Are you willing to suffer and sacrifice for the cause and Name of Jesus Christ? Before you answer, put yourself in the following situation, and ask yourself what you would do.

The apostles were arrested and made to appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest.

Acts 5:28-33, “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,” he said. “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.”  Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than human beings! The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a cross. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins. We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.” When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death.

 40-42 His speech persuaded them. They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.  Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.

It is difficult for us, who have avowed freedom of religion, to understand the concept of religious persecution. Since there is a freedom to worship whatever god or set of religious codes we wish, most individuals go to their places of worship without realizing the value of the privilege. However, this freedom is beginning to erode in our country.

“Times, they are a changing”, Bob Dylan recorded in 1964 at the beginning of the counter-culture revolution. However, the changes we see are not for the better. The purpose of this message is not to frighten you but to prepare us for the persecution Jesus said would come.

John 15:18-25 “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.  If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me.  If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin.  Whoever hates me hates my Father as well.  If I had not done among them the works no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. As it is, they have seen, and yet they have hated both me and my Father.  But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason.’

He went on to say, John16:1-3 “All this I have told you so that you will not fall away. They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, the time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God.  They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me.

So what are we supposed to do? To prepare ourselves, we must read the Word, pray, deepen our relationship with Christ, and be filled with the Holy Spirit. Then we will have power to go on the offensive by preaching the Gospel with gentleness and kindness.

1Pet 3:13-17  Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threat; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.  For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.

You may wonder what to say. Proclaim what you have seen and experienced. That is what Peter did. Show the difference Jesus makes in your life even though people ignore the facts and the Holy Spirit in your life.

Matt 5:11-12, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

43-45 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you. That sounds hard. It is impossible without the Holy Spirit giving us His grace. However, persecution is our opportunity to live out the grace of God in our lives. It is not enough to know and feel, we must act-- go, pray, give, love, and stand for Jesus. Those actions will witness to others. They should see us living out this verse:

Psalm 28:7 The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him.

By the grace of God, we can do like the first century church and count it all joy when we face persecution.

James 1:2-4  Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds,  because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

Therefore, don’t be surprised by persecution. Christians should expect persecution from this world that hates Jesus. Our need for love and acceptance will not be met by the unbelieving world, but through the body of Christ, as we love one another.

Jesus provides at least two reasons for the negative attitude of the world toward Christians.

1. Resentment - If believers belonged to the world, there would be no problem! However, Jesus said, "You do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you." He reminds the disciples and all believers that we are called to live a different kind of life for a completely different purpose. When Christians walk in the light, we expose the dark deeds of men. This causes quite a bit of discomfort and resentment from unbelievers. So they call us names and try to restrict our activities to make themselves feel better.

2. Ignorance - "They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me." The world does not understand God and it has rejected Him. They proclaim that either God doesn’t exist or He is dead. Consequently, they have no knowledge by which they can properly evaluate Jesus. In word and deed, Jesus came to reveal God’s plan and purpose for redeeming mankind. The unbelieving world’s rejection of Christ and His teaching leaves them with no excuse for their sin, not even the excuse that will be most common at the final judgment, "I didn’t know!"

Furthermore, we should refuse to be silenced by persecution. Christians must continue to witness in this hating world by the power of the Holy Spirit. When the disciples learned that Jesus was leaving them, they were very concerned. Jesus explained that it was to their advantage that He would go away. He explained that the coming Counselor, the promised Holy Spirit, would participate with them in testifying about Christ, giving them the words to say.

In fact, this is exactly what happened. The more intense the opposition, the bolder the disciples were in proclaiming the good news by the grace and power of the Holy Spirit.

As persecution intensifies, our witness for Christ may take us into dangerous territory. The grace God gave the first century church will become all the more necessary for us as well. Fortunately, it is ours for the asking.

Hebrews 4:16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

So, don’t be sidetracked by persecution. Here are three points to remember:

1. Terrible persecution is inevitable. Jesus said, "They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God." A good book that you may want to read on the subject is Foxes Book of Martyrs. It contains well-documented accounts of believers who were burned at the stake, while many others suffered terrible physical torture not because they were evil, but solely because they were Christians. Persecution has been going on for centuries and it will continue until Jesus returns.

2. Some of the worst persecution will be done in the name of God. This will happen even though God remains unknown to the persecutors. For example, today Islamists believe they are doing God a service by killing Christians and all non-Muslims.

3. Jesus warns us so that we will stand. As long as Jesus was present with His disciples, He attracted all of the persecution. As He prepared to leave the twelve, our Lord prepares them for what lies ahead. They will become the front line that draws the hottest fire. That role has been passed from generation to generation to those who are willing to live for Christ and, if necessary, to die for Him. The promises Jesus gave the first century church are also for us today.

That’s why we must not forget the words of our Lord. We must develop an intimate relationship with Him. The closer we get to Jesus the less fear and more faith we will have. Then His love and joy will be with us, and will be in us. We, too, will have grace to rejoice that we are counted worthy to suffer for His Name’s sake.

John 15:9-17“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.  My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.  I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.”

To know Christ is to have eternal life and to be filled with His love. This is worth far more than anything the world has to offer. His Life and Love will give us grace to endure persecution and love our persecutors. Messages about persecution, like this, are not meant to foster fear or a defeatist attitude, but to strengthen our spiritual resolve and holy courage.

None of us can say with any positive assurance what we will do when persecution comes our way. However, we can be assured that our Father is aware of it all and He will supply us with all the grace we need at that time to endure, persevere, and sacrifice our lives if necessary. We do not need to fear what man can do to us. All he can do is destroy our body, which will instantly release us to our home in Heaven. Whether we live or die, victory is ours through Jesus Christ.

Are you assured of that victory today? If you have confessed your sin, given your life to Jesus through baptism and received His Holy Spirit, that victory is yours. By God’s grace you have no fear of persecution or death.

If you haven’t believed and obeyed in these things, you may escape persecution, but your sin remains and so does your eternal death and condemnation.