Here's part 3 of my message "Passing Through The Fire". It's a message that I've preached many times in Asia, Africa and the Middle East, but rarely in the Western world. I believe in the days to come, its message will become an important one for followers of Jesus in the West. Acts 8:1 says…
“On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.”
God can use persecution greatly for His purposes, namely the spread of the Gospel. God is not the author of persecution; He is not the cause of it. Satanically-inspired people are the agents of persecution, but when persecution happens in our lives, God can and will use what Satan meant for evil and turn it around for His good. There is a saying that has echoed down through the centuries of church history, that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church”. This is so true. Typically, where persecution is the greatest, the greatest works of the Holy Spirit are also seen. In many cases, church growth is phenomenal in the wake of persecution! The growth in Christian character—in the fruit of the Holy Spirit—is often outstanding among the believers facing persecution! Both the quality and the quantity of the Christian life goes up. Persecution has a way of doing that. In Acts, this was no exception. When Stephen became the first Christian martyr, his blood became the seed for a great harvest of church growth. The persecution of believers after his death resulted in the believers being scattered throughout the neighboring regions, which brought the Gospel to the unreached multitudes, resulting in a great harvest of souls! If this persecution had not happened, it is possible the believers would have become so comfortable in Jerusalem that they would have forgotten about the Lord’s words of Great Commission, and not even bothered to try and take the Gospel to the ends of the Earth! Acts 11:19 says…
“Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that broke out when Stephen was killed traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, spreading the word only among Jews.”
But this persecution forced them to obey the Word of the Lord, and the Gentiles—most of us reading this today, along with our spiritual ancestors—received the blessings of Jesus because of their persecution—Hallelujah! This is one of the great blessings God can bring out of demonically-inspired persecution. Acts 13:50-51 says…
“But the Jewish leaders incited the God-fearing women of high standing and the leading men of the city. They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region. So they shook the dust off their feet as a warning to them and went to Iconium.”
Here is a great model for us to follow, in terms of how to handle persecution in our lives. When Paul and Barnabas were persecuted in Pisidian Antioch, they didn’t give up their preaching. But they also didn’t keep preaching over and over again to their persecutors! What did they do? Acts 13:51 says “they shook the dust off their feet as a warning to them and went to Iconium”. They understood that the hearts of their persecutors in Antioch were so hard that they weren’t open to the Gospel at that point, so they moved on to a different city—Iconium—where they knew there would be people more eager to receive Jesus. The people of Antioch had already been given their chance, many times, and they chose to reject the truth. But Paul and Barnabas knew it would be terribly unfair to keep preaching Jesus to those who had already heard and rejected it, while there were others nearby who still had never heard the whole truth of the Gospel. Friends, we must imitate their missionary hearts. There are so many, many people around our world eager and waiting to hear about Jesus, ready and open to receive Him as Savior and Lord! Many have never heard; many more have only heard enough to be confused. They need you—and you and you!—to go to them and share the whole truth about Jesus’ love for them! Remember this please: It is so important to remember that no one has the right to hear the Gospel twice until everyone has heard it once! That’s why we endeavor in our Ministry to leave the Western world—which is full of the Gospel—and go to the least reached regions of the world. I ask you, friends, would it be fair if, during lunch today, some people got second helpings of food before everyone got at least their first helping? Certainly not! If this principle is true then—for a meal which satisfies for a few hours—how much more true is it for the living Bread of Heaven—the truth of the Gospel of Jesus—which satisfies for eternity! So Paul and Barnabas didn’t let the persecution stop their preaching; rather they saw that they would be more effectively used among other people who would receive Jesus with joy! What an important lesson to learn and imitate.
Friends, I want to correct a common misunderstanding about what persecution may involve. Let us let the Word of God shed light on this for us today…look closely at this group of Bible verses:
Romans 8:35: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?”
Hebrews 11:35-38: “Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.”
2 Corinthians 11:23-28: “ Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.”
Do you notice this long list of the types of persecutions the Bible saints endured for their faith? They were whipped, shipwrecked, stoned and even sawed in two, but do you notice one type of problem that was completely absent from all these lists? That’s right—never once does the Bible mention sickness and disease as being a type of persecution! Friends, this is such a blessing, and so important for you to know! Satan can inspire all kinds of evil to happen to us, and God may permit us to experience and endure all sorts of persecution, but the one thing--I said, the one thing—that He promises to heal and deliver us from, and keep us walking in victory in, is our health. Yes, most of the Apostles lost their lives in the end for the Gospel. But no—disease and sickness did not cripple them and weaken them and make them unable to preach the Gospel boldly and powerfully and with great impact! Friends, sickness and disease are not part of the persecutions that God would have you experience and endure in this life! Instead, Jesus invites you to take any and all of these infirmities to Him, that you may be healed—that you may be made physically strong by the power of the Holy Ghost, ready to face your persecutors with the full vigor of a physically healthy body! The Bible teaches us to endure persecution, but to stand against illness—friends, this is your heritage in the Lord!