2nd Sunday in Lent
Grace, Mercy and Peace from God our Father, His Son our Lord, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.
“For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” [Mark 8:38]
Christians are being beheaded and burned alive in the Middle East. Assyrian Christians, some of the earliest converts to Christianity and who still speak Aramaic, the language of Christ, are being tortured, murdered and exiled from their homes.
Before the civil war in 2011, Christians were estimated to make up about 10 percent of Syria’s 22 million people. It is estimated that about 40,000 Assyrian Christians remain in Syria while even they flee from the violent attacks by the Islamic extremist groups.
On January 10, 2018, Christianity Today reported the ranking of the top 50 countries for Christian persecution. North Korea hasn’t moved from the No. 1 spot on the list for 16 years in a row. Afghanistan is number 2 in the world for Christian persecution followed by Sudan (No. 3) and rounding off the bottom of the top ’10’ are Iraq (No. 8), Yemen (No. 9) and Iran (No. 10). 
These attacks are not new to these Christians. The Middle East has a long history of persecution of Christians. From the beginning of Christianity shortly following the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, those who follow Christ have been persecuted. Living in this great country it is difficult to imagine such persecution because we are not exposed to such horrific incidents of murder and torture because of one’s faith.
Jesus hit the nail on the head when he said this was an adulterous and sinful generation. Although we are an over adulterous society sexually, we can also take away from this word its second definition of making something impure or debasing something by adding inferior elements. Thus, we adulterate almost everything we touch from our food to our faith. There is no doubt; we are most definitely a sinful generation.
We Christians, of all people, should know better. We know we are to set our minds on the things of God and not on the things of man. [Mark 8:33b] We know God’s Law, it is burned into our hearts, yet we still muddy up the Law by stirring in our own impurities, our own sin. We think that if the Law is cloudy and unclear, we might be able to hide within and avoid the judgment of our Creator.
Yes, we ought to be ashamed of ourselves. We ought to be ashamed for not speaking out against society forcing its ‘enlightened’ or ‘inclusive’ view on us. We ought to be ashamed for allowing our very government the ability to degrade the truth of Christ and his saving work so as to be politically correct and not to offend any and every false god and prophet.
Now this is not a political speech. This is a message of Christ and his word. It just so happens that bearing the cross of Christ causes conflict and war with the Devil and all who follow him, because he is the antithesis of truth, he is anti-God and anti-Christ. Satan does not want anyone to follow Christ and his truth.
Unfortunately, but realistically, in this world, conflict of the truth in Christ causes nation to rise up against nation and to war against their brothers and sisters. We claim to be followers of Christ, yet when the going gets tough, we shrink away. We justify our retreat as self protection or as responsible people who obey the law of the land.
It is true that we are to protect ourselves and our loved ones. We are not to run foolishly into harm’s way and thus tempt God to protect us from our own recklessness. As Christians we recognize those put in authority over us as God’s will and we are to obey those appointed over us.
Yet when we become ashamed of Jesus Christ and his words, we deny him and the truth. We should know better and we do know better. We stand within the walls of this church and proclaim, “Jesus is the truth and the life and the way!” However, when conflict comes, we drop the cross so that we will not be identified with him. We do this in order to save ourselves from persecution, from loss of reputation, loss of income and sometimes even loss of life.
That is not true you say? Do you exclaim that we good and stalwart Christians don’t cave into the heathen demands of murderers and thieves! If you believe that, then you are in denial.
What would you do if the government declared that we must remove our crosses from the church steeples and outside edifices? What would you do if the government declared a tax on you and your family because you are Christian? ‘That will never happen!’ you say? ‘Not in my lifetime!’ you declare? Then think about how you would respond 20 years ago if I told you that you would be paying a tax in order to murder infants in the womb and you did nothing about it. How proud are you of your Christianity today? Are you a good and stalwart Christian now?
King David wrote this in Psalm 4 verse 3:
How long, O you sons of men,
Will you turn my glory to shame?
How long will you love worthlessness
And seek falsehood? [Psalm 4:3]
Have we become ashamed of Jesus Christ? Do we seek out worthlessness and falsehood over the truth and promises of God? Are we to gain comfort and peace in this world only to forfeit our souls? I hope not but also fear so.
Here is the truth. You, me and everybody on this planet Earth is going to die. Through age, illness, war or just plain accident, everybody will cease to live. It will happen and we have no control of this fact. The question is what becomes of you after death?
Your soul will not cease to exist. Everyone will come face to face with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Everyone will be judged by Christ. For those who denied him or were ashamed to be called by his name will not gain eternal life in the kingdom of God. Instead, you will come face to face with the Devil and it will be in his kingdom where you will dwell for eternity.
This truth should be more frightening than any holy war. This promise by God should be more terrifying than any loss of property or status as a citizen. To deny Christ should be more shameful than anything you can imagine here on earth.
The most horrifying thought to me is to have my Lord and Savior say to me, “I don’t know you.” The most frightening thing Jesus can say to me is, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” [Mark 8:33b]
It is with this fear and trembling that I come to the foot of the cross. It is with the knowledge of my sin that I beg God to be merciful to me, a sinner. As Christians we do this because we have heard and we believe in the death of our sins through the death of our Lord on the cross.
The Lamb of God, guiltless of sin, paid the price of our sin through his flesh and blood in mortal sacrifice. His rise from the grave three days later is his victory over death and our fulfilled covenant with our Father in heaven.
Because of his work, we are saved. We know that our Redeemer lives.
“Therefore,” says the Apostle Paul, “since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings…” [Romans 5:1-3]
The world may get less peaceful in the coming times. Some may truly feel the persecution of our faith even unto death. This should not prevent us from speaking the Gospel to all people, whether they are Muslim, Jew, or just our neighbor. Christ died for us and in this truth there is no shame. Our hope is in Christ crucified and this hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. [Romans 5:5]