||Is the Church Secure?
Well, let's open our Bibles to Luke 21 this morning. And let's open up in a word a prayer. Heavenly Father, thank You for bringing the family of God back together again. Thank You for You're preserving grace that has kept us through the week. With all of the different things we have been through, here we are again together looking to Your word, looking to Your Spirit, to apply these unchanging truths in our changing world.
I pray that we would have, not only a mind to comprehend, but a heart to respond to what we hear. Lord, strengthen your people and strengthen us on this very difficult subject that we broach today. In Jesus' name, Amen.
I want to begin with something that somebody gave me some time back. And it goes this way. How many Christians does it take to change a light bulb? You've all seen variations of this. How many Christians does it take to change a light bulb?
There's a list of different kinds. Presbyterians, none-- lights will go on and off at predestined times. Catholics, none-- candles only. Baptists, at least 15-- one to change a light bulb and three committees to approve the change and decide who brings the potato salad. Episcopalians, it'll take three-- one to call the electrician, one to mix the drinks, and one to talk about how much better the old one was. Charismatics only one-- hands are already in the air. Pentecostals, 10-- one to change the bulb and nine to pray against the spirit of darkness.
Unitarians, we choose not to make a statement either in favor of or against the need for a light bulb. However, if in your own journey, you have found that light bulbs work for you, that is fine. You are invited to write a poem or compose a modern dance about your light bulb for next Sunday's service, in which we will explore a number of light bulb traditions, including incandescent, fluorescent, 3-way, long life, and tinted, all of which are equally valid paths to luminescence.
Methodists, undetermine-- whether your light is bright, or dull, or completely out, you are loved. You can be a light bulb, a turnip bulb, or a tulip bulb. Church-wide lighting services planned for next Sunday. Bring the bulb of your choice and a covered dish. Nazarenes, it takes six-- one woman to replace the bulb while five men review the church lighting policy. Lutherans, none. Lutherans don't believe in change.
Amish? Amish, what's a light bulb?
OK. Now that I've offended every tradition possible, there is a point to this. While we're so busy talking about insignificant things, like changing light bulbs, there's a world out there that would like to put out our light all together.
Now, I want to talk about something today that I really don't like to talk about, and most of us don't even like to even entertain, and that is the possibility and the idea of persecution. It's what none of us signed up for, persecution in following Jesus Christ. The Bible says all who live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. And you're thinking, some of you, this has nothing at all to do with my life, I have never been persecuted.
You know, that's not necessarily a good sign. You might be experiencing the peace of having no persecution. That's sort of like the peace of the draft dodger who in the Vietnam War went up to Canada thinking life rocks here, man, I get no problems. You're not in the battle. But if you ever get in the battle, by lifestyle, and by preaching the gospel, you will suffer persecution.
Now I realize that persecution, as such, in the West is virtually unheard of right now. Things are changing and I want to share that with you today. But it's been around since the time of Jesus Christ. It has certainly been around and is prevalent elsewhere.
Last year I was in Lebanon. I had the privilege of doing a pastors conference. And there were pastors from five Middle Eastern countries that were present at this conference from Lebanon, from Syria, from Iraq, from Jordan, from Egypt, and even a few from Sudan. So here we're brothers and sisters, their wives were there. It was this conference of leadership. And they were all talking about their hostile environments and how people have threatened them and threatened their families. And yet, there was something there that I wanted for us in the West. These men and women had a joy that was palpable. As they counted it worthy to suffer for Christ.
Well, how safe Church? That's a question that has been raised, even recently. Especially in Colorado when a man walked into a YWAM base, blew two people away. Went to a church in Colorado Springs, shot five people. And two died in church. Now, previously, this guy sent hateful emails and blogged about how he hated these groups and threatened them. And some lost their life.
So the question-- is the church secure? I can give you a quick, resounding, yes, absolutely. From a heavenly perspective? Absolutely. From Jesus' perspective, absolutely. Jesus said I will build My church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. You're on a winning team. Listen, I read the end of the book, we win. We win. You're on the winning team.
