Gospel Reading: Luke 21:12-19
12 But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name's sake. 13 This will be a time for you to bear testimony. 14 Settle it therefore in your minds, not to meditate beforehand how to answer; 15 for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. 16 You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and kinsmen and friends, and some of you they will put to death; 17 you will be hated by all for my name's sake. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish.19 By your endurance you will gain your lives.
Meditation: If the Gospel message is good news, then why do so many people treat Christians with contempt and hostility for their beliefs and practices? Jesus warns his followers that they will be confronted with wickedness, false teaching, persecution, as well as the temptation to renounce their faith when it is put to the test. The real enemy of the Gospel is Satan, the powerful leader of the fallen angels who rebelled against God. Satan opposes God's reign – his kingly rule of peace and justice on the earth. Jesus calls Satan a "murderer" and the "father of lies" (John 8:44). Satan not only opposes God's rule, he seeks to destroy all who would obey God. Satan will use any means possible to turn people away from God. He tempts people through envy, deception, hatred, and fear to provoke hostility towards those who follow the Lord Jesus Christ.
What is Jesus' response to hostility and persecution? Love, forbearance, and forgiveness. Only love can defeat prejudice, intolerance, hatred, and envy. God's love purifies our heart and mind of all that would divide and tear people apart. Knowing and loving God's truth is essential for overcoming evil. Jesus tells us that we do not need to fear those who would oppose us or treat us harshly for following the Lord Jesus. He promises to give us supernatural strength, wisdom, and courage as we take a stand for our faith and witness to the truth and love of Christ. The Gospel is good news for the whole world because it is God's eternal word of truth, love, pardon, and salvation through his Son, Jesus Christ. The Lord Jesus has won the victory for us through his atoning death on the cross and his rising from the grave. That is why the gospel has power to set people free from sin and ignorance, death and destruction.
Jesus tells his disciples that if they endure to the end they will gain their lives - they will inherit abundant life and lasting happiness with God. Endurance is an essential strength which God gives to those who put their trust in him. Endurance is the patience which never gives up hope, never yields to despair or hatred. Patience is long-suffering because it looks beyond the present difficulties and trials and sees the reward which comes to those who persevere with hope and trust in God. That is why godly endurance is more than human effort. It is first and foremost a supernatural gift of the Holy Spirit which enables us to bear up under any trial or temptation.
Endurance is linked with godly hope - the supernatural assurance that we will see God face to face and inherit all the promises he has made. Jesus is our supreme model and hero who endured the cross for our sake (Hebrews 12:2). "God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). Jesus willingly shed his blood for us - to win for us pardon and peace with God. Our joy and privilege is to take up our cross each day to follow the Lord Jesus.
The word "martyr" in the New Testament Greek means "witness". The Book of Revelations says that "Jesus was the faithful witness ...who freed us from our sins by his blood" (Revelations 1:5). Tertullian, a second century lawyer who converted when he saw Christians singing as they went out to die by the hands of their persecutors, exclaimed: "The blood of the martyrs is seed." Their blood is the seed of new Christians, the seed of the church. The third century bishop, Cyprian said: "When persecution comes, God's soldiers are put to the test, and heaven is open to martyrs. We have not enlisted in an army to think of peace and to decline battle, for we see that the Lord has taken first place in the conflict." True martyrs live and die as witnesses of the Gospel. They overcome their enemies through persevering hope and courage, undying love and forbearance, kindness, goodness, and compassion.
God may call some of us to be martyrs who shed their blood for bearing witness to Jesus Christ. But for most of us, our call is to be 'dry' martyrs who bear testimony to the joy and power of the gospel in the midst of daily challenges, contradictions, temptations and adversities which come our way as we follow the Lord Jesus.
What will attract others to the truth and power of the Gospel? When they see Christians loving their enemies, being joyful in suffering, patient in adversity, pardoning injuries, and showing comfort and compassion to the hopeless and the helpless. Jesus tells us that we do not need to fear our adversaries. God will give us sufficient grace, strength, and wisdom to face any trial and to answer any challenge to our faith. Are you ready to lay down your life for Christ and to bear witness to the joy and freedom of the Gospel?
"Lord Jesus Christ, by your atoning death on the cross you have redeemed the world. Fill me with joyful hope, courage, and boldness to witness the truth of your love for sinners and your victory over the powers of sin, Satan, and death."