Dr. David Jeremiah Presents
Living inthe Ageof Signs
Living in the Age of Signs
Does today's anti–Christian rhetoric make you mad? Do you ever get so fed up that you'd like to give someone a piece of your mind? Christians have a message worth dying for. We have standards and convictions that place us at odds with our culture. But how can we be wise as serpents and as harmless as doves? How can we maintain our Christian composure in a confrontational age?
We can learn from Jesus. He was never weak, but never rude. He spoke clearly and confidently, yet without venom or virulence. The apostle Peter, sometimes a loose cannon, learned that lesson well. Writing in his first epistle, he told us to handle opposition as Jesus did. The theme of 1 Peter is to walk in His steps, to deal with opposition as Christ did.
Speak Up — Respectfully
That means speaking up when needed. Peter told us to "proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light" (1 Peter 2:9). We're to speak as if delivering "the oracles of God" (4:11). We're to preach the Gospel given by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven (1:12). So if you get half a chance, say a word for the Lord.
But Peter also reminded us to present our defense of the faith "with meekness and fear, having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed" (3:15–16). He warned us about grumbling (4:9) and to be submissive to governing authorities (2:13–14).
The old word for this is "manners." Augustine of Canterbury was a missionary who sought to revive Christianity in England following the breakdown of Roman rule. When a conflict arose between Augustine and some of the indigenous Celtic Christians, a meeting was proposed. The local believers arrived, but Augustine didn't rise from his chair to meet them. His attitude seemed ungracious, and relationship broke down, leading to years of division.
It is important for Christians to be gracious and to be patient in conflict. Yes, Jesus spoke with fiery passion, and I'm amazed at the bluntness of His "Woe to You" sermon to the Pharisees and scribes in Matthew 24. But Christ always controlled His anger, and Peter said, "Arm yourselves also with the same mind" (1 Peter 4:1).
In our hostile world, a smile and a pleasant demeanor stand out like a redbird on a snow–covered landscape. We can fight the good fight, but we can do so in a Christlike manner. As someone once said: "To win some, be winsome."
Know When to Keep Quiet
We can also learn from Jesus the fine art of keeping quiet. By example Jesus taught us that sometimes a closed mouth offers the loudest testimony. Our Lord's majestic silence still evokes dignity as we read of Him standing before Herod, Pilate, and the Sanhedrin, offering not a word of despair or defense.
One of the secrets of the martyrs has been their ability by God's grace to maintain self–possession when being treated indignantly. They displayed a poise and peace that completely confounded those intent on destroying them. It was undoubtedly the glow on Stephen's face and his words of forgiveness that haunted the young Saul of Tarsus until he became Paul the apostle.
In 1 Peter, wives of unbelievers are told to win their husbands to Christ, if possible, "without a word" by the power of "a gentle and quiet spirit" (3:1, 4).
We can always open our mouths to the Lord in prayer, however, for Peter told us to cast all our cares on Him (5:7). Jesus taught, "Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you…" (Matthew 5:44). Why this advice? First, for our opponents' sake. They badly need someone interceding for them. But another reason is for our own sake. Praying for our foes (think of some outspoken humanist, secularist, or atheist you know) helps keep our hearts in balance when we're caught up in "day spars."
As we pray, we can also leave grievances with God lest a root of bitterness spring up. Peter told us, "For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: ‘Who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth, who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously" (1 Peter 2:21–23). We're to "commit our souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator" (4:19). We can't right all the wrongs, nor can we change people's spots. But we can do our best, leave the rest to God, and shake the dust off our feet along the way.
Let Your Good Works Speak for Themselves
Finally, we find peace amid the conflict when we let our good works speak for themselves. "(Have) your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation" (1 Peter 2:12).
In Luke 14, Jesus went to a dinner where His foes were watching to see if He would violate Sabbath regulations. A diseased man was present. Jesus asked, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?" The Pharisees kept silent, so Jesus healed the man. Turning to the crowd, He asked, "Which of you, having a donkey or an ox that has fallen into a pit, will not immediately pull him out on the Sabbath day?"
Luke tells us, "They could not answer Him regarding these things" (verse 6).
The world has a hard time finding fault in good works. When we feed the hungry, care for the unfortunate, adopt orphans, provide relief, and live out our faith, they are silenced.
