Tuesday, January 09, 2007


Why were Jesus and the disciples persecuted? Why were the people of the early church persecuted? And another important question - who persecuted them?

In Western Christian culture, we tend to think of persecution as "good Christians" being put down or made fun of by "sinners." But I guess I just don't see that happening to Jesus or to the early church. The persecution that Jesus, the disciples and the early church received was from the religious people! Jesus was not put down and mocked - and ultimately killed - because He went around telling "bad" people to start being "good." He was hated by the religious people because He put His arms around sinners. He supped with them. He loved them.

Jesus told His disciples, "If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you" (John 15:18). It's true that many people today hate Christians. We've done a good job of making sure that's the case! But... I think we've gotten them to hate us for the wrong reasons! In fact, I think we've gotten the wrong people to hate us!

Jesus told His disciples, "They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service" (John 16:2). The people who hated Jesus and the disciples believed in God and wanted others to walk in His ways. But there was something "unsynagoguish" about Jesus and His disciples. I often think they would be kicked out of many of today's churches, too.

Again, who is it that did the persecuting, and why? Why was Saul standing there holding the coats of those who stoned Stephen? Then later, after Saul became a Christian (now known as Paul), why was he so heavily persecuted? Why was the early church so persecuted? Was it because they were "standing up for what is right!" (?) Was it because they were living such good, clean lives, that sinners all around began mocking them and calling them "goody two shoes?" Was it because they were protesting all the anti-Christian behavior that was going on around them, attending rallies and carrying signs and trying to get "moral" laws passed?

I realize that the point I'm making flies in the face of the modern church... :) But the people doing the persecuting were often the goody-two shoes, the religious, the law-abiding legalists! The ones being persecuted were persecuted for rejecting Moses and embracing Jesus. "For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ" (John 1:17).

Saul had been a man who had great confidence in his flesh. Later, when he became known as Paul, he would testify about his past life, before coming to know Jesus: "If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless" (Phil 3:4-6).

Saul had gone around persecuting these new Christians who had rejected that way of life and instead embraced Christ. But then Jesus came to him. "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?" (Acts 9:4). After his conversion he realized how he had been so far from the truth. Saul's former "testimony" was cleaner than that of the squeakiest clean of today's squeaky clean Christians! But he turned away from that testimony to that he could have Christ instead.

He went on to share about his turning away from that law-abiding way of life: "But what things were gain to me (the things listed in Phil 3:4-6), these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as dung, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith..." (Phil 3:7-9).

Paul turned from his law-abiding life (he counted it as "dung") to a Christ-abiding life. There is a huge difference. The first way seemed like it should bear good fruit, but it only bore fruit unto death. "For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions which were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit unto death" (Rom 7:5).

Paul may have spent the latter part of his life in the chains of men, being persecuted by his own people for rejecting their ways, but he lived in perfect freedom, the freedom for which Christ had set him free!

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