When Persecution Follows
Message Summary
This message deals with the fact that a follower of Jesus will at some point and in some way, face persecution. It may not be death or imprisonment, but this world will find some way to ridicule or mock those who are true followers of Jesus Christ. The historical context in which Jesus warned His disciples of the persecution to follow was filled with groups apposed to Jesus in some fashion. There were the Roman occupiers, the Jewish religious leaders, and the pagans of surrounding cultures. Here's the breakdown of how that effected them. The Romans and the Greeks, just kind of laughed at them. (Christian = little Christ) The pagans despised them. The Jewish religious leaders hated them. Not an easy place to be. The disciples faced the threat of physical persecution for following Jesus and many were martyred for their faith. In our world today, we face a not so different scenario. Sometimes a follower of Christ is laughed at as being out of date, old fashioned, or ignorant. There are over 60 countries in the world where Christians are literally imprisoned or put to death for their belief in Christ. So why risk persecution by following Jesus? When a person finds in the truth of Jesus, forgiveness, peace, purpose, hope, and the genuine love of God, they are unwilling to throw that away. In fact their prayers become, not deliver me from persecution, but use the persecution to help me reach others for Christ. And we must never forget the promise of Jesus to never forsake us or leave us. He will give us strength to remain faithful no matter what comes our way.

Community Group Discussion Guide

1. Have you ever faced persecution in any form because you are a follower of Christ? Explain.

2. Jesus reminded the disciples of the treatment He had received at the hands of the religious leaders when He confronted their hypocrisy, their deception, their thievery, and their true hearts. Sometimes, you don't have to actually call somebody out to confront them. Just the fact that you live by a different set of standards from the world, shines a light on the darkness around you and this is many times the reason for persecution. Explain why this is true.
John 3:19  This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.
John 3:20  Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.
John 3:21  But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God."

3. Were you aware of the fact over 180 Christians are killed for their faith every month somewhere in our world? Many others are imprisoned and tortured. Many of these persecuted Christians are more concerned for their witness than their safety. However, according to Paul, we should pray for their witness and their safety. What are some ways we could remind ourselves to pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters?
2 Th 3:1  Finally, brothers, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you.
2 Th 3:2  And pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men, for not everyone has faith.

4. Sometimes the persecutor ends up becoming a follower of Jesus. What are some things  a follower of Christ can do in the face of persecution that might help lead the persecutor to faith in Christ? Hint: Our reaction/our words/our prayers/our actions.
Acts 7:59  While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit."
Acts 7:60  Then he fell on his knees and cried out, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." When he had said this, he fell asleep.

Full Sermon Notes

When Persecution Follows

Father God, thank You for Your amazing grace! Thank You offering to take away our chains. The chains of sin, the chains of worry, the chains of fear, the chains of depression, the chains of hate the chains of bitterness, the chains of self pride and the list goes on. But God, I also  thank you for helping us to know that even if people were to imprison us, chain us, torture us, or even crucify us, we are still free, because there's no chains that can hold us prisoner in our spirit! As one persecuted brother proclaimed to his tormentors, "You can't kill my soul!" We have been eternally and completely set free by Your almighty power!! Thank You Jesus! Today we come before You to ask You to be with our brothers and sisters around the world who are facing terrible persecution because of their faith in You! Unspeakable horrors are being done to them by people who have been taught to hate, to murder, to burn, to destroy, to rape and pillage and all in the name of God. We not only pray for the persecuted, but we pray for the persecutors, for they are blinded, lost and tragically misled. Something's terribly wrong so we pray. And even in our great nation, right here in America, a different kind of persecution is happening. Those who take a Biblical view of life and seek to stand on those principles, they are many times persecuted for their Christian stand. Could this be a precursor of more dreadful things to come? All I know is I want to remain faithful no matter what and I know You will never forsake me. Father God, teach us today and make us strong and make us faithful, in Jesus sweet and strong name I pray!!

For the past month or so we've been talking about Jesus' invitation for us to follow Him! We've talked about some who refused to follow and forfeited the privilege of discipleship, and the other amazing benefits of following Jesus. We studied some of the well known disciples and what following Jesus looked like in their lives. We then discovered how today's disciples have sight to follow Jesus even though He is not physically here with us. We find sight as we study His Word and allow His Spirit to guide our lives. And last week we discussed the purpose of following Jesus which is to bear much fruit. We are to bear the fruit of The Holy Spirit, "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control."