What happens until we finally win? What about the future of the church worldwide, especially in America? What about the possibility of persecution? Is being a Christian and a functioning part of the church always a pleasurable experience? And if persecution is coming, how do we prepare for it?
Well, there's three basic movements in the text I want to alert you to. Jesus tells his disciples what to expect in their future. It's something they didn't bargain on hearing. And then He tells them why they're going to experience it. And then He basically tells them what to do, how to respond to it.
So let's begin in Luke 21. And we're just going to look at a few verses. Probably most of you know that this chapter has a big theme and that is the second coming of Jesus Christ. Chapter 21 verse 27 is the highlight verse where Jesus promises that He's going to come back in power and glory. That's the highlight.
But way before verse 27, He tells them what's going to happen in the world and in their lives before He comes back. For instance, in verse 8, He says you can expect religious deception. "Take heed that you be not deceived. Many will come in My name saying I am He, and the time has drawn near, therefore, do not go after them." So that's what the world can expect to see-- false religious expressions. And that has always been the case, outside the church with various religious groups, various cults, and even inside the church, they have proliferated. And they will proliferate up until the end.
Then, verse 9 and 10, they can expect international conflict. "When you hear of wars and commotions, do not be terrified for these things must come first. But the end will not come immediately." And then He said to them "nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom." So we're not surprised when these things happen. Jesus said they would happen. And that they would happen before He comes again
Third, He talks about natural disasters. Verse 11 "there will be great earthquakes in various places and famines and pestilence. There will be fearful sights and great signs from heaven." Now as Jesus is going through this list with His disciples, I can't be certain, but I have a hunch that they were doing this. They didn't expect this. Understand that the disciples being Jews of that time had a certain fixed theology, a certain eschatology.
They believed that once the Messiah comes-- and they believed Jesus to be the Messiah-- once He comes, He's there for good. He's not going to leave and come back. In fact, what they expected Him to do was to conquer Rome, destroy the enemies of the Jews, set up Himself as King over Israel. And they would rule and reign with Him in positions of power, and authority, and influence.
But now it sounds like, wait a minute, it's going to be a long time before He comes. Because He talks about religious deception first, and then natural disasters, and then wars and conflicts. But it gets even worse. Verse 12, this is where the real shocker comes. "But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you, and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and the prisons. You will be brought before kings and rulers for My name's sake."
Now this is so shocking. This is the opposite of what they expected. It's hard for them to get their heads around this. In fact, they don't.
Even after He tells them all this, in the very next chapter, they are arguing about who will be the greatest in the kingdom. Who's going to sit at the right hand and the left hand in His glory. They bypass all of this nonsense about persecution and wars, et cetera. In fact, they don't even get it after Jesus dies and rises from the dead. In Acts 1, their first question is will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?
Now, go back to verse 12. And let's just pick this apart. He says number one, you can expect to be hated by the religious establishment. Or as He puts it, "they will deliver you to the synagogues and the prisons." The synagogue at that time was also the local court. Civil and criminal cases were heard and adjudicated in the synagogue. There were 23 judges that sat in judgment.
That's not what they expected. What they expected is for the synagogue, and all of the Jewish nation of Israel, to receive Jesus as their Messiah. Now the idea that Israel will reject Jesus as the Messiah completely and totally, and it will even involve them, was unexpected.
Second, you're going to be hated by the secular world. Or as Jesus puts it, "you will be brought before kings and rulers." In other words, Gentiles. The Jews had no king at that time. They were under a foreign power. That's not what they expected, they expected Jesus at any moment to raise up and conquer the Romans. They didn't expect the Romans to crucify Jesus.
But now, skip down to a verse 16. It even gets worse. They are going to be hated by their own family and even be killed. "You will be betrayed even by parents, and brothers, relatives, and friends. And they will put some of you to death." Now this is more than they can handle. To think that Jesus is going to be rejected by Israel, that He's not going to take over the world, but the world is going to crucify Him, to think that He's going to die and leave them before He ever comes back is off the charts for them. They weren't thinking that way at all.
