Sermon Manuscript . . .
The Test of Persecution
It was 1555 A.D. The tyrannical reign of Bloody Mary had begun, and her first victim walked toward the stake. John Rogers was to be burned alive for his Protestant faith in doctrines like the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, and the biblical view of the Lord’s Table. Rogers was unmoved in his conviction. There were many trials, councils, imprisonments, and pleas for him to deny his teaching. Finally, after being threatened to death by burning, John Rogers exclaimed, “That which I have preached, I will seal with my blood.”
An immense crowd lined the street of Smithfield that day. John Rogers walked down the main road toward a pile of wood. He appeared resolved, walking steadily behind the sheriffs. On his way, he passed by his bride and ten children, whom he hadn’t seen for months. His youngest, still breastfeeding, he had never met. Strangely, he did not linger, he did not weep. In fact, he was singing psalms as he walked. The crowd did not weep, but rather erupted in applause and some recited the psalm with him. As the crowd roared, including the cheers of his own children, John Rogers embraced the stake, lifted his hands to Heaven and was lit on fire.
The French ambassador wrote home a description of the scene. “This day was performed the public and solemn sacrifice of a preaching doctor named Rogers, who has been burned alive because he persisted in his opinions. But as he was conducted to his death . . . the people were not afraid to make him many exclamations and strengthen his courage. Even his own children assisted him, comforting him in such a manner that it seemed as if Rogers was being led to a wedding.” As a result, he was given the title, “The Happy Martyr”.
How can a mother bring her ten children to witness the burning of their father and encourage him on the way. How can a man look in the face of death and sing a psalm? How can a crowd cheer and celebrate a person executed to death for his faith? How can a man be called happy while being persecuted? This French ambassador was not the first to call the persecuted “happy”–someone else did before him.
Turn to Matthew 5:10 to 12, “ ‘Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.’ ” Jesus makes it very plain, His kingdom citizens are persecuted and they are happy (blessed).
We are in a series called “Tests”, looking at the distinguishing marks of true Christ-followers. Second Corinthians 13:5 says, “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves!” True Christ followers are distinguished from the world. First John 2:15, “Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” True Christ-followers care for others like Christ cares for them. Luke 6:36, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”
True Christ-followers are committed. Luke 14 makes the cost of following Christ very clear–you must be willing to surrender everything you are for all that Christ is. We come to a fourth test this morning. True Christ followers are ready to be persecuted for the sake of Christ. The question you must ask yourself this morning is, “Am I ready to be persecuted for the sake of Christ?” Call 1(800) JESUS 4 U and become a Christian now! “Really, Morgan–persecution is a test? Show me that persecution is a distinguishing mark of true Christ followers!”
Second Timothy 3:12, “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” This is a future indicative–in other words, that is a promise from the apostle Paul for those in Christ. But again, he wasn’t the first to make that promise. John 15:20, “ ‘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.’ ” Christ makes it very clear–if we intend to follow in His footsteps, we will be persecuted just as He was.
John Calvin said, “It is a vain endeavor to detach Christ from his cross.” Similarly, it is vain to detach the Christ-follower from the cross they bear. Again, we must ask ourselves, “Am I ready to be persecuted for the sake of Christ?”
But Morgan, we live in the comfortable United States of America. We have the first amendment that still protects our freedom of religion. Does this test still apply here, and if so, how? What does persecution look like now, and where is it going? How should we respond whenever we face it? I believe our passage this morning has answers to these questions. Let’s go back to it and see.
1. Persecution Should Be Expected
I read the promise passages from Paul and the Lord Himself, but I want you to see it also in our main text this morning, Matthew 5. This is the greatest sermon ever preached. It’s the King’s inaugural address and it starts with this list of Beatitudes. This list is a clear description of what His kingdom citizens look like.
Matthew 5:3 to 10, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. 5Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth. 6Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. 7Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. 8Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. 9Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. 10Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
What you will notice, as you go through this list, is that it is also a clear description of the King. Christ perfected humility, gentleness, righteousness, mercy, purity, and peace. This just confirms the principle that we know is true–we will begin to look like the person we follow. As Christ was humble, so we will be. As Christ was merciful, so we will be. As Christ was pure, so we will be. As Christ was persecuted, so we will be. John 15:18, “ ‘If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you… A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.”
