“To a Mature Man”: Stage 8–Persecution

My dear brother,

Jesus as the Example

Jesus, born human, temple-taught, baptized in Holy Spirit, empowered by the Spirit, on a mission, advancing the kingdom, and calling man to return to God’s Justice– this man was betrayed by his friend, abandoned by his followers, beaten, mocked, accused of evil, struck with rods, whipped near to death, un-protected by the justice of man, driven, stripped naked, nailed to a cross, and hung there in agony upon agony for hours, until he gave up his spirit and died. All of this and more is what I mean by persecution. When he did however, he showed how to respond to our persecutors: Trust in God, and Forgive your persecutors.

Assurance

– – Paul told Timothy, his true child in the faith, “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” He could say this with assurance because of what Jesus told his disciples in John 15:18-21:

“If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also.“But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me.”

We know that this is the road on which all Christians are heading. It is why we are carrying a cross on our back, so that our persecutors won’t need to find a cross to do away with us.

According to the unsealed scroll of the Lamb in Revelation, beautifully demonstrated in the Bible Project’s first Read Scripture video on Revelation, the persecution of Christians, and the vindication of them by God is the one thing that brings the nations to repentance. God’s judgment alone does not bring about repentance, but further hardens people’s hearts in rebellion against God. It is when people see the saints imitating the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross that they see the character of God and are either damned or redeemed. This is the message of the cross that is so offensive to the world, and so saving to those of us who know Him.

Jesus knew humanity better than anyone else, and he knew the Scriptures give insight into humanity better than anything else, and because of this, he knew persecution was inevitable. And so, he called the believer to be equipped for it. “If anyone seeks to come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.” So often you have heard people talk about denying themselves and picking up their cross, but really few Christians in our circles do. This means a lot more than going through a hard time.

Some Problematic Ideologies

I have heard some believers say this to me, and some might even be saying it in their heads now as they read: “I knew it! The only way the church can be woken up is to be persecuted. We need some persecution in order for there to be a revival.” This is wrongly ordered. The Church does NOT need to be persecuted to be awakened. The church needs to be awakened in order to be persecuted. How’s that for a motivation for Revival Church meetings? Do you want another Pentecost now?

Many other Christians have come to faith being told that Jesus went to the cross so that they don’t have to. A gross misinformation. I hope you were not brought to Christ with that non-sense bargain. Jesus went to the cross to show how much God loved you, and show you how much to love your neighbor. If you’re not ready to give your life (either by living or by dying) for your friend, can you rightly say that Christ is living in you? “And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to him.” ~Romans 8

Many Christians cannot bear the thought of this stage, because they have not passed the other stages. They are already fallen into pitfalls content to merely pursue spirituality, or stay babes in tradition, or use their regeneration as license to sin, or compromise with the Evil One, or seek the approval of men, or do all for a worldly end, or appease the evil rulers who wish to shut them up. But for those who will do none of these things, persecution is the only way that the world can shut up the truth– by killing the messenger.

And finally there are those who may mistake this exhortation for a call to seek out persecution. Nope. Jesus in Matthew 10 instructs his disciples,

“Whenever they persecute you in one city, flee to the next; for truly I say to you, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel until the Son of Man comes.”

Jesus avoided people who were trying to kill him until his time had come, but when it came, he showed us how we are to behave in this stage.

As you would face persecution I would encourage you to read and reread 1 Peter, and Matthew 10 gives all the instructions needed, especially vs 16-32, but there are more applications fruitful to consider in light of other passages.

Application and Pitfall

  1. Arm yourself with this purpose: to suffer for Christ. Keep yourself ready at any moment to be given up as an offering to God, by denying yourself and daily laying everything down. Peter exhorts the church in 1 Peter 4:1-2 to do the same. “Since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.”~1 Peter 4:1-2.
  2. Don’t die til Golgotha. Jesus had a specific place and time to give his life. So, I tell you, don’t lay it down sooner than the place God has for you. Jesus eluded people’s grasp when they tried to seize him. (John 10:39)
  3. Entrust yourself to God. Peter wrote of Jesus that “while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously. “1 Peter 2:23. Dear Christian brother, this will be your ultimate test of faith. Trust Him. He is good, and there is more going on than you can see.
  4. Avoid the pitfall of Apostasy. Do not deny Christ when your life is on the line. Remember what Jesus said, “The one who endures to the end will be saved.” Matthew 10:22. Do not think you have suffered enough. Jesus suffered to the end. Don’t give up. There is more of his love to show that the persecutors need to see. When you have no more love, remember that it is God’s love that is your reservoir. He will give you what you need.
  5. Forgive your persecutors. Jesus didn’t just tell us to forgive others, he showed us at the darkest moment of his life what it means to forgive others. On the Cross, he cried out, “Father forgive them. They known not what they do.” Stephen when he was stoned, said, “Lord do not count this sin against them.” This is supernatural love.
  6. Testify. If you have a chance to share the gospel with your persecutors before you give your life, let the Holy Spirit bring the words that they need to hear.
  7. Rejoice! In Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, there are recorded the brightest flashes of holy joy on the faces of those who paid the ultimate price as Jesus did. Do not be afraid. You are entering into the glorious resurrection of Jesus Christ! Rejoice! The world will see Heaven’s reflection on your face, just like Stephen’s!

