When wags was a puppy, he wanted more than anything else to be president of the United States. The little dog knew that he could change the world if he could just get into that oval office. Wags worked hard, studied, and when he was all grown up, he completely lost interest. When asked what happened, he explained that he had seen how people treat the president. The harder he works, the more he gets picked on. So wags pursued a career as a housepet instead.
While Wags wasn't exactly courageous in his career choice, he did have a valid point. Public figures get picked on. ...A lot. The more noticable they are, the more they are picked on. What's worse, the better you are at your job, the worse the harassment.
Jesus is the most important person who ever lived. Because of this, many hated Him, and many more still do today. Some hold Him in outright contempt, others just coldly refuse to accept Him. He also warned us that because the world hates Him, it will also hate us. In fact, the closer we walk with God, the more the world will hate us.
Persecution has been a recurring theme in the church ages. Now there are seven distinct church ages prophesied in Revelation, and I had originally thought to go over them one by one. However, since I have already done that and there is no use repeating myself so soon, I want to give an overall history of the church age.
Last week, we spoke of the early church. This was the Ephesus era. Immediately following this was the Smyrna era. This began with emperor Nero and continued until the fourth century, ending with Diocletian. This was a time of extremely intense persecution by the Roman government. Early in this era, Rome destroyed Jerusalem. Taking a cue from the Assyrians, they scattered the Hebrew nation. As Israel was the center of the church, this effectively scattered the church as well. Yet consider this- the church has two purposes. While it is assembled, it exists to worship. While it is scattered, it exists to spread the gospel. By disbursing Israel and the church with it, Nero released the gospel into the world in a flood.
Bear in mind that God is not finished with Israel, yet. While Hebrews would individually suffer terrible persecution at the hands of their enemies in whose land they were scattered, it was now impossible to attack all of them at once. This is important. Satan still wishes to destroy Israel. After all, they are God's chosen people. They are a threat to Satan's dream of a Godless Earth. By allowing the Hebrews to remain scattered among the nations for nineteen centuries, God kept His people as a whole safe from anihilation while allowing other world events to continue.
The Pergamos era began in 312 and saw the beginning of the Catholic church under constantine. During this time, the church was elevated and married to the government, resulting in the so-called "universal" church, which we know today as the catholics. Both this era and the era of Thyatira, which included the dark ages, would see a terrible civil war within the church, with the catholics declaring war on anyone who would not bow to their authority. It should be pointed out that as the state religion, the catholic church rapidly incorporated elements of other religions. Pantheism and idolatry became saintism and maryism. Other heresies climbed in one by one, including the infalability of the pope, indulgances, purgatory, and a large amount of white magic. Those Christians who chose to remain seperate from this rapidly decaying corporation were hunted down and killed, often sadistically, being burned, drowned, drawn and quartered, or worse.
In 610, Satan began the construction on an anti-Christian movement. This was when Muhamed founded Islam. Muhamed was a pirate, among many other dispicable things, including a rapist, pedophile and con artist. But one thing he could do was lead. Muhamed's plan was to create a new monotheistic religion, assuming that Jews and Christians would automatically accept it and fall in behind him. Early portions of the quaran call jews and Christians brothers, and contain orders never to harm a Christian or a jew, as (claims Muhamed) we worship the same God. When our forefathers did not fall in behind him, the facade fell away and war was declared. That war persists to this day.
In the age of Sardis, beginning in 1520, the catholic church had become almost unrecognizable as the people of God. It was so full of corruption that many upright Christians finally decided that enough was enough. Certain brave men took their stand and protested what the church had become. This is where we get the term "protestant". Some protestants became like the baptistics, the church which remained seperate from catholocism but had kept a low profile. Some remained much like the catholics. In either case, the catholics did not like it, and fought. The fight lasted many centuries. Now, not only was the church at war with outside forces, but it was so fractured that catholics and protestants were killing each other, and both of them were murdering the anabaptists- those baptistics and baptist-like protestants who remained faithful. Even Martin Luthor himself took part in the murder of baptists.
During this time, the New World was being colonized. The rampant internal strife of the church caused many to seek freedom from persecution overseas. This was where things really stared to change. Having been refined, tried and hardened by trials and hardship, the real church of God now gathered strength. Soon, the missionary age would begin, with the church spreading out into the world like a huge, unstoppable juggernaut. Where God opened a door, no one would be able to shut it.
Let's not forget, however, that Satan has still been plotting. All this time, he's been swirling his fingers in world events, getting everything ready for the end game. In the same year that the United States became a nation, Satan unveiled his plan to completely wipe Christians and jews off the face of the Earth. But that is for next week.
This has been a long message this week, I know. We just covered nearly two millenia, spanning from Paul's ministry to the American revolution. So I will make my conclusions brief.
Persecution is a very unusual phenomenon when it comes to the church. When countries or other organizations suffer such intense persecution from within and without, they crumble. There are two things which have undersone this kind of trouble for ages and never buckled. Both of them bear the name of God's people. One is Israel, the bride of Jehovah. The other is the church, the bride of Christ.
We have a proverb: "The war has already been won." But many people want to know, if we have already one, why does God still permit persecution of the saints? It is for the same reason the army has basic training. It's the same reason a butterfly must fight to emerge from its cocoon. The struggle makes us strong, both corporately and as individuals. A soldier who does not endure the pain and humiliation of basic training does not gain the skills he needs to become a warrior. A butterfly who does not struggle out of his cocoon will never have the strength he needs to fly, and will quickly die.
And yes, sometimes we die as a result of persecution. But not in vain. No martyr's death was ever in vain. It is the martyrs who are the heroes of Heaven. They are greatly honored for their faithfulnes unto death. And here on Earth, their courage and loyalty provide a shining example to every one of us. Not only to us Christians, but to the world. They demonstrate that there is something worth dying for. They show the unsaved that Jesus is the Lord of life, and His people never need fear death.
About twenty-five years ago, several armed oriental men burst into Deer Valley Baptist church. It went a little something like...
(insert troll invasion)
Rather than panic, cower or surrender, several people stood up to those armed men and declared their loyalty to God, even though it meant that they would likely be killed. Fortunately, it was a test. Those men were friends of the pastor.
Those people can honestly say that in the face of severe persecution, they stood firm. When the time comes, will we be able to say the same?
Today's reading: John 15:17-25
17 This is my command: Love each other.
18 "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.
19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.
20 Remember the words I spoke to you: 'No servant is greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.
21 They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me.
22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin. Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin.
23 He who hates me hates my Father as well.
24 If I had not done among them what no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. But now they have seen these miracles, and yet they have hated both me and my Father.
25 But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: 'They hated me without reason.'