Advent 2: Taking Christ seriously: On hostility
“Then you will be arrested, persecuted, and killed. You will be hated all over the world because you are my followers. And many will turn away from me and betray and hate each other,” (Matthew 24:9–10, NLT).
As we continue in Advent, we find ourselves face to face with words we would rather avoid, or explain away, and apply to other generations, especially the past. Indeed, what we have before us has followed Christianity from the period of the early church. The great miracles and severe persecutions seemed to go hand in hand. Yet, we will be mistaken to assume these were confined to distant history. In every age, all true Christian disciples must take these words from the Lord Jesus seriously, even if we do not look forward to the experiences.
Thankfully, the last words of Matthew’s gospel record the promise attached to the Great Commission: “Jesus came and told His disciples, ‘I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age,’” (Matthew 28:18–20).
Between the first and second Advent, lies the whole period of the persecution. Quite early in Christian history, the Apostle Peter wrote to the scattered disciples of his time who were facing much hardship on account of their faith – and he, himself, was not spared: “Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. Instead, be very glad — for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to all the world. If you are insulted because you bear the name of Christ, you will be blessed, for the glorious Spirit of God rests upon you.” (1 Peter 4:12–14)
This is part of the package of biblical discipleship, and the Lord Jesus never left His disciples in doubt, right from the Sermon on the Mount. The reasons are obvious: following Christ demands complete and supreme loyalty surpassing all earthly relationships. It demands living by a new standard whereby what seems right and acceptable and even popular in the eyes of the world may be the exact opposite for the disciple, who must necessarily go against the tide and thereby offend many. Further, Christian discipleship requires a lifestyle that makes the disciple salt and light in a world that is decaying and in darkness. We become the new conscience of society and this draws widespread hostility.
No generation has seen as much persecution as we see against Christians in our day. All over the world, in every nation, profession, group, association, or neighbourhood, the serious-minded Christian is treated as the black sheep, the second-class citizen. In business and politics, and even in some Church groups, the true disciple is the subject of gossip, ridicule, conspiracy, deprivation, and betrayal. What should we do then, as we expect the Second Advent? The Lord Jesus is consistent in the response He tells His disciples to adopt: endurance. See Matt. 10:22; 24:13; Rev. 13:10; 14:12. The ever-present temptation is to compromise, backslide, or escape. Whatever persecution we go through now, we must look up, for our salvation is near. May the Lord grant us grace in every time of need to be faithful. Amen!
• For Christ’s Kingdom and Glory, Most Rev. (Dr.) Emmanuel A.S. Egbunu, Bishop of Lokoja. P.O. Box 11; No 3 Murtala Mohammed Way Bethany, Lokoja, Kogi State)