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Just Bible Stories?
It was almost time to get up Sunday morning and I dozed, sleeping just a little longer. I began dreaming of a large boisterous public gathering. These people were my neighbors. These were my people. They were angry and glad at the same time. Three besides myself (two other men and a woman) were in the midst of this multitude, though not by choice. It seemed like just a dream (and of course, it was). But then, it seemed very real, as dreams often do.
Suddenly, with a quick noise and a dull thud, reality echoed as a brother in Christ was beheaded. All sense of dreamland vanished. The mob cheered. As the sister in Christ was being led away to the same fate, she, calmly, looked back and said to me, "It's my turn now, then yours and he will follow you." I marveled at her composure and peaceful resolve. In the same instant, horrified, I woke from my sleep.
For a brief moment I felt as though I had visited a century long past. It was a time in which Christians were severely persecuted for no other reason than for their Gospel faith. I had not been there. Those things did not happen, but it seemed so real, and frightening.
Events such as these about which one can read in both testaments transpired thousands of years ago. To us, they seem little more than "just Bible stories." It is difficult for you and me, as we sit comfortably in our auditoriums on padded pews, to relate meaningfully to these persecutions. Perhaps it takes a nightmare such as I had before we can begin to fathom the reality of these tragedies. Even more, such underscores the conviction to Christ and his Gospel that early Christians demonstrated in life and death (Revelation 2:10).Later that morning, it was my privilege to continue teaching an adult Bible class. We were studying Acts Chapter Five. In the previous chapter the week before, we noticed the imprisonment of the apostles. They were also threatened, though they would not cower. They were on a divine mission. We also observed the apostles' imprisonment again, escape and recapture. Once more they were before the Sanhedrin. Again they were threatened. This time, though, they were also beaten. The Jewish religious leaders preferred to kill them, but were dissuaded by Gamaliel.
Remarkably, they rejoiced! The apostles were happy despite their suffering. They were not deterred from joyful implementation of Christianity in their lives. They refused to alter their efforts to evangelize the world. "And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name. And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ" (Acts 5:41-42).
The apostle Peter further addressed happiness in persecution in 1 Peter 3:14 and 4:12-16. The apostle Paul forewarned of persecutions upon faithful children of God. "Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution" (2 Timothy 3:12). Paul suffered much (2 Corinthians 11:23-28). Jesus previously warned the original twelve apostles of persecution (Matthew 10:16-25). Jesus, of course, is our supreme example of a persecuted servant of God. In Acts Six, Stephen became embroiled in conflict that resulted in his martyrdom (Acts 7:58-60). Before his death, Stephen accused the Jews of being like their ancestors who had killed the prophets of God (Acts 7:51-52). Hebrews 11:32-38 summarizes some of the awful, torturous deaths inflicted, often by the people of God, upon the prophets of God.
Are these "just Bible stories"? No! They must not be relegated simply to story status. These people were real. Their historical accounts are genuine. Their faith was living and active, and worth dying for. I hope that none of us ever have to undergo the adversities through which they went. If we are ever compelled to suffer these or similar things, I hope that you and I can face them with the same courage. In the meantime, it is most urgent that we adopt the same spiritual posture they exhibited. We must spend all and be spent, make it the chief pursuit of our very existence to save ourselves and as many others as possible.
"And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellowservants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled" (Revelation 6:9-11).