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Jeremiah, the Pilgrims, and Persecution - Jeremiah 12

Nothing has changed in 5000 years. The ungodly still hate the righteous.

Jeremiah 12; Matthew 5:10-16; Ezekiel 18:23

Nov 18, 2012 12:00 PM

MP3 audio icon Jeremiah-the-Pilgrims-and-Persecution_11-18-2012.mp3 — MP3 audio, 12793 kB (13100894 bytes)


The Truth about Persecution in Cuba
Much has been written and said about the new season of openness for Christians in Cuba. But those who are able to speak freely say that the persecution is still there, though it is now better concealed. Since the government redefined Cuba as a “secularist” nation from an “atheist” nation in 1992, evangelicals have experienced an era of tolerance, where they meet without permission, but are largely ignored by the government. As an example of this tolerance, one church of around 1,000 members has given birth to 18 independent house churches. These new congregations range in size from 300 to 700 people.

But while few Christians have gone to prison for their faith in recent years, the Cuban government still mistreats, marginalize and openly oppose Christians, especially those who live according to their Biblical convictions. “The persecution now is a closed persecution; it’s hidden,” said VOM’s field worker. Another Christian worker on the island characterized it as discreet. “The pastors tell us they have an enemy without a face. They aren’t confronted directly. Sometimes they don’t know who has infiltrated the church [to inform on them],” said the VOM field worker.

One Cuban pastor, “David,” shared his experience with VOM this week. “Don’t be fooled by appearances,” he said. “Many brothers won’t speak about this because of fear. If they speak out in Cuba, there will be consequences. They’ll be expelled from the country or falsely accused of being counterrevolutionaries.”

David became a believer when he was 15 years old. His family kicked him out of the house, and he was forced to work as a field hand to sustain himself. He didn’t give up his faith though, and at 22 he became a pastor. At 57, he’s lived through the decades in which many Cuban Christians left the island and the church was whittled down to a faithful few. He also led his church during times of revival. But “if you want to pastor in Cuba, you cannot say anything against the government,” he said.

He has been interrogated more than 20 times, and humiliated, beaten and threatened. His interrogators blamed him for the growth of his church, accusing him of using “secret indoctrination methods” from the United States. For these offences, he was forced to spend six months cleaning public outhouses every day. He was also prohibited from leaving the island for more than four years. The officials in charge never told him why his exit permits were never granted. There was always an excuse: “We lost the paper work!” or “We never got your application.”

When David was finally able to obtain a telephone connection for his house, the first phone call he received was from the state security office, warning him that they knew his phone number and they knew all about him. They even described the color of the books in his office, and told him, “We can make something happen to you if we want.”

Another way the persecution appears is through the lack of Bibles on the island. There has not been a Christian bookstore on the island for 53 years, and Bibles are only imported through churches that are members of the Ecumenical Council (an association of churches that collaborates with the government and includes only 10 percent of all churches). David’s church is not part of the Ecumenical Council. David could never join this group that directs their members to praise the socialist revolution and the Cuban state. And so, his church members never have enough Bibles.

Recently, three officials appeared at a Sunday service at David’s church. They warned him that an application he’d filed to build a parking lot for the church would never be approved. In fact, they told him that they were going to appropriate his property and use it for a store. “I got firm with them,” David said. “I told them they couldn’t do that because we were under the protection of the Holy Spirit. And they backed off.”

But there is also opposition on other fronts, too. A neighbor of the church property, which is also where David lives, has been threatening them. “This guy is into witchcraft and he’s against us. He complains about the noise from our services, and when pastors come and park in front of my house, he comes and lets the air out of their tires,” said David. The man is running a signature campaign to get the church kicked out of the neighborhood. “I don’t know what will happen with that,” said David.

In addition, the front of the church is where the authorities have chosen to place a large dumpster that serves the garbage needs of the entire neighborhood. “It’s been there for about 10 years,” said David. The dumpster is often the receptacle for the carcasses of cats and other animals. The city also refuses to provide natural gas service for cooking, though all the other neighbors have service. Denying Christians access to utilities is yet another way the government simply makes life difficult for Christians.

