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Persecution

The religious leaders plot Lazarus' murder.
Image source: LumoProject

Hate will drive people to do hateful things. In today’s Bible reading, we read that the chief priests schemed to kill Lazarus because people were following Jesus after seeing Lazarus raised from the dead. (John 12:10-11) Think about that. The chief priests plotted to kill not just Jesus, but Jesus’ friend, Lazarus.

“Don’t murder” was the Sixth Commandment. (Exodus 20:13) By the First Century, the Jewish leaders heaped on hundreds of additional laws to the Mosaic Law through their commentary on the Law and their commentary on the commentary on the Law. That the chief priests could resort to murder reveals how derranged these men had become.

Meanwhile, Lazarus walks around, telling people about his Friend. Many more people believe Jesus as a result of Lazarus’ testimony. It’s hard to argue about Jesus’ authority as the Messiah when one of His most vocal followers walked out of a tomb the day before.

Application

I’ve said it before, you don’t have to be a trained theologian to tell your story to your friends, family, and neighbors. All you have to do is tell what Jesus has done in your life. You may not have been delivered from a physical tomb, but you can tell people how you have been delivered from a life of sin and death. You can tell people about how you once lived as a child of wrath, as God’s enemy. Tell them what Jesus’ death on the cross accomplished for you. And invite them to give their lives to Him as you have.

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Nero
Image source: Wikimedia

Peter continues addressing his persecuted, exiled readers (1 Peter 2:11) in today’s Bible reading. Last month, I commented on the historical context around the middle of the First Century. I mentioned Nero was the Roman Emporer at the time. Under Nero’s reign, Christians were persecuted far beyond what many of us can imagine today. “Pure evil” is the only way I can describe it without going into the ugly details.

And yet… Peter tells his readers to submit to every human authority. And lest there be any confusion, Peter says clearly that his command includes the “emperor [Nero] as the supreme authority or to governors as those sent out by him to punish those who do what is evil and to praise those who do what is good.” (1 Peter 2:13–14 CSB)

So what does “submit” mean? Submit was a Greek military term meaning “to arrange [troop divisions] in a military fashion under the command of a leader”. In non-military use, it was “a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden”.[1]

Submission is not a bad word. In fact, no military unit can properly function without it. No marriage can properly function without it. No church can properly function without it. And no country can properly function without it. There has to be a chain of command. The pastor who married Amy and me said, “Anything with more than one head is a monster.”

Peter gives his rationale for his command in verses 12 and 15. “Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that when they slander you as evildoers, they will observe your good works and will glorify God on the day he visits. For it is God’s will that you silence the ignorance of foolish people by doing good.” 1 Peter 2:12, 15 (CSB)

Did you catch that? Peter says the reason Believers should submit even to the evil Emperor Nero was so that God would be glorified. He adds that silencing foolish ignorance by doing good is God’s will. Well, you can’t argue with that!

Application

Most of my readers live in the United States and do not have first-hand knowledge of real religious persecution. However, readers in countries ruled by authoritarian regimes may know people who have experienced persecution. They may have even had to alter their way of doing life — especially church life — in order to coexist in a restrictive environment. I have friends who live in one of those restrictive countries and they have to be very careful in the way they communicate prayer needs back to churches in the US. In fact, they don’t even use the words “pray”, “church”, or “Jesus Christ” in their email correspondence.

But regardless of where you live, Peter’s instructions are clear: Submit to every human authority. Every human authority. You may or may not like your President. You may or may not like your Chancellor. You may or may not like your Prime Minister. But regardless of how you feel about your leaders, if you are a Believer, you are obligated to submit to those authorities (1 Peter 2:13-14) and to pray for them. (1 Timothy 2:1-2)

[1] Strong, James. Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon 1995 : n. pag. Print.

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source: Moody Publishers / FreeBibleimages.org

With today’s Bible reading, we begin reading Peter’s First Letter. Peter wrote his letter to Believers who were being persecuted for their faith. Like most other letters from the Apostles to the churches, Peter begins his with the standard greeting, “Grace to you”. But he does it a little differently than every other Apostle writes his greetings.

“Grace to you” was a typical greeting you would receive from a Greek friend in the First Century, regardless of whether or not your friend was a fellow Believer. It would sound like a “Howdy!” you’d hear on a Texas ranch today. But for Peter, grace was more than a “Howdy”. It was so much more!

Peter gets grace. He understands it intimately and wants everybody to get in on the grace that Jesus offers. In fact, he uses the word ten times in this letter, three of which appear in this first chapter!

Remember, Peter promised Jesus he would never deny Jesus (Matthew 26:35), yet in just a few hours, he denied knowing Jesus three times. He even called down curses on himself in his denial of knowing Jesus. A modern rendering of Matthew 26:74 might be, “I swear to God I don’t know the man.” Immediately, Peter heard a rooster’s crow, signaling a new day had begun.

