Encouragement For The Persecuted Heart
June 09, 2019 | Randy Smith
Encouragement For The Persecuted Heart
Sunday, June 9, 2019
Pastor Randy Smith
I can’t tell you how much I need the Scriptures. Reading and hearing the Bible is not just a Christian exercise. It is not just adding more knowledge to my brain. It is words that come directly off the lips of the Living God. It is words that I can and must accept by faith, especially when life makes absolutely no sense.
Rather than trust my feelings, I can trust the truth. Rather than listen to the opinions of others, I can hear the voice of God. Rather than being led to despair, I can be given hope. The Bible is the anchor to my soul. I desire to build my life not on what I see, what I feel, what is trending or who speaks the loudest, but rather on what God declares to be true in the Bible. And often really believing that, living for that – well, that is where faith really kicks in.
It’s been a tough week. Persecution from outside the church. Discouragement from within. Often I feel like quitting. Not quitting Jesus, but quitting the belief that I really need to testify for Him when it results in persecution. Quitting the belief that I need to serve faithfully when I am exhausted. Quitting the belief that I need to pour myself into the lives of others when it often produces no effects or negative effects toward me.
For me, there is often so much pain in the Christian life. If I consider my circumstances, look only at results, analyze the past and listen to my heart, there is no doubt that changes would be made.
Like many Christians, I would get minimally involved in the lives with other believers. I’d pull out of church ministry. And I would never witness to the lost. The world would accept me, most of my pain would go away and I can still get my warm fuzzes that Jesus is there as my co-pilot when I need Him. I guess we could call it the “lukewarm faith” that our Lord hates – but that’s a sermon for another day.
Over the last two weeks we learned that our Lord was at a luncheon with some Pharisees. His goal was not their acceptance. His goal was not their feelings. His goal was to stand for the truth – both in His actions and in His words. As a result of that, chapter 11 closes with the fact that these religious leaders began to be very hostile toward Jesus and were plotting against Him. Eventually they would (with the help of the Romans) kill Him. And let that sink in – religious people would kill Jesus Christ.
The purpose of today’s message is two-fold. It’s a warning to those who have either rejected Jesus or have given up on doing what Jesus expects based upon biblical teaching. And on the other side, this message will be a tremendous encouragement to walk by faith in what the Bible says regardless the effort, results, persecution from without and heartache from within. This message will give you hope, motivate your walk with the Lord and allow you to bring tremendous honor to God Himself when it is tough to act as a true believer.
So verse 1 of chapter 12 says, “Under these circumstances [the opposition toward Jesus in the previous chapter], after so many thousands of people had gathered together [genuine intentions, curiosity, see the miracles, controversy with the Pharisees] that they were stepping on one another, He began saying to His disciples [His followers – first group spoken to] first of all, ‘Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.’
Let this carry some weight. It was becoming very clear that one could not follow both Jesus and the religious leaders of His day. A choice had to be made. But to side with Jesus would incur persecution – anything from being whipped (40 lashes minus 1) to being put out of the town synagogue.
In other words, there was a lot on the line if you chose to follow Jesus. There was, as there is now, a cost to be considered. So what is the motivation? Why should I choose Jesus?
First of all, because choosing anything but Jesus is a foolish decision. In this case, specifically aligning with the Pharisees is dangerous. Their teaching Jesus says is like leaven. It may appear small, but it spreads and it contaminates like poison.
And for their character, Jesus says in verse 1 that they are called “hypocrites.” The original term comes from acting, playing a part. In other words, they are phonies. They are in it for their power. They love the attention. They lead through intimidation and manipulation. They invent their own rules for others. They don’t even practice the things they are teaching. And they do it all as they claim to be a spokesperson for God.
Today we can pull out “Pharisee” and substitute anything in there that promises hope and joy and purpose, acceptance and fulfillment – any false religion, money, the god of self, celebrity worship, recreation. In other words, you can choose all or any of those things to devote your allegiance and in response you will not be satisfied and though your rejection of Jesus Christ as Lord you will bring upon yourself greater consequences. So don’t reject Jesus!
But on the other hand, why follow Jesus when oftentimes it calls us to leave our comfort zone, results in persecution and sometimes even opens us up to pain from within and from without?
