One of our associate pastors preached a message on Easter Sunday that has stuck with me. So much so, that it started the prompting of this blog. He preached on the reality of what happened Easter Sunday. To prove that Jesus did die and then live again, he used the illustration of the apostles.
You see, no one dies for a lie. And all but one of the twelve (I believe) were killed because they were proclaiming the reality of what happened, because they were living out their faith. They didn't die of old age or disease, they were killed, ruthlessly. We're not talking an injection or even a quick gun shot. They were stoned, crucified, tortured to death - one was even thrown in a boiling vat of oil! The one that didn't die? He was still brutally tortured, they tried to kill him, and when he didn't die - he was exiled.
The pastor went through every single man's tragic death and I sat there in awe. The thought that popped into my head - "We don't know what persecution is." We really don't.
Sure, we are ridiculed for our beliefs - occasionally. Sometimes we are labeled as extremists. But no one is tying me to a stake and threatening to burn me to death if I don't give up my faith. No one is nailing my arms to a cross to watch me die a slow and painful death. I haven't been tortured to the point of being unable to move or speak. I don't know, as an American in the 21st century, what it means to be persecuted.
Then, just a couple of days after hearing this sermon, my reading plan leads me to 2 Timothy 3:12 - "Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted."
Again, the thoughts bubbled forth - "Why aren't we being persecuted then? If all who desire to live godly, Christ-like, lives will be persecuted, why aren't we (the American church) being persecuted?"
Are we not living our lives the way we ought to?
Are we not being bold enough?
The apostles weren't afraid to die. So they lived to the extreme. Everyone they talked to, everyone they met - heard what they had to say. They didn't sit idly by while the preacher and the missionaries did all of the work. They didn't separate their personal lives from their "Sunday lives." And with all of this talk about the truth and the Christ - they offended people! The Gospel is offensive! It should offend you and me and anyone else that reads it. Because, honestly, none of us are perfect and there is something in that Bible for every person to hear, something that doesn't agree with how you are currently living and begs for you to change. Sure you might not murder people or steal from others, but do you have issues with pride? Or maybe you don't tithe? Or how often do your material possessions and things come before the church or your family? Do you always treat your spouse and your children with the love God calls for? I could go on... If you are really reading what the Bible has to say it is going to offend you.
Which is why the apostles were tortured and killed. They preached the Gospel. And it offended people. It offended people so much that throwing the apostles into boiling vats of oil seemed like a good solution.
Did you know that the Chinese church, the church that has to meet underground, that often only has a page or two of the Bible to share - that church - is praying for our persecution? Why? Because then our faith will have to be real. We won't have "Sunday Christians." You will either be all in or all out because somewhere in-between just won't cut it anymore. Would you die for something you were on the fence about? I don't think so!
While I am thankful that the threat of being stoned to death is not imminent, I will be striving to live such a Christ-like and Godly life that people will want me dead. And I pray that you will do the same. Let's start being all-in before the persecution starts we won't even have to make the choice.