They are denied rights and opportunities. Christians are often let go from jobs, or not allowed to apply for a certain status of jobs. The best jobs are awarded to Communist Party members. Children are required to renounce Christ and embrace communism in school. Christian young people are often not allowed to graduate from high school or enter university.

After 35 years of serving in this environment, David has several stress-related health problems. His doctors have advised him to quit pastoring. Other pastors he knows are suffering from depression. Following the Lord has been far from easy, but the stories from the book of Acts have sustained him throughout the years, along with the ways he has seen God working through miracles and healings. Would he like to leave Cuba? “I desire it with all my heart,” he said. “But I’m waiting for God’s direction. When he says I can go, I’ll go. But for now I’m working for the Lord with all my heart.”1

What does this have to do with Thanksgiving and the book of Jeremiah.  It is a perfect illustration of both.  The first Thanksgiving held by the Pilgrims was not a celebration of friendship with Native Americans, or of turkey and cranberry sauce, or of oneness with nature.  It was primarily a celebration of the deliverance of the people of God from persecution.  

These remarkably courageous people had been forced out of their own country by the enemies of the Gospel.  God mercifully provided a magnificent place of refuge for them.  Yes, He provided for their survival through a very deadly winter.  Yes, He granted them peace with their Indian neighbors.  But most of all, they were grateful to be free to worship their Lord without fear of persecution.  Or execution.  That was the primary reason for the first Thanksgiving celebration - deliverance from religious persecution.

Not everyone enjoys such freedom.  Like Pastor David in Cuba.  Or Police Chaplain Julius Mukonzi in Kenya who was recently murdered with a grenade during a worship service.  Or the Christians in Tanzania, or any other place where genuine, dedicated Muslims live.

Friday, October 12th.  Muslims returning from worship at a mosque burned a car belonging to Bishop Muhiche of the Tanzania Assemblies of God church.  After burning his car, the extremists (emphasis mine) moved on to destroy the pastor’s church.

That same day, in Ushirombo District of Shinyanga Region, Muslim extremists (emphasis mine) attacked the Reverend Victor Simbaulanga.  Enraged by an open-air evangelistic meeting the pastor was leading, the attackers beat Simbaulanga so severely that he had to be hospitalized.

On Sept. 28, Muslim extremists (emphasis mine) in Tunduru District of Ruvuma Region attacked a Christian medical doctor, Vitalis Lusasi, while he was in his car.  They smashed the car’s windows and attempted to burn the vehicle before onlookers intervened.

Less than two weeks earlier, on Sept. 17, Muslim extremists (emphasis mine, yet again) reportedly attacked Christians in the same region, burning 60 pigs and attempting to burn six houses.  Bystanders helped save five of the houses, but one was destroyed.  A few nights later, two Christians’ cars, one belonging to a pastor, were set on fire in the same area.

“No one has been arrested so far in connection with all these wild attacks, probably because 85 percent of the residents of Tunduru are staunch Muslims,” (emphasis mine!) said a VOM contact.  He said some of those who have been attacked are traumatized and won’t talk about their current situation, fearing future attacks.  “We really do not know what is going on,” said the VOM contact.  “We need your constant, intensive prayers.”2

I know what is going on.  Don’t you?  

Jeremiah was a bit of a Pilgrim who wanted to escape the evils all around him: Oh that I had in the desert a travelers' lodging place, that I might leave my people and go away from them! (Jeremiah 8:2 ESV)  But he had no such place to go to.  And to make matters even worse, we saw last week that his own neighbors were plotting his death.  

21 Therefore thus says the Lord concerning the men of Anathoth, who seek your life, and say, “Do not prophesy in the name of the Lord, or you will die by our hand”— (Jeremiah 11:21 ESV)

Welcome Wagon was not a force to be reckoned with in Anathoth.  Anathoth was not Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood.  Particularly when it came to those who feared God and dared to speak of bad things to come.  Such people were not welcome, nor should they feel at home.  It was not a wonderful day in the neighborhood for Jeremiah.

But notice this, beloved: nothing has changed in 3,000 years.  Those who love God, those who serve Him and fear Him, those who live godly lives in Christ Jesus, those who actually live according to their Biblical convictions, are perpetually hated.  They are, sooner or later, to some degree or another, victims of persecution from those who hate God.  And it is the escape and the deliverance from that kind of hatred that provoked the first Thanksgiving celebration by our (and I do mean OUR) Pilgrim fathers.

