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Sunday Night Live Sermons

THE PROMISE OF UNJUST PERSECUTION
Matthew 24:1-14

2nd June 2002

In a country like Australia, one of the safest and most enjoyable places on earth, it is hard to believe that over 200 million Christians in other countries live in daily fear of secret police, vigilantes or state repression and discrimination and 400 million more have little religious liberty. This week, on the 21st of May, the east African nation of Eritrea officially closed all churches other than the Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Lutheran denominations. All other Christian churches and groups were shut down. The evangelical Protestant mission, SIM, formerly Sudan Interior Mission, established in 1893 has been closed.

1. THE PERSECUTION OF BELIEVERS.
We know of the persecution of Christians in Indonesia. Individuals like Salmon Ongirwalu, a Christian from Western Sumatra, was sentenced to an 8 years for the conversion of a Muslim girl. There have been calls for the execution of all Christians who do not "voluntarily" leave the area. As a result of their faith, Christians around the world suffer imprisonment, torture, denial of all basic human rights, contact with their families, and health care. Often their resilience and love towards their oppressors puzzle many persecutors, who find it difficult to understand their inner strength. "In the midst of suffering, sadness and darkness, God is there with you, in hope and faith" says Wuille Figueroa, a prisoner in Peru.

If you ask the persecuted, although they may lack food and shelter, prayer is their first request. Knowing they are not forgotten means so much. Alan Yuan, is a leading house church leader in China. At age 44 was given a life sentence for his stand against the government.

Alan Yuan says, "Many friends come and ask what they could do to help the Chinese church. The answer is this one word: Pray! Every one of us can respond to this call. Letter-writing to those in prison is a material sign that they have not been forgotten. We are reminded that the Bible exhorts us to "Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow-prisoners" Hebrew 13:3 Christians are persecuted in over 30 countries such as Indonesia, Sudan, China, Iran, Egypt, India, Iraq, Pakistan, Vietnam, and many other countries. We should never underestimate the power of prayer. Two years ago, few people even knew that Christians were being persecuted. When human rights groups talked about abuses, they meant political dissidents. They ignored the attacks on house churches in China and the Chinese bishops who were getting their fingernails pulled out. They ignored what was happening in Sudan, where it seemed that every last Christian would be hunted down and killed before governments would do anything about it.

Governments are still seemingly ignorant or else unwilling to protest against the persecution against Christians in Ambon and in parts of Indonesia. We stood up for the persecuted Catholics in East Timor and we can't stop now. Millions are still counting on us. For five years or more I have focused on those persecuted Christians every week on Sunday Night Live with Gordon Moyes on 2GB and people are listening. Rather than make people turn off we have the greatest audience in the nation of a Sunday night! Because of persecution, we recommit ourselves to both prayer and action. We continue to speak out on behalf of the people who depend upon us. Whenever we do, God makes great things happen!

2. THE PERSECUTION IN CHINA.
I visited some registered Three Self Patriotic Movement Churches in China. They are controlled by the Government and lack freedom and vitality, but they are safe from persecution. I visited also secretly the unregistered underground churches, which are full of vitality, have seen great growth, and suffer persecution. It is estimated that 85% of the Christians in China belong to unregistered churches meeting in homes. The Government acknowledge 30 million home church believers. Under-ground Church leaders told me they estimate 50 million members. There are about 50,000 home churches in China. Every China statistic is approximate.

One home church where I spoke was in a Beijing University dormitory block. It was filled with students and lecturers. They were thrilled with the dozens of Chinese Bibles Beverley and I gave them that we had brought past customs legally together with many of my books in Chinese. The location of their underground church is constantly being revealed by people who hear the singing. Yet they manage to move before the police arrive each time and still keep their members all informed where they will meet. On that trip I met secretly with many leaders including several that were imprisoned for their faith for many years. Abraham had been beaten constantly to force him to deny his faith. The beatings which he described graphically for me, continued in prison for 23 years. He said, "They kept shaking me and shaking me and asking me whether I believed in God. I told them, "Yes, I believe, I believe in God." They bashed me and the handcuffs around my wrists were hurting me, breaking the skin. But I still said that I believed and they kept hitting me.

Because of the handcuffs my hands were all wounded and they kept asking me whether I really believed and they kept hitting me. They asked me the same question every day for 47 days, three times a day they ask me the same question." After 23 years imprisonment he is still under daily surveillance, and my meeting with him had to be in a secret location. We were followed when we tried to arrange a meeting. Chinese friends who rang us never gave their own names or locations, as they knew our calls were being intercepted.

