March 26, 2012
By: John Barnett
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Do we as present day believers get to escape all of the dangerous times of death and destruction of the Tribulation? In a precise, accurate, Biblical, and theological way the true answer is: YES. Christ's church is not destined or appointed to go through that wrath (I Thessalonians 5:9).
However, if we go though just the normal struggles that many face today, and most have always faced—it may seem like the Tribulation to those of us in the English-speaking world. In historic perspective, we Americans are living in a bubble, and I believe the bubble—is already starting to pop.
Are we to prepare for the demonic invasion of Satan’s rampage through the earth in the Tribulation? No, but are you prepared this evening for what most believers alive on earth today, and throughout the past six thousand years, have faced? Probably not!
For all of the history of the Earth, for MOST believers, life for God has been reduced to three words: frequent hostile persecution, constant inescapable affliction, and earnest supplication for the protection of loved ones.
Every day there are more voices around Christ's Throne in Heaven, more saints who kneel raising the fragrant worship of praise to God, and more redeemed lives who bless the Name of their Redeemer. Because:
Worshippers Increase Daily In Heaven
One of the avenues of enlarging the worshippers of Heaven is through the martyrdom of saints. More believers have died for their faith in the last hundred years than have died for Christ in the other 1,900 years since the Cross. That is what Jesus said it would be like in Matthew 24:7-9.
For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are the beginning of sorrows. 9 “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake.
Remember that many of Christ's saints are suffering and dying around the world today. Persecutions are as old as God’s people. Saints were persecuted in the Old Testament as were believers in the New Testament. Even a casual reading of the book of Acts will find no less than 47 different events that involved harm, mistreatment, and persecution of those early believers.
In modern times with the unstoppable flow of news and reports from every corner of the globe via the internet, there is a growing awareness of the worldwide suffering that goes on among literally millions of believers who are persecuted just because they are Christ's. Persecution takes many forms.
The Persecution of Economic Discrimination
Last month I was contacted online by a group of Pakistani believers who wanted to translate chapters from my Living Hope book into their language. Although we weren’t able to fund another project at this time, I asked them to share more about who they were.
They explained what life is like for followers of Jesus Christ in Pakistan—one of the lands of great persecution against His church. Persecution for Pakistani believers takes many forms; one of the foremost is constant financial oppression. Most believers aren’t allowed to own property in Pakistan.
Consequently, they must rent from Moslem landlords. These hostile landlords charge believers as much money for rent as they think they can possibly be earning—so the believers are always short on money just to live. This makes hunger, endless labor, and financial insecurities just some of the daily persecutions and afflictions our brothers and sisters face in Pakistan.
Persecution is just one form of what the Bible describes as affliction. Affliction in our lives was designed by God to be much like the fires of Daniel 3 that the three Hebrew boys were made to enter. That fiery furnace only burned away what hindered them from walking with the Lord—the bindings that bound them! So in our lives affliction and persecution are designed by God to only burn away anything that hinders our walk with Him!
What is a Biblical perspective to hold on as we see more and more hostility to Biblical Christianity? First, the persecutions we see all around the world are just a preview of the horrors to come. Jesus called them…
The Beginning of Tribulation
Jesus described the end of the world in Matthew 24 as a snapshot of Earth at His Second Coming. Do you remember those first characteristics of “the end of days” that Jesus described?
1. Jesus described: Global False Teaching (vv. 4–5).
2. Jesus described: Global Warfare (v. 6).
3. Jesus described: Global Famines, Epidemics and earthquakes (v. 7-8).
4. Jesus described: Global Persecutions (v. 9). Christians have always been hated by the world, but here we have an acceleration of persecutions and murders. All nations will be involved. This certainly was not true in the history of the early church.
5. Jesus described: Global Chaos (vv.10–13).
6. Jesus described: Global Evangelism (v. 14).
So, Jesus has warned us all in advance that…
Global Persecution Is Coming
As we draw close to what appears to be the end of days, we would begin to see the level of persecution is rising. Now consider what most Church historians have observed, they nearly unanimously observe that, “More Christians have been killed for their faith in the past century than in all the centuries of Christianity combined”. Wow, that is what Jesus would call the beginning of birth pangs for what He saw at the end of days as global persecution.
A recent article in The New York Times states that there are: “…eleven countries where Christians are currently enduring great religious persecution are China, Sudan, Pakistan, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Egypt, Nigeria, Cuba, Laos, and Uzbekistan…anti-Christian persecution based on two political ideologies — Communism and militant Islam.” Not mentioned were Indonesia and Iran where recently a married couple were severely beaten and whipped in their own home by the Religious Police of Iran for their faith in Christ.
