Monday, May 3, 2010

The Church Persecuted

We've explored the Passion, the Cross, the Resurrection, Pentecost, the church as is should be.
Today, the church persecuted. Acts 7:54 - 8:4 - Stephen - the first martyr

After that, the next 60 years, persecution was a reoccurring theme in the New Testament, and
it was the primary theme in Revelation.

After Stephen, 10 of the 12 Apostles plus Matthias (took Judas' place) plus Paul and Mark and Luke were also martyred.

During the next 300 years, persecution was a reoccurring theme in early church history. Roman emperors all in various degrees persecuted Christians. One exception was Hadrian

UNTIL, 313 AD - the Edict of Milan under Constantine - gave Christians equal status and actually, preferred status.

BUT, persecution didn't end there ... it continued on and off in various places, times, degrees of intensity for a variety of reasons. It is estimated that 75 million Christians have died for the faith in 2000 years.

AND - the Persecution continues today. There are more than 200 million Christians in at least 60 countries who are denied fundamental human rights because of their faith in Christ.
On one hand, it is impossible to know the exact number. But estimates are that an average of 175,000 Christians die for their faith each year.
It is also estimated that more Christians have died for the faith in the last 110 years than in the previous 1900 years together!

Granted, 1. not just Christians are persecuted. (Jews, Exodus, Holocaust)
2. often Christians are the persecutors. (Crusades, Spanish Inquisition, Colonial era)
3. often Christians are persecuting Christians - (church in England - Catholics, Puritans) in the New World - Puritans persecuted Catholics and Quakers.

BUT, the focus this AM -Persecution of Christians and the Christian faith.
(lessons and application FOR us - from scripture and history.

#1. Persecution goes hand in hand with Christian faith.
1 Thess. 3:2-4 John 15:20 2 Tim. 3:12

Why??? early Christians + Jews = the Law, path to right, God, Deity of Christ.
Pagans = insult (idols), bucked with tradition, economic issues ( Acts 19 )
Rome - considered Christians "impious and atheistic" therefore they brought judgment on society because they would not bow down to the plethora of Roman gods and goddesses and they wouldn't support Caesar and the Empire 1st.

BUT.... why today?? in America??? - because Biblical Christianity is:
1. Exclusive - about our God, Scripture, right and wrong
2. Dogmatic (there is truth) about Christ, Scripture, right an wrong
3. Offensive - "ugly pill gospel": I have great news - there is a pill that cures ugly. The bad news is - you need this pill.
4. Evangelistic - by command (the Great Commission) and by nature
5. Condemning - John 3:16-18

For us, persecution is minimal (school prayer, 10 commandments, salute, cross on the war memorial), but, it's real and present - (compare a head cold to leukemia. Both are sicknesses, just to different degrees.)
And, it is to be expected.

NOTE: don't confuse persecution for faith with persecution for stupidity, because the gospel is offensive, BUT you don't have to be. 1 Pet. 4:12-16
AND, don't get caught in the persecution conspiracy. (Everything that goes wrong is the result of Christian persecution.)

#2. Persecution is not a sign of God's impotency, disinterest or disfavor. "Why???" Rev. 6:9-11
A. Persecution is one means of promoting the gospel Luke 21:12-13
B. Persecution is one means of strengthening the church. 1 Pet. 1:6-7

#3. It is a sign of Satan's rage. Rev. 12:17 Eph. 6:12

#4. We are expected to persevere. 1 Cor. 4:12 2 Tim. 2:3 Heb. 12:7 Rev. 13:9-10
early church plus "lapsed Christians":?? Ultimately, it's a spiritual battle.

#5. Persecution has never stooped the church (or the spread of the gospel)
It may stop individuals but not the institution!!
Tertullian said in 197 A.D. - "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church."

#6. Persecution never will stop the church (or the spread of the gospel)
(See church growth stats from previous sermon) Matt. 16:18

APPLICATION - what should we do---
1. Thank God for the USA (Christian nation, free to worship, etc.)
2. Support persecuted brothers and sisters - prayer, finances, encouragement, VOM
3. Educate upcoming generations - teach them church history, persecution situations, US as privileged.
4. Pre-determine to take your stand for Christ. - decide in advance what you'll do
5. Stand - Jer. 12:5

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