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“The Flip Side of Persecution”

Nov.13/16 - (Lk.21:12-19) 2Thess 1:1-12


(VIDEO: IDOP 2016, “The Battle is Real”)

Quite a sobering video, isn’t it? Even just whispering songs in a whole in the ground, and believers were still found. But I love the attitude and grit of the one woman who said to her captors, “If you kill me, I will be with Jesus. If you want to kill me or let me live, it’s not important. I win.” She is already living out the dying-and-rising Jesus makes possible: whether she lives or dies, she’ll be with Jesus – she wins either way! Is Jesus and our oneness with Him THAT REAL to us?


Our focus today is global. God cares for His church found on many shores. Courtesy of Open Doors World Watch List, here are ten countries (out of 50) where it’s considered dangerous to be a Christian today, what they call the “TEN WORST PERSECUTING NATIONS”...

[see bulletin; people post stickies on map next to country]

1) North Korea is the most dangerous place in the world to be a Christian for the 14th year in a row.

2) Iraq: There has been a church in Iraq for 2,000 years, but today it’s on the verge of extinction.

3) Eritrea is under the control of an absolute dictator who sees Christians as ‘agents of the West’ and has been dubbed ‘the North Korea of Africa’.

4) Afghanistan: There is no visible church in Afghanistan; all Afghan believers are secret converts from Islam.

5) Syria: Christians are not only caught in the violence of the on-going war in Syria, but are specifically targeted by Islamic extremists for attack, abduction and murder.

6) Pakistan: Christians experience more violence in Pakistan than almost anywhere else.

7) Somalia: If a Christian is discovered in Somalia, they are likely to be killed the same day.

8) Sudan: Islamic law is the foundation of Sudan’s legal system, and leaving Islam is punishable by death.

9) Iran: Converting from Islam is punishable by death for men, and life imprisonment for women, in Iran.

10) Libya has descended into lawlessness since the fall of Gadaffi in 2011, giving groups such as the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS) free reign to attack Christians.


Why is there so much suffering going on around the world for Christians? Why does God allow it? What could possibly be the positive outcomes of all this tribulation and pain?

      A couple of weeks ago, we heard Dave Martin from Voice of the Martyrs Canada detail some of the hardship believers all over the globe experience. Today I’d like to take a little different angle and look at THE FLIP SIDE OF PERSECUTION – what’s it accomplish? What’s the upshot of it, that makes the enduring of it worthwhile?

      In fact, we find with the help of the Apostle Paul’s encouragement to an early persecuted church, in Thessalonica, that persecution becomes a means of clearing away the clutter and confusion so that we see the truth about 3 parties: we see the truth God, about the persecutors, and about us, the church of Jesus Christ.

      First, persecution helps us see the TRUTH ABOUT GOD.

      A) God is JUST. 2Thess 1:6a, “God is just.” God is ‘dikaios’ in the Greek – just, righteous, upright, virtuous, innocent, faultless, guiltless. The devil may suppose he is slamming the Lord by making it tough for Christians, but in actuality, persecution in the long run becomes the occasion for God to display how absolutely good and holy and righteous He is – because He doesn’t finally let the suffering go unnoticed, but acts in response and judgment. V5 “All this is evidence that God’s judgment is RIGHT...” What’s happening now is accumulating evidence for the trial that will ultimately occur in the heavenly court, where God and His people will be vindicated – note vinDICate as in ‘dikaios’.

      How’s “God is just” become evident?

      B) Because we can entrust PAYBACK to Him. V6 again, note the connection: “God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you”... Knowing God is just and will ultimately see right judgment is done relieves Christians from an awful burden, namely feeling like we ever have to “settle the score” ourselves! Leave that up to God. He alone has the power and knowledge to see that wrongs are ultimately avenged. Romans 12:17a,19 “Do not repay anyone evil for evil...Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord.” HE will pay back – that’s not our job!

      Another truth persecution displays about God is:

      C) He is our Comforter. Vv6-7 “God is just: He will...GIVE RELIEF to you who are troubled, and to us as well.” He’ll give relief – loosening, relaxing. God is our Comforter. In John 14 Jesus begins telling the disciples about the coming Paraclete or Counselor, ‘one who comes alongside to help’ - Jn 14:16 “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever...” This is in the context of Jesus giving His disciples reassurance despite the agony He’s about to undergo, and discouragement and distress the disciples are about to face as He’s beaten, tortured, and crucified. Jn 14:1,27 “"Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me...Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.I do not give to you as the world gives.Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

      Whatever struggles you’re facing right now – even if they’re not as severe as overt persecution like many Christians are facing – God is your comforter. 2Cor 1:3f “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.”

