Remember Our Persecuted Brethren

January 8, 2006 / No. 3288

Dear radio friends,

     Imprisonment.  Torture.  Constant intimidation.  Death threats.  Bombings of church buildings.  Confiscation of homes and possessions.  Murder.

     To these things many of us are total strangers.  Yet for millions, and that is no exaggeration of our brothers and sisters who have been purchased in the blood of Jesus Christ, these things are a daily reality.

     North Korea.  Somalia.  Iran.  China.  Myanmar.  Nigeria.  Saudi Arabia.  Eritrea.  Moldavia.  Christians are killed, sentenced to jail or labor camps, confined in shipping containers, women raped, families torn apart because they confess faith in Jesus Christ, God’s Son, as the only Savior of sinners.  Their experience is to live under the gnawing fear of unprovoked attacks, of vulnerability.  Their lives are at peril for Jesus’ sake.

     In light of the disparity between their experience and our experience, is there any duty that we as children of God have today?  Yes.  God says in Hebrews 13:3, “Remember them that are in bonds [or in prison], as bound [imprisoned] with them; and them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body.”  Remember them, carry them in prayer to God.  Do not walk away.  Do not go back into our luxurious and thing-orientated life.  But let our prayers bear them up daily before the throne of God.  Remember them for our own good and our need.

     Have we, as Christians in western civilization, lost sight of what it means to be a child of God?  Is being a child of God about fun, possessions?  Does being a Christian have to be easy, popular?  Do the children of the church know what it is to be a Christian?  Do young people know?  Remember the persecuted church!  Or, despite all the orthodoxy that might be claimed by us, we will become disconnected from what it means to be a child of God on the earth.

     The apostle Paul, in Hebrews, is writing to converted Jews against whom there has been unleashed a violent persecution by their former friends and parents.  The unbelieving Jews saw the Christians as attacking Moses and perverting the temple.  And this persecution was intense.  The apostle Paul writes of it in this epistle.  Under the pressure of that persecution a few of the Hebrew Christians were turning back and apostatizing, giving up their faith in Christ.  Others were being tempted to do so.  The apostle writes, urging them to cling to Jesus Christ in persevering faith.  He pulls them with the promises of God.  He says to them thirteen times in the epistle that there are better things in Christ:  better heaven, better promises, better sacrifice.  He pushes them from behind saying, “Don’t go back.  Look at the judgments that await those who go back from faith in Christ.”

     And then, in chapter 13, he brings a closing exhortation.  He says, “Let brotherly love continue.”  But he does not leave it in generalities.  He brings it down to the specifics.  How are we to continue in brother love?  He says in verse 2:  “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers:  for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”  Because of the persecution, believers were being uprooted and scattered.  And Paul says, “Open your heart and your door to them.”  And then he says, “This is how brotherly love continues:  Remember them that are imprisoned, as in prison with them.  Remember the persecuted brethren.”

     As we sit today, perhaps, in our comfortable homes and church, we are called to remember those around the world who, for Christ’s sake, are imprisoned and evilly treated.  The Word of God says, “Remember them that are in bonds,” right now.  The Word of God was not written just for a time in the past.  It was written for today, for you and for me.

     Many are imprisoned, in bonds.  They are confined in mental hospitals in Saudi Arabia, in shipping containers in Eritrea, in labor camps in North Korea.  Paul knew what it was to be imprisoned.  He knew the shame that was associated with it.  He himself said in II Corinthians 11 that he was in prison frequently.  The Hebrew Christians knew many of their brothers and sisters who were imprisoned.  Some of them had been in prison.  The apostle says, “Remember them.  And remember those who suffer adversity, or, literally, who are ill-treated.”  A wide range — from torture, to the loss of property, to threats upon their life, when the fury of the world rises up against a confession of God’s people in Jesus Christ, when the fury of the world comes against the Christian for no other reason than that they are attached to Jesus Christ by faith.  Remember what the Lord said:  “For My sake ye shall be hated of all men.  The servant,” He said, “is not above his Lord.”  There was, and is, a great, swelling persecution, a hatred always against those who would confess the name of Jesus Christ.  Remember that!

     The word “remember” means to consider, with a view to responding appropriately.  The idea is not, let this flash like a billboard on your mind as you are going down the highway and then quickly out of your mind.  Do not think about this as you page through the magazine and look at the various ads.  But stop and consider, remember.  The Bible says, “Remember the Sabbath Day.”  What does that mean?  Look at the calendar and say that it is Sunday?  No.  It means:  respond appropriately.  So, remember those who are imprisoned now, today, for the sake of Jesus Christ.

