Jesus Christ, but Richard became a pastor. Both he and his wife, Sabina, endured imprisonment, persecution and torture beyond comprehension ... first by the hands of the Nazis during the second world war, and then by the communists after the war. Richard was imprisoned and tortured because of his faith for a total of 14 years.
Richard and Sabina didn't know about the 'prosperity message' being preached today from many pulpits. Rather, they were directly involved with the 'reality gospel' of which Jesus warns His followers. The following quotes are some of Richard's thoughts written in the book, 'Wurmbrand, Tortured for Christ'. He came to these conclusions after years of suffering persecution and torture:
1) "Humans cannot demonstrate radical love on their own. But, with God, all things are possible, even forgiveness."
2) When Richard was asked how he learned to forgive his enemies and torturers, he said: "We cannot always feel compassion for men, but we must show compassion until we feel it. You can choose to forgive and love, or hate."
3) And the author said this in an excerpt: "Richard came to discover the ultimate reason God allowed him to be tortured for 14 years. His torture rescued his torturers from an eternity of torture. It was in prison where he found the hope of salvation for the Communists. It was there he developed a sense of responsibility toward them. It was in being tortured by them that he learned to love them. Many of his guards and interrogators became followers of Jesus Christ, and some even became pastors. Even the iron-clad hearts of the Communists opened like flowers when touched by the holy hands pierced with the iron nails of the cross."
Just a thought:
After hearing these statements, do you think if Richard Wurmbrand had access to a firearm, he would have shot and killed his persecutors, as many Americans say they would do in a similar position?
4) The author of the book then concludes, "Until Jesus' return, persecution will exist. In every generation, terrorism and the persecution of our brothers and sisters in Christ have occurred. Christians continue to suffer at the hands of Communist and other dictators, as well as Islamic and Hindu extremists throughout the world. Today, Christians sit alone in prisons, hungry and hurting. Yet, they endure torture, beatings, and humiliation ( WHY?) because they love God more than they fear death."
5) Lastly, while speaking at a church about his 14 year imprisonment, Richard told a story about a doctor in early Christian times unjustly imprisoned by the emperor for his faith:
"After some years, (the doctor's family) was allowed to visit him (in prison), and at first, they were appalled." "His clothes were rags, his food a slice of bread and a cup of water everyday." "Then his wife looked at him more closely." 'How is it you look so well?' she asked. "You have the air of one who has just come from a wedding.'
"The doctor smilingly replied that he had found a remedy for all troubles, ' a tea good against all suffering and sorrow.' 'It contains seven herbs, and I shall number them for you.'
'The first is contentedness: be satisfied with what you have. I may shiver in my rags as I gnaw on a crust, but how much worse off should I be if the emperor had thrown me naked into a dungeon with nothing at all to eat.' (It can always be worse)
'The second herb is common sense. Whether I rejoice or worry, I shall still be in prison, so why distress myself?
'The third is remembrance of past sins: Count them, and on the assumption that every sin deserves a day in prison, reckon how many lives you would spend behind bars - you have been let off lightly.'
'The fourth (herb) is the thought of sorrows Christ bore gladly for us ...' (Jesus chose to suffer for us).
'The fifth herb is the knowledge that suffering has been given to us by God as from a father, not to harm us, but to cleanse and sanctify us.' 'The suffering through which we pass is intended to purify us, prepare us for heaven.'
'The sixth (herb) is the knowledge that no suffering can harm a Christian's life ...
Prison cannot stop me from loving; iron bars cannot exclude faith; ... I can be serene anywhere.' (What did Paul say in Phil 4:11? " ... for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content.")
'The last (seventh) herb in the recipe is hope. The wheel of life may put the emperor's physician (or any of us) in prison, but it goes on turning. It may eventually bring me back to the palace, and even return me to the throne.'
After Pastor Wurmbrand told this story and the church was still, he then said:
"I have drunk barrels of this tea since then (during his 14 year imprisonment), and I can recommend it to you all. It has proved good.'
Part ll. Summarization from persecuted Christian brothers and sisters in China
My wife and I have read books describing the suffering of our Chinese and N. Korean brothers and sisters who are being persecuted for their faith in the Lord Jesus. Since I have been unable to secure permission to duplicate the direct quotes from the publisher, I can only summarize what these giants in the faith are teaching us in the western church.
Many are asking us not to pray that their suffering would end but rather continue. They mention the Chinese church is stronger with the suffering and that the worst the authorities can do to them is kill their bodies. But, if that happens, they are immediately promoted into the presence of our Lord and Savior for eternity.
Some tell us that in order for revival to return to the western churches, we must get back to the Word of God. It is missing in many churches because a 'false' gospel is being taught by so many pastors willing to water down the Truth for their own personal gain.
Some Chinese brothers have mentioned they have a problem with the prosperity message being preached from the pulpits in many western churches. They are emphatic when they state it is completely contrary to scripture and to their experiences in their country.
A few mentioned that following Jesus is not an easy path. It is riddled with suffering and hardship. But, it cannot be compared to what Jesus suffered on the cross for us.
Some mentioned the more they are persecuted, the more reward they will receive in heaven.
One brother mentioned, to the western church's shame, how little church goers give from their wallets forgetting how much Jesus gave of Himself for us.
The general consensus from our Chinese brothers and sisters is that going through suffering and persecution strengthens our faith. As we are taught in God's Word of Truth, "If we suffer with Him, we will also reign with Him."
--We must, as the church, change our way of thinking about persecution and suffering for Jesus!
--The Word says to bless our enemies, not curse. And do not return evil for evil. Doesn't that infer we are not to attempt to harm our persecutors?
--The Christian walk is wonderful ... a walk of faith, hope and love; a walk filled with God's promises that are 'Yes' and 'Amen.'
--But, it's also a walk involving persecution for our faith. Just as Jesus and the saints before us were persecuted, so we will be persecuted at some point for our faith.
I'd like to end this message, as I did the last time, with a story Sabina Wurmbrand told about a young boy who stood on the dock waving and yelling at a large steam ship disappearing into the distance to turn back to port. "Don't be silly, a man said as he stood next to the boy." "The steamer won't change its course just because you're waving for it to turn back." "But, then suddenly, the ship began to turn back to port." "The man looked at the boy with amazement and asked the boy with a perplexed look on his face, 'How can it be possible?' The boy smiled at the man and replied, 'The captain steering the ship ... is my father.' "
So, too, will our Heavenly Father do for all those who love and trust in Him!