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This week’s guest blogger is Jim Quigley. Jim has been a part of NewLife since last August, after moving up from New Jersey, and is an engineer who also works with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes at Trinity College.
“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:11-12)
As I pondered Eric’s sermon this past Sunday on John 8:1-11, with the condensed message of laying down our stones and not judging others, I started to think about the proper reaction of those being judged. How are we supposed to react to those who are judging and persecuting us, whether the accusations are true or false? As with most questions of this type, if not all, the answer is found by looking to Jesus as our example.
We are to be meek like Jesus was in the midst of His persecution. Consider what it says in Mark 15:3-5, “The chief priests accused him of many things. So again Pilate asked him, ‘Aren’t you going to answer? See how many things they are accusing you of.’ But Jesus still made no reply, and Pilate was amazed.” His response was silence. What did He do in response to those who whipped and beat Him, to those who spat on Him, to those who mocked Him? Nothing. He gave up His right to defend Himself and His cause, to exercise His authority. He could have cursed them. He could have responded with the perfect answer as He did with His other run-ins with the Pharisees which would have defeated any accusation they had against Him. He could have sent a heavenly host of angels to attend to Him and defeat His persecutors. Actually there is an infinite amount of things He could have done, but He chose to remain silent, forfeit His right and His authority to sinners who were not worthy to loosen the thongs of His sandals, and instead withstand the false persecution. Why? So that He could bear the sin of us all. So that we will no longer be condemned. So that we will no longer need to care what man says about us or what man can do to us because our confidence, strength, and life depend solely on the Lord (1 Corinthians 4:3-4, Psalms 118:6). Man can persecute us, but man can NEVER snatch us out of God’s hands. “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:27-28).
We can rest assured that Jesus will have the last word and He will judge justly. We are to leave judgment into the hands of the One who is supremely just and sinless, not to us, who can be so easily swayed by emotion and circumstance, especially if we are being falsely accused. In the midst of persecution, we are to still follow Jesus, giving up our rights and being meek, so that God may be glorified through our obedience. Yield to Him who is mighty and worthy and just. Just as we are to lay down our stones instead of casting judgment on others, we are to lay down our rights instead of unleashing a counter attack on our accusers; perhaps throwing stones of judgment ourselves.
Besides remaining silent and bearing the unjust persecution of his accusers, even though He did have the power to overcome it, He also responded with love. It was our sin that nailed Him to the cross, but it was His infinite, never-ending love for us that He chose the brutal, torturous suffering of the crucifixion. It was the ultimate, infinite sacrifice that paid the infinite debt we accrued due to our sin. And it was paid in full so that we could be in communion with God for eternity and experience His love in a more intimate and personal way like never before. “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6-8). We were still enemies to God, and yet He loved us so much that He sent His only Son to die for us so that we could have eternal life. Or as John 3:16-17 so beautifully puts it, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”
Further, Jesus says this in the Sermon on the Mount, “But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). Jesus always practiced what He preached, and so we should not expect any other reaction from Him besides love for His persecutors. He did not whip those for beat Him, or spit on those who spat on Him, or curse those who mocked Him. Instead, he cries, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). But often times we do not respond to our accusers in love, but rather in anger, bitterness, resentment, or even judgment towards them. What is worse is that satan wants you to give into these “acts of the flesh” (see Galatians 5:19-21) because in doing so, you are not following Jesus. Furthermore, if you give the devil an inch, he is going to take a foot. And what started as just a bit of anger turns into resentment, and Christ’s love and reconciliation are nowhere in sight. But, I praise God that we are no longer in bondage to sin, but alive and free in Him who loves us (Romans 6:11-13). Praise God that the law of sin and death no longer has a grip on you and that the Spirit of Life has set you free (Romans 8:1-2). But we are not to use this freedom to indulge the flesh and respond with anger towards our persecutors, but rather, server one another in love (Galatians 5:13).
The only way we can serve and respond in love is through the love of Christ. The same love He had for us as He was hanging on the cross to bear the guilt and shame of our sin. The same love that conquered death. It’s the same love that Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians 13:7-8 which says that “[Love] always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” Living a life of love requires a commitment of dying daily to our flesh and taking up our cross. Jesus commands us to pick up our cross and follow Him to Golgotha, warning us that we must lose our life for His sake in order to save it (Matthew 10:38-39). As we carry our cross and follow our Savior, we must be prepared for the persecution that lies ahead. And we must be prepared to respond in love.
The way we react to persecution will reflect who we are in Christ. If we lash out with hate and judge our accusers, we might think that God’s judgment will not be good enough. Or perhaps we are too impatient, thinking that we know what is best and can justly and righteously deal out punishment. Or maybe it is selfishness that demands swift and immediate retaliation for the unjustified accusations against us. However, if we respond in love, we are following Christ. We trust that God will take care of any injustice for He alone is just and righteous. We love those who hate and persecute us, knowing that the love of God can conquer and transform anyone. By showing love to our accusers, we are sharing with them God’s love, mercy, and compassion which will have a far greater impact on them than if we were to respond in anger. We need to be meek and endure the attacks and persecutions. We need to love them as Jesus loves them. We should be praying for our accusers, that their hearts may be healed and transformed. And as it says in Romans 12:14, we are to “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.” I encourage us all to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus as we take up our cross, and let His love shine though us at all times, even in the face of unjust persecution.
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