Turn with me to Jeremiah chapter 12, please.

1 Righteous are you, O LORD, when I complain to you; yet I would plead my case before you.  Why does the way of the wicked prosper?  Why do all who are treacherous thrive? 2 You plant them, and they take root; they grow and produce fruit; you are near in their mouth and far from their heart. 3 But you, O LORD, know me; you see me, and test my heart toward you.  Pull them out like sheep for the slaughter, and set them apart for the day of slaughter. 4 How long will the land mourn and the grass of every field wither?  For the evil of those who dwell in it the beasts and the birds are swept away, because they said, "He will not see our latter end." (Jeremiah 12:1-4 ESV)

Jeremiah is complaining to God about those who are plotting his death.  Why do such treacherous and evil men thrive?  Why are his own neighbors against him?  And as we said last week, God doesn’t really ever answer this question.  But He does respond.  And the response is not easy for Jeremiah to hear:

5 "If you have raced with men on foot, and they have wearied you, how will you compete with horses?  And if in a safe land you are so trusting, what will you do in the thicket of the Jordan? 6 For even your brothers and the house of your father, even they have dealt treacherously with you; they are in full cry after you; do not believe them, though they speak friendly words to you." (Jeremiah 12:5-6 ESV)

“Jeremiah, if you think it’s bad now, be patient.  It’s gonna get worse.  Much worse.  And it’s not just your neighbors who hate you.  Even your own family has dealt treacherously with you.  Do not trust them, even though they smile and are nice and friendly toward you.  Don’t trust anyone!  If you think that is bad, that’s like racing with men when, soon you will need to race with horses.”  

Lot’s of comfort there, eh?  And this is why no one volunteers to be a prophet for God.  But then again, no one volunteers to be a Christian either.  We love Him why?  Because He first loved us.  We choose Him why?  Because He chose us.  We are willing to live for Him why?  Because He lived His life for us.  We are willing to die for Him why?  Because He gave His life for us.

Turn with me to Matthew 5 please.  Matthew 5 & 6 are known as the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ first recorded public preaching/teaching.  This is His first time in the public pulpit.  He starts out with what we refer to as the Beatitudes.  “Blessed are the poor . . . .  Blessed are those who mourn . . . .”  “Blessed are the meek . . . .” First sermon.  Sounds good.  I like to be blessed.  This Jesus is a good preacher!  

"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness . . . .“  “Blessed are the merciful . . . .”  “Blessed are the pure in heart . . . .”Blessed are the peacemakers . . . .“ What a great sermon!  I could listen to Him all day long!

"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, . . . "Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.“

Stop the tape!  This sermon suddenly took a serious turn for the worse!  Blessed are the persecuted?  Blessed are you when people hate you and lie about you?  And this is sermon number 1?  I don’t think I’ll be coming back for part 2!

Beloved, look at this passage with me:

10 "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 "Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Prophets like Jeremiah)

13 "You (who are persecuted and reviled and abused for the sake of Christ, like Jeremiah) are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?  It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet. 14 "You are the light of the world.  A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:10-16 ESV)

It strikes me very odd that a representative of The Voice of the Martyrs would say, “We really do not know what is going on,” in the midst of Muslim persecution of Christians.  I’m not exactly sure what he meant by that, but it should never surprise us that the enemies of God hate the people of God.  But we must remember what Jesus said:”Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

This is normal.  When we are persecuted, we are the salt of the earth.  When we are hated for Christ’s sake, our light shines brightly and God is glorified.  To respond to the VOM rep, what is going on is the same thing that has always gone on: the persecution of the righteous.  The vilification of the people of God.  This is to be expected.  So to ask the question that Jeremiah asked, (Namely, “Why is it that those who are persecuting me have it so good?”) is pointless.  We know the answer before we ask it.  That is the way this fallen world works.  For now.  That is the way it will be until the Lord Jesus returns.