Several days later, after Jesus’ Resurrection, when Peter saw Jesus for the first time, Jesus asked him three times if Peter loved Him. Three times: one “Do you love me?” question for each time he had denied knowing Jesus. (John 21:15–17)

Peter begins both of his letters the same way, and very differently than do Paul and James. It isn’t just “Grace to you!”, “Howdy!” It’s, “May grace and peace be multiplied to you” (1 Peter 1:2, 2 Peter 1:2)

It’s significant that Peter would begin his letters writing to persecuted believers who were “living as exiles”. (1 Peter 1:1 CSB) Peter’s “May grace and peace be multiplied to you.” is very similar to the greeting King Nebuchadnezzar used in his proclamation (Daniel 4:1) after witnessing God’s miraculous protection of three devout Babylonian exiles. Just before Nebuchadnezzar’s proclamation, he says, “I issue a decree that anyone of any people, nation, or language who says anything offensive against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego will be torn limb from limb and his house made a garbage dump. For there is no other god who is able to deliver like this. (Daniel 3:29)

The Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar witnessed first-hand that God protects His people in their persecution. He observed not only the three young exiles in the “fiery furnace”, but a fourth who looked “like a son of the gods”. (Daniel 3:25)

Application

Peter subtly reminds his persecuted readers of another time — several hundred years earlier — when other persecuted Believers were dramatically and miraculously protected and delivered in their persecution.

Peter’s obvious implication is that, if God can deliver Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from a blazing furnace, He can do that and even more for his readers. Those young men didn’t know if God would deliver the way they expected (Daniel 3:16–18), but they knew that God is enough.

And the obvious application for you is that regardless of your situation, whether it’s religious persecution or just hard times, God is enough. God will deliver you. Not just God can deliver you, but God will deliver you.

God may not deliver you the way you expect, but just like with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, God is in control.

Whatever grace you need,
whatever peace you need,
may God’s grace and peace be multiplied to you.

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The Gospel Comes with a House Key - Rosaria Butterfield

In today’s Bible reading, continues to talk about the importance of walking in both Truth and Love.

Next, John talks about the importance of hospitality toward other Believers. (3 John 1:5-8) People don’t talk much about hospitality these days. But it’s a very important character trait. Back in the First Century, especially as Roman religious persecution grew, it was crucial that Believers support each other as John says above. He concludes his thoughts, urging that Believers should financially support itenerant missionaries. By supporting these people, they actually become a coworker with them in God’s work.

I haven’t read it yet, but Rosaria Butterfield wrote an award-winning book, The Gospel Comes with a House Key: Practicing Radically Ordinary Hospitality in Our Post-Christian World. In it, she talks about how she became a Christian in a large part because some Christian neighbors extended “radically ordinary” hospitality to her.

Application

Think about that. By simply being hospitable, you can have an eternal impact on the lives of lost people. Maybe it’s gladly giving a neighbor a cup of sugar. Maybe it’s loaning a fan to a new neighbor who’s painting some rooms before they move. Definitely, it’s praying for your neighbors. Definitely, it’s being ready to share a “fresh word” of encouragement with them. Definitely, it’s giving a Bible to the coworker who doesn’t have one and is beginning their spiritual walk.

The saying, “Always share your faith and use words when necessary” forgets the fact that unless you use words, people will not know the Gospel. Sure, they may think, “Wow, what a nice gesture.” but they won’t know why you did what you did when you were hospitable. Peter urged his readers to always be ready to gently and respectfully explain your hope. (1 Peter 3:15)

And that requires that we use words.

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Hatred

In today’s Bible reading, John offers the comforting words that haters are going to hate Believers. Gee, thanks John! You sound just like Job’s encouraging friends!

But hould we really expect anything else from lost people? Lost people are going to act like lost people! Besides, if they hated Jesus, why would they feel different about His followers? (Matthew 10:22–25) They won’t.

Application

If haters are going to hate, why should Believers even deal with the fear of man? If they’re going to hate you, why try to please them? Why try to curry their favor?

Now, I’m not saying that we should return hate for hate. Quite the opposite. The New Testament consistently teaches that Believers are to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute you. (Matthew 5:44)

Peter tells the persecuted church not to pay back evil for evil or insult for insult but, on the contrary, giving a blessing, since you were called for this, so that you may inherit a blessing. (1 Peter 3:9)

And Paul reminds the Romans, “If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:18 CSB)

There’s nothing you can do to stop them from hating you and your Lord. But do everything you can to live in peace with everyone and pray for your haters. Because haters are going to hate.

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