Persecution should not be surprising, but expected. First John 3:13, “Do not be surprised, brethren, if the world hates you.” First Peter 4:12, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you . . . as though some strange thing were happening to you.” Do not be surprised, Americans, when our society no longer advocates biblical morality, i.e. the value of human life, God’s design for gender, the sanctity of marriage between one man and one woman.
Don’t be surprised, Americans, when our society becomes intolerant toward those who advocate biblical morality, i.e. Christians being labeled homophobic, legislation taking God off dollar bills, out of anthems, and school curriculum, threatening lawsuits toward religious institutions and businesses. Don’t be surprised, Americans, when society begins to attack those who advocate biblical morality, employees/employers being fired for referencing Bible verses, teachers giving bad grades to students who write about God in their papers, family disowning you in your conversion, friends slandering and insulting you behind your back because you follow Jesus now.
Should we be surprised, Americans, as we move quickly toward religious freedom being taken, imprisonment, even death? It’s not a question of if, it is a question of when and how? Remember this promise from our Lord, “If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.”
A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to preach at Hume Lake High School Camp. The theme of the camp was, “What It Means to Follow Jesus.” After one of my messages, a young man walked up to me with tears in his eyes and said, “One of my closest friends called me a couple of weeks ago and said that he wants nothing to do with me anymore, because I’m a Christian.” There were tears rolling down his cheeks as he told me this. I responded gently, “I’m really sorry, I know it hurts to lose a friend. But you know what this tells me? You are walking in the footsteps of your Master–and remember He told us, ‘If the world hated me, they will also hate you.’ ”
Matthew 5 tells us that you won’t walk into the Kingdom of Heaven without scars.” Expect persecution, Christian–it’s coming for the true Christ-follower. We shouldn’t just expect it, but we should embrace it.
2. Persecution should be Embraced
Matthew 5:10 to 12, “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
“Happy are the Persecuted”–by the way, this is so contrary to the world’s philosophy. Happiness is not a result of persecution. Anger, hate, revolt, fight for your rights–but not the Christian, we are called blessed (happy). We are called to “rejoice and be glad”–why? Because we have the Kingdom of Heaven. Our reward in Heaven is great.
“Momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17). The Christian can endure worldly hardship now, because they will endure heavenly eternity later. The Christian can receive affliction now, because they will receive a reward later. The Christian can smile in the face of their oppressor now, because they will smile in the face of their Lord later. How can a man like John Rogers sing himself to the stake as if he was walking to the altar on his wedding day? Because he was. He was about to see the Groom, Jesus Christ, the King of Glory. And that mattered more to him than anything or anyone else–even his own wife and children.
If we could only keep the Kingdom of Heaven at the forefront of our minds, we would live radically for our King! Imagine–we would be bold to speak the truth, even when it’s unpopular. We would have the courage to defend the Scripture, even when they are being attacked. We would share the Gospel with our friends, even though they might be offended and forsake us. We could even stand in the face of a death and rejoice, knowing that soon we will see the King, enter His heavenly Kingdom and receive our heavenly reward.
Do you struggle to be bold, courageous to speak the truth, to share Christ, to stand firm in what you believe? Dwell on eternity. Ecclesiastes 3 says that God has set eternity on the hearts of man. We need to stop suppressing it and take it to the forefront of our minds.
Hebrews 11:24 to 26, “By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, 25choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, 26considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward.” Living for the King will cost you. You may be harassed, rejected, abused, maybe even killed. Men can take your life. But there is one thing that they can never take away–the eternal riches of Christ in Heaven! The scars you bear now for the sake of Jesus are but shadows of a greater reward in Heaven when you see Him face to face.
