It’s coming. It’s already here. It’s inevitable. Christ said it was going to happen. You’re going to suffer persecution for what you believe. You’re going to suffer for your faith. You’ll be mocked. You’ll be ridiculed. You’ll be hated. And so what? What does that matter? … It doesn’t.
When Jesus sent out the Twelve, He told them persecution would come their way. Last week we heard it’s Christ warn them saying they’d be delivered over to the courts and flogged in the synagogues. This physical persecution happened shortly after Christ’s ascension. In Acts 5 we see the disciples arrested and beaten because they were proclaiming salvation in Christ, they were speaking the Word of the Lord.
This persecution is nothing new. The prophets of the Lord have always been persecuted for speaking His Word. We heard Jeremiah’s words today in the OT reading, words that he spoke after he was arrested and put in stocks, arrested and put in stocks because he spoke the Word of the Lord, and a chief officer of the temple didn’t like what he said. This was a physical persecution, but it was also social persecution. The whole point of stocks was to be a form of public punishment, for people to look upon the person locked up there and mock them. We’ve all seen it portrayed in the movies, people throwing rotten vegetables at the person, unable to escape the jeers and taunts. Jeremiah admits he became a laughing stock and everyone mocked him (Jer 20:7). Social persecution is very effective.
We fear persecution; we fear social persecution, maybe even more the physical persecution. We fear being looked down upon for confessing Christ’s name. We hear Jesus promise suffering and we do everything we can to avoid it. We don’t want to suffer for Jesus’ name, especially if that means being a social outcast.
If there’s one time in our lives that we never want to relive, it’s Jr High. For many of us, these few years in school were difficult. They weren’t hard because of the subjects we were learning, but because the social landscape of those hallways and cafeterias was an ever changing minefield. At that time we were constantly concerned with doing the right thing, saying the right thing, wearing the right thing, the right thing being the popular thing, all with the hopes of socially fitting in. We had to keep up with the latest fad, otherwise we were left out. And not only were we left out, we were mocked for being left out. Our only hope was that as we got older, all of this would go away...but it hasn’t.
Our society and culture is just like the hallways of Jr High. We live our lives according to the rule of what is culturally popular, what is socially determined to be correct … and our faith has been labeled incorrect. If you don’t believe it, just look at your TV. How are faithful Christians portrayed in TV shows and in movies? They’re characterized as being backward, uneducated, even crazy and weird. See how people label the Biblical view of marriage between one man and one woman as hateful. See how the Biblical value of life in the womb is called oppressive to women. See how the Gospel message of salvation in Christ who died for the sins of all people is called discrimination. And see how fiercely and loudly the Word of God is attacked.
We fear this type of persecution. We fear being labeled as such. None of us want to be labeled as backward or weird. None of us want to be called a bigot or hateful. None of us want to be seen as judgmental. None of us was to be called un-inclusive. We want to avoid this negative press. We want to avoid the possibility of losing our reputation, of becoming a social outcast. And so, to avoid all of it, we stay quiet. We keep our faith to ourselves. We hide the name Christian behind silence, if not outright denial. If we don’t say anything, then we’ll be safe, right? But what does Jesus say? “Everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Mt 10:32-33). We can’t deny our Lord. We can’t hide our faith. There are eternal consequences to this. We need to acknowledge our Savior. We need to confess Him, even if it brings about social persecution, because in the end, this persecution can do nothing to us. Even physical persecution can do nothing to us.
I must admit, if I was welcomed into my first seminary class with these words of Jesus, promising me that I would have to endure hatred and persecution, I probably would’ve thought twice about continuing. The threat of persecution isn’t appealing. No one wants to suffer. But what can this persecution really do? Yes, it can make life uncomfortable. Yes, it can make it difficult to live in society. Yes, it can take our body. But what is all of that compared to the everlasting life we have in Christ?
Jesus doesn’t leave us alone with the fear of persecution. He didn’t tell the disciples they were going to suffer and then say “Good-luck.” No, He promised them salvation. He promised that those who endure to the end will be saved (Matt 10:22). He reminded them how precious they were to God. “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Matt 10:28-31).
Persecution is difficult for sure. It’s hard to endure. They idea of being socially hated, the threat of physical harm because of the faith; these are heavy to bear. But the truth is, none of it can take away our everlasting life. Even if we’re killed, it has no lasting effect. Our life is everlasting. Our life is sure and certain because of Christ.
Our Lord keeps you for salvation. You’re not alone in persecution. God is with you. He is protecting you, guarding you in the faith, keeping you in the faith. That’s the work of the Holy Spirit, calling you by the Gospel, enlightening you with His gifts, sanctifying and keeping you in the true faith. Through the Word proclaimed, the Absolution spoken, and the Supper eaten, God strengthens your faith, enabling you to endure. He brings you to your salvation He prepared by Christ’s death and resurrection.
In the midst of his persecution, Jeremiah praised the Lord (Jer 20:13). After being beaten, the disciples rejoiced because they were counted worthy to suffer for Jesus’ name (Act 5:41). And even in the midst of the persecution and hatred we suffer, we have joy because of the salvation we have in Him. The Lord has delivered our life and saved us from all sin and death.
What can man's persecution do to us? Nothing. Like Luther sings, “Were they to take our house, goods, honor, child, or spouse, though life they wrenched away, they cannot win the day. The kingdom’s ours forever!” It isn’t easy to endure persecution, but we don’t stand alone. And with faith, we don’t fear it. Christ stands for us, acknowledging us before the Father. Everlasting life is yours, certain and sure. In Jesus’ name...Amen.