Indeed, "Christian persecution" sounds like something from the distant past – conjuring up images of the early followers of Jesus being thrown to the lions, and various apostles being crucified or otherwise martyred for their faith. For most of us in America the “out of sight” plight of our brothers and sisters so far away, keeps them also “out of our mind” so often.
Today across the world, believers are suffering persecution. We need to sorrow with them in their sorrow, and to sacrifice for them who are suffering for Christ's sake. We need regular reminders because…
We are Often so Isolated from World Problems
Even though most of the time we in America are unaware of it, there is a growing hostility for Christians around the world. Here is an overview of the situation region-by-region:
• Middle East: A decade ago, Islamic fundamentalists had an uneasy religious "truce" with Western expatriates who came to work for them, particularly in the oil-rich nations like Saudi Arabia. They tried to keep the Westerners, mostly Christians of one degree of commitment or another, restricted from the rest of the populace. The Islamic world is a hostile place for Christians: In Saudi Arabia, for instance, Christianity is illegal, and conversion from Islam is punishable by death. In Pakistan, the death penalty is prescribed for anyone who "blasphemes" Islam – something that occurs automatically during Christian evangelism. In Egypt and elsewhere, Christian girls have acid thrown in their face by Islamic extremists if they refuse to convert to Islam, or are raped, or worse. At best, in the more enlightened Islamic societies, Christians (as well as Jews) are second-class citizens, have a special tax imposed upon them, and do not share the rights of Muslims.
• North Africa: The worst horrors seem to be in the Sudan., where a civil war has been on-and-off for over 50 years between the Arab, Muslim north and the black (Christian and animist) south. The north has been working toward the Arabization and Islamization of the country by the imposition of Islamic law in the south in 1983, which flared to life the smoldering civil war. Then the Islamic military overthrew a democratic government in 1989 leading to the deaths of over one-and-a-half million people in just the past ten years — most the result of government imposed “famines, warfare, and the displacement of millions of people from their homes.”
• Eastern Asia: In China, the continuing persecution of Chinese believers is well documented. Churches have been bulldozed with believers inside. Pastors have been arrested, humiliated and executed. Christians have been threatened and imprisoned. Christians have been beaten to death. They are frequently tortured and imprisoned for many years. Heavy fines and confiscation of property are also frequently employed. Current reports tell us that in "house churches" (those not sanctioned by the totalitarian government) in 20 provinces, 129 people had been killed recently, 23,686 arrested and 4,014 sentenced to "re-education."
• Latin America: Missionaries have been attacked as "soft targets" by the various structures of sin-drug lords and terrorists in particular. Other Christian workers have been kidnapped, and mission agencies have had to adopt a very difficult policy-refusing to pay ransom. Agency executives agree that giving in to these demands would only cause a rash of kidnappings. Missionaries going into insecure situations know they must rely on God's help and grace.
• Africa: Because of their stand for Christian principles of freedom and democracy, and because of their untiring work in the name of Christ on behalf of the poor, oppressed and persecuted, many Christians have been martyred in political and ethnic conflicts. There are many incidents in Rwanda, Burundi and South Africa where missionaries, pastors, priests, churches, monasteries, and seminaries have been specifically targeted. In Rwanda's genocide alone, half a million Christians were martyred.
But they are not out of God’s mind. The persecution and martyrdom of believers are a great part of the focus of our God in Heaven. Each day there are more voices in Heaven praising God, and many of them are coming by way of severe persecution. Think about the…
Saints in Heaven who Praise God for their Salvation
From Stephen, the first martyr in Christ's Church onward, these ‘faithful unto death’ servants ascend to Heaven as Jesus stands up to welcome them (Acts 7:55). These faithful witnesses then join the saints encircling the Throne, kneeling before Christ and offering Him their worship.
For just a moment, what exactly is the special worship offered by the faithful saints in Heaven when at last they get to see Jesus face-to-face? What do we hear them over and over repeating? What thank offering is the fruit of their lips as they praise Christ?
Look with me for just a moment at Revelation 5:9:
“And they sang a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll, And to open its seals; for You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation”. NKJV
And again at Revelation 5:12:
“…saying with a loud voice: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing!” NKJV
And again in Revelation 7:10:
“…and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” NKJV
Those in Heaven often thank God for Christ, their Redeemer, Author of their salvation; and they say with their voices that God saved, redeemed, washed and cleansed them.
