This weekend is dedicated to the Persecuted Church. There are approximately 200 million people around the world who identify themselves as Christians who are being persecuted. Even in the Western World, which for centuries was dominated by the Church, Messiah’s New Covenant Community is experiencing more opposition – and it is likely to get worse as. Persecution is nothing new. In the First Century, at the beginning of the Messiah’s Holy Community, we experienced much persecution. Peter’s first letter was written to suffering believers. Let’s see what we can learn from this great man of God. First, Peter tells us that we should not be surprised when we encounter a fiery ordeal, as though some strange thing were happening to us. For the Believer, suffering is to be expected. It should not be perceived as some strange, abnormal, unexpected event. Life is more of a battle than a time for fun and games. In a battle there are casualties. In a battle there is pain. I find it is easier to deal with something unpleasant when I know it is expected. We should expect suffering to come our way. If we do, we will be better prepared to deal with it. Therefore, prepare your minds for action, and be serious about the nature of life.
Reasons Why We Can Suffer Like all human beings who live in a fallen world, we suffer because of the curse that God placed on the Earth when Adam and Eve fell. We are subject to thorns and thistles, earthquakes, hurricanes and tornadoes, droughts and poverty, sickness and death. We can suffer due to negligence. We can suffer from man’s inhumanity to man. Suffering can come to us as a result of mean and unreasonable employers who treat their believing employees harshly. Believing wives can suffer with bad husbands who are not believers. We can suffer if we rebel against a legally constituted government. The Lord’s sons and daughters can suffer when He judges the nation we live in. Noah and his family lost their home in the Flood. Lot lost his great wealth in the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Daniel was exiled and taken from his home in Israel in the judgment of Jerusalem. Jeremiah suffered in the siege of Babylon. The Messianic Jews who survived the siege of Jerusalem lost their homes in the city. We can suffer when God judges the Church. Peter tells us that judgment begins with the household of God. We can suffer for the sake of God and Messiah – for identifying with God and Yeshua. We can suffer for speaking the truth. We can suffer for the sake of righteousness. We can suffer for other reasons as well.
Reasons Why We Don’t Want to Suffer Peter tells us that we can suffer for doing what is right, or we can suffer for doing what is wrong. And it is better, if God should will it so, that we suffer for doing what is right rather than suffer for doing what is wrong. It doesn’t make sense for us to suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as someone who does evil, or as a troublesome meddler. It doesn’t make sense for us to experience any suffering that comes to us as judgment from God for gross negligence. We were redeemed with a high price. We don’t want to disappoint the Lord and incur His displeasure by living a mediocre, shoddy life, thus despising the costly price that God and Messiah paid to redeem us. We don’t want to suffer because we give into sin, and reap any painful consequences. So we are motivated not to give into our former lusts, but like the Holy One who called us, we are motivated to be holy in all our behavior. We are motivated to live a life of purity. We are motivated to avoid the lusts of the flesh that wage war against the soul. We Respond to Suffering in Various Ways Suffering is to be expected. We can suffer for various reasons. And, we are to respond to suffering in various ways. Most normal people don’t like to suffer. They want to avoid pain. If they suffer, they get short tempered, angry, resentful and perhaps depressed. But Peter tells us that we are to patiently endure our suffering. We try not to complain, or get angry at God, or strike out at others in anger or resentment. Instead, we patiently endure. We keep up a good attitude. We keep trusting in the Lord.
We can patiently endure our suffering by realizing that trials, suffering and persecution, if patiently endured, produce good things. Suffering, if we cooperate with God, can be redemptive. Suffering is part of the Lord’s process for perfecting, confirming, strengthening and establishing us. Suffering purifies us, like gold and silver are tested and purified by fire. The one who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God. Suffering can strengthen our faith, firm our resolve, sweeten our spirits, and make us more godly human beings. Judgment begins with the household of God. The Lord wants His community to be godly and pure. He does not want us to compromise with the world. When we aren’t what the Lord wants, the Almighty, in His wisdom, goodness and mercy, concentrates His judgmental power on us. He does so because His judgment is good. It disciplines us. It corrects us from going further astray. It helps us get back on track. The Lord’s judgments prune us so that we will be more productive. The Lord’s judgments purify us. The Lord’s judgments may separate the wheat from the chaff, the true believers from the phony who may corrupt us and harm our testimony.
We can patiently endure our suffering, knowing that our suffering is limited. Peter reminds us that after we have suffered for just a little while, our sufferings will come to an end, and the God of all grace will bring us to His eternal glory in Messiah! So, when you are suffering, remind yourself, “this too shall pass.” All of my earthly suffering is insignificant compared to the eternal honor that will be mine because of what God and Messiah did for me, and because I am joined to the Messiah because of my faith!
We can patiently endure our suffering, knowing that our suffering brings honor to God and to us. Peter tells us that if anyone suffers as a Christian – for identifying with Messiah, and for representing Messiah in this anti-Christian world, he should not be ashamed. Suffering, if endured patiently, brings praise and glory and honor to the one who suffers – not now, not in this ungodly world, but at the revelation of Messiah Yeshua. So, we can put up with suffering and shame from sinful human beings, in exchange for the honor that will come to us when Messiah makes things right.
We can patiently endure our suffering by fixing our hope completely on the grace to be brought to us at the revelation of Messiah Yeshua. We can not only go through our sufferings, but even greatly rejoice in the midst of them, because we have a living hope because of the resurrection of Yeshua. Messiah suffered and died and rose again, and if we remain faithful to the end of our lives, we will too! Even though we don’t deserve it, we will obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, which is reserved in Heaven for us. That helps us endure.
