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I.) The Reality of Persecution
It is an understatement to say that much is taking place in the world today. Recent events have turned family against family, friend against friend, and neighbor against neighbor. More critically, these events are positioning the church to make a decision:
1.) Conform to the worlds demands and be at peace with it.
2.) Reject the worlds demands and experience the consequences.
This is the stage that is being established, and it is somewhat foreign to us in America. A line is being drawn in the sand, and we as believers must count the cost and decide which side we will stand on:
“Will we conform to the world and live, or will we conform to Christ and die?”
Remember what Jesus said of everyone who leaves everything and follows Him:
“He will receive a `12 sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions…”
The question of persecution is never a matter of if it will arise, but when it will because:
“All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”
If they persecuted our Master, and crucified the Prince of Peace, they will not spare us His slaves, who He purchased with His own blood.  Jesus tells us that we will be hated by all the world for His name sake.
Matthew Henry rightly said:
“Christ’s followers cannot expect better treatment in the world than their Master had.”
J.C. Ryle stated:
“The servant of Christ must never be surprised if he has to drink of the same cup with His Lord.”
Charles Spurgeon said:
“The good man has his enemies. He would not be like his Lord if he had not. If we were without enemies we might fear that we were not the friends of God, for the friendship of the world is enmity to God.”
II.) A World at War with Its Reconciler
It is important for us to be reminded that the world does not love God or even want Him. The world hates God and is at war with Him, because it lies in the power of Satan. Satan has blinded the minds of the unbelieving world that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ. Unbelievers are not only blinded but held captive by him to do his will. They walk according to his ways by living in the lusts of the flesh, and indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind. They love darkness rather than the light:
“Everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.”
They hate the light of Christ because it exposes their sin for what it is.
The world is hostile towards God and His people. In the book of Acts, Stephen points this truth out to his Jewish audience when he said:
“Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become…”
1.) Cain killed Abel because his deeds were evil and his brothers were righteous.
2.) King Ahab called Elijah The Troubler of Israel and hated the prophet Micaiah because he always prophesied evil concerning him.
3) Ahab’s wife, Jezebel, sought to kill Elijah for killing the prophets of Baal, whom she loved.
4.) Isaiah was persecuted by King Manasseh, and according to tradition, sawn in two.
5.) Jeremiah was beaten and imprisoned, by Pashur the priest, for proclaiming God’s word.
The world hates both God’s message, and His ambassadors who carry it. Do not be surprised that the world hates you. Puritan author John Bunyan made this remark on suffering reproach for Christ:
“I bind these lies and slanderous accusations to my person as an ornament; it belongs to my Christian profession to be vilified, slandered, reproached and reviled, and since all this is nothing but that, as God and my conscience testify, I rejoice in being reproached for Christ’s sake.”
Renowned expositor, A.W. Pink said:
“The carnal mind is at enmity against God, and the more His children are conformed to His image the more they will bring down upon themselves the spite of His foes. Being “persecuted for righteousness sake” means being opposed because of right living. Those who perform their Christian duty condemn those who live to please self, and therefore evoke their hatred. This persecution assumes various forms, from annoying and taunting to opposing and tormenting.”
Remember it is those who desire to live godly in Christ who will be persecuted. Do not be surprised that the world hates you, whom He has set apart for Himself to be conformed into the image of His Son, Who they killed!
III.) The Offensive Message of Reconciliation
You may recall that Jesus prayed for us regarding our being in this world warring with its Reconciler:
“I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one…Sanctify them in the truth, Thy word is truth.”
His prayer is that we remain among a world that hates us, and be sanctified in that which it hates; the Word of the Living God. Jesus said that He would build His church, and He builds it through a clear proclamation of His gospel as revealed in His Word. The vessel through which He makes His gospel known is His church which obeys His commission to:
“Make disciples of all the nations…teaching them to observe all that I commanded you…”
“Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. He who has believed and been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.”
Jesus’ prayer is that we remain in a world that hates us and proclaim an offensive message which is foolishness to those who are perishing. The message of the church to this world at war with God begins with it being condemned already, and destined to experience His wrath for all of eternity. They are not God’s friends; they are His enemies, and He in turn is theirs. The world is in need of reconciliation with its Creator, God Almighty. The message of the church to this world at war with God ends with the message of this Life in Christ, where God reconciles His enemies back to Himself by His Son. God has committed to us the word of reconciliation, which is:
“That God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them.”
We are ambassadors of Christ begging on His behalf to the world, as though God were asking through us,:
“Be reconciled to God!”
He made reconciliation possible because:
“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
The message of the church is an offence to fallen humanity, and foolishness to all who perish, “but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
As His ambassadors to this world, God:
“Manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in everyplace. We are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. To the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life.”
IV.) Obey God Not Men
This is what we see in the book of Acts when uneducated and untrained men boldly proclaim Christ, and Him crucified and risen again. Those who were perishing could not stand the message of reconciliation to God through Christ, so:
“They commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.”
The apostles answer is simple:
“Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking what we have seen and heard.”
In other words:
“We will obey God, not man!”
They were further threatened but released, and those who were imprisoned and threatened for teaching Jesus Christ:
“Lifted their voices with one accord and said…’Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Thy bond-servants may speak Thy word with all confidence.’”
“Lord, give us more courage as we obey you and not man!”
After they prayed this:
“The place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak the word of God with boldness.”
They continued to do what brought about their persecution among a world at war with its Reconciler.
