Prepared for death

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Prepare

‘Loving Father, prepare my mind and heart to hear your word. Prepare me for your kingdom. Amen.’


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Bible passage Matthew 10:17–31


 17"Be on your guard against men; they will hand you over to the local councils and flog you in their synagogues. 18On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. 19But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, 20for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.

 21"Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. 22All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. 23When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. I tell you the truth, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes.

 24"A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. 25It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub, how much more the members of his household!

 26"So do not be afraid of them. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. 27What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. 28Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. 30And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.



New International Version (NIV) Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society


Audio Bible passage


The audio version of the passage is taken from the Contemporary English Version (CEV).


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Persecution warnings
Imagine you are one of the twelve disciples: Jesus has just given you authority to preach, heal and cast out demons. You are eager to get going, to be part of the blind seeing, and the lame leaping. Then Jesus delivers these verses. How do you feel now?

If you follow me, says Jesus, be prepared. Be prepared to be arrested (v 19), betrayed (v 21), hated (v 22), persecuted (v 23), vilified (v 25), killed (v 28).

Spiritual support
The book of Acts tells how Jesus’ words were fulfilled. But surely Jesus’ words are equally relevant for his followers throughout history. Verses 21 and 22 could be written for some Christian believers today facing opposition (even death) from family members, or for Christians in North Korea who face imprisonment if their faith is discovered. As we hear of Christians in Mosul forced to flee or face death, the relevance of Jesus’ words (vs 23,28) hits home.

Jesus does not offer his followers a prosperity gospel. He promises that, even in dark periods of persecution, his people will be equipped by God’s Spirit (v 20) to face opposition. He reminds us that our eternal life is more important than this life – the Christian’s soul is safe in the Father’s hands (vs 28,29).


Respond


Visit the websites of Release International, Open Doors or Christian Solidarity International to explore ways you can support the persecuted church.

Penny Boshoff


Deeper Bible study


‘Weary was our heart with waiting, / and the night-watch seemed so long, but his triumph day is breaking / and we hail it with a song.’ (Henry Burton, 1840–1930, ‘There’s a light upon the mountains’)

After 2,000 years, history has seen Jesus’ prophetic words come true. Christians have been persecuted, accused of blasphemy, disobedience and crime. Vivid on our TV screens are the death and destruction of Christian people and their communities for refusing to deny their Lord. In such places, Jesus’ dire predictions of family divisions are daily true. Where I live, the small discriminations Christians face pale into insignificance beside the constant persecution Christians suffer under governments where to profess Christianity is to risk persecution or even death. Jesus tells suffering Christians to remain firm, an attitude possible only in the assurance that God is ultimately in control – that, in the end, pain and death ‘will flee away’ (Isaiah 35:10).

I would be remiss if I ignored verse 26, one of Matthew’s most controversial verses. Was Jesus telling his followers not to fear because the end was close? That he would return in their lifetime, even before they had finished their initial local ministry (v 23)? Later, Matthew records Jesus saying that some would not see death before his return (Matthew 16:28). Many New Testament passages bear that same meaning (eg 1 Thessalonians 4:15; Revelation 1:3). The actions of the early Christians certainly appear to be based on the presumption that Jesus would return soon (Acts 4:32–35). Over the centuries, scholars and preachers have devised many novel explanations for this dilemma. I prefer to take these verses at their face value, the simplest explanation often being the best: that Jesus did say these things and that is what he meant. On earth, Jesus was limited to a human body and a human mind. Matthew later recorded Jesus saying that he did not know when he would return. We must accept that, but we can also understand that Jesus was human enough to wonder about it and that he expected it would be soon.

John Harris


Persecution (Background)


The first Christians
Christians were persecuted immediately after the death and resurrection of Jesus. As Luke, the writer of Acts, makes clear, both the Jews and the Romans were equally responsible (see Acts 4:27).

In the book of Acts we read how:

● the religious leaders tried to stop Peter and John from preaching the resurrection, and imprisoned them when they refused to comply (Acts 4:1–3)

● James, the brother of John, was put to death with the sword (Acts 12:2)

● the apostle Paul, who himself persecuted Christians before his conversion (Acts 9), was imprisoned on several occasions (e.g. Acts 16:22,23)

Revelation 2:12,13 mentions ‘Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city – where Satan lives’. We know nothing else about him.

