On guard with the Holy Spirit.

Mark 13:9-13

Nadia is a Christian in a Central Asian Islamic country who became a Christian through her children’s prayers and God’s healing. When her children first became Christians she was very afraid for them in case they became victims of beatings, even to death, from their male relatives. She was also afraid of being socially cut off from family and community. Her fear caused her to be angry as she believed they had become part of a sect. She threw away their bibles, threatened them, hit them and tried to prevent them going to church. When she became seriously ill her children prayed for her and she was healed. She then realized Jesus was real and became a Christian, exposing herself to the dangers she had been so afraid of for her children. In particular she wrestled with how to cope with Ramadan which she felt she could no longer celebrate, however she realized this would have serious long standing consequences for her with her extended family and community. After seeking God and with advice from her Pastor she decided to respect Ramadan by cooking for her neighbours and inviting them for a meal, during the meal she would share the good news of Jesus. In this way respecting her community whilst being faithful to and honouring Jesus. (Open Doors Website, for security reasons Nadia is not her true name. https://www.opendoorsuk.org/news/latest-news/ramadan-central-asia/ )

Jesus warned his disciples that they would face hostility from religious and secular authorities for the sake of the gospel. v9 It would potentially cost them considerable punishment and it would be a direct consequence of being a follower of Jesus. ‘On account of me’, he said. He wanted to reassure them that they would be enabled by the Holy Spirit in what to say. Jesus was looking forward to Pentecost and their baptism in the Spirit and their subsequent ministry. This warning was not limited to Jesus’ immediate disciples but was intended for the whole future church. There are several examples of this in Acts, including Stephen’s story in Acts 7. Stephen was subject to false accusations from a group known as the Synagogue of the Freedmen, who were a collective of Jews from countries outside of Palestine and Judea. Acts 6:9 They accused Stephen of speaking against the temple and the Old Testament law stirring up the people and Jerusalem’s religious leaders. Stephen was brought before the ruling council, the Sanhedrin, where he made his defense and speaking in the Spirit, starting with Abraham, going on through account of the Exodus, the giving of the law and finally to David, Solomon and the building of the temple he explained how all that God had done and prophesied had been fulfilled in Jesus. How the killing of Jesus by the body that was trying him was exactly how their predecessors had treated the prophets they claimed to follow. Stephen was then stoned to death while at the same time he was given a vision of Jesus and prayed for his killer’s forgiveness.

Stephen’s trial and execution sparked a widespread persecution of the church and could have been considered a disaster for the early church. It actually caused a scattering of the early believers into the surrounding districts and countries starting the process of taking the gospel into the whole world.

From these two examples we can see that Jesus words came true both then and now. There will be persecution in various forms, some formal, some informal within communities. Persecution is linked to the public demonstration of faith and the sharing of the good news of Jesus. The Holy Spirit is active in demonstrating Jesus’ living resurrection power. Stephen was, ‘a man full of God’s grace and power, performing great wonders and signs among the people.’ Acts 6:8 Nadia’s children prayed for their mother’s healing and she was healed, leading on to her confession of faith in Jesus and engagement in a gospel ministry. She now trusts the Holy Spirit for the words to say at personal risk.

Elsewhere when Jesus was teaching about these things he said, ‘I am sending you out like sheep among wolves.’ Mathew 10:16 In the same place he also said, ‘The student is not above the teacher, nor a servant above his master.’ Mathew 10:24 Indicating the path he followed would also be followed by his disciples.

Are we vigilant and praying for those who are experiencing persecution for the sake of the gospel?

Do we trust the Holy Spirit to give us the words to say when accounting for our faith in Jesus?

Do we take the time to be with Jesus so that we may know him more and grow to be more like him?

I’m no longer a slave to fear…Tasha Cobbs (Letting it rip)