“Pray for Those Who Persecute You”

On Easter Sunday, April 21, 2019, three Christian churches in the island country of Sri Lanka were bombed during Easter services, resulting in the death of over 200 people. These bombings are yet another example of the persecution of Christians around the world. According to Open Doors, an organization that ministers to persecuted Christians, every month, an average of 345 Christians are killed because of their faith, scores of churches are burned or attacked, and many believers are held without trial, arrested, sentenced and imprisoned. And, when believers around the world suffer, each member of the body of Christ suffers with them (1 Corinthians 12:26).

Of course, persecution is nothing new to the church of Jesus Christ. The first recorded persecution of Christians took place in the first century when a believer named Stephen was stoned as a result of his faith in Christ. Stephen was arrested and brought before the high council on a false charge of blasphemy (Acts 6:11-14). When the high priest asked Stephen if the charges against him were true, Stephen gave the council a history lesson which ended with an accusation of his own, as he said, “You stubborn people! You are heathen at heart and deaf to the truth. Must you forever resist the Holy Spirit? That’s what your ancestors did, and so do you! Name one prophet your ancestors didn’t persecute! They even killed the ones who predicted the coming of the Righteous One—the Messiah whom you betrayed and murdered. You deliberately disobeyed God’s law, even though you received it from the hands of angels.” (Acts 7:51-53)

The infuriated leaders dragged Stephen out of the city of Jerusalem and began to stone him. Stephen became the first follower of Jesus Christ to give up his life for his faith. As Scripture tells us, a great wave of persecution began that day, scattering the believers throughout the areas of Judea and Samaria (Acts 8:1). That persecution was led by Saul, a young Pharisee whose zeal for the traditions of his faith led him to go from house to house, dragging people from their homes and throwing them into prison (Acts 8:3). But Saul would soon find out that it was not just these Christians that he was persecuting. As he persecuted the early church, he was also persecuting the Son of God, Jesus Christ. As he rode along the road to Damascus with the intent of arresting the Christians who had fled there and bringing them back to Jerusalem in chains, Saul had an encounter with Jesus.

As he got near to Damascus, a bright light shone around Saul and he fell to the ground. He then heard a voice say, “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?” When Saul asked the voice who he was, the voice replied, “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting! Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” Blinded, Saul got up and headed for Damascus (Acts 9:3-9). From that point on, Saul would never be the same. His life was changed, as was his name. He became Paul, the apostle responsible for writing the largest part of the New Testament, the man who helped to spread the gospel throughout the known world of his time, the man whose inspired words detail the very foundations of our Christian faith. And not only that but, as a follower of Christ, Paul went from persecutor to persecuted.

As we hear about the persecution that we see in this day and age, as we hear about tragic attacks such as the ones in Sri Lanka, we need to pray. We need to pray for our brothers and sisters around the world, especially those in countries that are antagonistic toward those who believe in Jesus Christ. We need to pray for ourselves. In this country, we are not subjected to the kind of persecution we see around the world. But that may change. The world is getting darker and our faith may be tested. So we need to pray that we will stand firm in that faith. And we need to pray for those who persecute Christians. We need to pray that they, like Paul, will have a life-changing encounter with Jesus Christ. And we need to pray that they will receive God’s forgiveness. Stephen’s final words before he gave up his life for his faith were, “Lord, don’t charge them with this sin!” (Acts 7:60). May that be our prayer as well. After all, in Matthew 5:44, Jesus Himself said, “But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!”

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Finding Wisdom

Some say that wisdom comes with age. In fact, Job 12:12 say that “Wisdom belongs to the aged, and understanding to the old.” There is a proverb that says, “Experience is the father, and memory the mother of wisdom.” And, in March 1917, The Janesville Daily Gazette in Janesville, Wisconsin, said, “Wisdom is digested experience.” But, as Oscar Wilde once said, “With age comes wisdom, but sometimes age comes alone.” All kidding aside, while it may be true that as we get older we do grow wiser because of our life experiences, age alone does not guarantee wisdom.