When is the last time that you actually told someone out loud, with your own voice how God saved you?
We can offer continuous worship offerings that rise to God when with our own voice we praise Him (Heb. 13:15). And what is the single greatest gift we should keep praising and thanking God for? Yes, our salvation that—He purchased us, He washed away our sins—that is the theme of our eternal song of gratitude.
The Simple Worship of Proclaiming Christ
For just a moment let me ask you—how many of you at this very moment know: that your sins are forgiven, that Christ died in your place, and that you possess eternal life right here, right now, today?
In other words: you are a born-again believer, saved by the grace of God, not by any works of righteousness that you could ever do?
If you know that would you just stand with me as a simple, silent proclamation that you belong to Christ?
Amen—you may be seated.
The simple act of distilling your testimony of salvation down to a short declaration of what God has done inside of you is a very major part of…
Learning to Worship Our Redeemer
I have a simple request for each of you who stood testifying by standing just moments ago, that you are redeemed by Christ's blood--take a few minutes this week, and write down on a small 3x5 card, or slip of paper, your salvation testimony in a 30 second or less form.
You don’t have to have an exact date, or go into flowery details. The essence is what GOD did (Jonah 2:9 “Salvation is of the Lord’) in your heart and life—not what YOU did.
I took 5 minutes and whittled mine down this week to 87 words that I can say in 30 seconds. Listen:
I praise God for saving me from my sin.
I first heard the Gospel with my heart in 1962.
Before then I feared the consequences of getting caught for my sins.
But that November day I first feared God, knowing my sin was against Him.
At that moment I knelt, confessing my sins and asking for His gracious, promised forgiveness and cleansing.
From that moment 45 years ago, He took all my sin upon Himself, moved to live within—never to leave me or forsake me forever.
I would encourage each of you who are born-again and know Christ to make these next few weeks of our Thanksgiving and Advent services, a time of—offering and listening to offerings of praise to the Lamb our Redeemer.
Each time we all do that, we will get a small taste of what Heaven will be like forever as all of us join the redeemed telling Christ our Redeemer thanks over and over for our salvation--forever.
Persecution is as old As Christ's Church
So what is the record of the persecution of Christ's church since the Cross? How has the church fared? All of the apostles were insulted by the enemies of their Master. They were called to seal their doctrines with their blood and nobly did they bear the trial.
In the last decade we in America are sensing more and more that persecution is heading our way. Ten years ago, in 1999, there were two amazing martyrdom’s in Christ's church, that made the news. They both seem so LONG ago, that we have almost lost the wonder of what happened. The first was in late January when an Australian missionary and his two sons were burned to death in India. The newspapers reported this story on: January 25, 1999
Australian missionary Graham Stewart Staines, 58, was burned to death in his car Saturday along with sons Philip, 10, and Timothy, 6, after a crowd doused their car in gas and lit it outside a church in the town of Manoharpur in the eastern Indian state of Orissa.
Information sent from Voice of the Martyrs sources in India say that Staines had been working with leprosy patients in India for 34 years. His sons were visiting on vacation from school.
The attack comes amidst rising persecution of Christians in India. Yesterday, five more missionaries were beaten in Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh. The missionaries were handing out tracts and pamphlets when they were attacked.
Reportedly, the militants attacked the vehicle armed with bows and arrows after warning village residents not to interfere. People from the village who tried to help the missionary and his sons were beaten by the mob. Staines' wife, Gladys, told reporters she was upset by the attack on her husband, but not angry with the men who committed the crime.
Monday at a memorial service for her husband and sons, Gladys and her daughter led the congregation in singing:
Because he lives, I can face tomorrow.
Because he lives, all fear is gone.
Because I know He holds the future,
And life is worth a living just because He lives.
In America at the Columbine massacre on April 20, 1999 a Christian was martyred, her last moments immortalized by Michael W. Smith’s song “This is Your Time”. The title track was inspired as Cassie Bernall (a student killed in the Columbine massacre) answered "yes" to the question "Do you believe in God?" just after seeing another student killed for answering "yes" to that same question. The lyrics speak vividly of what happened:
It was a test we could all hope to pass but none of us would want to take;
Faced with the choice to deny God and live, for her there was one choice to make....
What if tomorrow, What if today, Faced with the question, oh, what would you say?....
Fall on the mercy and hear yourself praying "Won't you save me?"
What Biblical Response does God Expect us to Make?
