Sermon preached on April 10, 2011 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2011. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at http://www.cantonnewlife.org/.
Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.
When I attended seminary in Philadelphia I met a retired missionary named Bruce Hunt. We attended the same church. He had been born in Korea and spent most of his life there as a missionary. His father-in-law, William Blair, had been a missionary in Korea since 1901. Blair's ministry coincided with a great revival in 1907 and he wrote a book about it. The Japanese annexed Korea in 1910 and began a systematic persecution of Christians. Bruce Hunt witnessed some of it. Years later he reissued his father-in-law's book and added a section on the persecution that followed. The book is called, The Korean Pentecost and the Sufferings Which Followed. Some of the stories in it are very disturbing. Many Korean Christians experienced imprisonment, torture and death at the hands of the Japanese.
One of the interesting things about the book is how various Christians reacted to the threatened persecution. One Christian evangelist who worked with Bruce Hunt told him, (The Korean Pentecost p. 95)
"I could die for Christ, but I cannot endure the thought of years in prison, just deteriorating mentally and physically."
Another Korean pastor expressed the opposite sentiment. He was talking to Bruce Hunt and the persecutions and complained that there was no escape from them. Bruce suggested to him that death for Christ was a way of escape. The minister replied, (The Korean Pentecost, p. 95)
"But I do not want to die."
We're all different and we have different fears. One of the things that surprised me about the book was that some things that I would never have considered a temptation to apostatize—were in fact the greatest temptations. For instance, pastor Kim Yoonsup preached against shrine worship and was arrested and tortured—he was beaten, subjected to the infamous water torture, and even branded with a hot irons. But he never broke. There's actually great lesson for us in this. You've probably heard it said that everyone has a breaking point, that everyone reaches a point where where they can't hold out. That's not true. Bruce Hunt's book contains many examples of Christians being faithful to the very end—to death. Kim met each test with prayer in which he asked God for strength. He also strengthened himself by repeating portions of God's Word to himself. They could not break him.
Finally they released him and warned him that if he spoke against shrine worship again, they would re-arrest him. Bruce Hunt writes, (p. 116-117)
"Perhaps the most difficult form of temptation was freedom itself… How precious freedom is after imprisonment! But, for Kim, it could be had only at the price of keeping his mouth shut. Only one who has been through such a trial (and the writer speaks from experience) can know the strength of such a temptation to silence."
But Kim resisted the temptation to keep quiet. He again preached about Jesus. He was rearrested and tortured again. But eventually they released him again and ordered him not to preach in the name of Jesus. That happened nine times in all. The ninth time Kim died in prison.
Suffering is not easy. It's the most difficult thing about this life. To willingly choose it after experiencing torture, like some of those Korean Christians did—must have been incredibly hard.
I know very little about actual persecution. I've mostly read about it. But I know what the God tells you about it. He tells that
you are never to give in. You are to always remain faithful. You are to always persevere. You are to always hope, always trust, always endure.
This is what John tells us in our text. He wrote, (Revelation 1:9)
"I, John, your brother and companion
in the suffering and kingdom
and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus,
was on the island of Patmos
because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus."
The Greek word that John uses here that is translated 'patient endurance' is used frequently in the New Testament and refers to, (BDAG, 1039)
"the capacity to hold out or bear up in the face of difficulty…"
It is translated various ways, sometimes as 'persevering', 'standing firm', 'endurance'. It refers to meeting hardships with steadfastness, fortitude, patience—the essential idea is that of holding out and not giving in. Jesus wants us to persevere, to hold out until the end. This is what He told His disciples in Matthew 10:22. He said,
"All men will hate you because of me,
but he who stands firm to the end will be saved."
In Revelation 2:25–26 He said to the church in Thyatira,
"hold on to what you have until I come.
To him who overcomes and does my will to the end,
I will give authority over the nations…"
We are to persevere to the very end.
This shows us a very important truth. It is this:
obedience that lasts for only a limited time is not acceptable to Jesus.
Now don't misunderstand me here. We're not to be like the ancient Donatists. The Donatists were a Christian group that erred on how to regard Christians who had renounced their faith during the persecution under Roman emperor Diocletian in 303-305. During that great persecution many Christians renounced the faith. Some church leaders even went so far as to hand over Christian texts to be publicly burned. These people were called 'traditores' (people who had handed over). After the persecution ended and many of these traitors returned to the church and their positions of authority. The Donatists were appalled at this and taught that any sacraments celebrated by these bishops and priests were invalid. They didn't think that such people should have been permitted back into the church because they betrayed the gospel.