So when we pray for the persecuted church, what are we praying for?  That the persecution would stop?  Thankfully, the Lord does give his people respite from time to time.  There are those times which may last for decades, in which God’s people enjoy relative peace and safety.  We here in America have enjoyed that kind of peace for 300 years.  But the persecution of believers in the Lord Jesus is to be expected.  

Now notice the rest of Jeremiah 12.  Jeremiah may be persecuted, but what will happen to his persecutors?

7 "I have forsaken my house; I have abandoned my heritage; I have given the beloved of my soul into the hands of her enemies. 8 My heritage has become to me like a lion in the forest; she has lifted up her voice against me; therefore I hate her. 9 Is my heritage to me like a hyena's lair?  Are the birds of prey against her all around?  Go, assemble all the wild beasts; bring them to devour.

10 Many shepherds have destroyed my vineyard; they have trampled down my portion; they have made my pleasant portion a desolate wilderness. 11 They have made it a desolation; desolate, it mourns to me.  The whole land is made desolate, but no man lays it to heart. 12 Upon all the bare heights in the desert destroyers have come, for the sword of the LORD devours from one end of the land to the other; no flesh has peace. 13 They have sown wheat and have reaped thorns; they have tired themselves out but profit nothing.  They shall be ashamed of their harvests because of the fierce anger of the LORD."

Now pay careful attention to the pronouns in these next few verses.  As I read, I’m going to add to the pronouns who I believe the Lord is speaking of.

14 Thus says the LORD concerning all my evil neighbors [the Gentiles] who touch the heritage [the land] that I have given my people Israel to inherit: "Behold, I will pluck them [the Gentiles] up from their [the Jew’s] land, and I will pluck up the house of Judah from among them. 15 And after I have plucked them [Judah] up, I will again have compassion on them, and I will bring them [the Jews] again each to his heritage and each to his land. 16 And it shall come to pass, if they [the Gentiles] will diligently learn the ways of my people [the Jews], to swear by my name, 'As the LORD lives,' even as they [the Gentiles] taught my people to swear by Baal, then they [Gentiles] shall be built up in the midst of my people. 17 But if any nation will not listen, then I will utterly pluck it up and destroy it, declares the LORD."

The Lord is no respecter of persons.  Those who honor and obey God will receive His blessing.  Those who don’t, won’t.  And I believe this is as much of an answer to Jeremiah’s complaint as anything God could have told him.  The righteous live by faith in God.  The wicked will perish.  That applies to individuals as well as entire nations.  It even applied to the people of Judah.

My heritage has become to me like a lion in the forest; she has lifted up her voice against me; therefore I hate her.  I have forsaken my house; I have abandoned my heritage; I have given the beloved of my soul into the hands of her enemies. (Jeremiah 12, verse 8, then 7 ESV))

But God is not only justice and wrath.  He is also love and mercy.

15 And after I have plucked them [Judah] up, I will again have compassion on them.

And He is even willing to show this kind of mercy to the Gentiles if they will diligently learn the ways of my people [the Jews], to swear by my name, 'As the LORD lives,' (v.16)  God does indeed love the world.  God is indeed not willing that any who repent should perish.  God certainly does not delight in the death of the wicked.

Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live? (Ezekiel 18:23 ESV)

Whoever believes on the Lord Jesus Christ will not perish.  He will not be plucked up and destroyed, he will not be hated by the Lord, he will not be abandoned by God, whether Jew or Gentile.  Whether from Jerusalem or Babylon.  Whether Muslim or Hindu or any other false religion.  Whether a worshiper of ancestors or stars or blocks of wood.  ALL who call upon the name of the Lord SHALL be saved.

But they shall all suffer persecution too.  Sooner or later, to a greater or lesser degree.  It is precisely in this way that we become the salt of the earth and a light to the world.  And we are willing to do so.  We are grateful to be called His people, the sheep of His pasture, brothers and sisters of the King of Glory, the children of God.  

Come what may, we have much for which to be eternally grateful.  Not just on Thanksgiving.
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1. http://www.persecution.com/public/newsroom.aspx?story_ID=NTQy
2. http://www.persecution.com/public/newsroom.aspx?story_ID=NTQz&featuredstory_ID=MzYx&clickfrom=ZmVhdHVyZWRzdG9yaWVz


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