So why should we live all-out for Jesus? Are there any promises from the Bible that provide hope? What divine motivation and power are at my disposal? Let me give you six reasons from our passage.
Number 1 – The Truth will Prevail
Verses 2 and 3, “But there is nothing covered up that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known. Accordingly, whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in the inner rooms will be proclaimed upon the housetops.”
We have all been there before. Those lessons when you taught Kindergarten children and it appeared, based upon their response, that it was a total waste of time. Opportunities you were given to share Christ and it seemed like it went nowhere. Friends you have invited to church and they have never returned. Why bother?
Listen, whenever we declare God’s Word it is never a meaningless activity. Isaiah 55, “So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it” (Isa. 55:11). The hypocrisy of all idolatry and false religion will be exposed one day. God’s Word will never pass away (Lk. 21:33) and will always bring (despite what we see) God’s ordained results.
A couple weeks ago Rachel put together a video of my life 30 minutes before I preach. I posted a video on my YouTube channel among all those National Park videos. I lost some subscribers, but I was so encouraged by the comments. People I didn’t even know that have been inspired to follow Christ through my videos. It taught me that we never know how many lives we are touching.
Never get tired of sharing God’s Word. Be cautious to back away from opportunities and invitations to do so. According to verses 2-3, the truth of God will shine forth and prevail. If not in this life, definitely on the Day of Judgment. Walk by faith and not by sight.
Number 2 – Have a Proper Fear
Verses 4 and 5, “I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that have no more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One who, after He has killed, has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him!”
So you are persecuted for Christ? Jesus said if you live as He expects that will be a reality. Persecution in any sense is not easy. The fear of man is enough to make even the boldest Christian keep Jesus to himself.
But what about the ultimate persecution, the threat of death? That’s what it came to for many who identified with Jesus in the early church and presently in many parts of the world today. How can I not fear man if he can kill me because I identify with Jesus?
Our Lord is clear in these verses. Fearing people makes no sense. The worst they can do is kill us. Or put another way, all they can do to Christians is send us to heaven (Phil. 1:21). What misplaced perspectives. Fearing man over fearing God? If we are going to fear anyone we should fear God. >Because as Jesus said, God can cast us into hell. Do you want 10 more years on earth or an eternity in hell?
There is so much temptation to live for the approval of people. How often do we think about living only for the approval of God?
So is our relationship with God built upon fear? Not the fear of punishment if we are a true believer (Rom. 8:1; 1 Jn. 4:18), but the fear built upon reverence, awe and respect. And when we have a heathy fear of God we will be desirous to do His will at any cost. Even if it costs us the ultimate sacrifice. And if we are prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice, no sacrifice this side of heaven will be too big.
Number 3 – God Loves You
Verses 6 and 7, “Are not five sparrows sold for two cents? Yet not one of them is forgotten before God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.”
So do you wonder if God loves you? Do you wonder if He really cares about your life? I mean, how can we trust and suffer for someone when we question His love or believe He is indifferent to our pain, right?
Two images are presented by Jesus. First is a sparrow. Back then five sparrows could be purchased for two cents. A denarius was equivalent to a day’s labor. Sixteen “cents” (a Roman cooper coin) were needed to make a denarius. The point is that a sparrow back then was viewed as a worthless bird. Yet Jesus says in verse 6 not one of them is “forgotten before God.” Therefore, verse 6, “Do not fear, you are more valuable than many sparrows.” If God cares for one sparrow how much more must He care for you?
Second image. “Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered.” As much as we love ourselves, none of us (regardless of our count) actually number our hairs. We know our bodies well, but even we are not that well-acquainted with our anatomy. But God knows it. He knows you perfectly. Again, if God is concerned with the number of hairs on your head, how much more must He be concerned for your life?
You have more value to God than you can ever imagine. Trust His sovereign providential plan for your life. It is always wise and loving, even when it makes no sense. Faith!
Oftentimes you are not going to feel God’s care, especially when you are misunderstood or mistreated for doing His will. If anything, you are going to feel just the opposite. How can You let this happen God? I thought You loved me? But once again we need to ask the question, are we trusting feelings and circumstances or walking by faith in the Word of God?
Number 4 – God is Loyal to You
This is another motivation to be all-in for Jesus.