Final Thought: There are countless brothers and sisters being persecuted right now. These brothers and sisters make up the body of Christ. With real blood they are suffering real pain. And when people forget how much God loves them, the persecuted and the martyrs remind us: Jesus’s body still bleeds for the world.

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I’ve Glimpsed Him. (Poem)

It takes faith to believe that God is.
Once you have this, you can see him.
I do not promise that you will
Because He must decide to reveal Himself.
It takes a pure heart, with no guile.
Some believe that this is impossible,
But all things are possible with God.
How will you recognize him?
You won’t be able to ignore.
No more than a stick can ignore an all consuming flame.

How did I see Him?
I waited.
He spoke.
I looked.
He stood.
I bowed.
He is.

Music purged my heart of unexpressed filth.
Writing arranged my thoughts according to biblical specification.
Love set my heart on fire for another.
Joy surged in my creative freedom and pleasure of wisdom.
Peace quieted me in His approval.
Translation laid sticks of explosive dynamite end to end.
The Holy Spirit’s voice was the match.
The prizing and valuing of His own personal being.
And Jesus the Living one of all my life came.

T. Austin-Sparks~ “God’s answer to strengthen His people for Suffering.”
Is a new unveiling of the glory of the person of Jesus Christ.”

“What is the answer?
A new grasp of His greatness
That’s all.
And then if we are suffering
If we are knowing adversity, trial
And the clouds seem to be gathering, Accumulating, increasing.
How will we get through?
Only thus: by this:
Getting away
And asking
And seeking
And pursuing
In prayer
A new heart revelation–unveiling
of Jesus Christ.
And I am sure that will do it.
God give it to you.”
~T. Austin Sparks

 

[No] One

[No] One

The problem isn’t God’s willingness to teach
It’s our willingness to learn.
No one wants a course in suffering.
No one wants a diet of hunger.
No one wants a hard road of obedience.
No one wants the hill of difficulty
No one wants the splintery cross on their back
Only to be suffocated when you have carried it long enough.

No one wants to learn humility or compassion
The fear of the Lord or the depravity of his own soul.
No one would be utterly dependent on God
Knowing that God is not subject to our fleshly wants.
No one wants to give up everything to have nothing but God.
No one wants to leave behind their job,
Their home, their family, their hobbies,
Their possessions, their favorite things,
So that all they have is a heart to know God alone.

No one wants to pay the price to know God.
No one wants to forgo opportunity for the necessity of waiting.
No one wants to cease from their work
Until God Himself arises to work through them.

How endless, yet how tireless His search
For just one with a heart to know him!
The one to whom the Son wishes to show Him.

Mark the man of mean estate
Who holds for sin that powerful hate
And bears the scars of loss and shame
So not in vain He can bear His name.

For such a price, God can be known,
For such a cost, Christ’s pain is shown.
And only to the fire-purged heart
Will God His glorious life impart.

Meditations of a Pearl

~It’s so hard to see in this place.
So deprived of even warmth as a comfort.
Nowhere to hide from the loneliness inside
The soft, cushy beddings beneath me beat me up.

This irritating, grating, infernal thing.
It won’t let go, and deeply I am suffering.
Keeping tender so life can keep me well-rounded
Or hardening myself and becoming a less beautiful thing.

This insignificant, minuscule granule–
This meager task I am given to do, bearing up under life’s weight
Around me the ocean of political and circumstantial upheavals swirls by,
Toying with my shy shell like one of an angry child’s legos.

It is endless, futile, like the sun’s faint glow which doesn’t warm me here.
My fists may clench like my teeth, unwilling to swallow the silt life thrusts me into
But anything kept in my fist will escape the moment my pearl sees the sun
That day when my tired muscles shall give out,

Whether by the prying knife, the ravenous creature, or the cruel, stony washboard of life
Eventually my deeply and closely guarded treasure will emerge
And through sifting be surfaced to be found by the Merchant.
May He find a pearl of great price.

~Inspired by T. Austin-Spark’s sermon, “A Pearl of Great Price.”

