Examining Extreme Examples of Endurance.
Imagine with me what it would have been like to be a faithful Jew in the days of righteous King Hezekiah. He reigned for 29 years and worshiped God with all his heart. He encouraged worship, cleansed the temple, tore down the places of false religion, etc. Going to the temple was a wonderful experience and the priests and prophets were respected. Being Jewish religiously was something honorable and it was shameful to be anything else. That is what being a Christian in the United States has been like for the past century. There have been problems, and being a member of the church of Christ was not quite like being in some of the denominations that were more prominent. Overall however, things have leaned toward morality and virtues for the greater part of the 20th century. We have had laws in place that protected religious freedom and benefitted religion in general.
Now, let’s imagine a different Israel. What would it have been like to have tried to live as a faithful Jew in the days of wicked King Manasseh? He reigned for 55 years and it was a reign of terror. He sacrificed his own son to a false god. If he would do that to his son what do you think he would do to you if you went against him. There is a legend that says that he put Isaiah in a log and then cut it and him in half. Some believe that is referenced in Hebrews 11:37. Second Kings chapter 21 explains that he did more wicked things than the heathen Canaanites that had been destroyed so that the Israelites could have the land. He put idols and altars to false gods in God’s temple, and killed so many innocent people that it says Jerusalem was filled with the blood he shed. How hard would it have been to be a faithful Jew under those circumstances? You could not go to the temple because it had been confiscated by the king for use by false religions. How would you find a priest to perform a sacrifice or anything else the religion requires? Where would you hear the law taught if you did not have a copy of your own, which you probably wouldn’t? How would you find friends who were like-minded? Who could you safely talk to about your faith? If you can imagine what that would have been like, then you can see the direction we are headed in America as we move deeper into the 21st century.
We are leaving the reign of Hezekiah and entering the reign of Manasseh. Realize that Manasseh did not do all of those wicked things in the first year. I imagine that it deteriorated as the years went by until it hit rock bottom. We should not expect to wake up next Sunday to find the church doors chained, but that is certainly the desire of a portion of society. While the majority would not vote for such a thing today, chances are many would not do much to stop that kind of thing.
As we move into a time like this we have a choice: we and our children can gripe and moan and whine that we didn’t live in the days of Hezekiah, or we can impress our selves and our children with the Esther factor, that perhaps God put us here in this time and this place because we have an important role to play. I don’t know about you, but I am convinced that the second is the way to live a life that is pleasing to God. If you look to the Scriptures you will find a multitude of accounts of people who were faithful under extreme persecution or in the face of godless surroundings. We look to heroes like Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Joshua and Caleb, Gideon, David, Elijah, Daniel, Shadrach, Meschach, Abednego, Jeremiah, Esther, Peter, James, John, Stephen, Paul, and others who triumphed against the wickedness that surrounded them.
When we look at persecution we have to change the way we look at it. The first century church had an amazing view of this. Notice what Paul says in Philippians and let it sink in. Philippians 1:27-29 says,
“Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether
I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast
in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; (28) And
in nothing terrified by your adversaries: which is to them an evident token of
perdition, but to you of salvation, and that of God. (29) For unto you it is given
in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake;”
Notice verse 29 talks of two blessings that were given to them one was faith which we all know is a wonderful thing from God, but the other is not what we usually think of as a blessing or gift. Look at that verse closely, Paul says that not only has it been given them to believe on Jesus, but also (they get a special gift) to suffer for Him. Have you ever felt that God was neglecting you because He had left suffering out of the list of gifts and blessings that He has poured out on you? I know I never have. If we and our children are going to remain faithful through times of persecution we are going to have to look at persecution as an opportunity to be blessed by God. If we continue to have the attitude that we should never suffer for being Christians then we will quit when Christians begin to suffer.
We are going to have to look at those martyrs in the Old and New Testaments with more than the token respect we have given them in the past, but with a desire to follow in the footsteps of their faith, a faith that rejoiced at being counted worthy of suffering for God - Acts 5:41. In a society full of people who won’t go to worship God because: it is too hot, it is too cold, it is raining, it is dark, I don’t want to bother someone for a ride, I don’t have anything to wear, I don’t want to miss _________(fill in the blank with any tv show, sporting event, etc.), someone hurt my feelings, I was up too late Saturday night, etc., etc., etc.; How would they ever even consider worshiping God if there were some real problem like persecution or breaking the law involved. Someone I went to college with said she thought that if the government tried to take the freedom away that people would rise up and stand for the right to worship like many have over efforts to increase gun control. I hope she is right and I am sure some would, but the majority, I think, would just roll over and go the easy way. There are not many Daniels in the world, but I want to train my son to be like him. There are not many Esthers in the world, but I want to train my daughters to be like her. Who are training your children to be? - jp