It may seem absurd to compare the persecution of the apostles with the persecution of Christians in America today. “They will put you out of the synagogues,” Jesus says, “Yea, the hour is coming when anyone who kills you will think he offers service to God.” We’re not kicked out of our churches today. No one is trying to kill us today. So we’re told this just doesn’t apply to us, stop complaining Christians, no one’s persecuting you. But this is to completely misunderstand Jesus’ words. First, His concern for His disciples is not that they will be banned from the synagogues (those are the churches of the Jews). They did get kicked out of the synagogues as Jesus said they would and then they just had church elsewhere, in people’s homes. In the same way, we, if a new virus comes after Covid and Monkeypox and some anti-Christian government locks us out of our church building, we could and we would meet in one another’s homes and still gather as church. And Jesus’ concern for his disciples is not that they will be put to death either, as most of them were. Because there are far worse things than death. Jesus’ concern is that they not fall away from Him. That all this other stuff not keep them from meeting together, from hearing His Word, from receiving His body and blood, from living like Christians. That’s it. “I have told you these things to keep you from falling away,” in the Greek, “that you may not be be scandalized, be offended at Me, stumble and fall away from Me because the world is against Me.”
That’s Jesus’ concern for His apostles and that’s His concern for you. The promise of your Baptism is not that Jesus will give you the most comfortable, easiest life on this earth, not that he will allow no trials or persecutions or temptations in your life. No, look at Jesus’ Baptism, look at what followed immediately: the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness to be without food and without home and to be tempted by the devil. Baptism is no promise of a carefree, comfortable life. No, the promise of your Baptism is that you belong to God and Jesus is your Lord, and His Spirit fights for you, you are an heir of His Word, of the truth that will not fail you, so that no matter what the world may take away from you, possessions or reputation or pleasure or life itself, none of it can compare with what you have in your Baptism, as long as you keep the faith: You have the favor of God, the righteousness of your Savior, the seal of the Holy Spirit, the inheritance of everlasting life.
So of course Jesus’ words still apply to you and especially to you. He doesn’t want you to fall away. He loves you and wants you to be with Him forever. This is His care for you above all else. He became a man for you, God joined the human race to make you His own. He spilt His blood for you, died for you. He faced hell for you, willingly took your punishment on Himself. He wants, and the scars in His hands and on His side prove it, He wants you with Him forever. And your Baptism proves it. It didn’t happen randomly. Jesus commanded Baptism because He wants you to be His now and forever. Jesus sent the Holy Spirit because He wants you among His lambs. He had the apostles write the New Testament so you would know Him. He calls you to Himself now through the preaching of His Word, which He commanded to go to all nations and that means you. Because Jesus wants you a Christian. This is His overriding priority.
But it is also emphatically not true that the apostles somehow had it worse than we do, that they faced greater risk than we of falling away, that their persecution was nastier because it touched their bodies. Only a pampered society could think this way and argue this way: you Christians aren’t being persecuted, no one’s trying to kill you. As if that’s the only sort of persecution there is!
Let me make the opposite argument from those who say we Christians aren’t being persecuted in our day. The persecution we face is worse than that of the apostles in two ways. First, because it attacks the soul and not the body. It’s persecution when our government officials and agencies redefine marriage and deny the reality of male and female. It’s persecution when the media and billion-dollar corporations join in the propaganda campaign and sexualize absolutely everything and make unspeakable things seem normal to us and our children. It’s persecution when they then use our publicly funded schools to promote evolution and fornication and transgenderism, even to the little ones. It’s persecution when we are branded haters and radicals for upholding marriage and family and asking them to stop killing babies. It’s persecution when the intelligentsia label us uneducated and primitive because we hold the Bible to be the inspired and inerrant Word of God. These persecutions, far more than the threat of death, are what tear Christians away from the faith in our day.
And they are worse second in this way, that they seem subtle. I don’t say that they are subtle, because they aren’t to anyone who’s paying attention, but they seem to be, because they don’t openly threaten the body. It’s like the frog who stays in the water when it’s slowly warming up and doesn’t realize that he’s in danger until it’s too late, but would have jumped out of the boiling water and saved himself if he had been dropped right into it. So the long game is to slowly get us to become scandalized by Jesus’ words, to make it seem odd to hear that we are sinners who deserve God’s punishment or to make it seem unscientific that we are God’s creation who owe Him everything and should live according to His commands, or to make it seem impossible that the Bible is the truth in absolutely everything it says, or to make it seem radical to confess that Jesus is the only Savior and the only way to the Father.
