Summary: Happy are those harassed for the faith.
Because we are enjoying so much religious freedom here in our country, we tend to forget about persecuted Christians elsewhere in the world. In a Southern Baptist Convention, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said, “As we celebrate our freedom here today, we’re mindful that too many people of faith can only whisper to God in the silent sanctuaries of their conscience because they fear persecution for their religious beliefs.”
In an article in Washington Post, Nina Shea, director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, wrote, “[Christians in Iraq] are being targeted in a ruthless cleansing campaign by Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish militants.” Someone said, “Sunni, Shia, and Kurd may agree on little else, but all have made sport of brutalizing their Christian neighbors.”
According to BreakPoint, Saudi Arabian authorities sentenced a teacher to forty months in jail and 750 lashes for allegedly mocking religion. That’s all because he discussed the Bible in his class.
In Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, machete-wielding assailants attacked four teenage girls on their way to a Christian school. They beheaded three of them and left the fourth seriously wounded. In Vietnam, their government’s violent campaign to force minority Christians to renounce their faith continues. The believers experienced severe beatings and torture.
The list can go on and on. But our Lord Jesus assured persecuted Christians, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Yes, brothers and sisters. We can be persecuted for our faith yet still praise God. This morning, we will talk about being “Happily Harassed.” Let us pray…
First, let us REMEMBER that persecutions are inevitable. Verse 11 says, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.” The question is not if you will be persecuted. The question is when you are going to be persecuted.
Now, verse 12 says, “…for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Look at the early followers of the Lord. “Matthew suffered martyrdom by being slain with a sword at a distant city of Ethiopia. Mark expired at Alexandria, after being cruelly dragged through the streets of that city. Luke was hanged upon an olive tree in the classic land of Greece. John was put in a caldron of boiling oil, but escaped death in a miraculous manner, and was afterward banished to Patmos. Peter was crucified at Rome with his head downward. James, the Greater, was beheaded at Jerusalem. James, the Less, was thrown from a lofty pinnacle of the temple, and then beaten to death with a fuller’s club. Bartholomew was flayed alive. Andrew was bound to a cross, whence he preached to his persecutors until he died. Thomas was run through the body with a lance at Coromandel in the East Indies. Jude was shot to death with arrows. Matthias was first stoned and then beheaded. Barnabas of the Gentiles was stoned to death at Salonica. Paul, after various tortures and persecutions, was at length beheaded at Rome by the Emperor Nero.”
1 Peter 4:12 says, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.” It is not an odd thing to be persecuted. People will laugh at your faith. They will pressure you to conform to their standards or practices. They will threaten you to compromise your beliefs or behavior. They will even threaten you. What you will experience or are experiencing may not be as life-threatening as what believers experience in Indonesia or Vietnam for example. But still we will be questioned or mocked for our faith. Just imagine, even if we are meek, or merciful or peacemakers, we will still be persecuted.
As I wrote in our Sunday bulletin, we have a problem when everyone loves or hates us. It is because we cannot please all people. We have to make sure that that happens for the right reasons. Look at what verses 10 and 11 say, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness... Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.” Note the words “because of righteousness” and “because of me”, that is, the Lord. We can only be happy when we are harassed for living according to the word of God.
1 Peter 4:14-16 says, “If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.” If we really live out our faith, not all will be pleased with us and sooner or later we will face persecution. But if we are persecuted for the wrong reasons, that’s another issue. You are not happily harassed if people mock you not because of your faith but because of your hypocrisy. They saw you say one thing and do another. If we fail to live up to our faith, we are giving people the right to mock us. “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted”.