Summary: We must make our brothers and sisters in Christ (as well as the lost) feel the real need to be a part of the worshipping community. If we are persecuted for our work, we can take comfort in the knowledge that in the end God will fashion eternity.
Two gas company servicemen, a senior training supervisor and a young trainee, were out checking meters in a suburban neighborhood. They parked their truck at the end of the alley and worked their way to the other end. At the last house a woman looking out her kitchen window watched the two men as they checked her gas meter.
After they finished checking the meter, the senior supervisor challenged his younger co-worker to a foot race down the alley back to the truck to prove that an older guy could outrun a younger one. As they came running up to the truck, they realized the lady from that last house was huffing and puffing right behind them. They stopped and asked her what was wrong.
Gasping for breath, she replied, "When I see two gas men running as hard as you two were, I figured I'd better run too!"
This little story and our Gospel reading from Luke this morning are both examples of the old adage that things are not always what they seem to be. When the disciples saw Herod’s temple, they saw its external beauty, but they failed to see what was really behind it-spiritual bankruptcy, hypocrisy, oppression, rejection of Christ and the Gospel, and Christ’s impending death at the hands of the religious authorities.
That’s why Jesus warned the disciples to beware of the false teachers who would come and proclaim that they were the promised Messiah. He knew that just like the temple’s beauty hid its ugly secrets, the false teachers with their appearances, methods and teachings would hide their true motives. False teachers exist in our society today. This can best be explained with another story. It is a comedy routine that I heard several years ago. In this routine, comedian Steve Martin is doing his imitation of a preacher. Part of the routine goes like this:
“The other day I talked to God, and he promised me that he would not talk to any other TV preachers. So if you hear any of those other TV preachers saying that they talked to God, do not send them the $1.50 for their polyester prayer handkerchief”
It is somewhat ironic though that on the Vision TV channel here in Canada you can actually see on Sunday afternoon an evangelist who actually DOES send people a Prosperity Prayer handkerchief. He claims that he personally blesses each handkerchief, and that if you call and ask for one of these handkerchiefs, you will be blessed financially, health-wise, etc. This particular evangelist along with other evangelists such as Benny Hinn promotes what is known as the Prosperity Gospel. It is the belief that God intends his followers to prosper in a materialistic way. Instead of talking about mansions in heaven, they talk about mansions here on earth. They do not tell their followers that Christ expects them to take up their cross and follow him, and their religion bears little resemblance to Jesus and his teachings, especially his teachings about being persecuted for following him.
Not all false prophets are religious. Some of them promote get-rich-quick schemes and preach a gospel of stocks, bonds and real estate. Some of you might have heard of the Bernie Madoff saga. He was the mastermind of a scheme that defrauded thousands of investors of billions of dollars. Unfortunately, there are all kinds of schemers out there, especially schemers who will prey on the elderly and the less fortunate in society.
Jesus does not promise us a rose garden here on earth. In fact, he makes it quite clear to us and his disciples that people will hate them and persecute them. He doesn’t tell the disciples that they will escape pain, and he doesn’t tell us that either. He promises that the persecutions that his followers will face will give them opportunities to witness to the Gospel.
Those who do Christ’s work in the world can expect to face persecution. For example, in the Third World Christians regularly face imprisonment, threats, harassment, beatings and even death for their faith. We here in the developed world do not face these extremes, but we still face the prospect of rejection, job loss or discrimination for our faith. Thankfully, in the times of trial, we can turn to God for strength, hope and support. He will give us the strength to face adversity and persecution. He will tell us what to do, say and even think, just like he promised the disciples that he will tell them what to do, say and think.
For example, Peter and John will be arrested and use the occasion to witness to the council. This is mentioned in Acts 4:1-22. The council will be amazed at their testimony and will order them not to speak of Jesus further, but fear of the people will keep them from meting out more severe punishment. Stephen will preach a long and powerful sermon to the council in Acts 7, and it will lead to his martyrdom. Paul and Silas will be arrested and flogged, but they will sing songs of praise in prison. An earthquake will free them, but they will stay in their cells and eventually convert the jailer and his family. When the authorities try to release them, they will assert their Roman citizenship and protest their wrongful arrest, forcing the authorities to apologize. This is mentioned in Acts 16:16-40.