Friday, September 4, 2015

The Refining Fire of Persecution

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"I have come to cast fire upon the earth; and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is accomplished!”
Luke 12:49-50 NASB

These verses are a prophetic word from Jesus to His disciples. This section began with the question from Peter. "Lord, are you addressing this parable to us, or to everyone else as well?" (Lk 12:41) His question was immediately preceded by Jesus' discussion of staying on the alert for the second coming of the Son of Man. 

"I have come to cast fire upon the earth." Some commentators believe that this casting of fire relates to the fire of the Holy Spirit, sent at Pentecost, and that may very well be correct. Because this is sandwiched between the verses referencing the coming of the Son of Man and those that follow, speaking of persecution and divisions, I interpret these two verses differently, and concur with Matthew Henry on this. I believe these two verses speak of persecution as well.

What Jesus did, in coming to earth, was to start a process that began with His arrival, proceeded through His death, burial, and resurrection, and continues until His triumphant return. Metaphorically, He "cast fire" upon the earth, for His teachings threatened the religious establishment and brought wrath upon His followers. A consuming fire of persecution followed.

Jesus had tough times ahead and, like most of us, He dreaded them. "How distressed I am until it is accomplished." Despite knowing he would be brutally executed, He taught a lifestyle of love, including love for our enemies. We, too, need to remember His teachings regarding praying for our enemies.

Persecution was coming, he warned, and it would be a fire that blazed and consumed. Jesus was right. Christians would be eaten by lions, sawn in two, stoned, imprisoned, scourged, made destitute, afflicted, ill-treated, and more. (Hebrews 11:36-38)  Jesus knew these things were coming, yet He saw them as temporary, just as the agony of crucifixion was temporary. 

These tortures would not be just a temporary suffering. They would serve as a refining fire. When believers stood in the midst of the coliseum, chained, as a lion roared toward them and opened its mouth wide, white teeth glistening, moving in for the kill, he (or she) would know the truth of their faith. No one would be eaten alive for a convenient faith. It was only for a real, vibrant, living faith that one might die.

Persecution separated the wheat from the chaff, the believers from the crowd. 

Following Jesus was no longer a trendy fad. It was truth worth dying for, and thousands of believers gave their lives for that truth. Instead of burning out the disciples of Christ, it caused them to flee ahead of the fire, and literally took the gospel around the world. 

We have begun to see the same refining fire of persecution blazing throughout the earth once again. The beheadings of believers in the Middle East are only the beginning. Persecution has, in some ways, begun in this country, as well. We can expect the fire to burn hotter, to blaze brighter. 

We will not all escape the flames, but the cause of Christ will not be burned out. 

The accelerating persecution will have an important effect on the church. Those who are "country club Christians" will fall away. If our involvement in church activities is merely a social event, we will not stand in the face of trial. That trial, however, will clarify (for us and for the world) the truth of our relationship to Christ.

Am I a committed follower or a convenience follower?

This is a question we may soon have the opportunity to answer, but, if we hope to stand in the midst of trial, we must make our decision now. 

Will we follow Him regardless of the cost or not?

There is nothing sweeter than the joy of serving a living Lord who comes to us in our trials and comforts us in our suffering, even when that trial is a trial by fire, to the death.

Jesus will return, but many hard and terrifying things will happen before that glorious day. They are part of the process and will serve as a refining fire. We will not all suffer great affliction, but many of us will. 

Not one moment of suffering will be overlooked by our Lord. Not one drop of blood will be wasted.

"And when He broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained... and there was given to each of them a white robe... (Rev. 6: 9-11 NASB)

Our Father, forgive our wavering faith and make us strong, sure, ready to stand, no matter the cost. We pray for our enemies and those who would harm us for our faith. May our sacrifice draw them to You. In Jesus' name, Amen.

#persecution #readytodie #martyr #JesusChrist #disciple