Why do we persecute each other?
Matthew 5:44; Acts 9:1-19; John 23:13-14; Matthew 22: 34b-40
Persecution has many names, such as: oppress, victimize, mistreat, torment, harass, intimidate, pick on, bully and hassle, just to name a few.
It’s easy to reference the Bible and read about how Jesus was persecuted for His beliefs and teachings. But what about now, what about today? Sure, people are persecuted for being Christian, gay, and even for having a particular skin color. However, each and every one of these types of persecutions is wrong.
You may have noticed I left one out, political persecution. This is because our society aligns with the left or the right. Now, look at the definitions of persecution above. Do any of the words look familiar when we speak politically about others? It’s sad but true. By the way, this type of persecution is also wrong.
But persecution was around long before we were. 2000 years ago, persecution was an everyday occurrence for a man named Jesus.
Why is it so difficult for us to follow those simple words from Matthew 5:44?
“But I say love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!”
As much as Jesus was loved by His followers, He was despised and hated by the Pharisees. Most other religious leaders of His time felt the same way. Yet, He tells us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.
Let’s look at Saul, who doesn’t enter the Bible until after Jesus has died. He hated Christians and did everything he could to torment and kill them. Let’s read a portion of Acts 9, to see how Jesus turned this man’s heart.
“Meanwhile, Saul was uttering threats with every breath and was eager to kill the Lord’s followers. So, he went to the high priest. He requested letters addressed to the synagogues in Damascus, asking for their cooperation in the arrest of any followers of the Way he found there. He wanted to bring them—both men and women—back to Jerusalem in chains.
As he was approaching Damascus on this mission, a light from heaven suddenly shone down around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him,
“Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?”
“Who are you, lord?” Saul asked.
And the voice replied, “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting! Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
The men with Saul stood speechless, for they heard the sound of someone’s voice but saw no one! Saul picked himself up off the ground, but when he opened his eyes, he was blind. So, his companions led him by the hand to Damascus. He remained there blind for three days and did not eat or drink.
Now there was a believer in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord spoke to him in a vision, calling,
“Yes, Lord!” he replied.
The Lord said, “Go over to Straight Street, to the house of Judas. When you get there, ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul. He is praying to me right now. I have shown him a vision of a man named Ananias coming in and laying hands on him, so he can see again.”
“But Lord,” exclaimed Ananias, “I’ve heard many people talk about the terrible things this man has done to the believers in Jerusalem! And he is authorized by the leading priests to arrest everyone who calls upon your name.”
But the Lord said, “Go, for Saul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to kings, as well as to the people of Israel. And I will show him how much he must suffer for my name’s sake.”
So, Ananias went and found Saul. He laid his hands on him and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road, has sent me so that you might regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Instantly something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he got up and was baptized. Afterward, he ate some food and regained his strength.”
Over and over in the New Testament, we see moments of Christ’s forgiveness for others. In most cases, we see Jesus responding to someone asking for forgiveness or healing. However, in this instance, we see Jesus confronting someone (Saul) who is persecuting others for being Christ followers.
Although Saul is a persecutor of those who follow Christ, Jesus intervenes and softens Saul’s heart. Jesus shows us that even someone who persecutes Him can be used to advance Christ’s Kingdom and His goals.
“Saul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to kings, as well as to the people of Israel.”
The most tremendous persecution we see in the Bible is Jesus being crucified on the cross. He was sentenced to death for crimes He did not commit. Yet, even in the midst of all of the pain and suffering, He was enduring, Jesus was forgiving.
“When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.” John 23:13-14
Even though He was persecuted, Jesus still loves us today. The next time you think of using any of the terms I used to describe the word persecution (There are others), remember Christ’s words to the Pharisees in Matthew 22.
“The Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’
Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:34b-40
Love God and love your neighbor. Jesus makes no ifs, ands, or buts about His statement. We are all brothers and sisters in Christ. Let’s keep that in mind before we spew vile or demeaning language at a fellow brother or sister. Amen.