Lamb’s Heart; Rhino’s Hide
Prepared by Dr. John 3:16 Marshall
Luke 6:22 (Holman) “Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you, insult you, and slander your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.”
Jesus was blunt honest. Refusing to mislead anyone, He told people up front what it would cost to follow Him. He gave ample notice.
Knowing persecution would be hard on us, Jesus tried to prepare us for it by forewarning us, “I’m sending you out like sheep among wolves” (Matthew 10:16). If serious about our faith we often bring out the worst in the wolves.
An apologist requires the heart of a lamb, and the hide of a rhinoceros. Lacking a constitution of steel is my biggest weakness in the area of apologetics. I do well at chit-chat and conversation, but falter with confrontation.
Luke 6:22 seems at first a glaring paradox. Further reflection reminds us the blessed have always included in their number those who embraced a noble cause and served it with, as Lincoln said, “the last full measure of devotion.”
Christian living is hard. “All those who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). Save yourself heartache. “Put the cross in your creed” (Watson). Christ died to remove our curse, not our cross. To have Christ in the heart is to have a cross on our shoulder, for Christ and His cross never part.
Jesus came, not to make life easy, but to make people great (Barclay). He calls us, not to avoid pain, but to suffer and yet be victorious. Christian living at its zenith is holiness bonding with suffering to make us strong for Jesus.
The call to follow Christ is for some a call to be lonely, sometimes even in the midst of family. If due to Jesus you suffer the agony of family rejection, be comforted. Our precious Lord was rejected by His own brothers.
Many refuse to violate conscience at work, and thus suffer there. I was once pastor of a man so fiercely harassed at work for his faith that he spent his breaks in a bathroom stall, down on his knees, begging God for strength to endure abuse when he returned to his work-station.
I was pastor also of a married school teacher sexually harassed by her principal. He tormented her, trying to use his position to bully her, seduce her, make her take weekend trips with him. In an effort to find comfort, she would come talk to me and literally be trembling with fear.
She carried in her purse a little, crumpled piece of paper on which she had written “Jehovah-Jireh,” God will provide, a title of God I had taught a lesson on. When persecution became intense, she would reach in her purse, and cling to that piece of paper. I eventually spoke in confidence to a Christian school board member, who secretly investigated and removed the principal.
Sometimes people serious about their faith are hurt by church members. Jeremiah suffered persecution from his fellow believers. Be not surprised when our own brothers and sisters in Christ are among the persecutors.
Most persecution comes from unbelievers. We do not have to go out of our way to find trouble. Antagonism is inevitable between us and the lost.
Pastor William Tuck makes a good point regarding the relationship between the broad way leading to destruction, and the narrow way leading to life (Matthew 7:13-14). We generally think of believers as leaving the broad path, being detoured over onto a completely separate, distinct narrow road.
However, since salvation requires repentance, an about face causing us to go the exact opposite direction we were traveling, it may be more accurate to picture the narrow road as smack dab in the middle of the broad road, just heading the other way.
We thus chart a head-on collision course with unbelievers. We travel straight toward people of this world. Thus, crashing into lost people is inevitable.
This reality is painful. We want the narrow way to be distinct from the broad way. We want to be isolated, to stand on a balcony, removed from controversy below, but we are not afforded the luxury of being spectators. Our place is in the midst of life, in the thick of things, where no matter how peaceably we try to live, we shall at times be unappreciated.
The ungodly assault us because we represent One they really hate. The attack hits us, but is actually aimed at the thought of a righteous God of judgment who holds people accountable for their sin, and holds the keys to heaven and hell.
The moral code of God as lived by Jesus, written in Scripture, and reproduced in the lives of believers is a standing rebuke to the wicked. People sold out to an unholy, profligate lifestyle target for attack Scripture, churches, preachers, and anything or anyone else connected with the idea of a holy God.
What should our response be when we receive persecution? The next verse gives us our answer.
Luke 6:23 (Holman) “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy! Take note ( your reward is great in heaven, because this is the way their ancestors used to treat the prophets.”
When facing the worst this world can give, then we must “rejoice.” This seems a strange place to break into a song of joy.
The price of holiness is huge, but made worthwhile by its rewards past, present, and future. In the future, our glory in heaven shall more than compensate for any suffering we endure on earth. “For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17).
In the present, when we suffer persecution, we sense the smile of Heaven is ours. Luther, hearing of the verdict rendered against him, said, “It is otherwise concluded in heaven.”
Paul and Silas, soundly beaten and put in stocks in the inner prison, sang loud enough at midnight to be heard throughout the cellblock (Acts 16:22-25). This may at first seem an odd place and time to sing, but is there not in the hour of endured persecution a sense of closeness to Jesus one may never sense elsewhere?
By accepting and enduring the test of persecution, we prove to ourselves we truly are saved. As wild beasts were released on the martyr Ignatius, he said, “Now I begin to be a Christian.”
In the moment of persecution we know we have entered “the drama of eternity” (Barclay). We sense we have put on the gospel armor, entered the fray with all our God-given might, given the world away, and risked all for Jesus.
If our desire truly is, “Nothing between my soul and the Savior,” then in persecution, for a brief, glittering moment, desire becomes reality, and yields a blessed proof of sonship.
As we look to the past, another reason we can “rejoice and leap for joy” in persecution is, it puts us in good company. Those persecuted for Jesus have an illustrious ancestry, a true line of descent from the bravest heroes of yore.
When ordered to recant, Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, said, “Eighty-six years have I served Christ. He has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?” At the stake he offered a final prayer, “I thank You that You have graciously thought me worthy of this day and of this hour.”
Barclay notes, Christians who have to suffer for their faith can throw back their heads and sing, “Brothers, we are treading where the saints have trod.”
How long has persecution been the lot of the righteous? Since the first. Abel, the first to die, died for righteousness’ sake (Genesis 4:1-8). How long shall persecution be the lot of the righteous? Till the end, when Jesus returns.
Persecution always has been, always shall be. Many suffered before us, more will follow. In the meantime, the truth keeps marching on. Long after skeptics and persecutors are dead and gone, the message of Jesus will continue.
Worry not about the faith. The cause of Christ, the Bible, and the Church will go on. Despair not. Rather make sure we nobly play our part in the glorious train of saints who keep it marching on.