Vol. 3, No. 9
It was almost time to get up Sunday morning and I dozed, sleeping just a little longer. I began dreaming of a large boisterous public gathering. These people were my neighbors. These were my people. They were angry and glad at the same time. Three besides me (two other men and a woman) were in the midst of this multitude, though not by choice. It seemed like just a dream (and of course, it was). But then, it seemed very real, as dreams often do.
Suddenly, with a quick noise and a dull thud, reality echoed as a brother in Christ was beheaded. All sense of dreamland vanished. The mob cheered. As the sister in Christ was being led away to the same fate, she, calmly, looked back and said to me, "It's my turn now, then yours and he will follow you." I marveled at her composure and peaceful resolve. In the same instant, horrified, I woke from my sleep.
For a brief moment I felt as though I had visited a century long past. It was a time in which Christians were severely persecuted for no other reason than for their Gospel faith. I had not been there. Those things did not happen, but it seemed so real, and frightening.
Events such as these about which one can read in both testaments transpired thousands of years ago. To us, they seem little more than "just Bible stories." It is difficult for you and me, as we sit comfortably in our auditoriums on padded pews, to relate meaningfully to these persecutions. Perhaps it takes a nightmare such as I had before we can begin to fathom the reality of these tragedies. Even more, such underscores the conviction to Christ and his Gospel that early Christians demonstrated in life and death (Revelation 2:10).
Later that morning, it was my privilege to continue teaching an adult Bible class. We were studying Acts Chapter Five. In the previous chapter the week before, we noticed the imprisonment of the apostles. They were also threatened, though they would not cower. They were on a divine mission. We also observed the apostles' imprisonment again, escape and recapture. Once more, they were before the Sanhedrin. Again, they were threatened. This time, though, they were also beaten. The Jewish religious leaders preferred to kill them, but were dissuaded by Gamaliel.
Remarkably, they rejoiced! The apostles were happy despite their suffering. They were not deterred from joyful implementation of Christianity in their lives. They refused to alter their efforts to evangelize the world.
"And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name. And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ" (Acts 5:41-42).
The apostle Peter further addressed happiness in persecution in 1 Peter 3:14 and 4:12-16. The apostle Paul forewarned of persecutions upon faithful children of God. "Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution" (2 Timothy 3:12). Paul suffered much (2 Corinthians 11:23-28). Jesus previously warned the original twelve apostles of persecution (Matthew 10:16-25). Jesus, of course, is our supreme example of a persecuted servant of God. In Acts Six, Stephen became embroiled in conflict that resulted in his martyrdom (Acts 7:58-60). Before his death, Stephen accused the Jews of being like their ancestors who had killed the prophets of God (Acts 7:51-52). Hebrews 11:32-38 summarizes some of the awful, torturous deaths inflicted, often by the people of God, upon the prophets of God.
Are these "just Bible stories"? No! They must not be relegated simply to story status. These people were real. Their historical accounts are genuine. Their faith was living and active, and worth dying for. I hope that none of us ever have to undergo the adversities through which they went. If we are ever compelled to suffer these or similar things, I hope that you and I can face them with the same courage. In the meantime, it is most urgent that we adopt the same spiritual posture they exhibited. We must spend all and be spent, make it the chief pursuit of our very existence to save ourselves and as many others as possible.
"And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellowservants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled" (Revelation 6:9-11).
By Louis Rushmore
My sins (and your sins) grieve God. However, until my sins grieve me, my sins will continue to grieve God. Better than anyone else (including particularly insightful and pseudo-omniscient brethren), I am aware of my sins. I remember the sins of which I have been guilty and they bring me much personal pain. I regret every one of them and with renewed vigor through prayer and reliance on the Word of God, I hope to prevent their reoccurrence in my life.
Grief for sin is a difficult disposition for mortals to adopt, though it is a spiritual posture that is essential and a prerequisite to forgiveness. Nehemiah wept and said, "Let thine ear now be attentive, and thine eyes open, that thou mayest hear the prayer of thy servant, which I pray before thee now, day and night, for the children of Israel thy servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel, which we have sinned against thee: both I and my father's house have sinned" (Nehemiah 1:6). (See also Psalms 106:6.)
When confronted with his sins (at an earlier time in Jewish history than the last reference), King ". . . Saul said unto Samuel, I have sinned: for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord, and thy words . . ." (1 Samuel 15:24). However, as in this instance, the consequences of sin cannot always be undone (1 Samuel 15:26).
Following Nathan's parable and the pronouncement of the sins of adultery and murder, King David responded, ". . . I have sinned against the Lord . . ." (2 Samuel 12:13). Again, there were consequences for sin that could not be reversed.
The words "I have sinned" (at least in one's mind) must precede repentance. Admission of sin, though by itself is not repentance. Additionally, a sinner must petition God for forgiveness. A sinner also needs to forgive himself upon penitence. Judas acknowledged his sin but neither petitioned God for forgiveness nor could forgive himself for betraying the Christ. Tragically, he hanged himself (Matthew 27:3-5).
Fortunately, when God forgives sins he essentially forgets them (as far as holding those commissions of sin against us later). "For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more" (Hebrews 8:12). Therefore, we should refrain from needlessly afflicting ourselves with sins for which God has forgiven us.
Though forgiven, the apostle Paul frequently recalled that he had been an ardent persecutor of the Lord's church (1 Corinthians 15:9; Galatians 1:13; Philippians 3:6) and of the Lord himself (Acts 9:4). Paul remembered how he formerly captured Christian men and women, imprisoned them, caused them to blaspheme and consented to their deaths (Acts 7:58; 8:1-3; 22:4; 26:10). Rather than to allow himself to be overwhelmed with sorrow, Paul turned the bad memories of sin into a catalyst to propel himself into unparalleled dedicated service to Christ (1 Corinthians 15:10). Paul appeared to be trying to compensate for his ignoble past by "redeeming the time" (Ephesians 5:16; 2 Corinthians 11:23-28).
Is it time for a new beginning in your life? There are no sins so hideous that God will not forgive if we repent (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). God's redemptive plan is found in the New Testament: Hear it and believe (Romans 10:17), profess allegiance in Christ (Romans 10:9-10), repent and be baptized (Acts 2:38). Immersion in water imitates the burial of Christ and allows one to symbolically contact the saving blood of Jesus (Romans 6:3-5; John 19:34; Ephesians 1:7).
Even erring Christians can experience a new beginning. For us, contact with our Lord's blood is available through penitence and prayer (Acts 8:22; 1 John 1:7).
Our sins grieve God. My sins grieve me. Do your sins grieve you enough to do something about them?