The Persecuted Church
Revelation 6:9-11, John 15:18-27, Daniel 3:8-30
August 29, 2021
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Can you believe that in almost two thousand years, the Church grew from eleven people to two and half billion? From its tiny beginning in Jerusalem, the Church grew until it’s found in every country on the map. Christians who speak English, Swahili, Russian, Arabic, and hundreds of other languages are all bonded together in one Church. Sure, there are several thousand Christian denominations spread out all over the world, but despite our differences we’re part of just one Church. That’s why it’s a pity when Christians focus on their own little corner of the world and pay little attention to Christians in other parts of the world. While we may not think about them, the fact is that we need each other because we’re not part of just any Church, and there aren’t multiple Churches, we’re all part of Christ’s Church, the Persecuted Church.
Over the last 1,988 years, the Church has established countless hospitals and orphanages. Priests and nuns have died while caring for those with leprosy and the Black Plague. Pastors and laypeople alike stood against the tyranny of the Nazis and the Communists. Christians have risked, and sacrificed, life and limb just share the Gospel about Jesus who loves them. So why is the Church, by far, the most hated group in the world? The answer is surprisingly simple, and it comes from Jesus: “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you”. Jesus was hated from birth because Herod the Great saw Him as a threat. A lot of people loved Him when He first began His ministry, but what happened when He called them on their sins? What happened when He didn’t play along with the authorities? He was hated! And He was hated most of all because He is God’s Son and the only way to the Father and eternal life.
As the disciples spread out from Jerusalem with the Gospel and its glorious news, they were welcomed by many. They were hated by many more. They took the message Jesus was hated for out into the world and received the same kind of treatment. Still, they remained true and faithful, even when threatened with death, even to their deaths.
Christians have always been hated because Christians are different. Paul says in II Corinthians, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” Christians act and talk differently. We live and worship differently. We love and marry differently. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were thrown into the furnace because they refused to worship like the others. Christians could burn a little incense to Caesar and avoid the Coliseum and being fed to the lions, but that would be making Caesar a god. Christians wouldn’t take part in the sexual games that went on around them. Christians would pray even when they knew it would get them beaten. Christians hid Jews. Christians fought slavery. Christians smuggle Bibles. Christians pray for their enemies. Christians bless when cursed. Christians speak for the unborn, the sick, and the elderly. Christians speak of God’s intentions for marriages and families. Christians are everything the world is not, and that’s why we’ll be hated, all the way to Christ’s return.
I was inspired to make today’s service about the Persecuted Church after seeing what is happening in Afghanistan. Please don’t think I’m ignoring the pain and suffering of the non-Christians in Afghanistan, it’s awful for everyone in that decimated country, and we pray for all, but our focus today in on the Church. Taliban fighters going door to door, executing those who with Bible apps on their phones and marking Christian homes for destruction. Christians being ratted out by their neighbors who are desperate to look good to the Taliban. Pastors receiving letters telling them that the Taliban knows they are evangelizing and if they don’t stop, death is coming. A Christian missionary reported, “Most expect to meet Jesus face to face in the next two weeks.”
While Afghanistan is the country in the news now, Christians are being persecuted all over the East. In Somalia, Christian schoolgirls are kidnapped and forced into Islamic marriages. Nigerian Christians have their homes burned, their flocks killed, and the men killed. Fifty to seventy thousand Christians suffer in North Korea’s labor and prison camps, where they’ll remain until they die. Christian Pakistani girls are sold into prostitution. Christians in India face violent attacks and are often refused food, water, and medical care. Christians in Colombia are killed for speaking against the drug trade and conducting activities that harm gang recruitment.
In these countries and plenty others like them, Christians suffer and die because they won’t kneel to the fake gods, they won’t stop praying, they keep smuggling Bibles, they won’t stop evangelizing, and they won’t renounce their faith. With Saint Peter they say, “Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” They are trusting God, even in the darkest days, because they know who saves them by His blood.
We are blessed to live in the West and none of us faces imminent death at the hand of terrorists and murderers. However, persecution is beginning, and we must not ignore it and hope that it’s going to go away. It won’t because the world which hates the Christians in the east, hates them in the west too. Sixty-four Canadian churches have been vandalized, desecrated, or burned down in the last two months. Many of the twenty-five churches set on fire were destroyed. The Supreme Court ruled that it was okay that churches were restricted while casinos were opened as the pandemic eased up. And I know I’ve mentioned the creative baker, florist, and photographers who are being sued and penalized and run out of business for remaining true to Christ’s teaching on marriage. Christian free speech is blocked and throttled when it goes against prevailing attitudes on social media, college campuses, and mainstream media.
Now it might be easy to throw up our hands and say that nothing we do will work. After all, we can’t do anything about the Taliban or Canadian arsonists. We can cry and wring our hands. We can even put our head in the sand and hope all the scary things will go away. But you know, just as I do, that these aren’t options, and besides we can do something.
We can donate money to the various Christian relief groups, which is a huge blessing. The greatest thing we can do though is pray! We pray, pray, and pray for Christ’s Church that’s suffering and dying. As we hear in Galatians: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Saint James says, “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” When I hear of the miracles God performed to answer prayers, I am stunned beyond belief: blinding the eyes of border guards so they miss the car trunk filled with Bibles, the Muslim cleric moved to smuggle pages torn from Bibles into a prison, and persecutors brought to faith by the witness of their victims. God has promised to hear His Church’s prayers and He has and will continue to not just hear them, He will answer them.
We in the West, yes even in Iowa, need to prepare. I suppose you could fill your basement with ammo and frozen food, I won’t judge you. However, it’s more important that you don’t just hear God’s Word, you learn it, you take it to heart. Saint Peter says, “Always [be] prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” The only way to do this is to know what you believe, so come to Bible study. We have plenty of options, and I guarantee that if you come to Bible class with an open mind, you will be blessed! Come to the Divine Service to be fed and equipped for the times when your faith will be challenged. Receive the Lord’s Supper as often as you can. It’s the very Body and Blood of Jesus which strengthens you both in body and soul.
Finally, keep your focus on Christ and Christ alone. Jesus knows what’s going on, it’s His Body after all, right? If it hurts, He hurts. I don’t know why Jesus doesn’t just wipe terrorists or other evil people from the earth. It would be nice if He would set up His Church on earth as invincible. But He has other plans. Do you remember what the martyrs were told as they cried out for the saints on earth? They were told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete. In other words, the time is set, the ends in sight and Christ’s in control of it. He has been and always will be in charge of it.
In the Old Testament reading, the Son of God stood with the three faithful men and saved them. In the New Testament era, the Son of God came to earth and saved us from our sins, from hell, from Satan, and from Death. He showed His power over everything that threatens His Church. In His death forgave our failures to be faithful to Him. In His Life He took our filthy rags of self-centeredness and gave us white robes. In His resurrection, He gave eternal life to all who call on His name. We know He has absolute power over everything attacking His Church and, when the time is fulfilled, He will deliver His Church. Until then we trust Him, not our eyes. We trust His Word, and nothing else, and we pray. We pray because when Afghanis, Nigerians, and North Koreans hurt, we hurt. We are blessed right now, so we use our freedoms to aid the hurting parts of the Church. By the power of God, let us stand firm in the face of all persecution and attacks on our faith so that we will receive the Crown of Everlasting Life.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen