Summary: We are told in God's word that anyone who seeks to follow Christ should expect persecution. In can come in different shapes and forms but the truth of it is that brothers and sisters around the world are suffering for their faith. What should we expect?
Faith on the Frontlines - Acts 5:12-42 - November 13, 2011
International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church
Hoa Lo prison was constructed by the French in the late 1800’s during the time when Vietnam was still a part of French Indochina. Translated, the name of the prison means, “fiery furnace,” or, “hell’s hole.” It was a fitting name. Made to house up to a maximum of 600 inmates at any one time, by the 1950’s it was home to over 2000 people – all of who lived in subhuman conditions. During the Vietnam war the prison was used to house captured Americans – most of them airmen who had been shot down during the course of their missions. The POW’s had their own name for the prison – they called it the “Hanoi Hilton.”
Conditions were unsanitary and inhumane. Prisoners were routinely interrogated and tortured. It’s a place where the goal of the prison wardens was to break the will of the prisoners and with the combination of brutal torture and physical deprivation they often succeeded in doing just that. However, the prisoners often discovered in themselves an inner core of steely determination that had never been put to the test.
“In his book Surviving Hell: A P.O.W.'s Journey, Leo Thorsness tells of the courage it took to worship in the … Hanoi Hilton. Thorsness tells of a memorable service after the prisoners were rounded up in response to a failed rescue attempt.
The senior ranking officer in one cell stood up one Sunday and said, "Let's have church service." The men agreed. The guard came in and forbade them from having a service. The men discussed the problem and said they were all committed to having a service the following Sunday no matter what. That Sunday, Ned Schuman stood to open the service, and the guards came in and took him off to be tortured. After that, the second-highest ranking officer said, "Gentlemen, the Lord's Prayer." While praying, about halfway through, he was sent to be tortured. At that, the third in command stood and said, "Gentlemen, the Lord's Prayer." The guards took him out for torture. Number four stood up and said, "Gentlemen, the Lord's Prayer." At this the guards not only carried away the officer but began hitting the [other prisoners] with the butts of their guns, shouting for them to stop. Number five took his time getting to the center of the room; and before he could speak, the soldiers took him out. The guards locked the door behind them, and number six got up. "Gentlemen, the Lord's Prayer," he said.
Thorsness says that this time they finished it. He went on to say that even though five men were tortured, they all thought it worth it.” (Preaching Daily, November 7, 2011)
Five men tortured – why? Simply because they wanted to worship God. Though the war they fought in was a battle between nations and ideologies – that day in that cell – they were on the frontlines of another struggle. One not waged against flesh and blood but against the powers and principalities of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
Now, when we use the word, “frontlines,” in a military context what we’re doing is speaking of the forward-most forces on a particular battlefield. Those are the forces that are in direct conflict, direct confrontation, with the enemy. When an attack comes they are the ones who are first to experience the fury of the opposition, they bear the brunt of the attack. Those on the frontlines are the first to experience the horrors of war and they are the ones to suffer the casualties of the conflict.
The verses from Ephesians that we read earlier make it clear that there is a spiritual battle going on all around us. We don’t see it directly – but we do see the evidence of it all around us. There are casualties in this battle – shattered lives, broken homes, despair, suffering and so on. And there is a sense in which we are all on the frontlines in this battle. We are called upon to fight on the side of the light and yet at the same time, here in North America, while we do see evidences of the battle all around us, we do not seem to find ourselves on the frontlines in the same sense that our brothers and sisters around the world do.
Today is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church and make no mistake: God’s church is being persecuted around the world. In some places being on the frontlines means being ostracized, outcast, beaten, imprisoned or even killed, for the faith. According to the IDOP website, Christians are the largest identifiable group of people who are being denied what are considered to be basic human rights simply because of who they are. And yet despite these things God’s word is spreading and His church is growing!