Sunday, May 11, 2008

Pentecost and Persecution

Today was Pentecost.  The following is a portion of the message I preached on at the Free Church Mennonite Brethren Church in Owingen, Germany:

Jesus' sermon in Luke 4:16-30 marks the beginning of Jesus' public ministry.  In chapter three He had been baptized at which time the Holy Spirit descended upon Him and the Father had confirmed his identity.  Then in chapter four He had been driven into the wilderness to be tempted.  Now, He goes into the synagogue and He announces that the Spirit of the Lord is upon to preach good news to the poor.  It is this anointing that prepares him for a mission that will be marked by humiliation, opposition, rejection, and suffering, as we see in how the crowd responds to His sermon.  They seek to kill Him.

Hardly a great way to begin one's public ministry.  If this had happened to me the first time I preached, I am not sure if I would still be in the ministry. Indeed, I suspect that my sermon was more a persecution of those who had to listen to it than the other way around.

But as we continue through the New Testament, we see that this event is a model for the remainder of Jesus' ministry.  Jesus goes forth and ministers in a context of opposition and hostility.  Ultimately, His ministry leads to the Cross, a symbol of weakness, shame, rejection and humiliating death. 

This is typically how God's purposes are accomplished in Scripture; through Spirit anointed messengers who spread the Good News in the face of opposition, humiliation, rejection, and death.  This is the path that Jesus walked and it is the path that His disciples will walk following the day of Pentecost. 

Like Jesus, they wait until they are empowered by the Holy Spirit in order to begin to obey Jesus' commission in Acts 1:8 to take the gospel to the world; a world which the Bible says is in a state of rebellion to God, hostile to the Word of God and the people of God; a world that is not marked by an openness to the things of God but a rejection of them. They go out as lambs among wolves.  They are sent out as "witnesses" and witnesses, as we note in Scripture and church history, often martyrs

And like their Lord, his messengers are anointed by the Spirit to preach the gospel to those in need.   And like their Lord, we read in Acts that they almost immediately ran into opposition.  Already in chapter 4, Peter and John are arrested and interrogated for a sermon they gave in chapter 3 shortly after Pentecost.  In their prayer in 4:25-29 they recount how David, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, had said:

'Why did the Gentiles rage,
        and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
        and the rulers were gathered together,
             against the Lord and against his Anointed'-

for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness,

They knew that just as Jesus had suffered, so would they.  Being empowered by the Spirit would not protect them from persecution; indeed, the Spirit empowered them for persecution and continued ministry.

This is a principle that we must not miss in Scripture. The purposes of God are always carried out in an environment of conflict, with God's messengers suffering rejection, opposition, pain and even death in order to carry this good news to others.  They suffer so that others can be healed.  They die so that others can live.  They suffer shame and rejection so that others can receive honor and acceptance with God. 

Do they do this on their own strength?  No, it is only possible because of Pentecost.  It is only possible because the Spirit of the Lord is upon them, empowering them in times of weakness, giving them the words to say when words fail them, praying for them when they don't know what to say.  Life lived in the shadow of the cross is life lived in the power of the Spirit.  There is no contrast between a theology of the cross and a theology of the Spirit.

A cross-centered gospel requires Spirit-filled, cross-carrying messengers.  In the plan of God, there is no other way that His purposes can be achieved.

1 comment:

Sheila said...

Wow! Thanks for sharing this. I just stumbled upon this blog. I recently started a blog just to personally keep remembering my brothers and sisters in chains and be united with them.


There's a lot of confusion out there about what it means to follow Christ and walk in the power of His Spirit to be His witnesses- this post just shines light and brings clarity and order.

Thanks for sharing it!