"I am the vine, you are the branches"
Persecution, Part 3
We have been looking at the persecution and martyrdom that has taken place throughout church history. Yeshua warned His disciples that persecution would come. The question that we have to ask ourselves is, how did these people endure not only the persecution, but the pain and suffering and torture that led to their deaths?
Testing of Your Faith
First we want to start where we left off with Peter writing to those being persecuted under Trajan. He writes, "Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you." Here, Peter is telling the believers that this is the testing of their faith, and it is no strange thing. Scripture repeatedly tells us that God tests His people. In fact Paul says, "We also exalt in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance and perseverance, proven character and proven character, hope and hope does not disappoint because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us."
Peter tells the believer that the testing of their faith through these trials and tribulations are actually a good thing: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born to a living hope through the resurrection of Yeshua the Messiah from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will never fade away, reserved for us in heaven who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Yeshua the Messiah." When we look at the Hall of Faith in the Book of Hebrews, we see that the people of the Bible knew all too well about the testing of their faith and yet they did such extraordinary, awesome things for God. But what we have to remember is that these people were just people like you and I, so if they could do it, so can we!
Time to Go to the Dump
As believers, we are to have no fellowship with the world. We are to set our minds on things above, not on things that are on the earth. Paul writes that we are to crucify the flesh and walk in the Spirit. We must walk the walk and talk the talk not as hypocrites, but in love and in sincerity of heart. We must keep God's commands and serve Him out of joy, not compulsion. John writes, "Do not love the world, nor the things of the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him; For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but from the world."
Life is not in our possessions, but in God. Paul says that he considered all things rubbish. He writes, "But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Messiah. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Messiah Yeshua my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Messiah, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Messiah, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained it, or have already become perfect, but I press on in order that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Messiah Yeshua." Paul felt it was important to know Yeshua in His pain and suffering. Paul felt that it was in that pain and suffering that he himself could find Yeshua in a deeper and more spiritual way and through that pain and suffering he could draw his strength from God.
The Joy of the Lord is My Strength
Yeshua tells His disciples that they were not to fear men, but to fear the One who not only could kill but has the authority to cast into hell. So, we must remember the words of the Psalmist, "The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the defense of my life; whom shall I dread? When evildoers came upon me to devour my flesh, my adversaries and my enemies, they stumbled and fell. Though a host encamp against me, my heart will not fear; though war arise against me, in spite of this I shall be confident." Paul, who would have known these words, surely drew his strength from them, for he repeatedly said, "Rejoice in the Lord always and in all things give thanks." He knew that his victory was in Yeshua and so he writes to the Corinthians, "We are afflicted in every way but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Yeshua, that the life of Yeshua also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Yeshua's sake, that the life of Yeshua also may be manifested in our mortal flesh." Again he writes, "We are fools for Messiah's sake, but you are prudent in Messiah; we are weak." Paul writes, "But in all things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Messiah Yeshua our Lord." This was Paul's victory cry.
The Laying Down of Our Lives
John writes, "We know love by this that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren." Paul felt that his sufferings were for the good of the kingdom to advance the message of truth and life so that people could be saved, and that made all the suffering well worth it. Paul writes Timothy, "Remember Yeshua the Messiah, risen from the dead, descendant of David, according to my gospel for which I suffer hardship, even imprisonment as a criminal; but the word of God is not imprisoned. For this reason I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, that they also may obtain salvation which is in Messiah Yeshua and with it eternal glory."
Paul tells the Philippians, "But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all." He says to the Thessalonians, "Having thus a fond affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us." And so he writes to the Corinthians, "We are fools for Messiah's sake, but you are prudent in Messiah; we are weak, but you are strong; you are distinguished, but we are without honor. To this present hour we are both hungry and thirsty, and are poorly clothed, and roughly treated, and are homeless; and we toil, working with our own hands; when we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure; when we are slandered we try to conciliate; we have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things, even until now. I do not write these things to shame you but to admonish you as beloved children. For if you were to have countless tutors in Messiah, yet you would not have many fathers; for in Messiah Yeshua I became your father through the gospel." He writes again, "So death works in us, but life in you. But having the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, ‘I believe, therefore I spoke,' we also believe, therefore also we speak; knowing that He who raised the Lord Yeshua will raise us also with Yeshua and will present us with you. For all things are for your sakes, that grace which is spreading to more and more people may cause the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God. Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal." He writes to the Philippians, "Therefore my beloved brethren whom I long to see, my joy and crown, so stand firm in the Lord." He writes to the Thessalonians, "For who is our hope or joy or crown of exaltation? Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Yeshua at His coming? For you are our glory and joy."
You Must Expect Persecution
"All who desire to live godly lives in Yeshua will be persecuted," Paul writes to Timothy. The question is what will you do? He tells Timothy, "In the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness although they have denied its power; and avoid such men."
So as we see darkness covering the earth, evil becomes more evil, as the Scripture says, "They will call good evil and evil good." We are supposed to combat evil with good and not become overtaken with evil. We are to love our enemies despite what they may do to us. We are to be salt and light in the midst of darkness. In the Sermon on the Mount, Yeshua calls those who are persecuted blessed: "Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. Blessed are you when men cast insults at you and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me. Rejoice and be glad for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you." Peter echoes the words of Yeshua when he writes, "Even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness you are blessed. Do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled."
Paul tells Timothy that he needs to endure the hardships and continue doing the work he was called to do. He says, "Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner; but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God who has saved us." Yeshua said that because the world hated Him it would hate us too, but we are to love one another and do good. We are to pray for those who do evil to us and forgive them. Paul writes to the Ephesians, "So that Messiah may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love...". Why rooted and grounded? Because Yeshua tells us in the Parable of the Sower that the seed sown on the rocky places, when they hear the Word, immediately receive it with joy; but they have no firm root in themselves, they are only temporary; so when affliction or persecution arises because of the Word, immediately they fall away. We not only need to hear the Word but we must be doers of the Word because this is what produces faith and faith is what overcomes the world.
To the Winner Goes the Crown
We must lay aside every sin that entangles us and run the race set before us. Paul writes again to Timothy, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith, in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing." James writes, "Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life, which the Lord has promised to those who love Him." And Peter writes to those who shepherd the flock, saying, "And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory." The imperishable crown, as Paul calls it, is the hope of salvation to all who live by God's Word and stand firm till the end. As John writes to the Church of Smyrna, "I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich), and the blasphemy by those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life."
And so we must ask ourselves today, when persecution comes (and it will come), will we be included with those who overcame because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and did not love their lives even to death?