Over the years Christians have endured great persecution for their faith in Jesus Christ. They have counted the cost to themselves, their families, their friends, co-workers, community, etc. Men such as Jim Elliot, a missionary to the Auca tribe of Ecuador, who wrote, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose” shortly before becoming a martyr among the very people he was attempting to reach. Or Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a pastor, theologian, spy and eventual martyr, who said of his persecution, “To endure the cross is not tragedy; it is the suffering which is the fruit of an exclusive allegiance to Jesus Christ.”
Obadiah Holmes was an early Rhode Island settler and Baptist Minister known for his faith and activism. What is most notable about this man is what he endured for Christ. Obadiah was whipped for helping a sick man and for conducting a service in a nearby home which warranted his arrest alongside others. Obadiah could have escaped his punishment by paying the 30 pound fine (which was a lot for a poor man in that day) but rather, after receiving ninety lashes, he turned to the magistrates and responded, “You have struck me with roses”.
It was said the whipping was so severe that Obadiah was unable to sit for weeks after his punishment. Obadiah endured his whipping without screaming or yelling, instead he preached to the gathered crowd who was there to see him receive his punishment. Despite the pain, Obadiah was able to experience joy because he deemed it a wonderful thing that God counted him worthy to suffer for the sake of the gospel.
Now consider some of the great characters of faith in the Bible: Joseph, the prophets, Jesus’ disciples, and the apostle Paul all faced immense persecution and even death for their beliefs in God. Paul described some of his struggles when he wrote to the Corinthians, ” Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.” (2 Corinthians 11:24-27)
During His time on earth Jesus preached that we should not to be surprised or saddened when we faced hatred and rejection but instead He told his followers to expect it. Jesus promised this when he said:
- “You will be hated by all for my name’s sake” Matt. 10:22
- “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake” Matthew 24:9
- “But I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” John 15:19
Jesus goes one step further in that He said, “Blessed are the persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heave, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:10-12)
That begs the questions: what does it mean for the persecuted to be blessed? And how do we rejoice and be glad?
In response to hatred and persecution we must decide how we will respond. Will we look to save ourselves by running away from the faith? Will we surrender our faith for security, safety, and comfort? Will we like Peter deny Jesus before others? Will we walk away from the faith because God has allowed us to endure trials, temptations, and persecution? Or will we choose to hold fast to Christ Jesus as our “anchor” (Hebrews 6:19).
These men above all counted themselves blessed because they knew the one true living God in whom they could find hope, purpose, and a future in spite of the hardships of this life. These men and others throughout time learned to see their suffering as being only temporary. Paul himself while writing again to the church in Corinth reminded the believers that “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:17, 18)
The author of Hebrews mentions the high cost of following Jesus but reminds the reader that this world didn’t deserve them – “Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy”(11:36-36). Though Christians face religious persecution, alienation, and even martyrdom, they must remember they are “more than conquerors” (Rom. 8:37) through Christ Jesus.
Christians can take heart and comfort in whatever trials may come “because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance” (James 1:3). We can survive and even thrive in the best and worst of situations as long as we look to Jesus as our hope. Christ followers simply want to follow after Jesus, become more like him each day, die to self, and live for Christ. Phil. 1:21 reminds the believer of this reality and gives them hope in saying, “To live is Christ, but to die is gain.” Our persecution may result in death but to die is to be with Christ. Should we have to drink from the cup of martyrdom, we may rest in the promise presented to us “To be absent in the body is to be present with the Lord” When we can understand and accept this truth then we can truly become the most dangerous disciples for the kingdom. Death no longer has power of us.
So, what is it that we must do? Christians must press into the Lord Jesus more and more each day. God has a purpose and plan in allowing suffering and persecution in this world. God uses it for His glory. May we continue to persevere and endure all that what may come for simply pledging allegiance to Christ Jesus and picking up our cross and following him. Blessed are those who are persecuted for his name’s sake.