As Christians, we must confront our culture and speak the truth in love. We're God's ambassadors in a hostile world. This is no time to go mute. Morals are spiraling downward, marriage is being attacked, the church is being marginalized, atheists are scorning the truth, and humanists are relentlessly advancing an ungodly agenda on a new generation. We have to speak up. But we must do so as Christ did—and He was never ill–tempered, hot–headed, loose–lipped, or bad–humored. We have to watch ourselves because the whole world is watching us; and when others see us, we want them to see Him.
Pain Today, Rewards Forever
Today's Devotion: Pain Today, Rewards Forever
When supporters of Martin Luther stood by their leader in sixteenth-century Germany in protest against abuses in the established church, they were persecuted like Luther was. And for two thousand years, followers of Jesus Christ have been persecuted just as their Lord was. We are reminded throughout God’s Word that there is a cost to following our Savior, but the rewards are also great.
The probability of persecution is not the focal point of the Gospel message, but prospective followers of Christ should understand that “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” Jesus told His original disciples plainly, “If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20). Jesus also called those who are persecuted for His sake “blessed” (Matthew 5:10). Why? Because “great is your reward in heaven” (Matthew 5:12).
Persecution is painful, but the anticipation of eternal rewards for faithfulness is a balm for the wounded body and soul. Plus, it helps to know that you do not suffer alone.
Persecution is the legacy bequeathed by Christ to His people.
Christians around the world are experiencing severe persecution. The consequences for professing faith in Jesus Christ range from stereotyping and marginalization in the West to enslavement and martyrdom in parts of the East. As unwelcome as it may be, persecution is not surprising. Jesus warned His believers, " 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you" (John 15:20).
The strange truth about persecution is that it has an enigmatic effect: it strengthens the Church! In Romans 5, the apostle Paul encourages believers to "glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope" (verses 3–4). History bears testimony to the fortifying effect of persecution. Consider the following statements from believers who faced persecution.
"We are hard–pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed—always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body."
—The apostle Paul, persecuted believer in ancient Rome (2 Corinthians 4:8–10)
"I fear neither death nor fire. I am prepared for both, so do your worst!"1
—William Lithgow, tortured during the Spanish Inquisition
"They [messengers of the Gospel] must not fear men. Men can do them no harm, for the power of men ceases with the death of the body. But they overcome the fear of death with the fear of God. The danger lies not in the judgement of men, but in the judgement of God, not in the death of the body but in the eternal destruction of body and soul. Those who are still afraid of men have no fear of God, and those who have fear of God have ceased to be afraid of men. All preachers of the gospel will do well to recollect this saying daily."
—Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German pastor, hanged on April 9, 1945, for participating in a plot to kill Hitler2
"When people come close to each other, they see themselves in each other's eyes. In your eyes, I see myself. I used to be impulsive too. I used to rage and strike out at others with sharp words and selfish thoughts—until I learned what it means to love. When you're able to love, you're able to sacrifice yourself for the truth. Since I learned that lesson, my hands do not clench into fists."
—Sabina Wurmbrand, Romanian prisoner, 1945, addressing a deputy commandant at Jilava prison camp3
"I learned from [the communist guards]. As they allowed no place for Jesus in their hearts, I decided I would not leave the smallest place for Satan in mine. . . . God will judge us not according to how much we endured, but how much we could love."
—Richard Wurmbrand, imprisoned and tortured for fourteen years in Romania4
"He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose."
—Jim Elliot, martyred January 8, 1956
"I made it clear that I will consider—this is the important phrase I am trying to say—myself most fortunate if Jesus Christ will accept the sacrifice of my blood to raise the voice for the justice and rights of the persecuted and victimized Christians and other minorities in Pakistan."
—Clement Shahbaz Bhatti, assassinated in Islamabad in 2011 as a "blasphemer" of Muhammad
"I planned to kill my cousin, Your [God's] follower. But now I am prepared to give my life for You myself."
—Mostafa, Egyptian Christian convert from Islam5
"We are constantly on edge, but our faith has grown and we are more determined than ever to see Christians in the area stand strong and not compromise their faith in Jesus."
—Anonymous church leader from Central China, in response to escalating government persecution6
"My family and friends asked me to renounce Christ. When I didn't, much persecution followed, and my life was in danger. I had to flee."