So how do we obtain wisdom? That very question shows up in Scripture. Job 28:20 asks, “But do people know where to find wisdom? Where can they find understanding?” The next verse says that wisdom is hidden from the eyes of humanity. So, if wisdom is hidden from our eyes, how do we find wisdom? God’s Word is clear that true wisdom can be found in God alone. Job 28:23 tells us that only God understands the way to wisdom and only He knows where it may be found. And so, if we desire wisdom, we can find it only in God. Job 12:13 says, “But true wisdom and power are found in God; counsel and understanding are His.” And Proverbs 2:6 tells us that “the Lord grants wisdom! From his mouth come knowledge and understanding.”

The first Scripture passage that I ever memorized was Proverbs 3:5-6, which says, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.”

These are great words to live by! God’s understanding is far superior to our own limited understanding. Just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so God’s ways and God’s thoughts are higher than our own (Isaiah 55:9). God knows what will happen in the future before it ever comes to pass (Isaiah 46:10). If we want to succeed in life, if we want to live a life guided by true wisdom, we need to trust in the wisdom of God. It’s no surprise that the next verse of Proverbs 3, verse 7, begins with the words, “Don’t be impressed with your own wisdom.”

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

THE THIRD DAY: He is Risen!

When they entered the tomb, they saw a young man clothed in a white robe sitting on the right side. The women were shocked, but the angel said, “Don’t be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! Look, this is where they laid his body. (Mark 16:5–6, NLT)

The forces of evil rejoiced as Jesus was laid in the tomb on that dark Friday. Their celebration continued as His body lay there the next day. But now it’s Sunday, the third day, and the celebration belongs not to the forces of evil, but to those who walk in the light. What brought this about? An empty tomb! On our February 2018 trip to Israel, a group from Evangel Church visited two different sites that are claimed to be the place of the tomb in which Jesus was laid. There is a difference of opinion as to which is the true site. But there is one thing that they both have in common. Jesus is not there! Jesus is alive! He is risen indeed!

Throughout the world, those who put their faith and hope in Jesus Christ are celebrating the greatest day in history, the day on which our Savior, Jesus Christ conquered death. It is the third day. Death could not hold Jesus. He is alive and has conquered death and the grave. He gave His life on Friday to pay the price for our sin, but on Sunday, not just sin, but also death was conquered as Jesus rose from the dead. Death had no victory over Him. Because of Jesus, death has lost its sting. Jesus was victorious. And those who turn from their sin and place their faith and trust in Jesus share in that victory (1 Corinthians 15:57).

Jesus rose from the dead and can never die again. And because of His victory, we can experience eternal life. We may one day die a natural death but, thanks to Jesus, we do not have to face the second death, eternal separation from God. Thanks to Jesus, we can experience eternal life. Jesus said that He is the resurrection and the life. He promised that those who believe in Him, although they may die, they will still live (John 11:25-26). Because of the grace and mercy of our heavenly Father, given to us through Jesus, His Son, we do not need to face separation from the Father but can have eternal life in His presence. That is cause for celebration! Hallejujah!

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

PASSION WEEK: Saturday (A Day on Which to Reflect)

But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.(Isaiah 53:5–6, ESV)

As we have commemorated Jesus’ Passion this week, on Thursday we remembered a day on which Jesus faced betrayal, denial, abuse, humiliation, and trial. Friday we remembered His pain, suffering, and His death on a cross. And now we come to Saturday, a day in which Jesus lay in the tomb. To the disciples who followed Jesus, it was a day of confusion, disillusionment, mourning, and even fear. For Mary, the mother of Jesus, it was a day to grieve the loss of her son. For some Roman soldiers, it was a day to stand guard over the tomb. But for us, living on this side of Jesus’ death and resurrection, it is a day on which we can reflect. We can and should reflect on what the events of the Passion of Jesus truly mean to us.

Because of sin, we were separated from God. The relationship that man once had with God was destroyed. But God, although He is righteous and just and cannot tolerate sin, still desired for us to have that close relationship with Him that existed before sin entered the world. There was nothing that we, in our own human power could do to restore that relationship. And so, God decided that He would do something about it.

Some 700 years before the birth of Jesus, the prophet Isaiah spoke of the suffering servant who was to come, a person who would come from God, a person who would take upon Himself the punishment for our transgressions. His suffering, His pain, would bring us peace, it would heal our wounds. And, despite the fact that we, just like a flock of sheep, have been led astray by sin, God would lay upon this suffering servant, the imiquity of us all (Isaiah 53:5-6). Jesus was the fulfillment of this prophecy. His suffering and His death was the price that was paid to set us free from the bondage of our sin.