Because of the transformation in our lives, caused by the fruit of the Holy Spirit, we have the ability to reach other people with the good news of Jesus and as such we bear the fruit of disciple making. It's a wonderful thing! Now, it might seem logical to stop the "Follow Me" series right there. End it on a high note, a positive note. But we must never forget, Jesus Christ was all about truth. He was truth and spoke truth. No deceit was found in His mouth. None! So when He was preparing His disciples for His departure, He shared something else with them. A hard truth. This truth was true for those early followers of Jesus and that some truth is true for true followers of Jesus today. Let's listen in on Jesus' conversation with the disciples and hear the truth Jesus wanted them and us to understand...

John 15:18 “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.
19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.
20 Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.
21 They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me.

So Jesus basically tells His disciples that persecution will follow those who follow Him. This doesn't mean that everyone who follows Jesus will be imprisoned, beaten or killed.
However, it does mean that some form of persecution will follow a truly dedicated disciple of Jesus at some point in his or her life! It's not if, but when!

The Disciples World

Ok, let's look at the context of Jesus' words to His disciples. When Jesus said, "if the world hates you," What world was he talking about? Basically, the disciples lived in a world dominated by the Roman occupiers, the religious rulers of their own people, and
the pagan influences of surrounding cultures. Here's the breakdown of how that effected them. The Romans and the Greeks, just kind of laughed at them. (Christian = little Christ) The pagans despised them. The Jewish religious leaders hated them. Not an easy place to be.

Jesus reminded the disciples of the treatment He had received at the hands of the religious leaders when He had confronted their hypocrisy, their deception, their thievery, and their true hearts. And sometimes, you don't have to actually call somebody out to confront them. Sometimes, just the fact that you live by a different set of standards from the world, shines a light on the darkness around you. Jesus was the light and the darkness hated the exposure His purity brought! In fact Jesus could just read a passage of Scripture and the difference was crystal clear...

21 They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach.
22 The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.

The people were amazed, but the leaders and rulers were not amused. They were furious. In fact, very early in Jesus' ministry they sought to stone Him. They were always looking to catch Jesus in something so they would have an excuse to kill Him. And you know what's sad? They were so deceived, they actually thought they were doing God a favor if they killed those who disagreed with them. Sound like some of the things going on in our world today? We'll get to our world in a minute, but I want us to fully understand the disciples world. They were surrounded by opposition and those early followers of Christ stood a real chance at being martyred for Christ. Jesus warned them...

1 “All this I have told you so that you will not go astray.
2 They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God.
3 They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me.
4 I have told you this, so that when the time comes you will remember that I warned you. I did not tell you this at first because I was with you.

Jesus knew His light would expose the darkness and He knew after He was gone, His Holy Spirit would continue to shine that light through His followers and as a result they would face the same kind of persecution. Listen...

8 When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment:

And let me share with you a perfect example of how the words of Jesus came true In the book of Acts...

8 Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people.
9 Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called)—Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia. These men began to argue with Stephen,
10 but they could not stand up against his wisdom or the Spirit by whom he spoke.
11 Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, “We have heard Stephen spea k words of blasphemy against Moses and against God.”
12 So they stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law. They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin.
13 They produced false witnesses, who testified, “This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law.
14 For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us.”
15 All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.

And of course we all know how this ended up. Stephen preached an epic sermon to them hoping they would turn from their wickedness to God, but they grew so angry they took him outside the city and stoned him to death. Now, some of you may be thinking right now, that was then, but this is now. It's a different world today. We are more civilized. Let's take a quick look at our world...

Our World

Christians in more than 60 countries face persecution from their governments or surrounding neighbors simply because of their belief in Christ.

Source: U.S. Department of State

Christians are the most persecuted religious group worldwide. An average of at least 180 Christians around the world are killed each month for their faith.
Source: Open Doors USA

There was a young woman in Saudia Arabia who turned from Islam to Atheism. However, she still yearned to know truth. She had access to a Bible and as she read it, she became convinced of the truth of Jesus. She began writing a blog under another name in order to share her new found faith. She wanted her family to know so badly, the peace and contentment she had found in Christ. One day, she came home and her brother was sitting on her laptop. He had seen the blogs and a picture of the Cross. He was furious. He left the room. She quickly got on her laptop and blogged to her followers...
"I am in big trouble!" She went on to write these words...