      A fourth thing displayed about God is:

      D) He is MARVELOUS! V10 “[They will be punished...] on the day HE COMES...TO BE MARVELED AT among all those who have believed.” Jesus will some day return to bring deliverance to those who are persecuted and suffering, to institute God’s judgment. On that day we will MARVEL at Him. One of unique identifying features of our Saviour is the wounding still visible on His glorified body. Lk 24:40f “When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet.And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement...” For the persecuted church, those wounds on his hands and feet are extremely precious: they bond the Crucified One to us when we suffer for His sake today. He identifies with those suffering. As He spoke to Saul on the road to Damascus, Acts 9:4, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?” Persecution becomes one aspect by which we’re given fresh eyes to marvel at our Redeemer.


If persecution is ultimately an occasion to display truth about God, it also reveals the DISSOLUTENESS OF THE OPPRESSOR. It unmasks the vacuity, the emptiness of ungodly worldviews and the horribleness of the persecutors’ venom. It shows:

A) They DON’T KNOW GOD. 1:8 “He will punish those who DO NOT KNOW GOD...” 1Sam 2:12 “Eli’s sons were wicked men; they had no regard for the LORD.” When people don’t seek to know God, supposing themselves wiser than Him, that sets them up to become slaves to other lesser gods/forces. Idols that enslave them. Romans 1:28 “since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done.” “Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods.” 1Thess 4:5 We’re to control our bodies “not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God...”

      Relationship with God is necessary in order to carry out His will. Another characteristic of the persecutor:

      B) THEY DON’T OBEY THE GOSPEL. 2Thess 1:8 “He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.” Note the emphasis here is not primarily on punishment because of persecuting the church, but because they’ve rejected God, refuse to acknowledge the Almighty Infinite God, and do NOT obey His will. Choose your master carefully! Romans 6:16 “Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey — whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?” If you won’t obey God, you’ll end up a slave to sin, bound for death.

      The persecutor finds themself also:

      C) HIT WITH AN IMPOSSIBLE DEBT. When judgment day comes, they’ll find that offending an infinite and holy God leaves them with infinite liability. 1:9 “They will be punished with everlasting destruction...” They ‘will suffer the punishment’ (NRSV), they will “pay the penalty” – and how big is that penalty? “EVERLASTING destruction” – forever ongoing ruin, not annihilation (as other texts make clear). Specifically, they are:

      D) SEPARATED FROM THE MOST MAJESTIC. See v9 again: “They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power...” Forever separated from, cut off from, the One who is pure light and love and goodness. Jesus used phrases such as “outer darkness”, “weeping and gnashing of teeth”, “torment”, “in agony” (Lk 16:23ff). Not a place you want to be for ANY length of time!!

      Persecution reveals truth about God; about the oppressor or persecutor; and it also...


Yes, there are certain things that might not be made evident about us if hardship were not allowed to happen to us. For instance, persecution develops...

A) Perseverance and Endurance. It takes the smelter’s heat to reveal the precious metal and separate it from the dross and worthless slag. 2Thess 1:4 “Therefore, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring.” Perseverance and endurance are fostered through the tests, trials, hardships. Romans 5:3-4 “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” Persecution is also a builder of...

B) Faith. Did you hear that the first time through 2Thess 1:4? “...we boast about your perseverance AND FAITH in all the persecutions...” The woman in the video who said to her captors, “If you kill me, I will be with Jesus.If you want to kill me or let me live, it’s not important.I win.” – that woman sounds like she already has great assurance of her faith! Paul notes faith is the ingredient that makes it possible to be convinced they’re included in Christ; 2Thess 1:10 “in his holy people...those who have believed.This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you.”

