"They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed the hour will come when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God." Christians suffer. And no I'm not talking about cancer or chronic pain or other physical ailments. Christians suffer persecution. Why? Jesus says, "Because they (that is, those who will persecute you) have not known the Father, nor me."
Christians will suffer for Christ's sake, because the world hates Christ. Our Lord spoke just before the beginning of our Gospel lesson, "If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, there will also persecute you." (John 15:18-20a)
The world hates Jesus. The religious leaders, the Romans, the proud; they hated him and killed him. Jesus is quite clear that Christians can expect the same treatment. "If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household." (Matthew 10:25) St. Peter also writes immediately after our Epistle lesson, "Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name." (1 Peter 4:12-16)
So not only should Christians not be surprised that they suffer for Christ, but they should count it as a great blessing! In fact, our Lord says, "Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you." (Matthew 5:11-12) To suffer for Christ is a mark of persistent faith. And Jesus promises eternal rewards for those who hold true to faith even under suffering. For this reason, the Apostles gave us an example when after they were beaten, "they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name." (Acts 5:41)
But what does it mean to suffer for Christ? It isn't any type of suffering. You don't suffer for Christ when you miss the head of the nail and smash your thumb with a hammer. And you especially don't suffer for Christ if you drink too much and wake up with a hangover. No suffering for Christ is suffering, because you confess Christ as your Lord and Savior.
This happened to the Apostles. Not only were they driven out of the synagogues and temple, they were beaten, stoned, beheaded, and crucified for the name of Christ. And throughout Church history martyrs have shed their blood for Christ. And even today we hear of Christians killed for confessing Christ. Yes, those radical Islamists thought they were doing service to God when they ambushed and killed at least 21 Christians and injured 22 more just this past Friday in Egypt. And we can find similar stories repeated in the news.
But none of you risks getting ambushed and murdered for Christ today, do you? Is your life in danger for confessing Christ or attending Trinity Lutheran Church? By God's grace it appears not. Although we feel compassion for our brothers and sisters in Christ who are murdered across the ocean, we ourselves have been spared such violence. But that does not mean that you will not suffer for the name of Christ.
Are you or your children mocked for being "religious?" Are you afraid to confess Christ or talk about Jesus with your co-workers, friends, or even your family? Are you afraid of being thought of as too strict or rigid in your beliefs? Or feel stupid for having faith in Christ? I'm not trying to give you a victim complex, but rather to make you aware that the world is not your friend. "Friendship with the world is enmity with God," St. James warns. (James 4:4) The reason you feel uncomfortable "wearing your faith on your sleeve" is because the world wants you to keep your faith in Jesus under a bushel, so they don't have to look at it.
Your goal in life should not be to be liked by everyone. In fact it is not a sign that you live a God pleasing life when the most amount of people possible are pleased with you. The world is sinful. People are sinful and inherently hate Christ. And the more you devote your life to Christ and his word the more you will see how at odds the world is with your Christian life. When people tell you not to talk theology, they are telling you that they don't want to hear what Jesus has to say. When coaches schedule sporting events on Sunday mornings, they are telling you that they don't care about your child's faith in Jesus. In fact, they are persecuting your child for believing in Jesus and actively working to steal their faith away by taking them away from God's Word.
You may also be tricked into thinking that you don't have to stand up for morality to be a Christian or that those who suffer for standing against sexual immorality, violence, and covetousness do not suffer for Christ. You absolutely do suffer for Christ for standing up for what is right. You don't have to be forced to deny that a sinner is justified before God by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone to suffer for the sake of Christ. St. John the Baptist suffered for Christ when he was imprisoned and beheaded for telling King Herod he was committing adultery by taking his brother's wife. And St. Peter writes, "For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead." (1 Peter 4:3-5)
When your children are mocked for not going out drinking or for not fornicating, they are persecuted for their faith in Christ. Jesus taught them that drunkenness and sexual immorality are sinful and not the way Christians behave. When you are called a bigot or hateful for standing on the truth that marriage is a lifelong union between one man and one woman for the purpose of chastity, companionship, and children under God and that fornication and homosexuality are sinful, you are persecuted for your faith in Christ.
Jesus says, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." (Matthew 16:24) But you don't get to choose your cross. You don't get to choose why people hate you or get mad at you. I don't think any of us would choose having to defend marriage in the current culture as our cross. So don't go looking for crosses. And certainly do not try to pick fights or be mean to people, thinking that if they retaliate you've earned your cross. If you do what is right, you will most likely find a cross weighing on your shoulder.
You're going to suffer for confessing Christ. You'll be hated for claiming that your faith is true and all contrary confessions are false. You will be hated for living a morally upright life, fearing and trusting in God. You will be slandered and maligned for being a Christian. And so you need help and comfort. Thank God Jesus promises this help. "But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning." (John 15:26-27)
However, the help Jesus offers isn't the help we would first expect. People are earthly creatures. Even after being renewed by the Holy Spirit, we still get bogged down with earthly concerns. When we cry to God for help we want him to fix our physical problems. "If God will take away pain from my body, then I will be ready to receive Spiritual comfort." Or we expect that God will comfort us by removing persecution from us. But that is not how God works. Much to the frustration of our old Adam, the Holy Spirit doesn't find our physical suffering as his top priority.
Now this is not to say that the Holy Spirit is not concerned with your physical suffering. No, in fact he has more concern for your physical suffering than you do. God loves you more than you love yourself. Rather the Holy Spirit knows what you need more than you know what you need. You think you need relief from physical suffering. You think you need the persecution you experience for your faith removed from you. But the Holy Spirit knows what you need. And he knows that suffering can intensify your faith in him. Rather, the Holy Spirit comforts and helps you by testifying of the truth of your confession in Christ.
When John the Baptist languished in prison before he was beheaded, he sent messengers to Jesus. Jesus did not comfort him by breaking him free. Rather, he testified of the truth of what John preached that he was indeed the Christ promised by Scripture to bring good news to the poor. The Holy Spirit did not neglect to testify of the truth of St. Peter's confession as the Apostle was crucified upside down for confessing Christ. And the Holy Spirit was certainly not absent from those Egyptian Christians as bullets from the guns of Islamic terrorists riddled their vehicles and their bodies. Indeed the Helper comforted them by testifying that their faith in the Crucified One is true and that their death is precious in the sight of their Lord.
Christ is clear what his priority is. "I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away." Jesus doesn't want you to lose your faith and fall away from his flock. The way he keeps you in his flock is through the preaching of his word and the administration of his Sacraments. When you hear the truth of the Gospel, that Jesus the God-man bore all your sins on the cross and you stand blameless before the throne of God, the Holy Spirit strengthens you to bear persecution. When you receive the true body and blood of Christ, which was given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins, the Holy Spirit testifies to your soul that nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Through the assurance of Christ's love you can confess with St. Paul, "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us." (Romans 8:18)
The Holy Spirit testifies to you that you are at peace with God. Your sins are forgiven. You do not need to be ashamed. Your faith in Christ is true and not in vain. This is the comfort that you need when you suffer for being a Christian. This is the testimony that causes you to pray with King David, "The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?" (Psalm 27:1)
And rest assured that your God also cares about all your physical suffering. Not only can he relieve your suffering in this life, but much more certainly, the Holy Spirit testifies that you will rise from the dead in your body. There is nothing this world can take away from you that God will not return to you one-hundred fold.
So take courage, dear Christians. Fight the good fight. Confess Christ in your words and in your deeds. And you will not be put to shame. Amen.