Luke 21:12-15 – But before all this, they will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. And so you will bear testimony to me. But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. (NIV 2011)
Recently, I was inspired by a television Bible study on persecution presented by Hal Lindsey, an evangelist/teacher who focuses on biblical prophecy. Hal made an interesting comparison between what went on in the early church and the things happening now.
He said that some Christians in the west have the notion that persecution, if it ever happened, would be in the far-off future. That claim can no longer be made, as evidenced by the increase of persecutions worldwide: statistics reached record highs in 2014. Although the majority of incidents occur in Middle Eastern countries, these facts should be a wake-up call for us to protect religious freedoms in our own part of the world.
Hal used a powerful illustration of the first Christian martyr, Stephen, to demonstrate how we can overcome adversity in our faith. His story is told in Acts 6 and 7. Stephen was chosen to be a leader in the early church, "a man full of God's grace and power, [who] did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people" (Acts 6:8 NIV). More importantly, Stephen was a man filled with the Holy Spirit, as opposed to his persecutors, who were filled with anger. "But they were unable to cope with the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking. Then they secretly induced men to say, 'We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.' And they stirred up the people, the elders and the scribes, and they came up to him and dragged him away and brought him before the Council." Then something wonderful happened: "And fixing their gaze on him, all who were sitting in the Council saw his face like the face of an angel." (Acts 6:10-12;15 NASB)
At this point, Stephen began his defense with an analysis of how God's people had rejected Him and refused to obey Him. The Holy Spirit gave him the words to say. When he indicted the leaders with murdering the predicted Righteous One, they were infuriated. At this point, Stephen saw heaven open and Jesus Christ standing at the right hand of God. While he was being stoned, he cried out with a loud voice, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them!" (Acts 7:60 NASB)
Consider this: How are we going to be able to face the challenge when we are faced with persecution? We should be able to demonstrate our faith in God with grace and power. He has promised that the Holy Spirit will give us the very words to declare our unwavering belief in Him. Let us put our trust in Him.
Prayer: Dear Lord, we come to You with thanksgiving in our hearts for the way that You have blessed us through the many trials that we have faced in our lives. We ask that You will instill an abundant measure of peace in our hearts when we become apprehensive about the possibility of our own time of persecution. Enable us to rely on the power and grace of the Holy Spirit in the hour when we are called to testify for You. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen.
Listen to this devotional
Listen while you read: "Jesus Bids Us Shine" (Lyrics)