      Persecution also makes the following possible:

      C) Christ is Glorified in Us. Isn’t that NIFTY? We’ll marvel at Jesus, but also, His beauty will be amplified by US! Note the significant preposition “in” where one might expect “by” in v10:

“on the day He [Jesus] comes to be glorified in his holy people...” The risen saints “shall be a glory of the Lord” (Peoples’ New Testament commentary). Your perseverance through hardship will help make Jesus look good, will honour Him! Again in v12, “We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him...” The way those believers “hang tough” in North Korea, in Nigeria, in Iran, shines glory on Jesus, makes Him look even more worthy and desirable.

      And it gives you added value:

      D) Counted Worthy. V5 “...as a result you will be COUNTED WORTHY of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering.” You become more precious by suffering for God’s kingdom. Also v11, “...we constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of his calling...” The Lord holds DEAR those who endure scorn and ridicule and abuse and pain for His sake.

      Remember Paul’s hearing before the Sanhedrin at Jerusalem in Acts 23? A dispute broke out; Acts 23:9a,10 “There was a great uproar...The dispute became so violent that the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them.” The troops intervened. V11 “The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, "Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome."” Jesus had His eye on Paul, and was fulfilling His purpose to make Himself known in a distant place, at the heart of the empire.

      I’d like to close today with a story that illustrates how God can use persecution to show His goodness and also glorify Himself in those who survive being victims of persecution, by His abundant grace they share.


[adapted from newsletter of Voice of the Martyrs Canada]

Pabel and Kelly were a Christian couple with two children in Huila, Colombia. Pabel and his cousin Jimeno regularly roamed the dangerous "red zone" surrounding the couple's home, armed with nothing but Bibles and a boldness to proclaim the Gospel. They used an old trumpet, a guitar, and a flute they didn't know how to play, to gather a laughing crowd for the sake of preaching.

      Pabel's faith was infectious. Once, after the showing of a Christian film in one town, Pabel announced on camera: "In Colombia, we need more people who will lay down their lives for the Lord...I am willing to do the same...to lay my life down for my friends because there is no greater love than [that of] the one who gives his life for friends."

      One fateful Sunday morning, Pabel received a phone call to run his taxi service in a town about five hours away from their home. The destination was in the regional limits of Cauca, an even more dangerous area of the country; Having run out of Bibles to give away, Pabel stuffed some personal items, copies of the Ten Commandments, and other Christian materials into his backpack, then waved good-bye to his wife Kelly and headed out the door. But on the way to the pick-up point, Pabel was attacked by two men who used the strings of Pabel’s own backpack, and the weight of the things inside it, to strangle him. His Christian profession had made him a target.

      A few days later, Kelly received a phone call from the leadership of a local village. Pabel's motorcycle had been found and two suspects were being detained. On arrival, she was shocked to find out that, according to local aboriginal custom, she was expected to personally deliver a sentence for her husband's murderers. Instead, before the entire village and the accused, Kelly publicly forgave the two men who were actually found to be related to the tribe’s chief...

      Later, Kelly returned to the village to find out that the accused men had escaped! She responded to the gathered tribe: "Even if they are found, I don't have money to hire a lawyer. But I do have a Lawyer, and this Lawyer is not going to let me die. This Lawyer is going to fight a war for me...in every situation. I have given my life to this Lawyer and He is the Lord Jesus Christ. Whatever happens, talk to Him, not with me."

      Kelly, now widowed and with two children ages 5 and 3, follows her husband's example in active evangelism. After meeting with the people of the tribal village, and sharing her forgiveness with them, she handed out Bibles to everyone who would take one. Despite her deep pain, Kelly's parting message to the tribal members, whose sons had murdered her husband, exemplified the grace and character of Christ: she said, "If you allow me to return, I will hand out more of this type of material. I have no bitter feelings toward anyone. What I am interested in is that you will receive this [Bible]."

While Kelly’s hope is to one day go into ministry full-time, right now she works at a bakery, takes finance courses, and cares for the children with the help of her parents. But on Saturdays, the ministry of her martyred husband continues as Kelly and her son distribute as nany Bibles as will fit on Pabel's motorcycle.

      She remarks in a recent letter, “...This year has been different from the rest, in the sense that now I have to depend exclusively on the Lord for everything.... None of us are exempt from sin or failures – whether small or big, whether in action or something only in our hearts. Jesus, the Christ...gave His own life for us miserable sinners who are undeserving of that much generosity from a God so important and sublime.” Let’s pray.