Robert Jeffress - Christians in the Cross-hairs
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress, and welcome again to Pathway to Victory. Christians have faced religious persecution for over 2.000 years, but Jesus predicted that there would be a drastic increase in violence and oppression toward believers before his return. Could we be witnessing the signs right now? Today we'll look at the intense persecution Christians are facing around the world and see how current events may be signaling that we're living in the end times. My message is titled Christians in the Crosshairs on today's edition of Pathway to Victory.
You're probably familiar with the name of Meriam Ibrahim. She the Sudanese woman, a 27 year old medical doctor who was arrested in the Sudan, and then tried and convicted for apostasy and adultery. Apostasy because she converted from Islam to Christianity. Even though she never personally embraced the muslim faith, they still accused her of apostasy. She was accused and found guilty of adultery because she had sex with her husband who happened to be a Christian, and the Muslims did not recognize that marriage. After her trial she was sentenced to death by hanging for apostasy, and for 100 lashes for adultery.
She stood before the Sudanese prosecutor, time and time again he gave her the opportunity to recant of her faith in Jesus Christ. And each time she uttered those words that have now become famous. When asked to renounce Jesus Christ as her Savior she said, "I am a Christian, and I will always be a Christian". As a result she was sent to prison. She was placed in shackles, and the prison officials refused to unchain her even when she gave birth to her child. As a result of the outcry of millions of people around the world, Meriam Ibrahim was finally released from that Sudan prison and she traveled to America where I had the chance to meet her. When she was interviewed by Megyn Kelly on The Kelly File, Meriam Ibrahim said that her heart breaks for the women of Sudan, and then she added these words, "There are many Meriam's in Sudan and throughout the world. It's just not me".
In our series Countdown to the Apocalypse, we're looking at the signs that Jesus said would precede his literal, visible return to this earth. And one of those signs Jesus talked about was an increase in both the intensity and frequency of persecution for those who follow him. Jesus said it this way in John 16:33, "In the world you will have tribulation, but take courage, I have overcome the world". And today when we hear stories like of Meriam Ibrahim, we seem to think, well that's for the Middle East. That happens in other places, but that would never happen here.
Ladies and gentlemen, there is absolutely no guarantee in Scripture that we who live in this country will be exempt from persecution. In fact, there's every guarantee that we will experience persecution. Jesus said as much in Matthew 5:1-10, he gives those qualities of a disciple that we call the beatitudes. But then he begins in verse 11 and says if you exhibit those qualities, if you're a true follower of mine be ready for persecution. Verse 11 Jesus said, "Blessed are you" not if, but "When men cast insults at you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of me. Rejoice, and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you".
Let's take a moment and briefly survey what is happening around the world to Christians. First of all let's talk about the Christians in Iraq. On June the 10th, the Islamic State of Iraq in Syria, we call them ISIS, captured the city of Mosul on June the 10th. Now Mosul may not mean much to you, but Mosul is the ancient city of Nineveh where Jonah ministered. And for the last 2.000 years it has been a Christian community, and yet ISIS came in and as a result of a purge of all Christians, today there are no Christians remaining in Mosul. They've all fled. Homes and churches have been turned into bomb factories and torture chambers. All of the Christian sites have been shuttered. They have had all of their assets taken away from them, and they have been sent into the desert.
In many ways these Christians in Iraq and the Middle East are experiencing what the writer of Hebrews talked about in Hebrews 11 beginning with verse 35, "And others were tortured, not accepting their release, in order that they might obtain a better resurrection. And others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword. They went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated. Men of whom the world was not worthy, wandering in deserts, and mountains, and caves, and holes in the ground".
That's the fate, that is the experience right now of our brothers and sisters in Christ in the Middle East. You look at what is happening in China. Yes, the Christian movement is growing exponentially in China, but so is persecution against Christians. Bob Fu, who is the founder of China AID, said that Christians in China face the worst persecution since the cultural revolution. He said, quote, "There have been forced demolitions, the removal of crosses, over 300 churches have been attacked. Pastors have been sentenced to 12 years in prison. Multiple believers have been attacked and hospitalized, and thousands of police were mobilized to attack a church. This has not been since the time of the cultural revolution. It is overwhelming".
Persecution was part of the Christian movement at the beginning. We're seeing it around the world today. Did you know persecution will escalate and reach its zenith during a future period of time we call the tribulation? Christians will be slaughtered by the millions for their faith in Jesus Christ. You say now wait a minute, you're in the tribulation. I thought all Christians were gonna be raptured. We were gonna get out here, that there weren't gonna be any Christians. It's true, the church will be raptured before the final seven years of earth's history, but during that final seven years, many people will come to faith in Christ, but they will pay a terrible price to do so.
The Bible says we know that in the beginning there was persecution against believers. We've seen the persecution right now is the norm around the world. The greatest level its been in history. We also know that in the future there is gonna be a worldwide persecution of Christians. Why do we think that we are going to be exempt here in the United States? Listen, I believe personally in the rapture of the church. But contrary to what some people say about the rapture, that doesn't mean we get a pass on persecution. I think things could be very, very, very terrible before the church is finally rapture. There's no guarantee of exemption from persecution, there is every guarantee of it and we need to be prepared for it.
Well, what is persecution? Let's talk about what persecution is. One dictionary defines it this way, hostility or ill-treatment, especially because of race, or political, or religious beliefs. Applied to the Christian faith, being persecuted means enduring unfair treatment because of either your words or your deeds that you do in the name of Jesus Christ. And that kind of ill-treatment your received, well, it's on a spectrum. It can be anything from ridicule that you endure for wearing a cross to school or work, all the way to the other end of the spectrum, and that means martyrdom for the faith, and anything in between those two extremes.