Marks of God’s Servant

To be God’s Servant, you must give up what most people think of as living ordinarily: You do what you want and serve yourself and serve whoever you want to and enjoy life wile you have it. Such a life is utterly sinful and warrants the total death of the fruitless tree. You are a fruitless tree.

What characteristics mark the Servant of God? Well, let us look at the life of one of God’s greatest servants, through which God showed much of his own character. That was Moses. And Moses was a servant whom God raised up to do a marvelous work through, but Moses was not perfect. In many ways he was a man just like us. And yet Moses got to stand with Jesus on the mountain top in glory, with Elijah, another great servant of the Lord. What allowed Moses to be on that mountain top with Jesus, I believe, was that he had sought to see the glory of God face to face, but the Lord told him, “You shall not see my face because no one can see my face and live.” (Ex 33:20) Elijah went to the mountain of God seeking out God wanting God to give him an explanation for what was going on around him. “I’m all alone,” he said, “And they are seeking to take my life.”

I tell you one of the marks of God’s servant, is that they will seek to take your life. In the life of Moses there were two times, well, I mean there were many times that Moses’ life was in danger, but there were two times when he was threatened explicitly or on the verge of being killed. Once was after the 10th sign Moses performed for Pharoh. It was the 9th Plague of Darkness, and Pharoh said, “Don’t you dare show your face again, cause if I see you again I’ll kill you.” Moses said, “Indeed you will not see my face again.” That was the first time. The second time was after the 10th time the Israelites had tested God. It was right there at the edge of the promised land in Kadesh, in Numbers 13 and 14. The people had complained and tested God 10 times in the wilderness, and each time God disciplined them, slew them, gave them what they wanted, and Moses interceded for them. Now at last, this one final thing that the people of God were supposed to do: Go in an enter the promised land. Trust God that He is going to do it! Well, they hadn’t learned to trust God and instead they said in Numbers 14, “Let us go back to Egypt.” And they got ready to stone Moses and Aaron.

What happens next in Numbers 14 shows another mark of God’s servant. And that is God will only talk to you. He is selective of the company He keeps, and it says in the Scriptures that “He is intimate with the Upright.” in Prov 3:32. It also says in Amos that, “Surly God does NOTHING unless he first reveals his secret council to His prophets.” Ps. 25:14, “God shares his secret council with those who fear him.” Only those who fear God, those who are upright, only those whose hearts are pure can abide in His holy Hill. (Ps 15) A pure heart that seeks to know Him, and clean hands to fear Him and Obey Him.

The servant of God Moses goes in to talk to the Lord. Because of His closeness with God the people have sought to kill him, and because of his closeness with God, God will only speak his deepest feelings and thoughts with him. God tells Moses how he feels, and speaks plainly with him. It says in Exodus 33:11 that God spoke to him as one speaks to his friend.

What gave Moses the right to be God’s friend? Moses was a sinner. Moses was also more humble than any man alive. Moses knew his place with God, as humanly as he could know it. It is humility that grants you an audience before the Lord. He does not recognize the pompous or the arrogant, because they are nothing like him. He does not recognize the self-seeking, or the fool-hardy. He will not listen to the complaining, and whining of undisciplined children who aren’t getting their way, at least not without being ready to lash out with anger. If you find yourself grumbling, take heed to the warnings given in scripture. Let us not grumble as they did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. (1 Cor 10:10) It is the fear of the Lord and obedience to the Lord that is humility. Humility rightly takes its English shape from the same latin root as the English word Human. It is because humility is rightly understood as the art of being human. Jesus showed us what God is truly like– he showed us what true humanity looked like. He showed us why God doesn’t recognize the proud, and the reason is because God is nothing like that. The humility of God is shown in God’s servant. Humility is the basic shape a human must take if he is to have any sort of relationship with the God who made him in his image. Until he sloughs off his serpentine shape of a beast rearing its head up towards heaven fangs outstretched, he will not be able to bend low enough to avoid being eclipsed by the enormity of God’s magnanimity.

God talks with Moses and rescues Moses from being killed because he is His friend and he is humble. He tells Moses in Numbers 14 verse 11, “How long will this people reject me? How long will they not believe in Me, with all the signs which I have performed among them?” If you look at the accounts of Exodus and Numbers at the miracles God did in their midst: 10 times, and the amount of times Israel rejected God they’re the same: 10 times. 10 is a mark of completeness in the Bible. God has completely done all the sufficient wonders to woo back his people, and Israel has completely done everything possible to reject God until now. God is just and He has borne with these people and he is finished he has it up to here: it is His holy, just, righteous character that even Pharoh recognized after the Seventh sign, that He be done with these people. He says, “I will smite them with pestilence and  and disinherit them, and I will make of you a nation greater and mightier than they.”