Jesus came into the world for the purpose of dying for us. He is the proof of a God who loves us so much that He was willing to sacrifice His one and only Son so that the relationship broken in the Garden of Eden could be restored, so that the veil of sin that separated us from God could be torn apart (John 3:16). God sent Jesus not to condemn us, but rather to save us. All that we need to do is turn from our sin and believe in the One whom God sent, Jesus (John 3:17-18). Jesus died for all of us (Romans 6:10). Not just for a few, but for as many as are willing to believe. And the best part is that, if you were the only person in the world, He would still have died for you.

Reflect today not just on how much Jesus suffered, not just the horrific and painful death that He endured, but also on the fact that He did so willingly for you. As He hung on the cross, Jesus saw each and every one of us and He endured that death with joy (Hebrews 12:2).

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

PASSION WEEK: Friday (The Darkest Day)

Then they led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the governor’s headquarters. It was early morning. (John 18:28, ESV)

After a night during which He was betrayed, denied, arrested, tried, beaten, and mocked, Jesus was led from the house of Caiaphas to the Praetorium, where He was presented to the Roman governor, Pilate, with the hope that Pilate would sentence Jesus to death. Although after questioning Jesus, Pilate was reluctant to sentence Him, the governor agreed to have Jesus flogged. Jesus was handed over to the Roman soldiers who beat Him to within an inch of His life, placed a crown of thorns on His head, and mocked Him.

When Jesus was brought back to Pilate, the governor once more sought to release Jesus. It was traditional at the Passover for the Romans to release a prisoner, and Pilate gave the people a choice between Jesus and a murderer named Barabbas. The crowd chose Barabbas. When Pilate asked what he should do with Jesus, the chief priests and the crowd shouted, “Crucify Him!” Pilate washed His hands of the matter and delivered Jesus over to be crucified. After carrying the heavy cross to Golgotha, the Place of the Skull, Jesus was nailed by His hands and His feet to the cross.

Crucifixion was one of the most horrific methods of execution known to man. It was a long, painful, humiliating form of punishment. Jesus’ physical suffering on that cross must have been excruciating. But, perhaps even more painful was what Jesus experienced when, as He hung dying on that cross, the sins of all people were laid upon His shoulders. At that point, when Jesus looked to the Father, He could no longer see His face. Because He is a just and righteous God, the Father could no longer look upon His Son because of the sin that the Son now bore. At that moment, Jesus knew separation from God and He cried out, “My God, My God! Why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:45-46) And soon after that, saying, “It is finished,” Jesus died (John 19:30).

Why did Jesus suffer and die? He did so to pay the penalty for your sins and mine, the sins that separate us from God. He did it so that, by turning from our sins, believing that He is Lord and that He died for us, we could all have eternal life in the presence of God. He did it so that we would no longer have to experience that separation from the Father. He did it so that we will never have to say, “My God, my God! Why have You forsaken me?”

This day on which we commemorate Jesus’ sacrifice for us is called Good Friday. Now, that may seem like an incongruous name for the day on which Jesus died, but when we look at what His death provided for us, freedom from the bondage of sin and death, it makes perfect sense. It truly is “good.”

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

PASSION WEEK: Thursday (The Passion Begins)

Now the Festival of Unleavened Bread arrived, when the Passover lamb is sacrificed. (Luke 22:7, NLT)

Luke’s account of the Passion of Jesus begins by pointing out that the Festival of Unleavened Bread – the Passover – had arrived. It was the time when the Passover lamb would be sacrificed. And, it marked the beginning of the suffering of Jesus, our Passover lamb, who would soon be sacrificed for our sins.

As the day began, Jesus sent two of the disciples, Peter and John, to make the preparations for the Passover meal. Jesus knew what that evening and the days that followed would bring and His desire was to share the Passover meal with His disciples before His suffering began. When the time came for the meal, Jesus and the disciples gathered in an upper room, where they sat around the table to begin their meal (Luke 22:7-16). What happened next was to become one of the great ordinances of the Christian church – the Lord’s Supper, or Communion.

