Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Persecution of Jesus Himself

I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall when the Holy Spirit anointed Stephen to speak boldly before his accusers.  Even his face lit up with the glory of God as he addressed the Sanhedrin. He recited a beautiful rendition of God's story through the Old Testament and how Jesus was the culmination of how God was going to dwell in men. Stephen boldly tells them that they are stiff-necked, always rejecting the will and heart of the tender Father.

This enraged the Jewish leaders to no end, so they decided to get rid of him instead of ask God if there might be some truth as to what Stephen was proclaiming.

They stoned him. 

"And Saul approved of his execution."

That very day, a great persecution arose against the church. Those that called themselves part of the "Way" had to scatter in order to save themselves from persecution.

Over and over we see this Saul character and his venomous hatred spewing towards anything Christ-like or church-like.  The book of Acts tell us that he would ravage the church and break into house after house, dragging off men and women who were part of the "Way."  He would put them in prison, hoping their fate might be similar to that of Stephen's.  We can almost see his blood thirsty eyes and obsessive murderous spirit. The Word says he was always breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord.

Enter a Savior whom I don't always understand.  A Savior whose mercy and grace know no bounds.  A Savior who reveals Himself to Saul so that Saul knows exactly whom he is persecuting.  A Savior who rips off the scales of Saul's eyes so that he can truly see.  A Savior who graciously brings about a name change.

"Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?"
"Who are you, Lord?"
"I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting."
Acts 9:4-5
The text is clear:  to persecute Christians is to persecute Christ Himself.
I think of ISIS and my brothers and sisters in Christ running for their very lives.  I have to ask myself this question:  would my prayers over them be more consuming and passionate if I really believed that it was Christ that ISIS was persecuting?
"Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it." 1 Cor. 12:27
"The king will answer them, 'I can guarantee this truth: Whatever you did for one of my brothers or sisters, no matter how unimportant [they seemed], you did for me.' Matthew 25:40

I try and put myself in the persecuted believer's shoes and wonder what I would need most in this time?  Courage?  Food and supplies?  Ability to forgive? Shelter? Protection? This verse? 

Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings, from the wicked who do me violence, my deadly enemies who surround me. Psalm 17:8-9

We can pray for those being persecuted. Our prayers are effectual.

We can give.  These are just two Christian organizations that will handle resources wisely and in the name of Jesus.  The Joshua FundSamaritan's Purse.

We can pray for our enemies.  The persecutors. The Sauls that God just might want to change into Pauls.  We can acknowledge that no man is too far gone or out of the realm of grace.  We can ask God to allow the scales to fall from the members of the ISIS. Galatians says it pleased God when he revealed Himself to Saul.

We can pray for the advancement of the gospel.  In the book of Acts, when the believers were scattered, they went about preaching the Word.  We can pray that through this scattering, the Gospel would advance and that God would receive glory despite the murderous tactics of the enemy.

And lastly, we can choose to remember that it isn't just people that are being persecuted.  It is Jesus Christ Himself.

I'm doing my best to let that sink in.

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