If Jesus Christ is not acknowledged as Lord of your life it is very easy to relegate Him to a back seat in your life. Why bring Him up in conversation if it’s only going to spark controversy? So we indirectly deny Him through our silence. We can also deny Him directly if asked about our beliefs. We can know what we need to say and skirt the issue or we can totally deny any allegiance to Him when really pressed.
The biblical teaching on this is clear. It’s also extremely frightening and extremely encouraging. Verses 8-9, “And I say to you, everyone who confesses Me before men, the Son of Man will confess him also before the angels of God; but he who denies Me before men will be denied before the angels of God.”
If you don’t publicly confess Christ to people, don’t expect Christ to confess you before the Father. Confess Christ publicly here and expect Him to confess you before the Father on Judgment Day. I’d say those two statements are opposite extremes! When it comes to salvation in Christ, neutrality and denial is not permitted. And for those all-in for Jesus (here’s the great encouragement), their faith and allegiance will be revealed and rewarded with our Lord’s continual allegiance to them both now and with full assurance into eternity.
Number 5 – The Holy Spirit is Working
Verse 10, “And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him.”
So here we have the verse on the so-called “unpardonable sin.” We could spend weeks on this one. Let me just simply say this is not denying charismatic gifts or being cautious when people say “God told me.” Blaspheming the Holy Spirit is rejecting the Third Person of the Holy Trinity when He is calling you to receive Christ.
Countless throughout history (many testified in the Bible itself) have blasphemed Christ, but have later been forgiven. But to reject the Holy Spirit who calls you to salvation and regenerates your heart so you may be forgiven leaves a person with absolutely no hope.
The best example is what we read about in chapter 11. The Pharisees saw Christ perform undeniable miracles. And then after acknowledging the reality of those miracles, they declared that He derives His power from Satan.
Since we are looking for encouragement in this sermon, let’s take it from another angle. What do we know about the Holy Spirit? He wrote the Word of God. And the Author who wrote the Word of God uses the Word of God to bring us to Himself. He calls. He regenerates our hearts. He grants us faith to believe. “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). “In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth” (Jas. 1:18). In other words, salvation is entirely a work of God.
So if I have received this salvation from the Holy Spirit and give evidence of this salvation by bearing the fruit of the Holy Spirit in my life, I can have total confidence that I will never commit an unpardonable sin and will be assured is that the Holy Spirit who saved me is the One who will continue to sanctify me and the One who will keep me secure in my relationship with God.
Number 6 – God will Speak for You
Verse 11, “When they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not worry about how or what you are to speak in your defense, or what you are to say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.”
So you live for Christ. Persecution will result. Throughout church history faithful believers have been taken before authorities in both religious and civil settings. They knew the prospect of facing fines, imprisonment, mistreatment and death. Many countries are there. Our country is going in that direction. I’m sure very few believers when they contemplate this potential could honestly say they are unconcerned.
But let’s remember, our Lord has already told us He is with us. That He loves us. That He is not unconcerned about our suffering. That He will keep us in the faith. >That when we fear Him we will not fear man. That He will confess us before the Father. That man cannot destroy the soul. That our future in heaven is secure. But what about the moment if we are under such an intense trial? The verse is clear. The Holy Spirit will give us what we need to say.
We see this frequently in Scripture from the Apostles to the Old Testament saints. They were bold as a lion before their persecutors. Interestingly, their words are rarely a defense for themselves, but rather a sermon that testifies of Christ. That’s evidence the Holy Spirit speaking through them.
For example, I have been reading through Daniel in the mornings. This week I came to chapter 3. “Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego replied to the king, ‘O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (Dan. 3:16-18).
So beware of the hypocrisy of false teachers or any idol for that matter. True God honoring faith derives its beliefs not from controlling people, feelings or circumstances, but rather from the Word of God. True God honoring faith respects and loves (did you notice this?) all Persons of the Trinity. We saw the Father in verses 5-7, the Son in verses 8-9 and the Holy Spirit in verses 10-12. And when believers go to the Word of God, they find hope in the promises that God has provided.
Promises like, God’s Word will prevail and fear God and not man and God loves and cares for His children and God gives us full allegiance and He expects the same from us and God’s children are secure in the Holy Spirit and God will speak through us in our times of difficulty.
Are you all-in for Jesus? It is your only option. And if so, are you deriving your hope and strength by faith in God’s promises recorded the Bible?