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27 October 2019

Persecution, Christian Rights, and the Cross

SYNOPSIS:  To follow Jesus means self-denial and a willingness to suffer for his sake. Persecution for him is a high honor for a disciple of Jesus.

Photo by Samuel McGarrigle on Unsplash
In some Christian circles, rage, and belligerence are, apparently, appropriate “Christian” reactions to persecution, perceived or real; sometimes, even to simple verbal criticism.  The claim is such things are signs of society’s hostility to the church and threats to the civil “rights” of believers. Believers must enter the political process to “fight” for their God-given “rights” and privileges.

But angry reactions by Christians to perceived threats to their “rights” only demonstrate their assimilation to the values of the surrounding pagan society, values contrary to the teachings and example of Jesus; especially, to the paradigm of Christ crucified.

Consider the issue of persecution. Angry reactions of Christians to criticism from the secular society raises a critical question:  How would they respond to genuine and serious persecution? Would they take to the streets in protest or even riot?  Could today’s vitriolic protests turn into civil disobedience or maybe armed resistance in defense of individual “rights?”

Jesus instructed his disciples - “Rejoice and leap for joy” whenever “men hate you, and ostracize you, and profane you, and spurn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man.” Disciples who are reviled and persecuted for his sake should “rejoice and exult,” for great is their reward in Heaven. This is a far cry from anger and lashing out at every perceived infringement on one’s “rights” (Matthew 5:10-12, Luke 6:22-23).

His "Crown" of Thorns - clipart.christiansunite.comThe disciples of Jesus took this teaching to heart, at least, they did so after the Resurrection.  When Peter and the Apostles were hauled before the Sanhedrin, beaten, and ordered to cease preaching, rather than respond in kind, they went their way “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name” (Acts 5:41).

On another occasion, Paul and Silas were beaten, imprisoned, and shackled for preaching the Gospel. Rather than despair or vent rage at such an egregious trampling of their “rights,” they spent the night “praying and singing hymns to God,” no doubt, rejoicing because they were found worthy to suffer for the kingdom (Acts 16:23-25).

Isaiah prophesied how God’s Suffering Servant would be “oppressed and afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth.” Yahweh’s anointed Servant would not “wrangle or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets; he will not break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick” (Isaiah 53:7Matthew 12:19-20, 26:6327:12-14).

Jesus exhorted disciples to “love your enemies, to pray for them who persecute you,” and, to extend mercy to each and every “enemy” who abused them. Showing mercy to enemies is the precise way by which his disciples emulate their Heavenly Father and become “perfect” as He is (Matthew 5:38-48).

Jesus was the only truly righteous man ever to live. If anyone deserved honor and respect for his “rights,” he did. Yet, rather than be served, Jesus came “to serve and to give his life a ransom for many.” This he did by enduring a horrific and undeserved death. He willingly died for us when we were yet enemies of God and alienated from Him (Matthew 20:28, Romans 5:10).

In Gethsemane - clipart.christiansunite.com
When an armed mob came to arrest Jesus at Gethsemane, Peter drew a sword and “smote the high priest's servant, cutting off his right ear.” JESUS DID THE UNEXPECTED. Rather than join Peter in defending his “rights,” he rebuked him and commanded him to sheathe his sword. Jesus then healed the severed ear of the wounded man who had come to arrest God’s anointed Messiah and chosen king (John 18:10-12).

Interrogated, beaten, and reviled before the High Priest, Jesus reviled not in return. While suffering on a Roman cross, and in his death throes, Jesus prayed to his Father: “Forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Matthew 27:39Mark 15:32Luke 23:34).

Scripture portrays persecution for the sake of the gospel as something Christians should expect and endure.  Not only so, to suffer for Christ is a great privilege and honor, a matter for rejoicing, for one’s Heavenly reward is great.

Through loud protests and legal machinations, Christians may avoid persecution but unwittingly rob themselves of something of infinitely greater value than a comfortable life.  Like the hypocrites who do their righteous deeds to be seen before men, they may already “have their reward,” but not “with their Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 6:1-5).
As for a Christian’s “rights,” the notion of inviolate civil “rights” that must be defended at all costs flies in the face of New Testament teachings on discipleship, mercy, and the forgiveness of enemies. The man or woman who would be a disciple of Jesus must daily “take up his cross and follow after” the Lord. Failure to do so makes one unworthy of him. To become "greatest" in the kingdom of God, one must first become a servant of all.
The disciple must “deny himself, take up his cross,” and daily follow the Lamb wherever he goes. Self-denial is not the same as exercising self-discipline to keep sin under control; instead, it means to deny oneself that which is his or hers by right (Matthew 16:24, Revelation 14:1-5).

The Apostle Paul gave up his “right” to take a wife for the sake of the ministry. Likewise, though as an apostle he had the right to expect financial support, he often abstained from this “right” and supported himself through manual labor to further the gospel (Acts 18:31 Corinthians 4:11-12, 9:1-14).

Until the present hour we both hunger and thirst, and are naked and buffeted, and are wanderers and toil, working with our own hands: being reviled, we bless, being persecuted, we hold on, being defamed, we beseech: as the sweepings of the world have we become, the offscouring of all until even now” (1 Corinthians 4:11-13).

In his parable of the Unprofitable Servant, Jesus asked:

Who from among you having a slave plowing or keeping sheep, when he has come in out of the field will say to him, ‘come and recline?’  On the contrary will he not say to him, ‘Make something ready that I may dine and gird yourself to serve me until I have eaten and drunk…Does he offer thanks to the slave because he has done the things enjoined? So, also, you, when you have done all the things enjoined upon you, say, ‘we are unprofitable slaves; we have only done what we were obligated to do” (Luke 17:7-10).

Western-style democracy may provide its citizens with the opportunity to exercise and defend their civil “rights.” However, as embedded as this attitude is in our popular culture, it runs contrary to the gospel and example of Jesus.

In contrast to so-called “civil rights,” Christianity offers disciples the far greater privilege of service to God’s kingdom, as well as the vast honor of enduring insults, hatred, and even persecution on behalf of its king, Jesus Christ.

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