We can patiently endure knowing that if we suffer for the sake of doing what is right, it means that we are blessed. If we are reviled for the name of Messiah, we are blessed, because it means that the Spirit of glory and of God rests on us! To the degree that we share the sufferings of Messiah, we should be happy now, and we should keep on being happy! If we do, at the revelation of Messiah’s glory, we will rejoice with exultation and tremendous and everlasting happiness!
We can patiently endure our suffering knowing that, because of our faith, we are being protected by the power of God. By continually trusting in God and Messiah, despite all opposition, we are being protected by the almighty power of Almighty God, and we will be brought to the fulness of salvation which is ready to be revealed in the last time. If we only have faith, and hang on, and remain faithful through the hard times, through the opposition, the Lord will make sure that we make it safely to the goal! No weapon that is formed against us will be successful. No demon will triumph over us! Even the gates of Sheol, powerful satanic forces, will not prevail against us. Nothing that is evil will be able to truly harm us. No man can overcome us. When we pass through the waters, the Lord will be with us; and when we go through the rivers, they will not overflow and drown us. When we walk through the fire, we will not be scorched. The Shepherd of our souls will prepared a delicious meal for us – even in the presence of our enemies, and sustain us through the battle. If we only have faith, God’s almighty power will be at work protecting us, making sure all of our enemies are defeated. We will receive our inheritance. We will make it to Heaven! We will experience the fulness of salvation! No more sin! No more pain! No more suffering of body or soul. No more trials. No more tears!
We can patiently endure our suffering by studying the Word of God. As we read the Word of God, and learn how much He loves us, and as we find out how great God is, and how much He is worthy to be served despite the opposition of wicked men and fallen angels, we are better able to patiently endure our trials. We learn about the lives of those faithful ones who came before us, and we are strengthened by the examples of those who experienced mockings and whippings, yes, also chains and imprisonment; those who were stoned, who were sawn in two, who were tempted yet made it through their trials, who were put to death with the sword; who went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted and ill-treated, wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground, people of whom the world was not worthy. As we read the Word of God, we find out how much He has accepted us, what He has made us to be. We are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession. Once we were not a people, but now we are the people of God; we had not received mercy, but now we have received mercy. That helps us to be faithful servants, and endure the opposition that comes our way.
We can patiently endure our suffering by looking to the example of our contemporaries. It can be harder to patiently endure suffering if you think you are the only one who is undergoing a trial. It helps us endure our trials knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by our brothers who are in the world. We are not the only one! And, their patience and their endurance inspires and encourages us. We hear about their situation, and we say to ourselves, “If they can successfully go through their suffering, then I can endure mine.” That’s why it is helpful to read books like Foxes Book of Martyrs, or Tortured for Christ by Richard Wurmbrand, or get information from ministries like Open Doors ((888) 5-BIBLE-5, www.opendoorsusa.org) or Voice of the Martyrs (www.persecution.com). We can be inspired by looking to the examples of Christians and Messianic Jews who are suffering under Communist and Islamic regimes, and even in places like Arad in Israel, where a small community of Messianic Jews, 40 adults, has been undergoing serious persecution by the orthodox.
We can patiently endure our suffering by looking to the example set by the Messiah. Yeshua is the supreme example of suffering, and how to endure it. The Son of God traveled the road of suffering. He went all the way to the end of that painful way, and He left us an example that we should follow in His steps. Messiah will come to Earth on two great missions. He already came the first time for the express purpose of suffering. Peter tells us, using the language of Psalm 118, that Messiah is the Stone that was rejected by the builders – but was accepted by the Master Builder, who made Him the Cornerstone of the new and eternal universe that He is building. Peter tells us, using the language of Isaiah 53, the Suffering Servant, that Messiah was innocent, yet rejected by men. He was reviled. He was treated horribly, yet He did not revile in return. He made no threats – and neither should we. Instead, He kept entrusting Himself to God. In the midst of His suffering, He kept trusting His Father to take care of the situation, and to punish the wicked, and reward the righteous, and accomplish His plans, all in God’s time and in God’s way. Good things happened as a result of Messiah’s sufferings. Peter, using the language of Isaiah 53, tells us that Yeshua bore our sins in His body on the cross, and He healed our spiritual wounds – so that we might die to sin, and live righteous lives, lives that are lived the right way. Messiah’s suffering enabled us to return to the Shepherd and Guardian of our souls. He died for to atone for our sins. He died to bring us to God. And, since Messiah suffered in the flesh, and great things came about as a result and the plan of God was advanced, we are to arm ourselves with the same purpose. We make ourselves willing to suffer to proclaim the truth about Messiah, about salvation, about God and righteousness. Yes, we will suffer for our boldness, but our suffering is necessary, and very very good things will come about as a result. So, declare the truth to the world – that salvation is only possible through believing in the God of Israel and trusting Messiah Yeshua. Proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light!
How We deal with the Persecutors If we are being persecuted, we don’t fear the intimidation of the persecutors. We don’t back down. We don’t give in. We don’t give up. We don’t quit. We don’t give up the Faith. Do good to the bad. Bless the cursed. Do not return insult for insult, but give a blessing instead. Seek peace. Don’t get into fights with them. Don’t issue threats! Be prepared to give them an intelligent defense of what you believe. Do what is right. Live a life full of good deeds! Win them over with goodness, righteousness, love and patience. Live well, be nice and put them to shame. Are you anxious about life, and troubles, and the possibility of suffering? Cast your anxiety on God, knowing that He cares for you. If you are suffering, like Yeshua, entrust your soul to a faithful Creator who only does what is right. Trust God, that He knows what He is doing. Stand firm in the true grace of God! The Lord’s grace will be sufficient for you. His grace will help you live, and His grace will help you suffer. His grace will help you endure. His grace will enable you endure to the end and be saved!