And not only that, but He says in verse 16, the whole world is going to gang up on you. This is the complete antithesis of what they believed in. But it happened, didn't it? Didn't exactly what Jesus said would happen happen? Don't you remember as you go through the Book of Acts, as soon as the gospel is preached in Jerusalem, the synagogues rise up against them. The disciples get arrested. Wherever the gospel is taken-- in Jewish territory or Gentile territory-- they are arrested, betrayed, and even killed. That's exactly what happened. But they didn't expect that.
You can follow church history. There's a book that I recommend to you, if you haven't gotten it already, called Foxe's Book of Martyrs. It will outline for you stories of brothers and sisters in history who have suffered great persecution because they believed in Jesus Christ. For instance, the early church was flung to the lions by the Romans. They were burned at the stake. Caesar Nero took believers and tied them up to poles and poured hot pitch on them while they were alive and set them up and set the pitch aflame so that the Christians became living torches in his gardens at night.
One of the things Caesar Nero did-- get this. This is how bad it got-- is he knew that Christian says Jesus is the Good Shepherd and they're the flock. So we thought, OK, let's see if your shepherd will protect you. He took lamb skins, carcasses of lambs, and wrapped Christians in these carcasses, and then threw them to the wild dogs, and the lions, and the wolves in the arenas, and said let's see if your great Shepherd will protect you. And those dogs ate them alive. That's what they went through.
Molten lead, stories say, was poured upon them while they were alive. Eyes gouged out. Parts of their bodies cut off and roasted before their eyes. This is not what they expected to hear.
Now, that brings up a question for application. When you came to Christ, what did you expect would happen? I'm not going to ask you to answer that in this forum, but just think, what were the expectations? What was told you when you came to Christ? I was thinking about this this week.
What if somebody would have framed it for us this way, and they would have said, look, we want you to give your life to Jesus Christ and surrender totally to Him. Now, what's going to happen is you're going to be forgiven of all of your sins, you're going to have a peace in your life that you've never experienced before, you're going to be in heaven for the rest of eternity because of that. But from here on out, people are going to hate your guts, turn against you, and even your own family is going to shun you. I wonder how many people would say I'll sign up. Where do I sign?
You know what were the expectations? Well, maybe you thought, well, I'm going to have health and prosperity. I'm going to escape all problems. That's what those televangelists are always saying on television. What did you expect? Well, what Jesus says they can expect before His coming looks very grim. And persecution has always been around, but we tend to think of it as something that happened so long ago right? So long ago.
This last year, we estimate 160,000 Christians were killed for their faith in Christ. Now just think about that, 160,000 this last year. Christians in Sudan, if you follow the reports, have been sold into slavery. Christians in Indonesia, their villages were burned by Muslim radicals. In the 20th century, there have been more Christians martyred than any other century in history.
Do you hear that? That means in this last century, more Christians were killed than in the first century, or in the second, or third, or fourth century. With all of those great Roman persecutions that we mentioned, more in the last century. One report says in the 20th century, a hundred million Christians had been martyred. It's estimated-- if you took the whole church worldwide-- it would be estimated that one in every 200 Christians can expect to be martyred in his or her lifetime.
I know what you're thinking-- I didn't sign up for that. That wasn't understood as part of the package. Certainly the disciples didn't expect what they heard Jesus say.
Now, most of this, granted, happens outside the United States. We don't see this in our borders. But what I want you to be aware of is that it may be coming. I want you to be aware of that. Jesus wanted them to be aware of that. There is a more vocal, and more aggressive, and more hostile language and movement toward believers even in this country. We're seeing that.
At first, it was get rid of prayer in school. Then it was a debate over the public display of the Ten Commandments. Then it was let's take the words "under God" out of the Pledge of Allegiance, et cetera. Most of these were spearheaded by the notorious organization with the initials ACLU. They have an agenda. They've stated their agenda. They want to, in their words, ensure the First Amendment, the separation of church and state. They twist the whole concept of that. They want to basically remove any trace of religion-- especially Christianity if you follow their rulings-- out of public life whatsoever.
