It’s been said, that if you want to know the central message an author wants to communicate to his audience, look at his words in the beginning of a book and then at the end. It is interesting what we learn about Jesus’ passion when we apply this principle to the Gospels.
Jesus’ first public speech was in the Jewish synagogue where he boldly declared about himself: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because He has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor….” Luke 4:18 (NKJV).
Before ascending into heaven, Jesus gave a final command to the eleven disciples who He shepherded for three years. “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations…” Matthew 28:19 (NKJV). We conclude from the above passages that Jesus’ desire for you and me is to share the Gospel and make disciples.
Christian author Tertullian stated that “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church”; since the Great Commission was given 2000 years ago, millions of Christians have suffered brutally for their obedience to it. Tradition says that of the disciples, all but John were martyred. Shortly after 3000 souls were saved at Pentecost, Stephen was brutally stoned. After this event, boldness swept over the disciples and the Gospel spread outside of Jerusalem for the first time. Jesus said matter-of-factly concerning Paul the great evangelist “…he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.” Indeed Paul suffered stonings, shipwrecks, lashings, hunger and nakedness but brought the Gospel to Rome.
Christian persecution is not primarily a social justice concern, it is principally a choice by Christians who obey the Bible’s clear teaching and have counted the cost. If our primary concern is to eliminate suffering, then we must eliminate the spreading of the Gospel.
According to Hebrews 13:3, we share the same spiritual body as the disciples as well as the millions of brothers and sisters who are persecuted for their decision. We are commanded to not only be bound in empathy, prayer and giving but also in obedience; that is, co-labouring in the Great Commission which was issued by Christ who is the head – the very reason persecution exists in the first place.
While in prison, Paul’s only justification of his suffering was that the Gospel had spread as a result. He states “…I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel, so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ” Philippians 1:12 (NKJV).
This month’s challenge: To truly honour those like the Apostle Paul, and the many brothers and sisters who suffer, we must advance what they suffer for in the first place. In Australia, sharing the Gospel is relatively easy compared to the rest of the world. Will you make the decision to truly be bound with our brothers and sisters? Will you obey God’s Word? Their boldness in suffering should encourage us.
“…most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the word without fear” Philippians 1:14 (NKJV).