     Today there are more Christians who, throughout the world, are being horribly treated and imprisoned for Jesus Christ than there are Reformed Christians in western Michigan.  In October 2005, fifty pastors in a providence in China were arrested and interrogated, beaten, in an effort to crack down on the house churches and drive the church underground.  In Eritrea, 1,700 Christians were held in camps and shipping containers because they met for prayer and worship against the law of that Muslim country.  In North Korea, ranked for three years in a row as #1 by the Voice of the Martyrs (an organization that ranks the various nations in their opposition to the Christian church), Christians are literally living and hiding in caves and holes in the earth.  In Somalia, three converts died as a result of beatings because of their faith in Jesus Christ, and other believers fled.  In Afghanistan, five were killed for abandoning Islam and spreading Christianity.  Remember them!  Remember them as your brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ.

     That is very plain from the Word of God itself in our text.  Remember them as bound with them.  That is especially plain from the controlling exhortation of Hebrews 13:1: “Let brotherly love continue…remember them that are imprisoned and ill-treated.”  They are our brothers.  God underscores the truth of the universal body of Jesus Christ taken from every nation, people, race, and color.  The extension of the church is beyond our own local congregation, beyond our own denomination, beyond the State of Michigan, beyond the United States, beyond, far beyond, whom we know.  The Apostles’ Creed says, “I believe an holy catholic (or universal) church, the communion of saints.”  All those who have been set aside by God’s election, united to Jesus Christ, forgiven in His blood, confessing one Lord and one faith — the church consists of the number of the elect gathered from all nations and in all times.  It is much more than I know of.  God does.  God knows each one.  And He tells me today in His Word, “Remember those who, this day, are sealing their confession of Me with their blood.”

     The universal church extends to all who confess the Son of God, their Lord and ours, who obey Him, who are saved in His precious blood.  They are our brothers and sisters.

     And when this world and Satan reach out to touch them and to torture them and to ridicule them and to stamp them out, they touch us, the body of Christ.  Remember the persecuted brethren.

     Remember them because they encourage us and challenge us in our faith.  This is the apostle’s point.  He writes to Christians who are being tempted to apostatize, Christians who are tempted to compromise.  He holds up the persecuted church as an incentive to our faith.  He has written that glorious chapter (Hebrews 11) on the heroes of faith.  Why was that written?  Why was that glorious chapter on the heroes, the portraits of the heroes of faith, written?  It was written to motivate us, that “with that great cloud of witnesses,” he says in Hebrews 12, “we might run the race.”  It is to encourage us in our faith.  Paul is saying to the Hebrew Christians, and thus to us, “Now look here.  Every type of difficulty and fear has been cast upon the lot of God’s people in the past.  Come on, now,” he says.  “You are experiencing a little problem because of your confession of Christ?  As a mother in the store, you get some stares because you have four, five, six kids with you?  You are experiencing a little rejection on the job — perhaps you are not getting the promotion because of your confession of Jesus?”  The apostle says, “You have not yet resisted to blood.  What are you complaining about?  Look to Jesus and remember those who have gone before you, and those who today are ill-treated.  Remember the persecuted church.”

     Do we have that kind of attachment?  Do you who hear me today have that kind of attachment to Jesus Christ?  Does the frown of the world wilt you?  Is the bottom line for you possessions and fun and ease and parties and booze and sex?  And you call yourself a Christian?

     This Word of God encourages us because the persecuted brethren today are of the same frail human nature that we are.  They are of like passions.  They stand because of God’s faithfulness.  You say, “Lord, I’m a scaredy-cat.  Lord, what would I do if I were persecuted?”  The persecuted brethren shout to us of the power of God’s grace.

     A nine-year old boy in Pakistan witnessed militant Muslims kill his mother and four brothers and sisters.  They did not kill him but took him prisoner in the hope of making him a Muslim.  They threatened him, saying, “You must say there is no God but Allah, and Mohammad is his prophet.”  He would not.  He said, “I am a Christian.”  They burned him and left him for dead.  They maimed him for life.  How could he do that?

     If we are left to ourselves, we could not stand.  But the power of grace works within the child of God.  Remember your brethren.  Can you stand for your faith in a Christian high school — when someone hands you a CD of music that is not chaste but is ungodly?  Are you afraid to be called a few names in the locker room because you will not go along with the sexual jokes?  What will we do if we stand before the flames of fire for the confession of Jesus Christ?

     Parents, do we support the causes of God’s kingdom financially?  Do we give, both out of our abundance and out of our poverty, for the causes of God’s kingdom?  If not, what will we do when we are threatened with the confiscation of all our property?  Remember the persecuted church.

     Remember them, not from a detached distance, soon forgetting them, saying, “Too bad.”  But remember them as being one with them, as prisoners with them, as if you were, says the apostle, their fellow prisoner.  In Christ we are one with them.  In Christ there is the grace of shared experience of the life of Christ.  We read in I Corinthians 12:26, “And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it.”  “Weep with those who weep,” the apostle says.  By that grace of God, step into their experience.  Allow yourself to feel what it is like to be ripped away from your husband or your wife, to have your children taken from you, your home confiscated, put into a cell with rough men, treated vilely.  What would that be like?  You can do that if you want to.  Do not turn your mind to soft playthings now.  But pause and put yourself in prison with them.  Let brotherly love continue.  How?  Empathize with those who are bound, as if you are bound with them.

