Summary: The world is setting itself against the ways of God and persecution is headed our way. How do we prepare ourselves so we can stand firm in our faith. Check out these thoughts from our Family Minister Scott Jewell.

Read text. Pray.

Francis Chan has long been a favorite preacher/author of mine. Over the years he has shared many ideas that are very similar to those of our brotherhood. For instance, there’s a meme where he says, “If the Bible and I don’t agree, I must be wrong.” He has spoken of being on a deserted island with nothing but a Bible to learn about God and his conclusions regarding salvation are right in line with the process we maintain.

In his book, Crazy Love, he concludes with a story that was rather familiar to me. He tells of some men who were serving Christ in Turkey, inviting people they got to know to come to Christ. They thought they were reaching a group of men until one day, as they were in their office printing literature to share their faith, the group entered the office and took their lives with knives. What amazed me about this story is that their wives held a press conference shortly after and boldly spoke of their love for Christ giving them the ability to forgive the men who had murdered their husbands.

The thought of this kind of persecution happening was never so real to me as when I read this account because I recognized the story. My brother-in-law had been a missionary in Turkey and got married while there. He and his wife had returned to the States shortly before these events happened. These men had been his friends, one of them even stood with him as part of his wedding party. My brother-in-law could have been one of those men.

Persecution shouldn’t come as a surprise to us though. Jesus promised it would happen (read John 15:20-21). We are his servants, we shouldn’t expect better treatment than our Master. They persecuted Him, why wouldn’t they persecute us?

Frankly, we’ve been blessed to live here in America. It seems like the vast majority of the persecution we receive is verbal. People who oppose us may get angry and bully us, trying to shout us down and silence our voices. But there are places in this world where Christian gatherings must be done in secret. People in places like Turkey and China and India have to decide if their love for Jesus is more important than their love for life.

The time is coming and may have already begun when the hate from the world towards God is going to force us to make a choice- will I stand on the Rock or will I fall in the sand. Right now, I think it’s easy to say, “I’m strong in the faith, nothing will separate me from the love of God.” I’ll be honest, there’s a piece of me that fears I will fall. I pray for God to give me the strength, but a sliver of doubt still lingers. Will I be strong? Will I take the stand?

Now, having served in the inner city, I’ve been in situations where I was standing in the middle of an argument trying to calm things down, knowing that at least one person has a gun tucked into their belt and that if this escalates, I’ll be the first one hit because I’m standing in the middle, but I didn’t have to affirm or deny my faith. I’ve stood up to people bullying myself and others for having faith in the workplace, but the worst they could have done to me was fire me.

I’ve not been placed in a position where I must deny Jesus or die. I hope I never am, but we’re getting closer to a time in which we must be ready. So how do we prepare ourselves to be ready to say, “We must obey God rather than men!”

It begins with a conviction of belief. What does this conviction consist of? In Matthew 16, Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” Some of their answers included, “Some say you are John the Baptist, some say Elijah, some say Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.” Jesus then asked, “Who do you say that I am?” And Peter spoke up and answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” In Matthew 16:18, Jesus responds, “You are correct, and on this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

As we preach through this series about getting outside our walls, this verse seems to keep popping up. Jeff shared it last week, I’m using it today, and I know he’ll use it again next week. It’s foundational, it’s what our church is built upon. It’s the reason when someone asks what they need to do to be saved, we tell them to believe in Jesus- that He is the Son of God, that He lived on this earth without sin, yet He was killed on the cross and buried in a tomb, yet God raised Him to live three days later so that we can be forgiven. We explain they need to repent, to turn away from their sins and turn to the ways of God. They need to confess or declare that Jesus is now their Lord and Savior and be baptized in the water, joining with Jesus in His death, burial, and resurrection. Then we encourage them to live a life following God as part of His family- the church. We must have this conviction of belief.

We must also have a recognition of commission. What makes one qualified to speak about salvation? Well, if we look in the previous chapter, we see that Peter and John had been arrested and warned not to preach about Jesus. It was noted by the Sanhedrin that they were uneducated, common men who had been with Jesus. You see, God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called. Look at this list. Jacob was a cheater, Peter had a temper, David had an affair, Noah got drunk, Jonah ran from God, Paul was a murderer, Gideon was insecure, Miriam was a gossiper, Martha was a worrier, Thomas was a doubter, Sarah was impatient, Elijah was moody, Moses stuttered, Zacchaeus was too short, Abraham was too old, and Lazarus was dead. God used each and every one of them to accomplish His purpose and He can and will use you too.

Jesus gave us our commission with a wonderful promise (read Matthew 28:18-20). Earlier, we had a special in music called “The Commission” based on what we just read. We’re told to go, if you look at the structure in the Greek it contains the idea of wherever you go- here at church, in your neighborhood, at the local McDonald’s, in your school, at your work, with your friends, wherever you are- make disciples. How does He tell us to do that? Baptize and teach. Notice the order. Sometimes we think we need to make sure a person understands all the nuances of our faith. Actually, as long as they understand that they are a sinner in need of a savior and Jesus is that Savior, we should baptize them. But we don’t stop there, we continue to teach so that they grow stronger in their faith, being discipled towards maturity. I love the promise Jesus gives us- I will be with you ALWAYS, to the very end of the age.

