Here in America being a follower of Jesus is not going to cost your life. We might experience someone mocking our faith, or we might be left out by some who reject us for loving Him, but we won’t be imprisoned or threatened with death. In 2020 there are places in the world where you can get killed for publicly speaking the Name. Martyrdom is not just something of ages past. What about that?
In readings from Matthew we come to these lines- “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:10-12, NIV)
One of the Old Testament heroes was a godly man in a pagan culture who lived with excellence and devotion. He was rewarded with places of leadership in the Babylonian court but his prominence could not protect him from the haters! You remember the story about Daniel’s night in the lion’s den, don’t you?
I was about 4 years of age in a little Sunday room in a country church when our teacher told us the story using cut-out pictures. We learned about Daniel’s faithfulness to God, about his prayers, and the terrible people who hated him so much that they conspired to have him tossed to the lions. Mrs. Hoferman told it with such passion that my heart pounded and I wondered if “that good man get eaten?” And, indeed, God showed up to shut the mouths of the lions. Daniel emerged from the danger like a conquering hero. “Yea!” I cheered. Faith grew in me and I learned to trust the Lord.
There is another lesson that emerges from the story too subtle for a little child. God allowed Daniel to enter the lion’s den for a greater purpose. Temporarily, evil seemed to win. He spend a long night alone with lion’s snarling and snapping an arm’s length away! But, Daniel’s integrity was so notable, his faith so unquestionable, that even the pagan king shared his hope! “The king caved in and ordered Daniel brought and thrown into the lions’ den. But he said to Daniel, “Your God, to whom you are so loyal, is going to get you out of this.” … “At daybreak the king got up and hurried to the lions’ den. As he approached the den, he called out anxiously, “Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve so loyally, saved you from the lions?” (Daniel 6:19-20, The Message)
The real hero of this story is not Daniel, is it? The Almighty God is the One who gets the glory when the deliverance comes.
Those who suffer for Christ Jesus, who get tossed to the lions, so to speak, are not forgotten by God, nor are they inferior in faith. God uses those situations to deepen their faith and to bring glory to Himself. When we whine and beg for an easier place, or protest angrily, we may miss the purpose of persecution.
Are you living in the lion’s den of life right now? Has the Lord, your loving Father, allowed you to live with suffering, or defeat, or circumstances that defy your best efforts to turn them around?
Pray for rescue! But, also remember that it may be His will to leave you there for a long night, for His own purposes. “Come on, Jerry, that is not fair.” Yes, I understand that and I weep with you. I am familiar with disappointment, with struggle, and I know that it is hard to wait, to trust, and to keep praying with faith for God’s glory to be revealed. Sometimes we just want relief, don’t we? But, often the greater victory is not the one we seek.
Peter wrote to the first generation of Christians who were being intensely persecuted. His words would not go over well in our American churches where we like the “Sunday School” version of life where good guys always win and every difficulty turns into deliverance when God’s people pray. – “So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.” (1 Peter 4:19, NIV)
Here is a word from the Word. Let it inspire you to trust Jesus’ words about being blessed when persecuted for right living. If you are in the Lion’s Den, hold onto this word.
“Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.”… “Anyone who meets a testing challenge head-on and manages to stick it out is mighty fortunate. For such persons loyally in love with God, the reward is life and more life.” (James 1:2-4, 12, The Message)
“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:10-12, NIV)
When darkness tries to roll over my bones
When sorrow comes to steal the joy I own
When brokenness and pain is all I know
I won’t be shaken I won’t be shaken
My fear doesn’t stand a chance
When I stand in Your love (repeat)
Shame no longer has a place to hide
I am not a captive to the lies
I’m not afraid to leave my past behind
I won’t be shaken I won’t be shaken
There’s power that can break off every chain
There’s power that can empty out a grave
There’s resurrection power that can save
There’s power in Your name power in Your name
Standing in Your love
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