Here's a sampling. In California, they sued the National Park Service because they wanted a cross removed from a World War I Veterans Memorial. There's a little cross on it. There's a cross on it. We've got to get rid of it. You're violating the separation of church and state. So they sued the state of California.
Then they went after Los Angeles for their seal of the city which displayed, among many other spiritual icons, a cross. They went after them and said you've got to get rid of that. Even though California history has guys like Father Junipero Serra, who started 21 missions. And it has a huge religious background.
Then they went after the city of Redlands, California, because on their seal of the city was also a cross and the ACLU said under a clearly established law, this seal is unconstitutional. That's bogus. But they are so vigorous, and so aggressive, and so intimidating, most people fold when this happens.
I'm going to show you this book. And I'm just going to read a little paragraph out of it. It's an interesting title. It's called The Criminalization of Christianity. It's one of the books I've been reading in preparation for this. I've read several actually. But listen to what this author, Janet Folger writes. She says "There is a war going on for the future of our country. Most people know that. But what they may not know is that if Christians lose, the result won't just be public policy with which we disagree, it will be a prison sentence for those who disagree."
Now, she explains that. She writes "I was prepared to make a prediction in this book that many of you wouldn't have believed. I had written it down as an unbelievable, outrageous possibility. I was going to say that if we remain silent in this battle, pastors will go to jail for speaking about homosexuality from their own pulpits in their own churches. But before I could even finish this first chapter, it already happened."
And then she cites the case. "A Swedish court has sentenced a pastor belonging to the Pentecostal movement in Sweden-- Ake Green, he's in his 70s-- a month in prison under a law against incitement after he was found guilty of having offended homosexuals in a sermon. Soren Andersson, the president of the Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights, said on a hearing that the sentence that religious freedom could never be used as a reason to offend people. Therefore, he told the journalists, I cannot regard the sentence as an act of interference with the freedom of religion" close quote. It happened. The criminalization of Christianity.
In Elmira, New York, the police arrested seven Christians for praying in a public park where a gay festival was about to get underway. Now listen to the story. They didn't say anything. They didn't protest. They didn't hold up a sign. All they did was get down on their knees and begin to pray and they were arrested.
In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, two women in their 70s, both of them grandmas-- two grandmas-- and nine other people were arrested for sharing their faith on a public sidewalk, a possible sentence of 47 years in prison, because of a Pennsylvania ruling against hate crimes. You shared your faith. That must be a hate crime.
Now, some of you might be thinking, Skip, how is any of this appealing to me? You're trying to get us to sign up for this? How is any of what you just said ever going to get people attracted to Christianity? Well, I'll tell you this. It beats the alternative.
I would much rather go through all of the temporal rejection of this world than the eternal rejection of God. Jesus talked about wailing and gnashing of teeth and everlasting fire. I would say this is a much better deal than that. Now, that's what Jesus predicted. That's the unexpected future for the disciples.
Let's look at the reason, the unavoidable factor. This is why it will happen. At the end of verse 12 notice. "You will be brought before kings and rulers for My name's sake." Verse 17, "You will be hated by all for My name sake." They're going to persecute you, Jesus said, because they hate Me. They hate Me. See, it's not because Christians are ornery or unkind or unlovely, though sometimes they can be. But the reason this is going to happen is because they represent Me. They are tied to Me and they represent the gospel.
Now think about the gospel message for a minute. The gospel message is not inclusive. It's very exclusive. It can include everyone. Jesus died for the sins of the whole world. Any person in any country, any language, any age, at any time, can come to Jesus Christ and have their sins forgiven. But the gospel message says only those who receive Christ as Lord and Savior will enter heaven. All those who reject Him will be eternally lost.
That's not an appealing message. That angers people. They hate that message of the gospel. No wonder in Acts 2, when Peter was preaching, it says "Now when they heard this--" that is the message about Christ-- "they were cut to the heart." They did not like to hear that.