Now, if you never take a stand for your faith, if you never act differently than those around you, you never have to worry about persecution. But if you do take a stand for Jesus Christ get ready. You are are going to suffer. It is inevitable. Again, Jesus talked about that in Matthew 24:8-9. He said, "But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs. Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all the nations on account of my name". That's something you can bank on. Well, what should we being doing in order to prepare for this coming persecution? Some of you are experiencing it already. But what are we to do to prepare for it?
I want you to turn in your Bibles to 1 Peter 4. Look at verses 12 and 13. He says, "Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you. But to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing so that also at the revelation of his glory you may rejoice with exultation". I want you to look at that phrase "Don't be surprised". You know, sometimes, and I'll put myself in this category, we get surprised when we suffer for Christ's sake. We think, wait a minute, I'm supposed to get rewarded for doing right. I'm not supposed to suffer for doing right. And yet Peter says don't be surprised when you suffer for Christ as though it were odd, that it were strange.
And then he adds that word at the beginning, beloved. The word means literally as those deeply loved by God. When you suffer in your workplace, when you suffer in a relationship, when you suffer at school for following Christ, remember you're deeply loved by God. Your suffering doesn't mean God has forgotten about you, or that he doesn't care about you, this is just part of the price for following Christ. Don't think of it as unusual. And you know inherent in this idea of persecution is being treated unfairly. You say well it's not fair that somebody would do that to me. It's just not fair. That's part of suffering.
Look at 1 Peter 2, turn back two chapters, to verses 21 and 23. If we're following Christ, we're gonna have the same experience that Christ experienced. And what was that experience? Look at verse 21. "For you have been called for this purpose", what purpose? For suffering. "Since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in his steps". And who was this Christ? Look at verse 22, "Who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in his mouth". That is he suffered for no reason. He did nothing that merited his suffering. Verse 23, "And while being reviled, he did not revile in return. While suffering, he uttered no threats, but he kept entrusting himself to him who judges righteously".
Jesus was treated unfairly. You know, Peter reminds us in verse 20, if you're a Christian, and you do something wrong and you suffer the consequences, you don't get any credit for that. Did you know that? You don't get credit for suffering for doing wrong. Look at verse 20, "For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it patiently endure it, this finds favor with God". The call to be a Christian is the call to suffer for Christ.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer once remarked, "When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die". Admittedly, we're not suffering like Christians in the Middle East yet. But the groundwork is being laid for that to happen in our own country. And let me tell you exactly how it is going to happen. Right now there is a moral revolution occurring in our country that is proceeding at warp speed. And with that moral revolution will come a cultural revulsion and rejection of Christians and what they believe. And that is what we have happening right now. We are having a moral revolution that will lead to the marginalization and ultimately the criminalization of Christianity.
My friend Al Mohler has a three stage process of how a moral revolution occurs in a culture, and I want you to write down these three stages. Stage one, what was condemned is now celebrated. What was condemned in now celebrated. Stage two, what was celebrated is now condemned. And stage three, those refusing to celebrate are condemned. And once that revolution is complete, what happens is the marginalization of Christians.
The Germans did not take the Jews to the crematorium immediately. If they had tried to do that and exterminate the Jews immediately, the German people would have risen up and objected. No, they were too smart to do that, instead they first of all marginalized the Jews in the culture. They made the Jewish people objects of disdain, contempt, hatred. Well they're different than we are. They're hurting our society. And only after they had marginalized the Jewish people, then were they able to take away their rights, even their right to live in the final solution.
That is what is happening with Christianity. Right now there's an effort to marginalize Christians. Those Christians are backwards in their thinking. They're bigoted. They're not good for society. And once they have marginalized Christians, then it leads to the criminalization of Christians. And you see that especially in what is happening around this debate around homosexual marriage. I want you to think about that three stage process I just gave you. First of all it begins when what was condemned is now celebrated.
Do you realize that homosexual marriage has not been with us for thousands of years, or hundreds of years. It didn't even appear on the scene until 2001 in the Netherlands. That was the first place it was ever heard of. Until then, it was routinely condemned. And yet suddenly, overnight, what was condemned is now celebrated. Step number two, what was celebrated is now condemned. The idea that marriage is between a man and a woman, why, that idea is being condemned routinely. And you see that everywhere. Anybody who stands up for the belief that marriage should be reserved for a man and a woman, they are marginalized as homophobes, bigots, and hatemongers.
And this third stage, those refusing to celebrate are condemned. If you don't join in the celebration of homosexual marriage, you're a marked person. You're gonna be condemned. You're gonna have your business taken away from you. We saw that with the sweet cakes bakery in Oregon that was put out of business. Did they lose their lives? No, but they lost their livelihood because of their failure to celebrate a gay marriage. And that is gonna happen more and more and more. It's just beginning. And we shouldn't be surprised.
Remember, they crucified Jesus. Why should those who follow Jesus expect any less? And yet, with this coming persecution comes a tremendous opportunity for the people of God. Do you remember Paul's word in Philippians 2:15-16? He was writing to a culture that was even more decadent than ours. Remember what he said? "In the midst of this crooked and perverse generation, in whom you appear as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so in the day of Christ I may have cause to glory because I did not run in vain or toil in vain".
He said Philippians, it's getting dark out there, but remember this, the darker the background, the brighter the light. As this world, ladies and gentlemen, becomes darker and darker, the light of the Gospel shines even more brightly. And that's why it is imperative that we take advantage of that light. We may not always have that opportunity that we have right now. Jesus said in John 9:4, "Work while it is still day. For the night comes when no man can work". Yes, the darkness of the world provides a great opportunity to share the hope of Jesus Christ. And never forget this, the night is always the very darkest just before the dawn of Christ appearing.