“A woman in India watches as her sister is dragged off by Hindu nationalists. She doesn’t know if her sister is alive or dead.
A man in a North Korean prison camp is shaken awake after being beaten unconscious; the beatings begin again.
A woman in Nigeria runs for her life. She has escaped from Boko Haram, who kidnapped her. She is pregnant, and when she returns home, her community will reject her and her baby.
A group of children are laughing and talking as they come down to their church’s sanctuary after eating together. Instantly, many of them are killed by a bomb blast. It’s Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka.
These people don’t live in the same region, or even on the same continent. But they share an important characteristic: They are all Christians, and they suffer because of their faith. While Christian persecution takes many forms, it is defined as any hostility experienced as a result of identification with Jesus Christ. From Sudan to Afghanistan, from Nigeria to North Korea, from Colombia to India, followers of Christianity are targeted for their faith. They are attacked; they are discriminated against at work and at school; they risk sexual violence, torture, arrest and much more.
In just the last year*, there have been:
Over 360 million Christians living in places where they experience high levels of persecution and discrimination
5,898 Christians killed for their faith
5,110 churches and other Christian buildings attacked
4,765 believers detained without trial, arrested, sentenced or imprisoned
These numbers are heart-breaking. And yet, they do not tell the whole story. James 1:2-4 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” That joy is what we see when we hear and work with Christians all over the world who suffer because they serve Jesus. God cares for His people, and He will never leave or forsake them.”
Statement from Open Doors International
Persecution is a present reality for millions of believers around the world. It is becoming a very real threat to believers in the Western world who have enjoyed a long season of peace. Are we ready for it?
This morning we are in Mark chapter 6. Last week we looked at the first short term mission trip of the disciples. They declared and displayed the gospel of the kingdom. Many turned from sin as they witnessed healings and deliverance. Verse 13 summarizes the activities of the disciples. In verse 30, Mark tells us that the disciples returned to Jesus to tell him about all of the things they experienced on their adventure.
Sandwiched between those two verses is the story of John the Baptist’s death.
That story reveals a great deal about the nature of sin, but I think Mark has a clear purpose in placing the story where it is. The martyrdom of John is sandwiched within the account of the first mission trip to teach us about the connection between the two.
I believe there is an implication from Mark for all believers that persecution is coming.
Herodias was King Herod’s genetic niece, who also happened to be married to his half-brother Herod-Philip. Josephus tells us that while King Herod was on a visit to Rome he stayed with his brother and became infatuated with his niece and sister-in-law. Herod convinced her to leave her husband and join him in Judea.
John the Baptist had spoke out against Herod’s marriage as a clear violation of Scriptural marriage ethics.
You shall not uncover the nakedness of your brother’s wife; it is your brother’s nakedness.
Leviticus 18:16. (see also Leviticus 20:21)
Under pressure from Herodias, Herod had John arrested. Herod respected John as a holy man and sought to shield him from Herodias’ rage. Mark 6 recounts the scheming of Herodias to trap Herod and see John dead.
“Herodias felt that the only place where her marriage-certificate could safely be written was on the back of the death-warrant of John the Baptist.” -Edwards
In John’s death we see an example of what happens when the kingdom of light comes into the kingdom of darkness.
Persecution is coming.
All who want to live a godly life will be persecuted.
Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.
2 Timothy 3:12
When spiritual light and darkness occupy the same space, conflict is inevitable. Those who seek after righteousness will be at the center of that conflict.
Some see righteous living and feel guilty about their own unrighteousness, rather than face their guilt they attack.
Some see righteous living and assume judgment. They haven’t experienced truth in love, they have experienced only truth in condemnation.
Some see righteous living and assume hypocrisy. They smell inauthenticity and it stinks.
Feeling guilty, feeling judged, sensing hypocrisy – these are all very negative experiences that provoke a response.
In addition to the human response to light, we are also surrounded by spiritual realities. There is a spiritual element in this world which hates the light and actively seeks to destroy it.
“No Christian has the right to go around wringing his hands, wondering what we are to do in the face of persecution, confusion, wars, and rumors of wars, we are to comfort one another with the knowledge that Jesus Christ is coming back in triumph, glory, and majesty.” -Billy Graham
The Bible repeatedly prepares believers for the reality of persecution.
The gospel does not promise us a comfortable life, it promises eternal life.
The gospel does not promise us peaceful circumstances, it promises an inner peace that defies understanding and overcomes every circumstance.
The gospel does not promise us wealth and prosperity it promises an opportunity to risk everything for the glory of God.
“A work that has little opposition from the antagonistic system of Satan is one that is doing little work for the Lord… The devil’s greatest opposition is the Lord’s greatest work.” -John Macarthur
“If you have no opposition in the place you serve, you’re serving in the wrong place.” -G Campbell Morgan
If you set your heart on living a godly life you should be prepared for persecution.
John the Baptist is a clear example of that.
John gives us another important lesson, not here in Mark but in the book of Matthew.
Don’t stumble when it comes.
While John the Baptist is imprisoned, he sends a delegation to Jesus with an interesting question, “are you the one we thought you were or should we look for someone else?” It’s a loaded question. Why would he ask that?
