Surprises can be fun. When it’s your birthday and your spouse takes you out for what you think is going to be a dinner between the two of you and you get the restaurant only to find out that your friends have gathered for a surprise party, the surprise is fun. Sometimes, though, the surprise isn’t fun. When you get your phone bill and discover that your toddler figured out how to call China, that surprise may be unnerving. Many people don’t like any kind of surprise from an emotional standpoint, not even the good ones. God’s made us to deal with issues in life differently, and some people just don’t like surprises.
There is one surprise coming that we have no control over: the time when Jesus comes back to earth. Many have predicted His Second Coming, but obviously, all those predictions have been wrong. That Jesus will return is a given; when He does will be a surprise. One thing that should not be a surprise for any Christian is trouble – especially persecution. Paul noted that the Thessalonian Church already knew it would be coming. “We sent Timothy, who is our brother and co-worker in God’s service in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. For you know quite well that we are destined for them.” (1 Thessalonians 2:2-3)
One of the things that Jesus warned His followers was that they would have trouble. He reminded them that if the world hated Him, the world would hate them. He also said that He would never leave us nor forsake us, which should give us comfort during those times. The early church knew that persecution would come, and they prepared their people to meet it. We see the fellowship of the early Christians and the way they supported people in need – a priority as people lost jobs and were disenfranchised from their families because of their faith. As Paul dealt with the Thessalonians, he heard about the persecution they were undergoing and sent Timothy into the face of it to find out how the church was holding up. He didn’t want them to lose faith in the midst of persecution. As we see from the rest of this chapter, Paul was overjoyed by the news that they stayed faithful and strong.
In some areas of the world, talk of persecution isn’t a warning, it’s the news. When we see our fellow believers standing strong in the faith in spite of the physical attacks they are dealing with, it strengthens those of us who hear about their enduring faith. At the same time, the persecution that our brothers and sisters are undergoing in other parts of the world remind us that we may face it also. Paul would tell us that it’s bound to come. I know, some Christians in America are complaining about the turn society is taking, calling it persecution when they don’t like how they’re treated. But, to quote the great philosophy team of Bachman-Turner Overdrive, “You ain’t seen nothing yet.” The return of Jesus is predicted throughout the New Testament – even farther along in this book. This will happen. At the same time, throughout the New Testament we see that God’s people will face judges and endure harsh treatment at the hands of society. The surprising thing about persecution is not that it will happen, but that it’s taking so long to happen here. It’s coming. We need to continue to grow in our faith to be ready for the onset of persecution. We need to continue to practice showing mercy to all people, so that we can do it when facing persecution. We need to continue growing in grace so that we’ll be able to extend grace to all, even in the midst of persecution. And, remember…Jesus reminded us that we are blessed if our persecution comes because of our faith. If it’s gonna happen, let’s face it like Jesus did.
Oh Lord, we have been spared persecution so far. I pray for our brothers and sisters around the world who are enduring persecution. I pray that when it comes here, we will show that same faith.