"Jesus Christ is my life and my salvation, whom shall I fear!"

"I am unto death a Christian"
Source: Open Door Video on Persecution

As you can see by the dates under her name, she was only 26 years of age when her brother tortured her and then took her life. She knew the risk. Why would she risk her very life for her faith in Jesus? She had personally known the cruelty of a ritualistic, legalistic, oppressive religion and she had experienced the emptiness of a faithless, hopeless, Godless atheism. But in Jesus Christ, she had discovered a peace, a purpose, a mission, a hope and a genuine love she had never known before.

It was so real and powerful, it transformed her life so powerfully she would not deny it even to save her own life. Why? As one missionary, who was killed in the line of duty, stated not long before his death...

"He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain that which he cannot lose!"
Jim Elliot

Now, I know that as of right now, you and I don't face the threat of death for following Jesus. Thank God we still live in a free country! And don't forget our freedom is not free. Last week I had the honor and privilege  to preach the funeral for one of our WWII vets. A surviver of Pearl Harbor. 91 yrs old. And we have several members of our church who are on active deployment as we speak. Pray for them. God will know who you're talking about. However, I must report to you that it is now becoming more difficult in this country to stand for Christian beliefs.

I've heard of young people who were ridiculed by their parents when they decided to follow Jesus. I've known people who were ridiculed by their spouse when they decided to follow Jesus. Young people who want to express their Christian ideals are routinely denied that ability in schools and colleges or if they do, they may face mockery. Christian business men and women who determine they will follow Biblical principles are being ruled against by activist judges.  

Dan Cathy, of Chick-fil-a, was asked in an interview about his support of the Biblical definition of marriage. He said,
"Guilty as charged. We are very much supportive of the family - the biblical definition of the family unit…We want to do anything we possibly can to strengthen families. We are very much committed to that. We intend to stay the course. We know that it might not be popular with everyone, but thank the Lord, we live in a country where we can share our values and operate on biblical principles."

But here's the kicker. Not all parts of our country support this freedom. "Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and San Francisco Mayor Edwin M. Lee all stated the chain was not welcome in their respective cities." AFA Journal September 2014.

Wow, Mayors or dictators. I thank God we have a Christian Mayor who respects the freedom so many of our soldiers have shed their blood to defend. We need to pray for our country and its leaders. And I really mean that. If we aren't following the instructions of God's Word to genuinely prayer for our leaders, then we don't really have the right to complain.

Oh and by the way, when it comes to persecution. If your prayer is "God please don't ever let us go through persecution," you may be praying the wrong thing. I don't want to go through persecution any more than you, but did you know the church usually thrives when it is persecuted. Why? People have to make a choice and I guess persecution sorta weeds out those who are just playing games. And listen to this amazing fact...

Some of the most persecuted Christians in the world when asked what their greatest prayer concerns were, it wasn't deliverance, but the desire for God to use the persecution to help them win others to Christ! That's powerful!

If you were being persecuted, what would your prayer be? Deliver me from the persecution or use the persecution to help others see the love of Jesus? Get me out of here or use me here? What would your prayer be, what would my prayer be? What would Jesus pray? I can actually tell you what Jesus would pray! I have a copy of the prayer He has already prayed for His followers. Jesus was concerned about the disciples and those who would become followers because of their testimony so He would later cry out to The Father in prayer for them.

Thank God we were included in His prayer. It is an epic prayer. Listen...

John 17:11 I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name—the name you gave me—so that they may be one as we are one.
12 While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.
13 “I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.
14 I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world.
15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.
16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.
17 Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.
18 As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.
19 For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.
20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message,
21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.
22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one:
23 I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
24 “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.
25 “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me.
26 I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”

Persecution in some form and at sometime will follow those who have made a decision to follow Christ! For some it will be verbal. For others it may be loss of income, and for some it may be loss of freedom and even loss of life.

But we must never forget; We have a divine purpose, mission and vision. If we are persecuted, God will use it for our good and to touch the hearts of others, maybe even the heart of the persecutor.

Remember, the Apostle Paul was once a persecutor, who was one of those who saw the glory of God on Stephen's face. He would later write these words...

1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.
3 Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;
4 perseverance, character; and character, hope.
5 And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

Let's pray!