This is where we see the mark of God’s Servant and that is intercession. For the very people who seek to end his life, Moses relates here and also earlier in Exodus, that he would rather that his own life be ended than for theirs to be ended. (Ex 32:32) The level of “Let me take their place.” that Moses claimed is nationwide, but God doesn’t take him up on it. He listens to his friend Moses, and pardons them, and relents in the disaster, but just as with Egypt the Firstborn generation was slain, so Israel will also suffer the consequences of their utter rejection with the death they have chosen over him. What is remarkable about the servant of God, is that he has learned to choose God over everything else. He has chosen God over himself, he has chosen God over his livelihood, he has chosen to serve God completely, so that in a moment of intercession, there is nothing between him and God. He has allied himself with the ultimate power-holder in the universe, with the humility that qualifies him to wield it, and he says, “I even choose that your people should live instead of me. I would gladly give my life, so that these people may live.”

God’s servant is not a relished or cushy position. It may sometimes mean waging your eternity for the salvation of another. But you know something, that level of “I would gladly go to Hell so that they may live eternally knowing you,” is the very spirit in which Jesus Christ came to this earth to intercede on our behalf. And it was the mercy of God that he didn’t send Moses to hell for Israel’s sins. He sent Jesus to Hell for Israel’s sins, and for the sins of the whole world. And because Hell could not contain him, he left with the keys to the grave, and told his disciples, his friends, his servants, those with whom he was closest, that I have all the authority in heaven and on earth. And whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

Now we see, what only a true servant of God can see. No nominal Christian will stare this ugly truth in the face and let it reflect in his own. A Servant of God isn’t one who let’s Jesus do all the suffering for him and that’s the end of it. A true servant of God realizes that pregnant truth which Jesus told his disciples, “Remember what I told you, no servant is greater than his master.” (Jn 15:20). “If they persecute me, they will persecute you.” If they seek my life, because I am so closely resembling the one they hate from the bottom of their heart, they will seek your life because you will be so closely resembling the one they hate from the bottom of their heart. Somewhere in Nominal Christianity we got the idea that Christianity is about Christ suffering for us so we don’t have to. But Peter knew better when he said, “As Christ suffered in the flesh, You also arm yourself with the same purpose.”

The Servant of God is self-sacrificing, humbly interceding for the ones who are seeking to end his life. He is so intimate with God that he knows the Heart of God, and lets his own heart break with it. The Servant of God suffers, for the very reason Jesus suffered, “so that others may live.” The servant suffers all the harms the world has to offer natural, supernatural, internal, external, bleeding, beating, blaming, shaming, isolation, excommunication, rejection: everything we have done to God and would do to God if we sinners had the chance. The Servant of God gives the world a chance to respond to God very clearly. Either they will join him in His suffering, or they will seek in the end to kill Him by killing you.

Why would anyone want to be a servant of God? It truly is as preposterous as it sounds for someone to want to be God’s servant. That is why it takes the call of God to raise up such a person to die to self daily. But I tell you, what I have been describing so far in this short article is not something different from Christianity. God’s Servant is anyone who represents God rightly. And the only human being to do this perfectly is Jesus Christ. The Christ is the Anointed Servant of God who rules as King the way God rules. Let me ask you, What is a Christian? A Little Christ. A replica, a reproduction, a fellow anointed servant of God who rules the way God rules. Let me ask you this. How did Jesus, who rightly represented God rule? He served. How did he conquer? He gave Himself. What power did he have? Only that which flowed from the Holiness of the Spirit within him, which the Father gave him to accomplish His will.

One of the final thoughts I’ll leave you with for now about the Servant of God is something I have been hinting at this whole time, and it may be obvious once I say it. It is only God’s servants who are authorized to wield God’s power. The Holy Spirit fills the believer with power to accomplish God’s work supernaturally. If you are looking to be filled with supernatural power than become God’s servant in truth from the heart. If you want to wield God’s mighty demonstrations of healing and miracles, recognize this is your price tag. To represent Him in power, is to know Him in pain. To know Him in the power of His resurrection, is only possible through knowing the fellowship of His sufferings.

O God speed the day! Raise up true servants of God, so that the world can be reminded in living color how You look and move and feel for them. God give us servants, give us prophets, give us those with whole lives devoted to serving you in the power of Your Spirit. Give the church your benchmark for holiness, so we can know that the Kingdom of God is NOT in words but in power! Call Your people to repentance. Call your people to Obedience. Call your people to Seek you. Call your people to Faith, believing and trusting and knowing You. And Lord give us hearts utterly devoted to serving you again. And let the world be drawn to you by the light of our fires, so they may see our good works and glorify You our Father who suffers with us.