—Masih, Hindu convert in India7
1John Foxe, Foxe's Christian Martyrs: The Powerful Abridged Classic (Uhrichsville, OH: Barbour Books, 2005), 44.
2Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1963), 242.
3"Sabina: A Witness of Christ's Love," Hearts of Fire (Bartlesville, OK: VOM Books, 2015), 144.
4Richard Wurmbrand, Tortured for Christ (Bartlesville, OK: Living Sacrifice Book Company, 1998); 36, 39.
5"Modern–Day Paul: 'I Planned to Kill Him; Now I'm Prepared to Die for Jesus," https://www.opendoorsusa.org/christian–persecution/stories/modern–day–paul–i–planned–to–kill–him–now–im–prepared–to–die–for–jesus/>, accessed on February 27, 2009.
6"Chinese Church Leaders Vow: 'When One Is Arrested, Another Will Pick Up the Work," https://www.opendoorsusa.org/christian–persecution/stories/chinese–church–leaders–vow–one–arrested–another–pick–up–work/ , accessed on February 27, 2009.
7K.P. Yohannan, Revolution in World Missions (Wills Point, TX: gfa books, a division of Gospel for Asia), 146.
For Your Phone or Tablet
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The book of Revelation is known for its vivid descriptions of God's apocalyptic judgment, but it begins with seven messages from Jesus Christ for seven first–century churches in Asia Minor. These letters characterize the churches as loveless, persecuted, compromising, corrupt, spiritually dead, faithful, or lukewarm. Each message has meaning for believers today, but it is the letter to the church of Smyrna that provides guidance to those who are facing persecution.
Smyrna — The suffering Church (Revelation 2:8–11)
The city of Smyrna, modern Izmir, was a prominent seaport on the Aegean Coast that traded in myrrh. Historians consider it to have been the most beautiful city ever built by the Greeks. Unfortunately its beauty was matched by its depravity. Smyrna's name derived from an incestuous Greek goddess, Myrrha, who was believed to have been transformed into a myrrh tree. Smyrna was also the first city to build a temple in honor of Rome and its deified emperors.
For hundreds of years before the Wise Men brought myrrh to Jesus, myrrh was used for incense, embalming, and medicinal purposes throughout the ancient world. Because of its use in embalming, myrrh was associated with suffering and affliction. It was harvested by wounding a Commiphora tree and collecting the sap that bled out. The sap would harden into resin, which would be crushed to release its aromatic oil. The Wise Men's gift of myrrh anticipated Christ's suffering, and the harvesting process reflected His suffering on the cross. Ironically, Myrrha's mythological son was named Adonis, which means "my lord."
At the time of John's writing, the believers in Smyrna were suffering because they refused to worship Caesar and other pagan gods. Rome allowed other religions to exist as long as the people would worship the emperor above all others. Christians who refused to do that were tortured for their faith. The suffering believers in Smyrna were releasing the fragrant aroma of Christ under the weight of their suffering.
Encouragement for the Suffering Churches of Today
Christians in developed countries today think little about being persecuted for their faith. But there are areas in the world where persecution is a daily reality. Such was the case for the ancient church in Smyrna. They suffered because of pressure, poverty, and persecution (Revelation 2:9). Christ's words to that church can prepare all believers for what might come.
"Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer" (Revelation 2:10). Because Christ is Lord over all of life's circumstances, we have nothing to fear. Paul wrote that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:35–39). Fear is a natural human response, but we choose to believe God's promises and live supernatural lives through the power of Christ in us.
"Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life" (Revelation 2:10). Given the intensity of the persecution in Smyrna, I believe Christ was saying, "Yes, you may lose your life for My sake, but be faithful until the end."
The opposite of fear is faith—faith in God, faith in what God has said, faith in who God is, and faith in what He has promised us.
Principles for Suffering Believers
Christ stands above any worldly authority. In Revelation 2:8, He called Himself "The First and the Last," which is a claim to eternity. Regimes rise and fall, but only Christ reigns eternally. "The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 15:56–57).
Christ sees His children's suffering and understands it from His own experience. Hebrews 4:15 says, "For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin." There is nothing we will be faced with in life that Christ has not already faced and conquered.
Christ supplies spiritual blessings that outweigh the wealth of this world. He referred to the poverty of Smyrna's believers, yet He called them "rich" (Revelation 2:9). Christians do not count wealth as the world counts it. Believers may be poverty–stricken in this life and yet trust in the richness of kingdom treasures of love, hope, patience, and faithfulness to Christ.