I got an email this week. The email is from somebody who claims to be a believer. I'm not going to doubt-- I don't know the person. I don't know if he attends here or if he wrote this by listening from a radio program. But he said, "I don't understand why every religion thinks that they have the special attention of God. It appears to me that Christians are no better than Muslims." You see it is a tough message. This narrow gospel is a tough message.
Listen. If there were 485 different ways to God, I'd preach all 485 of them. But there's not. If I take a plain, simple reading of scripture, there is but one way to heaven. And that angers people. And so Jesus said it's on account of Me. It's for My name's sake. That's the unavoidable factor.
Here's the principle. Great persecution is simply a result of the great commission. Can you remember that? Great persecution is simply a result of the great commission. If you go you into all the world and preach the gospel, you're going to get persecuted. All those who live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.
Jesus said in John 15 "If the world hates you, you know it hated Me before it hated you that it might be fulfilled--" listen to this-- "they hated me without a cause." Have you ever had somebody just hate you for no reason? Why don't you like-- I just hate you. Why? I just do. Well, that's not fair. Listen. Jesus has first dibs on that. "They hated me without a cause." If they hate you, it's because they hate me.
I was listening the other night to a little MP3 broadcast Madalyn Murray O'Hair. You remember she was very vocal forerunner of the atheistic movement in America. Then I followed her over the years until her death in '95. I was listening to this MP3 debate interview with Walter Martin and Madalyn Murray O'Hair and a host. And her language was so demeaning and vitriolic and hostile toward Christians especially.
This is what she said. "Christianity is intolerant, anti-democratic, anti-sexual, and anti-life. It is anti-woman and I cannot stand that. It is anti everything that is good and human and decent and kind and love filled and understanding. I used to have an intellectual hatred for Christianity. I think that is broadening now. I am enjoying hating the whole thing." Wow. How tolerant of her and loving of her to state it in such a manner.
So the unexpected future of persecution is based on the unavoidable factor of "My names sake." So, how is that to be met? What do we do now? Well, it takes unswerving followers to meet up with that, unswerving followers. I know, you received Jesus Christ and was wonderful. And you thought this life rocks. This is great. Then, all of a sudden, life gets hard. People laugh at you. Your family rejects you. You lose a job or a relationship because of it. And it's very, very difficult.
So what do we do? Well, number one you believe in His promise. Look at what it says in verse 18. "But not a hair of your head shall be lost." What does that mean? He just got through saying they are going to hate you and kill you. But, by the way, not even a hair of your head is going to be lost. Now does that mean that Christians are exempt from suffering? That we're not going to go through the hard times that He said we would? That we're somehow exempt and protected? That wouldn't make sense. That would contradict what He just said.
No, this is a saying. This is a saying. This is a statement, just like we say no skin off my back. This is an ancient saying. Now, I'm going to read another verse of scripture that's going to explain what this verse means.
Same idea, different verse, this is Matthew 10:28-30. Jesus said "Do not fear those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin and not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father's will? And the very hairs of your head are all numbered."
What He is simply saying is this-- I and my Father take personalized care and concern whenever one of My children is being persecuted or mistreated. Just like a sparrow doesn't fall to the ground without your Father's will, these things aren't going to happen without your Father's will. And I take special interest and concern.
And here's why this is promised, because when we're being so poorly treated by the world, we're apt to think where's God? He doesn't care. Look what's happening to me. And Jesus would say not a hair of your head shall be lost.
So whatever you lose in this earth-- you lose a boyfriend because of your relationship to Christ. You lose a job. You even get killed, as some have or are being. Then you die and you get ushered into heaven. I can guarantee you this, you're never going to look back at what you lost. You're never going to say, I lost my boyfriend. The rewards are going to be so great that it could be said not a hair of-- you're not going to lose anything. Jesus said rejoice and be exceedingly glad when you are persecuted for great is your reward in heaven. Do you believe His promise?
Second, you persevere. Verse 19-- and will close with this-- "By your patience possess your souls." By your patience possess your souls. Now, that's sort of enigmatic, isn't it? What does that mean? Here's another translation, the New English Bible. "By standing firm, you will win true life for yourselves." By standing firm. Patience is another word for enduring, persevering.
