1. Today is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. And for many of us this is something we may find hard to relate to. For we live in a land of freedom - free to worship God and free to live out our faith -at least for now. Like me, most of us have never experienced violence in real life. Those of you who have experienced war and the occupation of your land by the Germans can better understand how horrible persecution really is.
2. The Bible says that there will always be persecution. A few weeks ago we looked at the words of Jesus when He said that the world will hate us because they hated Him and they hate His Father.
3. The early church faced persecution. In fact after Stephen was stoned the church was scattered as many left Jerusalem because their lives were in danger.
4. Today persecution continues. It has been calculated that more Christians have been martyred in the 20th century that all the previous centuries combined. The reason is in part, according to the EFC, because there are more Christians in non-Western countries than before. In 1960, 70% of all evangelicals lived in North America. Today, 70% live in non-Western nations. And just as the early church was new and threatening to society so are these growing churches.
5. It is estimated that more than 2 million people in southern Sudan since 1985 have perished - many of them Christians - as a result of genocide being carried out by the Islamic government. One Christian who was severely burned in a government attack on a Sudanese church, described what happened:
"They caught the priest and slaughtered him. They also killed other priests. Many people were burned in the church. Then they tied me and left me in the sun. After they burned the church with the people inside, they threw me in the embers of the church and left.í
6. Another report. In March, 1998, the 13-year-old daughter of an Egyptian family that had recently converted to Christianity, was kidnapped, raped and forced to convert to Islam by a terrorist group. The girl was released, but on returning home, the terrorists attacked her family, killing them by slitting their bellies and crushing their heads with stones.
7. And while we do not face these dangers in Canada, there is persecution. A minister was told by the Prime Ministerís Office not to mention Christ at a memorial service for SwissAir crash victims even though those of other faiths were free to express the source of their beliefs. And a child was seized by Quebecís Youth Protection service because his family members were Baptists and therefore might have unusual beliefs regarding child rearing.
8. And we can expect greater persecution as we approach the return of our Lord. We saw last year how the church will be persecuted in the end times.
9. There are two things I want us to consider this morning regarding persecution. First, since we will also face more persecution, how will we prepare for it? And second, what can and should persecution of believers in the non-western world.
10. In the passage we read from 1 Peter, Peter is writing to the early church which was being persecuted and which was going to experience even greater persecution. Peter tells them how they can prepare for that persecution. And this will help us with the lesser kinds of persecution we face already.
11. The first way is to remember that we are blessed if we suffer for Christ
1 Pet 3:14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed.
1 Pet 3:17 It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.
We will be blessed because God will be with us.
1 Pet 4:14 If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.
Jesus taught the same in the beatitudes:
Mat 5:10-12 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.
Jesus says we will be blessed because our reward in heaven will be great and because we will share in the ministry of the prophets.
And the suffering will be temporary. As Paul said in Rom 8:18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.
12. The second way we be prepared is found in vs. 15. "But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord." What this means is that we are to set Christ up as Lord on the thrones of our hearts. This means that Christ will rule not our own desires and emotions. It means that His will takes precedence over our own will. We do not want to suffer or be martyred, but if that is your will, so be it. Then we say as Jesus, "not My will but your will, be done." It also means that we will not let fear rule our hearts.