Preparation in prayer is the next thing we need. We should be praying about all things, it only makes sense that we would pray to prepare for the coming persecution. The apostles set the example. Again, if we look back a chapter in Acts 4, we see they went to other believers upon their release and they prayed together (read Acts 4:23-30). Notice what they pray for. They begin by recognizing that God is the sovereign creator of all things in this world. They acknowledge that the kings of this world have set themselves in opposition to God. They ask for boldness to proclaim the good news of Jesus as God works signs and wonders to confirm their testimony. Notice how God answers (read Acts 4:31). Immediately, there is an earthquake and the believers are filled with the Holy Spirit, empowered to speak with boldness.

Jeremy Camp wrote a song summarizing a number of scripture passages that remind us that we have that Same Power. Listen to the chorus: The same power that rose Jesus from the grave, The same power that commands the dead to wake, Lives in us, lives in us, The same power that moves mountains when He speaks, The same power that can calm a raging sea, Lives in us, lives in us, He lives in us, lives in us.

We also are empowered by the Holy Spirit, so we need to constantly be in prayer. As we do so, we need to trust in God. We serve a God who still answers prayer. We’ve seen it so many times in this church. Let’s trust Him to keep His promises. There will be times when we are called to stand in grace and truth, let’s trust God to see us through.

As I was preparing for this morning, I noticed that Paul prays about this on our behalf (read Ephesians 3:14-21). He prayed that out of Go’s riches, He will give you strength. You’ll have the strength of the power of the Holy Spirit, which has indwelled you at your baptism. You’ll have the strength to comprehend the breadth, length, height, and depth of God’s love- it’s immense. Now, this next one I’m not going to try to explain but just let you think about it- he prayed you have the strength to KNOW the love of Christ that SURPASSES KNOWLEDGE. How does that even work? That may have to be one of those questions I ask when I’m in the presence of God. Then he prayed that you will be filled with the fullness of God, all of this so that God will get the glory. He is the one who is able to do far more abundantly than we ask or think.

Then we need to stand in faith. When the time of persecution comes, we want to be able to stand (read Ephesians 6:10-13). Paul tells us that we need to put on the full armor of God so we can stand in times of persecution. This is where we find the apostles in the text we read at the beginning.

Peter and John had been warned to stop preaching about Jesus but they refused. They continued to preach the good news of Jesus and God confirmed their message with signs and wonders. It reached a point where people would place their sick along the road in hopes that as Peter passed by, his shadow would fall upon them and God would heal them.

The Chief Priest and Sadducees, who don’t believe resurrection is possible, get jealous and decide to act. This time, they arrest all the apostles and throw them in jail for the night so they can stand trial in the morning. An angel intervened, releasing the apostles and instructing them to return to the temple to preach.

The next morning, the Chief Priest sent for the apostles. They found the guards at the jail entrance, the doors still locked, but when they opened the doors, where were all the people? What’s going on? They then get a report that their prisoners are again in the temple preaching about Jesus. They send the guards, who cautiously gather them up and bring them before the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin reminds them that they had been warned about preaching Jesus but the apostles declared, “We must obey God rather than men!” They were able to stand strong in the face of persecution.

One warning about standing up to persecution (read 1 Peter 2:20). When persecution comes, we need to recognize why. Are we under attack because people are calling us on sinful behavior in which we shouldn’t be engaged? In that case, it’s really not persecution, but should cause us to repent. But if we’re attacked because we’re living out our faith, then we can rejoice that we are suffering for the cause of Christ.

Let’s take this mantra we’ve adopted in our youth group name- Live Out Loud (read Matthew 5:16). Let’s prepare ourselves, because persecution is coming. Let’s live our lives in such a way that people see us and give glory to God.

Pray, then give invitation

Who’s ready to sign up for persecution? Now, I realize that sounds kind of goofy or silly, but it can also be something scary. Let me point out a couple things about making your decision to follow Jesus and be subject to persecution.

First, what’s the worse thing that can happen if we’re persecuted? As I was an adjunct professor at Saint Louis Christian College, a missions professor shared about being a missionary in Zimbabwe. War was breaking out and they were in danger of persecution as foreign Christians. They evacuated the women and children while the men stayed behind to watch over the compound. They nervously waited and watched, but then began talking. What was the worst thing that could happen? Someone would kill them and they would be ushered into the presence of Jesus. When they thought of that, they were able to calmly face the situation and God saw them through.

Second, if you face persecution, you will not be alone. I’ve already shared how Jesus has promised to be with you to the very end of the age. In addition, you make your decision to follow Jesus and be baptized in the water, you will be joining this family of believers. We will gladly stand by your side, shoulder-to-shoulder, and we’ll face the persecution together.

Now is your opportunity to commit your life to Jesus and be baptized. Won’t you come forward as we sing?