     “And them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body.”  There are many different interpretations of that phrase.  John Calvin, the great expositor, says that this refers to the body of Jesus Christ.  Of course, this is true in itself.  But I believe the idea is more direct.  Let us remember our persecuted brethren as those who are living in a human body, with all the emotions of fear and vulnerability.  You are in the body.  What would it be like to be beaten and clubbed and intimidated and threatened and ridiculed?  You have a body with nerve endings.  You need food and sleep.  You have emotions.  How must we remember?  Not detached, not removed, not saying, “Oh, yes.  I suppose they are suffering, maybe, somewhere out there.  But I’m not going to bother my head about it.  A nice dinner and a nice supper await me today — a comfortable life.”

     Remember it in this way:  as united with them in Christ, as possessing the same human body.  You have the same love for your family, the same instincts.  Know about your persecuted brethren.  Make it your business to find out.  Pray for your persecuted brethren.  Pray for them that God keep them faithful.  Pray that God maintain them.  Pray that God comfort them.  Pray.

     Pray for a family in South Africa (Afrikaans Reformed Church) worshiping behind bars.  A daughter in the congregation distributing the mercies and gifts of Christ — gang-raped and killed.  Aged couples afraid to go out of their home at night to church.  Remember the saints in Algeria and in the Sudan.  Remember your persecuted brethren.

     Boys and girls in the Sudan have had their hands chopped off because they would not deny Christ.  Girls in Myanmar have been taken and not seen again.  Vietnam ranks as the third worst nation in its opposition and persecution of Christianity.  Remember.

     Remember them because, as I said, it forcefully reminds us what it means to be a child of God in this world.  It means suffering for Jesus’ sake.  Christianity is not fun and games.  It is not being like everyone else in the world, only we go to heaven in the end.  But Christianity is Christ.  It is attachment and it is devotion and it is obedience to Him.  And He said that would come only with the ridicule and scorn and hatred of those who hate Him.  Read your Bible.  You cannot miss this unless you want to miss it.  The Lord warned His disciples repeatedly (Matt. 10:16-34; 24:9, 10; John 15:20; 16:33; Rom. 8:17, 18; Heb. 11; and on and on).

     What was the origin of Christianity?  What was Christianity in its origin?  We read in Acts 8 that there arose a great persecution.  The Christians were thrown into the Coliseum and lived in the catacombs of Rome.  What is Christianity in its future?  For the faithful church of Jesus Christ, you cannot miss that.  Jesus said in Matthew 24:21, “For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world, no, nor ever shall be.”  Christianity in its origin and in its future is persecution.

     We have been living in abnormal times.  The devil has his purpose for this — so that, in the midst of all this prosperity, we might lose sight of what it means to be a child of God, so that we, as Christians, begin to think that life is what the world thinks life is:  possessions, fun, good times, sex, and booze.

     Remember your persecuted brethren, in order that you might remember that the kingdom of Jesus Christ is all about pardon from sin.  It is all about God and righteousness and suffering for Jesus’ sake.  Our hope is above.  Our life in Christ is not something that you find in the shopping malls.  Our joy in God is not something that goes down your throat. Our peace is not something that the world offers.  But it is pardon from the King of kings and Lord of lords.  And it is suffering for His sake.  Without remembering the persecuted brethren we will not be preparing our children for what the reality of the Christian life is.  We will not be preparing them for being lampooned and misrepresented.

     Remember the persecuted brethren, because the persecuted brethren loudly tell us today of the preciousness of Jesus Christ.  Is there someone who, when you have Him, you have all?  Is there someone who is better than the world and ten thousand more?  Is there someone so precious that, having Him, you would be willing to let everything else go — goods and kindred, money and possessions — you would be willing to let them go as a little thing — home and name and health and even your dearest family?  Is there someone so precious, someone for whom we would endure such horrible things?  Is there someone that valuable?  Yes.  Yes, and even more so.  For unto you who believe, Jesus Christ is precious.

     Remember the persecuted brethren.  Remember what it means to be a child of God in this world.

     Let us pray.

     Father, we thank Thee for Thy Word.  Now, O Lord, we lift up our prayers to Thee, the great God and Savior of the church.  Known unto Thee are all of Thy children.  Be near unto those who suffer for Thy sake, who endure the loss of family and possessions and life itself, who are imprisoned and evilly entreated because they have confessed, by Thy grace, the name of God the Son, Jesus Christ, as the only Savior.  Bear each one of them up.  Grant that the cause of the truth throughout the world may be advanced and Thy church built and gathered.  And give us now in lands of luxury and ease to be reminded that all who would follow Jesus Christ by a true and living faith must expect the rejection of this present world and the hope of that better world that is to come.  And may Jesus Christ, above all things, be precious to us.  In His name we pray, Amen.