Christ our Saviour, in the Gospel of St. Matthew, hearing the confession of Simon Peter, who, first of all other, openly acknowledged Him to be the Son of God, and perceiving the secret hand of His Father therein, called him (alluding to his name) a rock, upon which rock He would build His Church so strong, that the gates of hell should not prevail against it. In which words three things are to be noted: First, that Christ will have a Church in this world. Secondly, that the same Church should mightily be impugned, not only by the world, but also by the uttermost strength and powers of all hell. And thirdly, that the same Church, notwithstanding the uttermost of the devil and all his malice, should continue.1
– John Foxe
These were the first words recorded by John Foxe in his well-known book, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. What motivated Foxe to write perhaps the most recognized history of the persecution of the Church? Just that. Persecution. It was Foxe, after all, who nicknamed the infamous Queen Mary I of England “Bloody Mary” because of her widespread persecution of Protestant Christians. What was their crime? They were not Catholic, and Mary hated Christians. Many protestants died under her rule, and waited for their martyrdom in the dark chambers of the Tower of London. John Foxe was fortunate enough to escape the tyrannical rule and record the mass persecution of Christians not only in his day, but all throughout church history. Obviously this persecution didn’t end with Foxe in the 1500s, or with the death of Bloody Mary in 1558. Christians have been persecuted in every generation since, and most recently, you’ve undoubtedly heard about the mass persecution of Christians in Egypt.
With all the conflict and instability in Egypt, Christians have been blamed by the Islamists for the rebellion. Of course the accusation is unmerited and rediculous, but nevertheless, Muslims have been marking Christian businesses and homes with black “X’s” to identify them to be attacked. Churches are being burned, and families have been receiving threats from the Muslim Brotherhood. You can read more details about the account here. This hatred isn’t limited to Egypt however, they’re just acting out the animosity felt against Christians all over the world. Even here in America, I was recently reading an article published in a newspaper written by another TMS (The Master’s Seminary) grad. Reading the hateful responses to the article were shocking, though not surprising. Such comments show the hatred against Christians even here in the States (if you want to get your blood flowing, you can read the comments in the article). But that’s not so much the point of this blog post, as is the reality that we can sometimes forget as Believers that we were told in Scripture that we would be hated by the world! We should expect it! In fact, persecution is an evidence of true Christianity.
I’ve never met anyone who grows angry or hateful because they believed in unicorns or the Easter Bunny. Why is it any skin off their nose? Who cares if I believe in unicorns!? But what makes the Gospel so different? Why would people be so hatefully motivated that they would murder Christians for their beliefs? The fact is, it’s because they know Christians represent the Truth. Their hearts are convicted and they would rather murder than address their own sin.
This was the folly of Cain in Genesis 4. Cain came before the LORD with an offering that wasn’t suitable, ultimately because he didn’t present his offering with a heart of worship, as did his brother Abel. He presented his sacrifice out of duty rather than joy and a desire to please God. So, after God warned Cain that sin was crouching at his door (Gen. 4: 6-7), rather than correcting the situation, he murdered his brother who God was pleased with. 1 John tells us why.
“Cain… was of the evil one and slew his brother. And for what reason did he slay him? Because his deeds were evil and his brother’s were righteous” (1 Jn. 3:12).
Of course it was the same wickedness that caused the Pharisees to hate Jesus to such a degree that they would rather contribute His marvelous miracles to Satan than to God (Matt. 12:22-23). They hated His righteousness because it revealed their hypocrisy, and it’s for this reason that Jesus declared that His followers will also be objects of the world’s hate:
“If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave 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” (John 15:18-20).
This is why we shouldn’t be surprised by the world’s hostility towards Christians. We are, after all, enemies of the world and at war. Truth be told – this is why the “seeker-sensitive” philosophy of ministry makes no sense to me. It has a problem with it’s foundation because it assumes or acts as though we can be true Christians while being friends of the world. In fact, contemporary Christianity has gone to great lengths to try to “prove” to the world that we are just as normal, contemporary, and hip as they are. The reality is, James tells that in doing so we prove to be enemies of God.
“You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4).
The nature of the world is vehemently contrary to the nature of God (and those who would belong to Him). People cannot pursue worldly lusts and then call themselves Christians at the same time. It would be as though I claimed to fight for army “A” who wore white, while I wore the colors of army “B” and fired against army “A.” It makes no sense and is inconsistent. Furthermore, we have to remember that God will destroy the world and all the evil it contains. Knowing this, it makes it pretty difficult for the Christian to continue pursuing the things He promises to destroy… which is no doubt a day that the persecuted Egyptian Christians are praying for, as well as other persecuted Christians around the world.
This was the Psalm of David, “Surely God will shatter the head of His enemies, the hairy crown of him who goes on in his guilty deeds” (Ps. 68:21).
No doubt it was the prayer of Dr. Daniel Wong, now a professor at The Master’s College, who himself was persecuted for his faith in China. I would encourage you to watch the video of the account below. Some words we should consider from Pastor John MacArthur, “I am absolutely 100% convinced that the weakness of the church in America, the superficiality of the church, the shallowness of the church, the hypocrisy of the church is directly related to the absence of any cost or any price paid to be a Christian. If you don’t have to pay a price, hey, just jump on the bandwagon. If persecution came to America, you’d see a very different kind of Christianity. A whole lot of people who are real eager to talk about Jesus won’t be talking about Jesus any more, who profess to know Jesus and to be part of the church, they will stop talking very fast if the price was as high as it is for some people.”
This is why the Believers in Egypt can say of their persecution, “This will learn us to be better Christians.” Pray for their faith, their resolve, and their strength. And pray as we are commanded to in 1 Timothy 2:1-4, “First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
- John Foxe, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, ed. W. Grinton Berry (Grand Rapids: Fleming H. Revell, 2002), 1. ↩