He went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief.
And he went about among the villages teaching.
And he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in their belts— but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics. And he said to them, “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you depart from there. And if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent. And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them.
King Herod heard of it, for Jesus' name had become known. Some said, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead. That is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.” But others said, “He is Elijah.” And others said, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.” For it was Herod who had sent and seized John and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, because he had married her. For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife.” And Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly.
But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his nobles and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. For when Herodias's daughter came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests. And the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it to you.” And he vowed to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, up to half of my kingdom.” And she went out and said to her mother, “For what should I ask?” And she said, “The head of John the Baptist.” And she came in immediately with haste to the king and asked, saying, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” And the king was exceedingly sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he did not want to break his word to her. And immediately the king sent an executioner with orders to bring John's head. He went and beheaded him in the prison and brought his head on a platter and gave it to the girl, and the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard of it, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.
The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves.
Part of growing up is learning the valuable art of “omission,” and for the most part, this trait is a very good thing. For example, we omit words from our vocabulary that cause harm; we omit topics from our conversations that bring discomfort; we omit stories from our repertoire that embarrass or shame. Yes, omission can be a positive, healthy thing.
However, omission can also be a dangerous thing, particularly when it comes to the more challenging aspects of our Christian faith. One key example: the word persecution. It’s amazing how uncomfortable that word makes us feel. We often tip-toe around it or even pretend that it is an antiquated idea. And yet persecution in the life of a believer should be expected. Though we don’t know what form of persecution we will experience in our lifetime, we must take to heart the words in 2 Timothy 3:12: “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted…” and Matthew 10:22: “…you will be hated by all for my name’s sake.”
Knowing that persecution will be a very real and humbling aspect of our lives, how then should we respond when we feel or see opposition to our faith?
1. We should rejoice.
“…We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame…” (Romans 5:3-5)
Though rejoicing in suffering does not come naturally to our human minds, we can have complete confidence—even joy—in knowing that God is using persecution and other forms of suffering for His glory and to further spread the gospel.
2. We should take comfort in knowing that Jesus can sympathize with our suffering.
“He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief…” (Isaiah 53:3)
Elisabeth Elliot, a spiritual hero of mine, once said, “It’s He who was the Word before the foundation of the world, suffering as a lamb slain. And He has a lot up His sleeve that you and I haven’t the slightest idea about now. He’s told us enough so that we know suffering is never for nothing.” How reassuring it is to know that The Lamb who was Slain fully understands our suffering and reassures us that it is “never for nothing.”
3. We should look up.
“So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.’ And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.’” (Acts 1:6-11)
One of my favorite parts of corporate worship comes right before the benediction. Our pastor will say, “look up and anticipate the day of the Lord’s return.” This comes from Acts 1, where we read of Jesus’ Ascension. When we “look up,” we mirror Jesus’ disciples as they watched Him rise into heaven, remembering what He had done and anticipating what He has yet to do. As we face persecution in our Christian walk, let us not forget to also “look up” as a way of remembering, anticipating, and taking comfort in His perfect plan.