It's the same idea as Matthew 24:13 or Mark 13:13, which is the same event being covered. Jesus said, "He who endures to the end will be saved." Here's the problem. Life is good. Then life gets bad. And when life gets bad, we want to say I quit. I didn't sign up for this. If you would just hold on and persevere and keep going, you're going to be even more blessed. You're going to be even more blessed.
The problem is so often we want to quit. Jesus promises, don't quit, keep persevering, keep going through it. There's even a bigger blessing at the end. Like those Lebanese, and Syrian, and Iraqi, and Jordanian pastors, with that joy that they had. Don't quit.
In fact, maybe it would be better instead of praying for a lighter load, how about let's pray for stronger backs? Let's pray for stronger backs. So assaults are going to come. And when assaults come, you trust the Lord, and you stay the course.
Let me give you two quick ways to do that in closing, two quick ways to do that. Number one, shine your light. Number two, spread your salt. OK, shine your light. The world wants to put out your light. Don't argue about light bulbs. Turn on the light. Share Christ with people. Tell them the truth. Don't back down.
Peter said that we should always be ready to give a reason, an answer, a defense, for the hope that lies in us. But when you do it, Peter said do it with meekness, reverence. Don't beat people with a gospel club. You wretched foul sinner. You are going to hell. That's the good news.
A soft answer turns away wrath. Shine the light.
Then number two, spread your salt. We're called salt and light. We live in America not the Roman Empire. We don't have a Caesar over us. We have a part in the process. We can vote. We can get involved in setting policy. We can make what we believe in count. And so do that. Make a difference. Or every year, you'll complain at how bad it is, but you never did anything at all to change that. We live in a country where we can do that.
But I want to warn you in saying that. I want to warn you. Because I think Christians think that for the gospel to flourish in America, we have to have righteous politics and righteous government. You don't. In fact, if you look at history, the gospel flourished greatly when it was often persecuted the most and hated the most. Look at the Roman Empire. Look. At the Cultural Revolution in China. Today 100 million Christians came out of great persecution. So it's not like we have to have all the right people in all the right politics.
So whatever happens in this next year with the election, don't go, oh, God's gone now. God never requires any kind of form of government for Him to continue His work on the earth. Get involved. Spread the salt. Shine the light. And trust the Lord.
So is the church secure? Absolutely, yes. The gates of hell will not prevail against it.
When I was a kid in school, I wasn't great at sports. I did them, because I had to do them. But I wasn't really great in any of them. And so, when it was time to pick teams, I hated it. Because I knew I wouldn't get picked first, or second, or third. I'd be the kid kind of hang around going I hope somebody picks me. But, I knew that if the team captains were either Dwayne Moore or David [INAUDIBLE]. I want to be on either of their teams, because those are winning teams. Those guys know how to strategize. And they're great athletes. So I was hoping I get picked on one of those teams.
You're on the winning team. Jesus picked you and His team. Always good to know that you're on the winning team. So know that going into all of this. Don't back down. Now, remember that old hymn back in the 1870s that has been sung through our century, "Onward Christian soldiers marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before." It was hymn that was written off a 2 Timothy which says endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. Let's do that. Let's march onward.
Let's not do what some other author did in changing the words of that hymn to read "Backward Christian soldiers, fleeing from the fight, with the cross of Jesus nearly out of sight. Christ our rightful Master stands against the foe, onward into battle we seem afraid to go." Let's not shrink from this battle. Let's say, I'm up for it. We're up for it.
I love you. I love this Church let's march into the future, together, preaching the gospel. And the question isn't how many Christians does it take to change a light bulb? The real question is this. How many Christians does it take to shine the light? Just one. Just one who will be bold enough at work, at school, in the neighborhood. Stand up, turn on the light, share Jesus.
People won't like me. They didn't like Him. People will be mean to me. They were mean to Him. Great is your reward in heaven.
Heavenly Father, fill us with Your Holy Spirit. Make us bold, because this is the truth. You are the way, the life. I pray we would never be ashamed of that. Help us. Help us to shine the light and spread the salt. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen.