Persecution and the Power of Christ’s Presence


You might remember the old western show Rawhide. Featuring the stalwart character of trail boss Gil Favor, this classic TV series launched the career of Clint Eastwood, who starred in the series as the upstart cowhand Rowdy Yates.

In one episode, “Incident with an Executioner,” the crew is bedeviled by the presence of a black rider who, apparently, is Rawhide presence executionerseeking justice. Because of the mere presence of an executioner, everyone in the camp begins to feel both guilty and quite nervous. What if he is there for them? The presence of this black rider is more powerful than the presence of any other person on the trail because this rider represents both a judge and an executioner.

You’ll have to watch Rawhide to see how the episode ends. For my part, I mention the episode to demonstrate the power of presence.  One person literally enslaved an entire crew of cowboys.  A more positive illustration could be made by pointing out how much different your job would look today if the governor were to be present. What if the President were to make a stop? Everything from the traffic to the telephones would be put on hold to make way for the presence of this powerful figure.

The power of presence is on display in snakes, too. A nice retreat might be ruined by the mere presence of a single, sinister, slithering reptile.  The weight of presence could be referred to as “glory.”  The glory of the President of the United States is much greater than any single person who holds the office. Even people who are his political enemies know instinctively to show reverence in his presence. In England, when the Queen enters, all must stand; men must bow (at the neck); and women must curtsy.

One would think with all this worked-out etiquette for royalty that we humans might also have worked out a proper manner in which to respond to the presence of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The King of Kings. And yet, the truth is, the presence of Christ is met today—as it was in the first century—with both worship (John 20:28) and sneers (Luke 23:35). The presence of the Son of God begets mocking (Luke 23:36); accusations of insanity (John 10:19-20); imprisonment (Mark 15:6); torture(Matthew 27:26); and death (Mark 15:33ff).

Apparently, there is no consensus on how to behave in Christ’s presence. What is clear, however, is that no one is neutral in the presence of Christ. And where is Christ present today?  According to the New Testament, Christ is always present with His Bride, the church. Repeatedly, the New Testament affirms that Christ is present with His people forever (Matthew 18:20; Matthew 28:20; Acts 9:3-6; Acts 18:10; and Hebrews 13:5).

His presence with His people is nowhere more evident than it is in persecution. Persecution happens because Christ is present (see Matthew 5:10-12).  So, on the one hand, the presence of Christ provokes persecution, while, on the other hand, the persecution it provokes becomes a blessing to the persecuted because it is a sure sign that Christ is alive in them.

It is the power of Christ’s presence which provokes Christian persecution.  The presence of Christ is actually the root provocateur of persecution. Thus, now, just as in Christ’s day, there will be times when His presence causes people to think that we are crazy (Mark 3:21); unconcerned (Mark 4:38); or even  demonic (Mark 3:22). When the presence of Christ in us provokes people to make insults or false accusations, we are blessed. The provocation is not (and must not be) our own offensiveness; it must be none other than Christ Himself. When it is Christ in us who provokes others to insult us, we should rejoice and be glad.  The turmoil is actually the result of Immanuel, “God with us.” Christ causes people to believe, but He also provokes others to persecute. His presence is still powerful.

Matthew 5:11-12,

11 “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

 

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