Acts 5 details the worlds response to God’s people not submitting to its demands and conforming to its standards:
“The high priest rose up, along with all his associates (That is the sect of the Saduccees), and they were filled with jealousy; and they laid hands on the apostles, and put them in public jail.”
In rage at the disciples teaching of Christ, they imprisoned them yet again:
“But an angel of the Lord during the night opened the gates of the prison, and taking them out said, ‘Go your way, stand and speak to the people in the temple the whole message of this Life.”
“Be freed and continue to do that which brings about your imprisonment; teach what you have been commissioned to teach!”
That is exactly what they did:
“Upon hearing this, they entered into the temple about daybreak, and began to teach.”
The world is always perplexed when God’s people refuse to comply with its demands upon their faith in the face of suffering. The religious leaders said to the disciples:
“We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name, and behold, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.”
The apostles’ answer is again simple:
“We must obey God rather than men.”
They obeyed God right then and there by teaching them the gospel, and the leaders wanted to kill them: But a respected teacher of the Law, a Pharisee named Gamaliel, encouraged them to leave the disciples alone:
“For if this plan or action is of men, it will be overthrown; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God. They took his advice; and after calling the apostles in, they flogged them and ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and then released them.”
Notice what the disciples do after being beaten for teaching of Christ, and threatened not to speak in His name any longer:
“So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.”
They obeyed God and not man!
V.) Suffering on the Horizon
For several centuries a system has been established in our nation which has restrained the world from severely persecuting us. Compared to our brothers and sisters in hostile nations, we have been able to obey God and not man with little to no consequence. The laws of our land have protected us.
The moral decline of the people of our nation has deteriorated the desire to uphold such laws. The system which now restrains is like a tree rotting away at its base under political and societal pressure. Godless ideology stands at its base with an ax sharpened by anger, and hatred, and self-love seeking to expiate the process. When that system of restraint comes down, hell will begin to break loose on the Christians of America.
Do not be afraid when it does:
1.) Jesus said that He will build His church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. The world may be able to beat, imprison, and kill its members, but it cannot conquer its Christ and their unity with Him:
“I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you.”
“Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.”
“Do not fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul, rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”
To be absent from the body is to be present with Him.
2.) Jesus said to go and make disciples of all nations teaching them to observe all that He commanded, and that He would be with us always:
“Even to the end of the age.”
He will neither leave us nor forsake us, because of this we should confidently say:
“The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. What shall man do to me?”
Our attitudes should be just like the three men who refused to bow to Nebuchadnezzar and threatened with is fiery furnace:
“God is able to save us, God will save us, but even if He does not we will not bow to those who are not God.”
The text reveals that a fourth person endured the flames with them whose appearance was like “a son of the Gods.” Christ was with them!
Greater suffering appears to be on the horizon for American believers that obey God rather than men. Many will fall away from the faith because of it. Like seed which fell on rocky ground, they will sprout up for a time appearing to have life. But their shallow hearts prevented the word from taking root in them, and persecution causes them to whither.
True faith endures through persecution, and conforms to the image of Christ no matter the cost. Christ greatly cares for His people who suffer for the sake of His name and the death of Stephen in Acts 7 give us a glimpse of this.
Stephen boldly taught the message of Life desiring to see God’s enemies reconciled to their Maker:
“When they heard this, they were cut to the quick, and they began gnashing their teeth at him. But being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; and he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
He does not see Christ seated at the right hand of God; He sees Jesus standing to receive his spirit as godless men kill him.
Matthew 5:10-12 says:
“Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Obey God and not men, for greater is he who is in You than He who is in the world, and He will neither leave you nor forsake you. Boldly and unashamedly proclaim the message of reconciliation, the message of Life, to a world at war with its Reconciler, and live a life to the glory of your Reconciler no matter the cost.
 Mark 10:30
 2 Timothy 3:12
 John 15:20; Acts 3:15; Galatians 3:13-15
 Matthew 10:22; Mark 13:13; Luke 21:17
 1 John 5:19
 2 Corinthians 4:4
 2 Timothy 2:25-26
 Ephesians 2:2-3
 John 3:19-20
 Acts 7:52
 Genesis 4:1-8; Hebrews 11:4; 1 John 3:12
 1 Kings 18:17-19; 22:8
 1 Kings 19:1-2
 Hebrews 11:37-38
 Jeremiah 20:1-6
 1 John 3:13
 John 17:14-15,17
 Matthew 16:17-18
 Matthew 28:18,20
 Mark 16:15-16
 Galatians 5:11; 1 Corinthians 1:18a
 John 3:18
 Romans 5:10; 8:7-8
 2 Corinthians 5:18-19
 2 Corinthians 5:20
 2 Corinthians 5:21
 1 Corinthians 1:18b
 2 Corinthians 2:14-16
 Acts 4:8-13
 Acts 4:1-3
 Acts 4:18
 Acts 4:19-20
 Acts 4:21
 Acts 4:24, 29
 Acts 4:31
 Acts 5:17-18
 Acts 5:19-20
 Acts 5:21
 Acts 5:28
 Acts 5:29
 Acts 5:30-33
 Acts 5:34-37
 Acts 5:38-40
 Acts 5:41-42
 John 14:20
 1 John 4:4
 Matthew 10:28
 2 Corinthians 5:8
 Matthew 28:20
 Psalm 118:6; Hebrews 13:5-6
 Daniel 3:16-18
 Daniel 3:19-25
 1 Timothy 4:1
 Mark 3:5-6,16-17
 Acts 7:54-56
 Acts 7:59