Friday, April 8, 2016

Putting persecution into Perspective

Read Acts 18.

ISIS terrorists boast and broadcast the beheading of Christians.  Governments eagerly protect the rights of any citizen, unless they are Christians.  Any other belief is culturally acceptable.  But one who practices a Biblical faith is often referred to as hate-filled and phobic.  Meanwhile, true believers in Jesus, though not perfect, love God and love people (Mark 12:29-31).

The world-wide persecution of believers in Jesus is not new.

Such challenges are recorded seemingly in most of the chapters in the book of Acts.  Peter and John were arrested and even beaten.  Their crimes were healing a lame man and preaching that Jesus is the only way to be saved from sin.  Deacon Stephen is the first recorded martyr of the church.  His crime was preaching Jesus.  Many believers fled Judea due to the persecution, fearing for their lives.  Saul pursued them in order to arrest them and bring them back to Jerusalem.  Then, he became the object of assassination attempts.

The Apostle James was beheaded.  Paul and Barnabas were met with opposition wherever they went.  Paul was stoned by the Jews in Lystra and left for dead.  Paul and Silas were arrested in Philippi and beaten.  In Thessalonica, a mob ran them out of town.  Jason and other believers were detained and let go only after they paid money.

Claudius, the Roman Emperor from 41-54 A.D., "commanded all Jews to leave Rome".  This godly and spiritually mature Jewish couple found their way to Corinth. Then, joining Paul in ministry with others, they again experienced persecution.  This time it was at the hands of fellow Jews.  By verse 12, it became a "united attack" as the group of believers were brought before Gallio, the proconsul.  Their crime was that they believed Jesus to be the Messiah.  Despite the fact that the case was dismissed as malicious prosecution, the revilers publicly beat Sosthenes.  The government stood by and did nothing.

Christian pilgrims left various parts of Europe and sailed to the new world due to religious persecution.  The organizing of several states in the colonies were for the express purpose of protecting Christian beliefs.  (For examples, see the history of the founding of Virginia and Rhode Island.)  Today, the United States, once the world leader of freedom and individual rights, is on the verge of attempting to force Biblical Christians to not only accept sinful behaviors but to publicly participate and approve them.

Are we disappointed?  Often.  Yet, wherever the good news of Jesus is presented lives are eternally changed.  There is no reason for the ones who have committed themselves to Christ to be discouraged.  Our hope and peace was never in this world.  The Scriptures have well-prepared us, including the final chapters of earth's story.  "I have said these things to you, that in me (Jesus) you may have peace.  In the world you will have tribulation.  But take heart; I have overcome the world." (John 16:33)

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