Embrace persecution, rejoice and be glad, looking forward to your heavenly reward. Does embracing persecution mean that I twist every trouble I go through and call it persecution? Am I being persecuted when my dog chews up my brand new leather Bible? Am I being persecuted when I get a speeding ticket on the way to church? Are Christians being persecuted when the talk show host trashes our favorite conservative candidate? This leads us to our third point–what does real persecution look like?
3. Persecution should be Christ-Centered
Matthew 5:10 to 12, “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Persecution is a personal attack against you because of your faith in Jesus. It could be as minor as an insult or a mocking joke. It could be major, like a false accusation, a beating or even killing.
The word suffering is sometimes used in the place of persecution in the Scriptures (we see this in 1 Peter 2), “called to endure suffering like Christ did . . . who when reviled, did not revile in return.” But is there a difference? Persecution is always suffering, but not all suffering is persecution. Some suffering/trials are sickness/disease-related, natural disaster-related, accident-related. Persecution should be seen as more of an intentional/personal attack. And the reason for their attack is clear–they don’t like your King or His commands.
It is not about fighting for your political agenda, upholding your constitutional rights, defending your pride. It is about your King, His name and His righteousness. Look at 1 Peter 4:14 to 16, “If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 15Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; 16but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name.”
Sometimes I wonder if our arguments/trouble/conflicts are more about earthly kings than the heavenly King, more about our political agenda than God’s heavenly agenda. If it’s more about the American kingdom than the heavenly Kingdom, I wonder if we are sticking our neck out for the sake of Christ or our own pride? We must be sure that Christ is at the center of our persecution–it’s for defending Him and defending His Word, it’s for following Him and following His Word.
When we are insulted, let it not be because we are acting foolishly, but because we are living godly. When we are accused, let it not be because we broke tax laws or traffic laws, but because we refuse to break God’s law. When they beat us and kill us, let’s make sure that they hear of Christ’s beatings and His death. It must be clear that “this person follows a different Master.” When they see our Master, the Gospel of Jesus Christ shines bright and the impact is amazing.
It’s interesting, if you look back at the all the persecutions of the Church in history, the tyrants/governments tried to suppress Christianity through persecution. The result was actually the reverse. Persecution didn’t suppress the Gospel, but actually advanced the Gospel. Many repented from their sins and believed in Jesus when they saw men and women willing to die for Him. They saw the men and women singing hymns at their burning and they said, “His/her God must be real! I want that kind of joy in suffering!”
Sometimes I wish those days would come back. Persecution purifies the Church–it is God weeding His garden. The fakers burn out in the heat. Those truly rooted in Christ endure. Persecution grows our faith (James 1:2 to 3 tells us to rejoice). James 1:2 to 4, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, 3knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
Closing Application Questions
Are you too comfortable in your Christian life?
Do you avoid faith-related conversation, because it might get you made fun of at work? Or because you are afraid of how your co-workers will respond? Maybe you don’t see evidence of persecution in your life, because you have placed every conceivable protective barrier around yourself and your family, for comfort.
The kids at school make fun of my child for not going to the parties or cussing like they do. Praise God! What a great parenting opportunity to encourage your child, as they follow in Christ’s footsteps. Encourage them to hold fast to the truth now, so that they are confident later, when you aren’t there.
Do you struggle with a fear of men?
Christ said, “Do not fear those who can only kill the body, but fear Him who can kill both body and soul in hell forever.” Set eternity at the forefront of your mind. Be motivated by Christ and His heavenly reward. Ask Him for the boldness/courage to live radically for Him, and endure persecution. Where is your hope when the persecution does come? Conservative politicians or the returning King and His Kingdom?
Are you ready to be persecuted for the sake of Christ?
A guard came to George Carpenter while in prison, waiting for his execution. He said, “My friend, George! Do you not fear death and punishment which you will suffer? If you were let go, wouldn’t you return to your wife and children?” George responded, “If I were set free, where else would I go but back to my beloved wife and children?”
Then the guard said, “Revoke your belief, and you shall be set free!” Mr. Carpenter paused, then replied, “My wife and my children are so dearly loved, that they cannot be bought from me for all the riches of the world; but, for the love of my King, I will willingly forsake them.”