Hebrews 12:25 – 13:16
Sometimes people don’t keep on keeping on. They decide to become a disciple and follow Jesus, but then they give up. We’ve considered two reasons for this. They may be overcome by trials and tribulations, or they may be overcome by doubt.
Today we will look at two more reasons. First, another weapon the enemy uses to kill our spiritual life is persecution.
More than 200 million people in over 110 nations are being denied their basic human rights for one reason only: they are Christians. Persecution is universal and growing.
According to a new study by Pew Research Center, one-third (33%) of 198 nations studied have high religious hostilities, up from 20% in mid-2007.
It is estimated that in the world today there are 2.3 billion Christians, 1.2 billion Muslims, 786 million Hindus and 362 million Buddhists.
The number of atheists is a mere 151 million.
Persecution seems to pass through three phases. The first phase is disinformation. Disinformation begins more often than not in the media. Through printed articles, radio, television and other means, Christians are robbed of their good reputation and their right to answer the accusations made against them.
This quickly leads to discrimination. Discrimination relegates Christians to a ‘second-class’ citizenship with inferior legal, social, political and economic standing.
The third stage is persecution. Once the first two steps have been taken, normal protective measures have been removed. Persecution can arise from the state, the police or military, extreme organizations, mobs, paramilitary groups, or representatives of other religions.
It is tough being a Christian in the world today. It is tough being a Christian in Jinju. On television and in newspapers we are portrayed in poorly, and it isn’t all lies.
When you tell someone you are a Christian they already have an image of what that means, and often it isn’t flattering. Maybe they believe you are incapable of clear thinking, and expect you to start behaving in peculiar ways. They pity you. They laugh at you. They stop inviting you to parties. They ridicule Christians in front of you, clip out articles about corrupt pastors to show you. We know they are wrong, but when you are being persecuted it isn’t pleasant. Persecution is normal for Christians.
Look back at our reading for this morning, and turn to Hebrews 13:13. It says: “let us go out to him, outside the camp, and bear the disgrace he bore.”
To understand this we need to refer back to the Old Testament. God said that when a young bullock was slaughtered as a sin offering and its blood had been sprinkled on the holy place, the carcass was to be taken outside the camp so that it didn’t pollute the place where the people lived. It was a sin offering for the whole community and it couldn’t remain in the camp.
Jesus was slain as a sin offering for us. He was taken outside the city to the hill of skulls. He was cast out, and when we go to him that is the place we go to. Jesus is outside the camp. Hebrews is full of advice and encouragement on how to persevere when you are being persecuted, and this is the final advice.
We have to choose. Do we stay in the camp, where it is comfortable and we are well respected. Do we remain in our society, or do we leave and go outside where Jesus is still being mocked so that we can be with him. Many people give up their faith when they are faced with this choice. But if you are going to be a follower of Jesus, it is a choice you have to make. Disciples are outsiders. Are you willing to be an outsider?
The psalmist says, ‘I take joy in doing your will, my God, for your instructions are written on my heart.’
This is the motivation that kept Jesus going to the end, when he was being persecuted and taken outside the camp to die. It is your best motivation, too.
Better than a fear of going to hell when you die, and better than a desire to go to heaven, is a desire to obey God.
As it is written in Hebrews 10:7 – “Then I said, ‘Look, I have come to do your will, O God – as is written about me in the Scriptures.’”
The secret of enduring is to delight in being a faithful follower of Jesus.
Someone was once asked why they kept on devotedly looking after an aged parent at home when there were quality nursing homes available. Why go to all the trouble and miss out on so much of life? Their answer was simple; ‘I love my mother.’ That is our answer to persecution. It is how we keep going when we join him outside the walls of our social group.
The reason we can do this is that we have come to know Jesus and grown to love him. Our faith is not about rules or traditions. Sin has become to us something that hurts him, and we want to avoid hurting him at all costs.
Sin is the fourth way in which people find their faith derailed.
How do you deal with yourself when you find you have crashed. What do you do when you are engulfed in shame and ready to crawl away into hiding and give up.
First, don’t pretend that you haven’t sinned. Recognise and admit that you have a drink problem. Name your sin. Recognise and admit that you have a relationship problem. Don’t blame anyone else. Don’t call a sin by another name. How many times do we make excuses for ourselves. We say it was a mistake, we don’t normally drive through red lights. It was because we were drunk, that’s all.
Adultery is adultery. Don’t call it by another name, saying you felt lonely and needed comfort. Or that they needed comfort. Or the most common excuse, which is to say we are only doing what everyone else does. Romans 13:14 says, ‘Instead, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. And don’t let yourself think about ways to indulge your evil desires.’ Even if the whole world is sinning, it is still sin and you must face up to it. That is step one.
Step two is this. Don’t persuade yourself that it was justified by the circumstances. Other people in the same circumstances don’t sin. It was your choice to sin. It is not justified because of anything. Admit the sin and don’t give yourself any excuses. Face up to your sin. Face it head on and deal with it. Don’t be like Adam and Eve, pointing the finger at someone else, making excuses. Satan is the accuser. He is always accusing other people and blaming them for his sins. He blames God. He blames Eve. He blames you. This is his nature, and you must have seen it so many times. Satan says all he did was offer Eve the fruit. It was her fault she took it and got him into trouble. God is blamed for spoiling their fun. God is accused of punishing them for something he should have let them do.
So what I have to do is admit the sin and don’t give myself any excuses. I have to face up to my sin. I have to face it head on and deal with it.
Then I will be able to go to God and tell him how sorry I am for my sins.
Say sorry to him for the sin, and then ask him to forgive you for the sin. Once you have done that and determined not to sin again, don’t look back. God will give you the grace to move forward in your spiritual walk. We all have to let go of the past so that we can move forward. And we need God to help us do that.
You have sinned. I have sinned. We all have sinned. The important thing is not whether we have sinned, but how we responded when we found out that we had sinned.
What do you do when you find you have sinned? Allow that question to float in your mind for a while.
Now, let me summarise. The four biggest reasons for people being unable to persevere and thus failing in spiritual life are: difficulties, doubts, persecution and sin.
We have to accept that there will always be difficulties, doubts, persecution and sin. It is part of life. Trying to avoid these things is a futile recipe for failure. Success in spiritual life is achieved by overcoming these four things and moving forward.
Jesus said, “Anyone who puts a hand to the plough and then looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God.”
Don’t keep looking back. Set your eyes on what is before you, set your eyes on Jesus who is outside the camp and follow him only. Learn to love him and delight in his ways. Then your life will be successful in the only ways that matter eternally.