Jesus took the bread and wine, gave thanks for them, and gave them to His disciples. As He did, He told them that the bread was His body, the body that He was giving for them, the body that would bear the scars that rightfully belonged to us, the body that would bear the punishment for our sins. As He passed the cup of wine, He told them that it represented a new covenant between God and His people, a covenant that would be bought with Jesus’ own blood. As He shared this bread and wine, representing His body and His blood, He gave the disciples instructions that were not just for them, but for all believers who would be added to the body of Christ. Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me.” And so, to this day we remember the sacrifice that Jesus made for us as we share in communion (Luke 22:17-20).

It was after Jesus shared this beautiful meal with His disciples that His suffering, His Passion, truly began. That night, Jesus would be betrayed by one of His own disciples (Luke 22:47-48). Another disciple would deny even knowing Him, not once but three times (Luke 22:54-62). In the Garden of Gethsemane, He would pray with such anguish over what was to come that He would sweat blood (Luke 22:41-44). He would be arrested, then tried by the religious leaders, the council, at the home of the high priest Caiaphas. Throughout that night, Jesus would be beaten and humiliated (Matthew 26:57-68).

Although Scripture does not mention it, following His trial before the council, it is likely that Jesus was thrown into the dungeon beneath the home of Caiaphas, a dark, cold pit, to wait until He was brought before the Roman governor, Pilate. On our February 2018 trip to Israel, we had the opportunity to visit the site of the house of Caiaphas and go down into this dungeon. Being in that place, one could imagine the suffering and pain that Jesus must have felt as he sat there, alone.

What would happen the next day would be much worse, a suffering and death that no one should ever have to endure, but one which Jesus endured so that we would be set free from the bondage of sin and death, so that one day we may have eternal life in the presence of God.

Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

PASSION WEEK: The Days in Between, Part Two

On the second day following the triumphal entry, when Jesus and the disciples arrived in Jerusalem, they were immediately approached by the chief priests and the scribes, who challenged Jesus’ authority to do the things He had been doing. Jesus answered their question with one of His own, “Was the baptism of John from heaven or was it from man?” Perceiving that an answer either way would put them in a lose-lose situation, the chief priests and the scribes responded by saying they did not know, to which Jesus replied, “Neither will I tell you by whose authority I act.” (Mark 11:26-33).

Jesus then told the parable of the tenants, which spoke of a vineyard owner who sent some of his servants to get fruit from the vineyard from the tenants who were leasing the vineyard. The tenants beat or killed one servant after another, and so the vineyard owner sent his own son, whom the tenants then proceeded to kill. Perceiving that Jesus had told this parable against them, the chief priests and the scribes now sought to arrest Jesus, but they were afraid of the reaction of the people. So, instead of having Jesus arrested, they left Him and went away (Mark 12:1-12).

The chief priests and scribes then sent the Pharisees and Sadducees to question Jesus, with the purpose of trying to trap Him in what He said. Jesus was questioned about taxes, about the resurrection, about which of the commandments is the greatest. Jesus answered each of these in such a way that the Pharisees and Sadducees, seeing that they could not succeed in entrapping Him, did not dare to ask Him any more questions (Mark 12:13-34).

Later that day, Jesus left the temple and went with His disciples to the Mount of Olives. It was there that some of the disciples asked Jesus about the signs of the end of the age. Jesus responded by telling them that there would be many who would be teaching false teachings, there would be wars, rumors of wars, famine, and earthquakes. He warned that believers must be on guard as they will suffer persecution, but they must continue to preach the gospel to all nations. Jesus spoke about tribulation that would come and about His return in glory and power. But, as to when all of these things would place, He taught that no one knows except for the Father (Mark 13:3-37).

On the next day, the day before His Passion would begin, Jesus went to the home of Simon, a leper whom He had healed. While Jesus sat at the table in Simon’s home, a woman came with an alabaster jar filled with expensive perfume and anointed Jesus with it. That very same day, the chief priests and scribes began to plot to have Jesus arrested and put to death. And one of Jesus’ own disciples, Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and offered to betray Jesus. In return, Judas was paid thirty pieces of silver. Everything was now in place for the Passion of Jesus to begin (Mark 14:1-11).

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