1. We should love and pray for anyone persecuting believers. Matthew 5:44-45 “But I say to you,
- love your enemies (please repeat that aloud with me),
- bless those who curse you (please repeat that aloud with me),
- do good to those who hate you (please repeat that aloud with me), and
- pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you (please repeat that aloud with me)
,45 “that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. NKJV
2. We are to gather to pray for believers we know that are being persecuted. Acts 12:5 Peter was therefore kept in prison, but constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church. NKJV
3. We need to learn to show as much concern for the persecuted believers in distant places, as for those in our own local church. 1 Corinthians 12:25-26 that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another.26 And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. NKJV
4. We must always must remember who our true enemy really is. Ephesians 6:12, 18 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. 18 praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints—NKJV
5. We are can be filled with joy from God as we praise Him for the steadfast love of our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ. 1 Thessalonians 3:7-9 therefore, brethren, in all our affliction and distress we were comforted concerning you by your faith.8 For now we live, if you stand fast in the Lord.9 For what thanks can we render to God for you, for all the joy with which we rejoice for your sake before our God, NKJV
6. We should start standing side-by-side with persecuted believers and accepting personal loss in order to encourage and help them. Hebrews 10:32-34 But recall the former days in which, after you were illuminated, you endured a great struggle with sufferings:33 partly while you were made a spectacle both by reproaches and tribulations, and partly while you became companions of those who were so treated;34 for you had compassion on me in my chains, and joyfully accepted the plundering of your goods, knowing that you have a better and an enduring possession for yourselves in heaven. NKJV
7. We should note that God asks us to remember persecuted believers as if we ourselves were suffering. Hebrews 13:3 Remember the prisoners as if chained with them—those who are mistreated—since you yourselves are in the body also. NKJV
Common Sense Preparations for the Future:
When we bought our home in Oklahoma they said that there are 100-year floods, and 500-year floods to be aware of. They left out the third, Noah’s Flood. In other words, don’t prepare for the Tribulation, there is nothing anyone could do to get ready. But, like they said in Oklahoma, if you are wise don’t buy in the 500-year flood plain, and don’t build in the 100. How do we apply that? First, it is unwise to think that your food will always be available at anytime day or night from Wal-Mart. Most of us don’t think about how a normal natural disaster can wipe out normal life for a week or two.
In California they told all of us citizens to have an earthquake box in our car (to survive a day or two stuck out on the highways when the quakes wipe out bridges. Then they said every home should have the same to last a week or two (water, food, heat, and money when the system goes down around those unpredictable, but expected disasters). Are you ready for the power to be off for a week? For stores to be closed a week? For the banks to be closed a week?
A Biblical Perspective On Persecution Of Believers
First, God's Word tells us that persecution is inevitable for us as believers :
• 1 Thessalonians 3:2-4 "and sent Timothy, our brother and minister of God, and our fellow laborer in the gospel of Christ, to establish you and encourage you concerning your faith,3 that no one should be shaken by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we are appointed to this.4 For, in fact, we told you before when we were with you that we would suffer tribulation, just as it happened, and you know." NKJV
• 2 Timothy 3:12 "Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution." NKJV
Second, we are called to participate in the sufferings of Christ :
• 1 Peter 2:20-23" For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God.21 For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: 22 “Who committed no sin, Nor was deceit found in His mouth”; 23 who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously;" NKJV
• 1 Peter 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; 13 but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.14 If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified.15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people’s matters.16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter." NKJV
Third, God's Word promises wonderful treasures for those who face persecution:
• Death brings the ultimate blessing of actually being with Jesus: Philippians 1:21, 23 For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 23 For I am hard pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. NKJV
• God will finally bring justice to all unjustly harmed when Jesus returns: 2 Thessalonians 1:5-7 "which is manifest evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you also suffer;6 since it is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you,7 and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels," NKJV
• Persecution and affliction matures us spiritually. James 1:2-4 "My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials,3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.4 But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing". NKJV
• Persecution brings us Heavenly rewards. James 1:12 "Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him." NKJV
Fourth, God always is using persecution for His purposes:
• Persecution often helps us spread the gospel to other places. Acts 8:1, 4 Now Saul was consenting to his death. At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. 4 Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word. NKJV
• Persecution helps to reveal Christ in us. 2 Corinthians 4:7-11 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.8 We are hard pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair;9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed—10 always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.11 For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. NKJV
• Persecution helps to encourage others to be bold in their testimony. Philippians 1:12-14 But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel, 13 so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ;14 and most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. NKJV
• The persecution of Christ's saints always glorifies Him. I Peter 1:7 These [all kinds of trials] have come so that your faith -- of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire -- may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. (NIV)