According to tradition, all of Jesus’ 12 disciples were martyred except John.

Under the Roman Empire
After Nero, there was violent persecution under Decius (third century), and even more serious persecution under Diocletian (fourth century).

Heretics’?
Sadly, Christians throughout history have suffered at the hands of other Christians who pronounced them heretics. These include:

● the Waldensians and Cathars (twelfth and thirteenth centuries)

● Jan Hus in the Czech republic and Wycliffe in England (fifteenth century)

● Protestants (sixteenth century), especially Cranmer, Ridley and Latimer

● Anabaptists (sixteenth century)

● Jesuits (sixteenth and seventeenth centuries) 

Such things ought not to be. Jesus prayed for unity among his disciples (see John 17:21).

Christians suffering persecution today
The twentieth century saw widespread persecution of Christians under Communist regimes in the Soviet Union, China and Southeast Asia.

The organisation International Christian Concern has a website (www.persecution.org) which has a list, updated daily, of areas of the world where Christians are persecuted today. There is a lot of information there, and suggestions of what you can do.

Thank God for the faithfulness of Christians who have suffered for their Lord, who have fought for the truth, translated and preserved the Scriptures. Thank God for the ways in which the Church has grown through their witness.

Annabel Robinson



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Audio


Come to Jesus
Nathan Fellingham
Copyright © 2009 Phat music
Buy this and other great worship songs at www.integritymusic.com



Move in our lives
Jamie Pearson and Kate Cooke
© 2010 Vineyard Records (UK/Eire)
www.vineyardrecords.co.uk


Comments
  • Enyobi Chukwunonso | Friday, 09 February 2018

    Persecution is real, especially in the third world countries. Google 'fulani herdsmen' and 'Boko haram' which is ranked as the world's deadliest terror group by the Global Terrorism Index in 2015. All these in one country. But believe me the persecution from a christian to a fellow christian is more painful; from Christian leaders to their subordinates. Anyway, To be forewarned is to be forearmed, thanks to Christ.

  • Thelma Edwards | Friday, 09 February 2018

    And what is Jesus answer to such persecution? Forgiveness, mercy, grace, love.

  • Angela Munday | Friday, 09 February 2018

    Evil is constantly busy creating chaos and disturbing the peace that comes from God. We can stand our ground with the strength that the truth gives us; God has already defeated evil and His love and mercy is stronger and not just equal to anything........"You belong to God, you have already won a victory over those people, because the spirit who lives in you is GREATER than the spirit who lives in the world." Hallelujah! Praise the Lord! (1 John 4:4)........ Father God, we pray for Your suffering church. Come, Lord Jesus, come. O Lord hear our prayer. Amen.

  • Gilvin Crisifeca | Friday, 09 February 2018

    v19 'Do not worry about what to say' Reminds me of the child's plinkity plonk on the piano and the different sound when a concert pianist played alongside the child. God can transform our words to radically change us and the hearers in ways unknown to the human mind. I pray for all who are suffering in this world for whatever reason. May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit, in Jesus name, Amen.

  • Stephen Nicholls | Friday, 09 February 2018

    Enyobi knows more about persecution than [hopefully] I will ever know. I thank God that He has given me a wonderful life in "the west" where persecution is much less. Blessings from East Anglia in the U.K.

  • Barbara Sabin | Friday, 09 February 2018

    Saviour, if my feet have faltered On the pathway of the cross, If my purposes have altered Or my gold be mixed with dross, O forbid me not Thy service, Keep me yet in Thy employ, Pass me through a sterner cleansing If I may but give Thee joy! All my work is for the Master, He is all my heart’s desire; O that He may count me faithful In the day that tries by fire!

  • Roger Kojecky | Saturday, 10 February 2018

    I have appreciated John Harris's notes, but find it hard to agree that v. 26 is especially controversial. Not controversial to any one who believes in the coming Judgement of God. Then, Jesus is saying, a person's doings, publicly known or not, will be decisive for their eternal destiny. I think John may be thinking more about the problematic v. 23 concerning the coming (again) of the Son of Man.

  • bruno mars | Wednesday, 21 February 2018

    Such a great place where you can get online dream league soccer hack completely free of cost http://dlshack.com/

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