A lady doctor we met, Mabel, still works as an evangelist at age 93! She was forced to sweep the streets during the tyranny of "The Gang of Four". For us to meet and film these underground leaders, meant highly secret locations, back street travelling, changing cars, many phone calls and several encounters with members of the Government Bureau of Religious Affairs and the police. Several of the team I was with were stopped, searched, interrogated, had Bibles confiscated, and all details entered upon Government computers against any further entry into the country.

One underground leader I met does not keep his location secret. Pastor Samuel Lamb of Guangzhou, refuses to move and has lived on and off in the same three storey narrow house belonging to his grandfather and father for 68 years. I say on and off, because he fled the Japanese in the 1940's. He started a house church at Easter 1950 just after the Communists came to power. The Public Security Bureau have outlawed this church in his house. In 1955 he was imprisoned for one and a half years. In May 1978 he was imprisoned for brain-washing for five years.

In prison, Pastor Lamb countered communist teachings with memorised portions of the Bible. He was sent then for 15 years slave labour in the Shanxi Talyuan Xiyu Coal Mine. It was here he composed many hymns which are sung in the underground churches today. After 20 years imprisonment he was released in 1978 and returned to the little house and started services again. Then 300 people attended crammed together in the tiny rooms on three levels. By 1986 over 1000 people were attending three services. In 1988 the Government tried six times to close him down. He started over again. In 1990, at midnight, over 50 police smashed their way into his narrow house and confiscated all the Bibles, hymnbooks, recorders, close circuit TV, organ, tracts, pens and pencils and Pastor Samuel Lamb was interrogated for 25 hours.

That Sunday Pastor Samuel Lamb started all over again as more than a 1000 people stood in tears in a totally empty house. The same thing has happened in 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995. Nothing happened in 1996. In 1997, Pastor Lamb was again interrogated over Hong Kong's return to China from Britain. In 1998 the church held more services, conducted 351 baptisms, and averaged over 2,000 people attending weekly. About 80% (my estimate) are young people. In 2001 his house was demolished by the Government. He has started again a few blocks away in another house. When I was with him the Government officials said that if the church stays open beyond the following Monday, Pastor Lamb will be fined $50,000 and in default, an extended period of imprisonment. He does not have the money. He is 74 years of age and in poor health. Pastor Lamb remains faithful under persecution. He says on our film, "Greater persecution, greater growing!" "Inside the Great Wall."

3. SUFFERING OF THE FAITHFUL
Jesus speaks of persecution: "You will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come." Matthew 24:8-11

Countless thousands of Christians have given their lives for Christ. Three hundred thousand Christians are killed as martyrs every year. It seems a great waste. Then I remember those five brave American men who died at the spears of the Auca Indians in Ecuador. I recall the impact that their sacrifice had upon my own life. Instead of halting the numbers volunteering for missionary service, their deaths had the opposite effect. I was in Wheaton College, Illinois, U.S.A. from whence those five young missionaries had gone to Ecuador. Two thousand students volunteered to take their places! As an early Church leader said, "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church." Among the promises of Jesus are those that concern faithfulness, joy, happiness, strength, support and encouragement, but here is a dark promise that we rarely preach on and seldom think about. "If you are my disciple," Jesus is saying, "you are going to suffer for your faith." Jesus told the thousands who gathered to hear Him: happy are those who are persecuted because they do what God requires. There will be great hardship and being Christian will not preserve us from danger.

Jesus tells us that the faithful Christians will suffer for their faith. Ordinary believers, in the last days, would be called upon to pay for their faith. The later Christians would experience sufferings similar to those that came to the early disciples as they saw the destruction of Jerusalem. "You will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people." What was true for the Christians in the first century is true for Christians today in so many countries.

Hence the call for endurance. "Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved." vs12,13 We don't like to think about pressures. Today, the call is for pleasure and the avoidance of pain. It is the day of meism! But Jesus calls for endurance. The other emphasis is on the universal proclamation of the Gospel. "This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come." v14 It is not said that all the world will respond, but that all nations will hear the Gospel.

Jesus promised us that life will know hardship if we follow His way. Life was also hard for Him. He calls us to a narrow way that is hard and holy, but it is also an incredibly happy way because we shall be with Him. We are commissioned to endure and to witness with steel in our souls and backbone in our faith. It will not be easy. There may be persecution, but there is the promise of life eternal…with Him! Our Lord promises unjust persecution… but eternal reward!

Wesley Mission, Sydney.