Christ sets limits on the suffering of His children. Persecution in this life can be extreme, but it has no power in the next life. He told the church in Smyrna that they would suffer for ten days, which referred to the brevity of their situation in light of eternity (Revelation 2:10).
Christ secures eternal rewards for His believers. Smyrna's prominent hill boasted magnificent public buildings and was known as "the crown of Smyrna." But Christ promised the believers in that church an even better crown: "Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life."
The Christian church in Smyrna had nothing to fear from persecution. No matter how cruel the torture, the Romans could never separate God's people from Him. Every believer in Christ today should take comfort in that same truth: Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
Houston: "Expect loss of signal in less than one minute."
Apollo 13: "Roger that, Houston, We'll hear from you again on acquisition of signal. . . . So long, earth. Catch you on the flip side."
(After almost an hour . . . .)
Houston: "Thirteen, this is Houston. . . . It's good to see you again."
Apollo 13: "Good to see you too, Houston."
If you saw the 1995 film, Apollo 13, you may remember those lines. As cool and precise as they sound, underneath them lay the fear that gripped the world in 1970 during NASA's near–disastrous mission to the moon. An oxygen tank on the Apollo 13 spacecraft blew up and crippled the craft, causing the mission to be aborted. In order to gain enough speed to return to earth, the craft performed a slingshot move around the dark side of the moon, using the gravitational pull of the moon to fling the craft back toward earth. For nearly an hour, behind the moon, the three–man crew was cut off from communication with earth. Hurtling through space, nearly 250,000 miles from earth, the astronauts could talk—but no one on earth could hear them.
Communications were silent again when the craft reentered the earth's atmosphere. For nearly three minutes on reentry, heat and disruption cause a communication blackout during every space flight. Because of variables associated with Apollo 13's damaged condition, their reentry extended to more than four minutes. When the customary three minutes elapsed, Houston began trying to reestablish radio contact, fearing the worst:
"Odyssey, this is Houston. Do you read?" (Silence)
"Odyssey, this is Houston. Do you read me?" (Silence)
"Odyssey, this is Houston. Do you read?" (No reply)
"Odyssey, this is Houston. Do you read?" (Still no answer)
"Odyssey, this is Houston. Do you read me?" (Nothing)
"Odyssey, this is Houston. Do you read?" (Still nothing)
What If God Wasn't There?
What if you called out to the heavens in prayer, uncertain if God was there? "God, do You hear me? Lord, are you there?" The NASA officers at Mission Control were talking, but they didn't know if the Apollo 13 crew had survived reentry. They held their breath until they heard: "Hello, Houston. This is Odyssey. It's good to see you again!"
It's one thing to call out to someone you know is there, but who doesn't answer. There is obviously a reason for their silence. But it's an altogether different matter not to know if anyone is there. Think how you would feel if you had no assurance that God was there when you needed Him. The assurance that God is always present in our life is the Christian's deepest source of security. Even if His answer is delayed (Daniel 10:1–14) or His answer is "No" (2 Corinthians 12:7–10), that's okay. What isn't okay is a lack of assurance that God is always present in our lives.
Fortunately, we never have to wonder if God is there. We never have to wonder whether God is listening when we ask: "God, it's me. Are You there?"
For centuries, persecuted Christians have suffered through torture and even martyrdom because of their rock–solid confidence in God's presence. History suggests that eleven of Christ's twelve apostles were martyred by means of beheading, crucifixion, burning, stoning, and bludgeoning. Foxe's Christian Martyrs records these details about one disciple's death:
Andrew, going toward the place of execution and seeing the cross waiting for him, never changed his expression. Neither did he fail in his speech. He fainted not, nor did his reason fail him, as often happens to men about to die. He said, "Oh cross, most welcome and longed for! With a willing mind, joyfully and desirously, I come to you, being the scholar of Him which did hang on you, because I have always been your lover and yearn to embrace you."1
Hebrews 11:1 says, "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." Faith allows persecuted believers to live each day with confidence. They view eternity with God, "things hoped for," as facts, and they do not allow earthly circumstances to shift their eternal perspective. Contrary to skeptical opinions, faith does not ignore reasoning. Faith chooses to believe—without seeing—that God's promises will be fulfilled.
