By EDWIN CRAYTON/Opinion
Trends such as political correctness have made telling the truth an intimidating process. Disagree with popular notions about morality and you can lose friends or a job and that is just for starters. It’s brutal. Indeed, these are hard times for truth tellers. But then, that has always been the case. The Scriptures and the pages of history are filled with examples of faithful prophets and believers who were persecuted, jailed or killed simply for saying what God put on their hearts. Their holy words offended many of the rich and powerful who saw them as a threat to their power or their ability to make money. In every generation, God’s truth tellers have always opposed the various immoral systems of the day. These servants of God were usually discredited and often martyred. And yet, in the end, God brought to fruition what they prophesized, many people came to accept Jesus as savior and Lord and the world was changed in some meaningful way.
There are so many accounts from the Bible itself that illustrate this point that I would turn this article into a document almost as long as the Scriptures if I attempted to list them all. Therefore, I have decided to focus on a few key ones. The best of course is the day that Jesus was crucified. He was killed in large part for sharing the truth about mankind’s need to believe in him in order to receive the gift of salvation (John 14:6). His enemies were chiefly the corrupt religious leaders who saw him as a threat and who plotted to murder him. Of course, all Christians who read their Bible already know this and realize as well that although Christ suffered physical death in order to pay for the sins of mankind, his death was not a defeat, but a victory because it was according to God’s will that he would die to pay for mankind’s sins (John 3:16). But his tormentors did not really get it and even as they celebrated, people watching near the cross were being converted. For instance, we know that one of the criminals who died on a cross next to Jesus confessed that Jesus was who he said he was and by such a confession, this man indirectly became a believer and Jesus promised he would go into heaven with him (Luke 23:39-43). As Jesus “yielded up the ghost” the earth quaked and a centurion along with others who watched in great fear, proclaimed, “Truly this man was the son of God” (Matthew 27:50-54).
In the Book of Acts, chapters six and seven, Stephen, a faithful man of God, was killed for telling the truth to the people. His enemies were leaders from the synagogue who the Bible says, “were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake” (Acts 6:9-12). Stephen was stoned to death by his enemies as a young man named Saul, watched over the clothing of those who killed him (Acts 7:54-60). Many of you already know that Saul persecuted Christians. He was very good at it and feared by many. He was kind of an Osama bin Laden of his day. He believed he was serving God. But one day as he travelled on a road to Damascus, Jesus convinced him otherwise by converting him the hard way (Acts 9:1-9). Saul became a Christian and also became “Paul.” He went on to write a good deal of the New Testament. In other words, the man who helped kill a key Christian leader became himself a leader of the faith. He once hindered the truth. Then by the hand and authority of Jesus himself, became a chief witness and proclaimer of that same truth. Apostle Paul wrote a good number of the 27 books of the New Testament. The truth is just that powerful. When we accept it, it converts us.
Then consider if you will, all the believers who were martyred for their faith. In Hebrews 11: 32-40 you will find what I have heard a pastor refer to as a kind of hall of fame of the various types of faithful believers who died for their belief in Jesus. The inspiring passage mentions the horrible cruelty early believers suffered: some were stoned, others were sawed into, and we know that many were fed to lions or burned alive. And yet, in Rome, where they fed Christians to lions and treated it as entertainment—about like we’d watch a football game in a stadium—in that same Rome, Christianity is now a major religion. Their bodies died, but their sacrifice helped the faith live on and grow into a powerful religion that has changed lives and saved souls around the world and throughout the ages.
Today, telling the truth of the gospel is no less dangerous. People are being martyred in places all over the globe, even as you read this article. According to Christianity Today, somewhere in the world, every day 12 Christians are killed for their faith; 12 churches are attacked; and 12 believers are jailed and another five abducted. Last year, Christianity Today reported this in an annual article and list titled, “50 Countries Where It’s Most Dangerous to Follow Jesus in 2021.” The report was researched and written by a group called Open Doors, which tracks this issue. The list I read was from 2021. So, it’s pretty relevant. The list breaks down various aspects of persecution: 10 most violent countries, etc. Nigeria was the number one country in the category of violence towards Christians, by the way. In the category titled “10 places hardest to follow Jesus” nations were ranked in this manner: 1) North Korea, 2) Afghanistan, 3) Somalia, 4) Libya, 5) Pakistan, 6) Eritrea, 7) Yemen, 8) Iran, 9) Nigeria, 10) India.
China also made the list because of its surveillance of Christians and other minorities. The Chinese government monitors churches. Last year, I met a Gideon who had spoken in an “approved” church in China. He said, the Chinese Government sends a monitor to record what is said. He said, those who say the “wrong” thing risk being sent to a “re-education” school or camp (They may call them schools or camps. We know them as prisons). Yet, he also mentioned that one of the monitors read his own notes and was himself converted to Christianity. The word of God is that powerful. Which sums up the main point. The word of God does not return void (Isaiah 55:11). It accomplishes what it sets out to do. So, when we are faced with the choice of telling the truth as God has given it to us, or denying it, it is our duty to pray for strength and courage and ask God to help us tell the truth anyway. The Bible promises God will give us the words at that time (Matthew 10:19-20). He will also strengthen our weak flesh.
That means we do not have to be pastors. All of us can be used. We just need to be willing to do God’s will. It’s also true that we will all face persecution for being faithful to the truth of God’s words (2 Timothy 3:12). Make no mistake about it—we all have a cross to bear because we believe. It may not be a physical cross. You may never have to go to jail, or even face physical danger. But it will cost you something. Maybe you might lose social status or even lose a job, because you will speak out against or won’t endorse a lifestyle that the Bible condemns as sinful. On the other hand, for some it may actually involve pain, torture or physical death. But scary as all of that may sound, such trials are temporary and through prayer and faith in Jesus—holding on to his hand every step of the way—-The Bible promises, we will be enabled and strengthened to endure all things (Philippians 4;13). Although pain and death are temporary in nature, eternity is forever. Best of all, despite our temporary suffering, the world will be blessed in some way. People will accept Jesus as savior and lord. That means someone who might have been headed to an unbearable existence in hell, will make a U-turn and go the way that leads them from darkness to light—from death to eternal life.
“And you shall know the truth. And the truth shall make you free.” —Jesus himself speaking to Jews who had become believers in him. But the message is meant for all who will also believe in him –John 8:32
“Truth forever on the scaffold, wrong forever on the throne, –yet that scaffold sways the future, and behind the dim unknown, standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own.” —James Russell Lowell, American Poet, The Present Crisis, 1844