Your chief concern should be Jesus’ chief concern. A disciple is not above His Master. Jesus is always right. So your highest concern should not be that you’ll get martyred or that you’ll lose your livelihood because you’re a Christian – not because those things couldn’t possibly happen here, they could, some of it already has – just ask Jack Phillips down in Denver who’s in his third lawsuit just for being a Christian, but because it would in the end be an honor to lose your life for Christ or to lose everything for His sake (you’re going to lose them anyway when you die – naked I came into this world and naked I’ll return, Job says). Our greatest concern is remaining faithful Christians in faith and in life. We Christians, we who have been baptized into Christ and have a far greater treasure in Him than anything this sinful world could possibly offer, we need to think this way: So long as God keeps me in the faith through His Holy Spirit, come life or death, I have everything in Jesus. We need to mean it when we sing, “And take they my life, goods, fame, child and wife, though these all be gone, the vict’ry has been won, the Kingdom ours remaineth.” So that more than I’d fight for my life, more than I’d fight for my house or my savings or even for my family, I’ll fight the fight of faith for me and for my family and for my church, because it is as far above all other concerns in life as heaven is above earth.
And Jesus tells us all these things beforehand so that we don’t fall away, so that we learn to listen to His voice and treasure it above all else. And what does He tell us? He tells us He won’t leave us orphans, that He’ll send us the Comforter, the Spirit of truth, and so He’ll be with us always even to the end of the age. Because this Spirit gives us the truth by bearing witness to Jesus, to what Jesus has done for us, to what Jesus has secured for us.
Jesus leaves nothing to chance here. He is so good to us. He gives us two guarantees that we have the unadulterated, pure truth that will not fail. First, that the apostles were with Him from the beginning. They tasted the water turned to wine. They ate the bread and fish multiplied for thousands. They saw Jesus walk on the water, saw the mute speak and the blind see and the dead raised. They saw Jesus beaten and mocked and nailed to a cross. They saw His dead, breathless body. They saw Him risen from the dead. The saw the truth of His resurrection and so they heard the truth of our forgiveness and of our eternal life. But then Jesus sends them also the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, to bring to their remembrance everything Jesus had said and done, to give them the courage to speak it and the words to write it down, all so that you would have it today. And you do have it. The truth. And the truth doesn’t change. Notice that. What you read in the Bible never falls short, never stops being relevant, always triumphs and proves itself long after philosophical fads and so-called scientific trends have been abandoned and left behind. The truth of Jesus remains.
And by this truth we receive the courage the apostles received. They acted as they spoke, finally, after Jesus rose, after Jesus gave them the Spirit. And this is the same Spirit you have by your Baptism. The end of all things is at hand, the Holy Spirit tells us through St. Peter. The goal of everything, the end to which all things tend, this has come near to us, this has come upon us. This is the legacy of our Baptism. Our end is not death. Our goal is not mere bodily pleasure or survival. Our end, our goal, is eternity, it is Christ, it is His perfect righteousness given freely by Him to us. And we have it. It’s come to us. He’s come to us. And so whatever decisions you make in life, what you spend your time doing, what friends you hang out with, what things you watch on TV, what you look up on the internet, where you send your kids to school, what you’ll do on a Sunday morning, how you treat one another, do it with this in mind, that Jesus loved you to His death and has done everything, ordered everything, to this end, that you should trust in Him here on this earth and be with Him forever in heaven. So live like this is your highest goal, for you and for your family. Know that you are in fact surrounded by persecutions and temptations, but that Jesus has given you things far higher and made you taste far greater pleasures than anything sin or lie has to offer. They end in death. But the end of your Baptism? The end of God’s love? The end of the truth? The world and everything in it may end, but this has no end. God has called you by name. The Lord has given you His Spirit. The truth ends in life, the only life worth living, life with God, forgiven by the blood of Jesus, the Father claiming you as His child, happy to claim you as His own. Rejoice in your heritage, read and love the Bible, look forward to hearing Christ’s Word and hunger for His body and blood, and you will see the emptiness of every temptation and of every persecution – their might a joke, a mere façade, God is with us and we with God, our vict’ry cannot fail.