Rev. Mark Buetow
“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 NKJV)
In Pakistan over this past weekend, suicide bombers blew themselves up outside a big Christian church in Peshawar, Pakistan killing 80 people. Also over the weekend, Muslim terrorists attacked an upscale shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya. One report says the terrorists told Muslims they could leave safely while the rest would be killed. In Egypt, Christians are targeted for harassment and even murder. What are we to make of such horror stories from the comforts of our living rooms and safe churches where we worship each week without much thought or worry about being blown to bits when we walk outside afterwards?
Jesus says to His disciples, “yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service. And these things they will do to you because they have not known the Father nor Me. But these things I have told you, that when the time comes, you may remember that I told you of them." (John 16:2-4) The fact is, Jesus warns His disciples that their lot in life will be suffering and persecution and even death for His sake.
Let's be clear. Not every attack against Christians is motivated by religion. Many in other countries attack Christians because they associate them with "the West," particularly the United States. And so-called Christians have many times engaged in bitter fighting and attacks on other religions which is clearly not what Jesus commanded. The church exists to be where the Gospel is preached, not a political or earthly kingdom. The church is where the forgiveness of sins for Jesus' sake is proclaimed, not a resistance movement against evil governments in the world.
But most of the attacks made against Christians are, in fact, because the victims are Christians. So let's be clear on something else. The Christian church is not hated and persecuted despite the Gospel but rather because of it. That is, the enemies of Christ attack His people not because they don't know what the Gospel is but because they do! They don't attack and persecute because they are ignorant of what the church teaches but because it teaches that we have no favor with God apart from Jesus, because we confess that there is no salvation outside of Christ, and because that salvation is not dependent upon our own good works or zeal for God.
The Christian confession is that all people are born enemies of God, hating Him and loving themselves more than others, and that only through the blood of Christ are we rescued from that sin and made children of God. The religious notions of the Old Adam contradict that, supposing we can be good enough if we try. The world's religions say we have it within ourselves to live good lives and to love and serve God. What the Word of God teaches is quite different. We have no capacity to fear, love, or trust in God. We must be converted by the preaching of repentance and the forgiveness of sins in the Name of Jesus. By this preaching the Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies us and keeps us in the true faith. It is a horrible thing that the Old Adam will never admit, that we cannot save ourselves but that we must be saved. It is such a terrible idea to the Old Adam that he will attack it wherever he can. And where religions are built upon the idea that people can love God and save themselves, they will inevitably persecute and attack Christians because they believe otherwise.
The simple fact is that if you are a Christian in a nice, comfortable place where you generally don't have to worry about going to or coming from church, you are in the minority in the world. Still, even in the "civilized West," we face the constant persecution of those who think the Christian faith is a joke. But whether it is the vicious ridicule of words or the hail of bullets, Christians are hated in this world and that is nothing more or less than Jesus said it would be.
The hope of our brothers and sisters who suffer such things and our own hope is nothing other than Jesus' victory over all these things. Since He died for the world on Calvary and rose again on Easter, there is simply nothing in this world that can forever harm His people. They can be mocked, attacked, tortured, even killed. Yet they already have victory over those enemies by their baptism into Christ. The fact is they have already died in the waters of holy baptism and therefore even those enemies who take their lives can do nothing more than hasten a Christian's departure to be with the Lord.
Jesus knew the wrath of His enemies. St. Paul, who himself had been the foremost persecutor and murderer of Christians, knew the suffering that came with bearing the name of Christ. Countless martyrs have also fallen asleep in suffering for having that name of Jesus upon them. And countless disciples of Jesus around the world even today have their lives cut short by the hatred of the enemies of Christ. And yet the Christian church endures. After all these years of persecution and hatred, nations have risen and fallen, religions have come and gone, and yet Christ's church remains. The Holy Spirit still calls sinners to repentance and faith; He still turns even the hearts of Christ's enemies to believe and trust in Jesus. And He still promises through Jesus' own Word that their suffering is nothing in comparison to the glory that is to come. It is that same Spirit that through Christ's Word and gifts, strengthens His people to endure all things and look with joy and hope to the blessed eternal rest when all our enemies are defeated and there is only everlasting peace.
Pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ, that they may be kept firm in the faith, even unto death, knowing that they will receive from Jesus the crown of life.
Lord Jesus Christ, before whom all in heaven and earth shall bow, grant courage that Your children may confess Your saving name in the face of any opposition from a world hostile to the Gospel. Help them to remember Your faithful people who sacrificed much and even faced death rather than dishonor You when called upon to deny the faith. By Your Spirit, strengthen them to be faithful and to confess You boldly, knowing that You will confess Your own before the Father in heaven, with whom You and the Holy Spirit live and reign, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Created: September 23rd, 2013