When I was an 8th grader in St. Gertrude Catholic School I distinctly remember studying several saints who were martyred for their faith. At the age of 14 I made a commitment to God that I would never deny Him, even if I had to die for Him. And for the next several years, I fully expected to be called on to prove my faith in that way. I may not have been “saved” at the time in a Romans 10:9-10 way; but I believe God nevertheless honored that commitment and kept lining up my life accordingly, drawing me closer to Him, and preparing me.
Perhaps that’s why, after I actually began studying the Bible many years later, that I was drawn to the words of Jesus in Luke 12:11-12. “Now when [not “if” but “when”] they bring you to the synagogues and magistrates and authorities, do not worry about how or what you should answer, or what you should say. For the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.”
This past couple of weeks has made me realize that I and other Christians in the western Church are closer than most believe to the moment of putting our very lives on the line for the defense of the Kingdom of God. What was once a “comfort zone” is quickly drifting towards a “zone of persecution” akin to what the Church in Asia, Africa and the Middle East has been experiencing for some years. This became evident as I engaged representatives of a local governing body in much the same way that the Apostle Paul engaged the Roman Governor Festus and King Agrippa, as he defended not only his own innocence, but, more importantly the Gospel of Christ.
I felt like I was living an Acts 26 moment. Paul declared, “… I stand, witnessing both to small and great, saying no other things than those which the prophets and Moses said would come— that the Christ would suffer, that He would be the first to rise from the dead, and would proclaim light to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles.” My Festus/Agrippa stand-in was a Sterling Heights city council member who assaulted both the authenticity of the Holy Bible and its Supernatural Author. To him, and anyone else who might read my words, I launched a defense of the Word of God, via a few emails.
For a brief time, the Galilean leaders bantered back and forth with Paul. In spite of, and maybe even because of Paul’s strong arguments, both the Governor and the King brought the discussion to an abrupt conclusion. Now as he thus made his defense, [Governor] Festus said with a loud voice, “Paul, you are beside yourself! Much learning is driving you mad!”… Then [King] Agrippa [probably sarcastically] said to Paul, “You almost persuade me to become a Christian.”
In my case, after lengthy debate all further discussion was turned off just as abruptly: “John, you truly do launch a strong defense of your beliefs. But I could never support a God that would authorize the murder of innocent children.” His latter comment most likely referencing the Almighty’s Old Testament command to Israel to cleanse the Promised Land of all idolaters and those who engaged in sexual immorality. In earlier discussions this local leader had challenged the authority of the Creator and Maintainer of the Universe and declared he was not accountable to Him in any way.
If and when you are put in this same position, just remember what Jesus told His disciples: “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would have no sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. He who hates Me hates My Father also. If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would have no sin; but now they have seen and also hated both Me and My Father. But this happened that the word might be fulfilled which is written in their law, ‘They hated Me without a cause.’” John 15:18-25