Didn’t he have a very profound and clear moment when Jesus came to be baptized?
33 I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”
This was a very profound moment. This was a God moment. It’s pretty clear cut, isn’t it? Undeniable.
Yet here is John, asking “are you the one who was to come or should we wait for someone else?”
What made him doubt?
It was suffering, wasn’t it?
“I’ve spent years of my life devoted to the kingdom of God, I’ve fasted, I’ve lived in solitude and poverty. I’ve risked my life and faced persecution. Here I am in jail and I haven’t heard a thing from Jesus.
This isn’t right. This isn’t what the kingdom of God is supposed to look like. This isn’t what the servants of the kingdom are supposed to experience. This isn’t how the Messiah is supposed to act.”
Jesus replies to John by referencing the signs and wonders taking place in his ministry. He draws from the Messianic prophecies of Isaiah in that reply.
The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.
Then Jesus ends with a challenge to John: “Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”
Remember two weeks ago we saw that the people of Jesus’ hometown experienced discomfort when he showed up preaching that he had brought the kingdom of God to town. They experienced the pain of cognitive dissonance – this isn’t the Jesus we know. This isn’t how he is supposed to act. Our Jesus doesn’t do these kinds of things. Conversely they probably believed that this isn’t what the Messiah is supposed to look like – a carpenter from Nazareth?
They closed the door. The word Mark used in the was scandalized.
The same word is used in Jesus’ to John.
Blessed is the one who isn’t scandalized, John.
The word means a stumbling block. Something that trips someone.
The Nazarenes were scandalized because Jesus showed up in power to relieve the suffering of the people.
Joh the Baptist was scandalized because Jesus did not show up to relieve his suffering.
When you experience suffering and it seems like Jesus is nowhere to be seen – remember this word:
Blessed is the one who isn’t scandalized by what Jesus does or doesn’t do.
Blessed is the one who doesn’t put Jesus in a box. Blessed is the one who doesn’t turn their back on the kingdom of God because it doesn’t come in the form they expected.
When Jesus appeared, the kingdom of God appeared. The kingdom has come. Salvation is here. Forgiveness, healing and deliverance are breaking out.
The kingdom is now. But it is also not yet. We live in the day of the now and the not yet. This requires wisdom and patience.
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.
“If anyone is to go into captivity, into captivity they will go. If anyone is to be killed with the sword, with the sword they will be killed.” This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of God’s people.
The Church of Christ has been founded by shedding its own blood, not that of others; by enduring outrage, not by inflicting it. Persecutions have made it grow; martyrdoms have crowned it. -Jerome
The Bible says some hard things about persecution. But those who take those hard things gain a hardness, a firmness of spirit from those words.
Persecution is coming, we must endure.
I think it’s important to remember some words from Mark’s friend and mentor Peter in 1 Peter 2.
Not all persecution is equal.
1. You can be persecuted for godliness and you can be persecuted for stupidity, we must know the difference.
18 Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. 19 For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.
1 Peter 2:18-25
Our interactions in this world must be marked by gentleness and respect. Not all believers operate that way.
It’s easy for us to fall on two extremes.
Some Christians feel that we should be quiet and live our own lives. There is a time when we need to speak up. John the Baptist spoke up when he saw a Biblical Jewish ethic of marriage being flaunted by the Jewish king. Sometimes we need to speak up, we need to resist injustice and speak out against it.
“Suffering is common for all. However, persecution (which is a form of suffering) can be avoided. All you have to do is compromise.” -Voddie Baucham
“Violent persecution focuses the mind on the fact that the kingdom of this world is an enemy to the kingdom of God. When there hasn’t been any persecution for a long time – as in our part of the world – many Christians start expecting the world to be a friend. They slip into seeking the world’s approval instead of God’s.” -J Budzizewski
You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
Do you see the balance here? You need to be salty. You need to speak the truth. If you don’t who will? But you need to be light, your life should carry the pleasant brightness of good deeds.
12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
1 Peter 2:12
Some Christians are looking for a fight. There is a pastor I know in this town who is looking for a fight. His social media is contentious and pugnacious.
He will face conflict and when it comes it will be a self-fulfilling prophecy. He will get exactly what he was looking for.
“Christians are often persecuted not for their Christianity, but for their lack of it. Sometimes they simply have unpleasant personalities. They are rude, insensitive, thoughtless – piously obnoxious. Some are rejected because they are discerned as proud and judgmental. Others are disliked because they are lazy and irresponsible. Either arrogance or incompetence mixed with piety is sure to bring rejection.” -R Kent Hughes
2. If you want to know what godly persecution looks like, look to Jesus.
21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.
3. If you feel that Jesus is uncaring or unfair when you suffer, remember that you aren’t the only one suffering.
24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
There is always an element of guilt in all of our suffering. We live in a fallen world because we are all sinners. We brought this upon ourselves. Christ never sinned. He deserved no suffering. But he chose it in love.
but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place.
Tom Brown is the planting pastor of Vintage Faith Church in Wichita. Tom and his wife, Mandy, have worked together in ministry for 18 years and have four children. More about Pastor Tom Brown