When our faith is based on Almighty God's holiness and sovereignty and presence, we can face trials with resolve. However, if we place our faith in anything less than God, we are sure to be disappointed.
The prophet Elijah taunted the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel concerning their god's presence—or lack of it. Baal's prophets pleaded with him for hours to send fire that would consume their sacrifice on the altar. They danced, yelled, prayed, cut themselves—and the heavens were silent. " ‘You'll have to shout louder,' [Elijah] scoffed, ‘for surely he is a god! Perhaps he is daydreaming, or is relieving himself. Or maybe he is away on a trip, or is asleep and needs to be wakened!' " (1 Kings 18:27, NLT) But Baal never answered because Baal wasn't there—and he never will be.
As soon as Elijah called out to the God of Israel, God responded with an answer of fire that consumed the sacrifice. Elijah never doubted God's presence in his life because he knew that God was always there. God never gets distracted, forgets, oversleeps, or goes on vacation.
In fact, even if we try to avoid God's presence—something I don't recommend—we find He meets us around every corner. That's what Jonah discovered when he tried to flee from God and met Him in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. And King David discovered the same thing: "You have hedged me behind and before . . . Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence?" (Psalm 139:5, 7) David may have written this as he thought about his sins of adultery and murder that he tried to conceal. Far better, he concluded, to know that God is always there, even when we wish we could hide from Him, than to wonder if He is there when we truly need Him.
What If God Is There?
God told the prophet Jeremiah that He "[fills] heaven and earth" (Jeremiah 23:24). And the apostle Paul told the skeptics in Athens that God "is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:27–28). That means God is as close to you, right now, as the air you breathe—even closer. Regardless of where you are, what you are doing, or how you are feeling, God is present with you.
One of the most amazing stories in the Bible about God's presence is when Joseph was sold into slavery in Egypt by his own brothers. In spite of this ordeal, the Bible says that God was with him. The official who bought Joseph, Potiphar, eventually put Joseph in charge of all his affairs: "The Lord was with Joseph," even as a slave (Genesis 39:2). Even when Joseph was wrongly accused and thrown into prison, "the Lord was with Joseph and showed him mercy, and He gave him favor" with the prison officials (Genesis 39:21).
Interestingly, the Bible tells us what happened as a result of God's presence in Joseph's life. First, Potiphar was introduced to Joseph's God: "And [Potiphar] saw that the Lord was with [Joseph] and that the Lord made all he did to prosper in his hand" (Genesis 39:3). Probably for the first time in his life, an Egyptian ruler observed the influence of the God of Joseph—and was impressed.
Second, because God was with Joseph in prison, Joseph was eventually brought before Pharaoh, king of Egypt, to interpret his dreams. Pharaoh was so impressed with the power of Joseph's God, he said, "Can we find such a one as this, a man in whom is the Spirit of God?" (Genesis 41:38) As a result of God's presence in Joseph's life, Pharaoh made Joseph second in command over all of Egypt.
God's presence in Joseph's life—along with Joseph's submission to God's plan for his life—resulted in God being acknowledged and welcomed into the royal court of Egypt. And therein lies a significant reason for God being with you and me wherever we are, regardless of the situation: God wants to make His presence known to others through us.
Yes, God is with us for our benefit—to teach us, comfort us, guide us, correct us, encourage us, and celebrate with us. But if we are walking hand in hand with God, by His Spirit, when those who see the hope that we have ask us the reason for that hope . . . that's when God becomes present to others through us (1 Peter 3:15). If we are hard–pressed, perplexed, persecuted, struck down, but not crushed, despairing, forsaken, or destroyed because God is present with us—trust me, someone is going to notice. And they are going to want to know why.
Then you will have the opportunity to tell someone who thinks God is far off that God is as close to them as they are to you—because God is always present by His Spirit. And instead of that person speaking into the darkness and hearing only silence in return, you may have the opportunity to show them what it means to talk to your God, the God who is as close as your very words, and how to hear His answers in reply.
Never forget: God is always present with you. And through you, He can become personally present to others.
David said to his son Solomon, "Be strong and of good courage, and do it; do not fear nor be dismayed, for the Lord God—my God—will be with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you, until you have finished all the work for the service of the house of the Lord." 1 Chronicles 28:20
1John Foxe, Foxe's Christian Martyrs (Uhrichsville, OH: Barbour Publishing, Inc., 2005), 16.