Denying Christ during persecution is certainly a great sin. But the Donatists seemed to neglect the Biblical teaching about Peter's denials and how our Savior forgave him and restored him to his place of apostleship. Denying Christ is a great sin but it is not the unforgiveable sin.
So I don't want anyone to misunderstand what I'm saying here. In saying that we are to hold out to the very end, that we are never to give in to pressure or persecution, that we are to confess Christ always—I'm saying that those who falter and fall are not Christians, that they are lost forever. Like Peter, if they repent they will be forgiven. If you read The Korean Pentecost and the Sufferings That Followed you'll learn that some of the Korean Christians broke under torture. They denied Christ. But after they came to their senses they repudiated what they had done and started following Christ again. Many of them were subsequently imprisoned and tortured again. Some true Christians do falter and fall, just like Peter.
But having said that, it is also clear that persecution often reveals those who are not true Christians. Many people profess Christ and think that they truly belong to Christ, but when persecution comes along they deny Him. They show that they never knew Him. They are like the seed in the Parable of the Sower which fell in rocky places. It sprang up quickly, but because they soil was shallow, it had no root and when the sun came up it withered. Jesus said, (Matthew 13:20–21)
"The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word
and at once receives it with joy.
But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time.
When trouble or persecution comes
because of the word, he quickly falls away."
The truth is that not all who profess Christ truly belong to Him. In a very real sense persecution separates the wheat from the chaff. It's not a perfect process, as a few true Christians do get mixed in with the chaff, but by and large, it reveals those who are true Christians—those who endure to the end.
Jesus wants us to persevere. He commands us to do it. Obedience that lasts for only a limited time is not acceptable to Jesus. He wants to us endure, to persevere no matter what the situation.
We see this in Revelation 3:10, in Jesus' message to the church at Philadelphia. The great commendable thing about the Christians there is that they persevered. Jesus said to them,
"you have kept my word and have not denied my name."
Our Lord was so pleased with them for their faithfulness in that regard. He told them that He was going to reward them for it. He said to them,
"Since you have kept my command to endure patiently,
I will also keep you from the hour of trial
that is going to come upon
the whole world to test those who live on the earth."
They persevered. They were so pleasing in His sight.
You are to remain faithful to Jesus no matter what the cost. You are to keep your hope in Him not matter how dark things look.
You are to never give up. You need to be like Job. He was the model of perseverance in the midst of adversity. Even under unbelievable pressure and suffering, Job remained absolutely committed to God. As he cried out in Job 13:15,
"Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him;"
Job was going to hold on to his faith no matter what. That's what we are to do.
So I ask you, do you love Jesus so much that you would die rather than renounce Him? Unless you can say that, don't fool yourself, you're probably not a Christian.
Christians, persevere. As the writer to Hebrews said, (Hebrews 10:23)
"Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess,
for he who promised is faithful."
But why is this so important? If denying Jesus is not the unforgiveable sin, if it can be repented of—when persecution comes,
why shouldn't we just pretend to give in and save ourselves a lot of suffering?
Why not just curse Christ and repent of it afterwards, because, after all, "I didn't mean it." Why is it so important that we persevere? We could just pretend to give in and then when the heat is gone we can go back to openly proclaiming Jesus.
Why not do that? We cannot because
the choice is between worshipping and serving God or worshipping and serving the beast.
There is no in-between. If you don't worship and serve God you're committing idolatry, your allegiance is somewhere else. Generally speaking, your outward actions show what's in your heart. As Jesus said in Luke 6:43–44,
"No good tree bears bad fruit,
nor does a bad tree bear good fruit.
Each tree is recognized by its own fruit."
Jesus commands us to endure to the end—even when faced with certain death. Not to do so is to renounce Christ and His salvation. As Jesus said in Matthew 16:25
"For whoever wants to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for me will find it."
Thinking that idolatry is okay for a time is distorted thinking. How could anyone think like that? Willfully indulging in idolatry when you know better is a sign that you're not a true believer in Jesus and that you will not be saved. As Jesus said in Matthew 10:32–33,
"Whoever acknowledges me before men,
I will also acknowledge him
before my Father in heaven.
But whoever disowns me before men,
I will disown him before my Father in heaven."
There are two other places in Revelation where the word 'patient endurance' is used and they both show us that we must not give in.
The need to persevere to the end is clearly shown in Revelation 13:6–10. It tells us about the beast out of the sea. It says,
"He was given power to make war
against the saints and to conquer them.
And he was given authority over every tribe, people,
language and nation. All inhabitants of the earth
will worship the beast—all whose names have not been
written in the book of life
belonging to the Lamb that was slain
from the creation of the world.
He who has an ear, let him hear.
If anyone is to go into captivity, into captivity he will go.
If anyone is to be killed with the sword,
with the sword he will be killed."
The end of verse 10 says,
"This calls for patient endurance
and faithfulness on the part of the saints."
That's going to be a horrific time for the saints. The beast is going to make war against the saints and conqueror them. The choice is simple, either worship the beast or worship God.
We see the same thing in Revelation 14:6f—in the fourth occurrence of this word 'patient endurance'. We read that a third angel urged people to fear God and give him the glory. He told people to worship God who made the heavens, the earth and the sea. Then he said in a loud voice:
"If anyone worships the beast
and his image and receives his mark
on the forehead or on the hand,
he, too, will drink of the wine of God's fury,
which has been poured full strength
into the cup of his wrath.
He will be tormented with burning sulfur
in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb.
And the smoke of their torment rises for ever and ever.
There is no rest day or night
for those who worship the beast and his image,
or for anyone who receives the mark of his name."
Then in verse 12 we read,
"This calls for patient endurance on the part of the saints
who obey God's commandments
and remain faithful to Jesus."
Again, this is a great warning against apostasy. In fact, it couldn't be any stronger. He's warning us to worship God, to never give in to worshipping the beast—because the fate of those who worship the beast will be to experience the eternal wrath of God. It says that anyone who puts himself on the side of God's enemies will be punished with the full fury of God's wrath. As Hebrews 10:36–39 says,
"You need to persevere so that
when you have done the will of God,
you will receive what he has promised.
For in just a very little while,
'He who is coming will come and will not delay.
But my righteous one will live by faith.
And if he shrinks back,
I will not be pleased with him.'
But we are not of those
who shrink back and are destroyed,
but of those who believe and are saved."
Persevering is the way to glory.
The second reason we should persevere to the end is
because of our witness to the world and the honor of Jesus Christ.
What kind of witness would it be to the world if we turned from Christ at the first sign of trouble? It would be no witness at all. Christ and the gospel would be disgraced.
On the other hand, persevering, suffering, dying shows the world the worth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It shows how valuable it is. It shows that in having Christ we have everything—that He is worth suffering and dying for. Persevering honors Jesus and your King.
Saints in the past have persevered. Hebrews 11 describes some of them. It says, (verses 35–39)
"Others were tortured and refused to be released,
so that they might gain a better resurrection.
Some faced jeers and flogging,
while still others were chained and put in prison.
They were stoned; they were sawed in two;
they were put to death by the sword.
They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute,
persecuted and mistreated—
the world was not worthy of them.
They wandered in deserts and mountains,
and in caves and holes in the ground.
These were all commended for their faith."
Hebrews 12:1 continues and says,
"Therefore, since we are surrounded
by such a great cloud of witnesses,
let us throw off everything that hinders
and the sin that so easily entangles,
and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us."
A great cloud of witness. They are our inspiration. They show us it can be done. Your example is to show others it can be done.
The third reason we should persevere to the end has to do with the fact that
only perseverance to the end is a complete work.
From what we know, Jesus was on the cross for approximately 6 hours. He stayed on the cross for you. He endured to the end, until it was time to say, "It is finished."
What good would it have been if He had only stayed on the cross for 5 hours instead of 6? What if He had called down the angels to save Him before the completed time? His work wouldn't have been finished. We wouldn't have been saved and God wouldn't have been glorified. Jesus needed to suffer for the entire time— until the "It is finished,". He then had to lay down His life by breathing His last. That was necessary for our salvation.
So, too, you have been given a work to do for God. Complete the work. Don't leave it uncompleted. Persevere. Endure. Praise God in it. Bring honor to your great God and Savior Jesus Christ.
Lastly, for those who are not Christians, you should understand that what is said of Christians does not apply to you.
Christians will persevere to the end and be saved.
Philippians 1:6 says of Christians,
"being confident of this, that he who began
a good work in you will carry it on
to completion until the day of Christ Jesus."
They will persevere and be saved because Jesus the Good Shepherd will be with them and help them.
The path you are on now is much different. As Jesus said in Matthew 7:13,
"For wide is the gate and broad is the road
that leads to destruction, and many enter through it."
Go to Jesus. Embrace Him. Find true life in Him.