John the Baptist Martyred (Matthew Sermon 67 of 151)
February 04, 2007 | Andrew Davis
We come to Matthew 14. With expositions through the 13th chapter of Matthew, we discovered that the theme of Matthew's gospel is the kingdom of heaven, and specifically the King of the kingdom of heaven, Jesus Christ. The gospel of Matthew portrays Christ as the King of the kingdom of heaven. In the latter part of Matthew 13, it speaks of the advancement of the kingdom, the spread of the kingdom like a mustard seed. A tiny seed grows until it's a tree large enough for birds to perch on its branches. The kingdom is also like leaven, which starts in a little place and moves all the way through the dough, it advances. But the question before us, as we look at the next section, Matthew 14:1-12, the martyrdom of John the Baptist, is how does the kingdom advance? What is the way that God advances the kingdom? What is the seed that grows?
The Kingdom Advances by Martyrdom
Jesus answered this best in John chapter 12, when speaking first and foremost of His own death on the cross, but then also His death as a pattern for how we are to live our lives and how we are to spread the gospel and bring many to faith in Christ. Jesus said , "Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains by itself a single seed. But if it dies, it brings forth many seeds." There is a pattern, those seeds must also fall into the ground and die and bring forth more seeds, and so the Kingdom of Heaven advances when God takes His choicest servants and pours them out like a drink offering. God takes our lives and looks on them as though we are sheep for the slaughter [Romans 8], and treats us no differently than He treated His only begotten Son, whom He crushed at the cross that we might have eternal life. It's the same pattern. It is by martyrdom, it is by dying to ourselves, either literal martyrdom or a spiritual martyrdom, that the kingdom advances, and now we come to the martyrdom of John the Baptist.
The early history of the church was saturated with the blood of martyrs. We know that the Roman Empire fought against the spread of Christianity, and lost to the glory of God, but it was Tertullian, the North African theologian, who was watching all of this unfold, and said, "The blood of martyrs is seed for the church." So it was and it's going on today. We should not think this is part of ancient church history, it's part of present church history. 55,000 Christians a year on average are martyred for their faith around the world 55,000. What's especially painful for us as Christians to see is the frivolous way that extraordinary lives are snuffed out to please unbelievers. It was frivolous that the early Romans observed Christian martyrs, little families huddled together in prayer in the sands of the Colosseum, for their entertainment. They came for a day of entertainment, the way we would watch a football game, and they would observe these Christians being mauled to death by lions, until after a while they realized there wasn't any entertainment in it. Unlike the gladiators, they weren't fighting back, they were just entrusting their souls to God and saying, "Father forgive them, they don't know what they're doing." There wasn't much sport in it, but so it was, just for entertainment, their lives were poured out. Or Nero who illuminated a garden party, an evening party, with the bodies of martyrs, Christians. John the Baptist was the first of these. His death demanded at a birthday party after a young girl's dance. The cowardly tyrant, King Herod, killed him to please his dinner guests and ultimately his wife.
The question for us, that's in front of us, the question that it's pressing in our minds is how can God, a sovereign powerful God, watch all of this from heaven and do nothing? How can He just watch and not interfere? Why does He not move with His mighty arm of power and do something? Reading through the Bible in a year, following a pattern, brought me to Psalm 18. I was thinking, “Here it is, here is God intervening for David and rescuing him from all of his troubles.” David writes about it, in Psalm 18 saying, "In my distress, I called to the Lord, I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice, my cry came before him into his ears, the earth trembled and quaked and the foundations of the mountains shook, they trembled because he was angry. Smoke rose from his nostrils, consuming fire came from his mouth, burning coals blazed out of it, he parted the heavens and came down." Oh, wouldn't you like that to happen to your enemies? Just meekly step aside and say, "Go get 'em, Lord."
Yet throughout redemptive history, God has not, it seems, parted the heavens and come down with smoke coming from His nostrils and smote the enemies of God to death; that has not happened. This is extremely perplexing when one considers for example, a certain text of Scripture in which it seems that Jesus promises that that's precisely what God will do. Luke 18, "Then Jesus told His disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and never give up. He said, in a certain town, there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men, and there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, 'Grant me justice against my adversary.' For some time he refused, but finally he said to himself, 'Even though I don't fear God or care about men, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice so that she won't eventually wear me out with her coming.' And the Lord said, Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for His chosen ones who cry out to Him day and night? Will He keep putting them off? I tell you, He will see that they get justice and quickly. But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?"
What did Christ say? I will see that they get justice and quickly. Quickly? Is that happening for the 55,000 every year? Did that happen to the Roman martyrs? Did that happen to every one of the apostles but John, who were all martyred for their faith? Did it happen to Jesus Himself who cried out from the cross, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?" How do you put it together? The sovereignty of God, His great love for His people, and the persecution, the vicious persecution, the opposition of the church throughout history, how do you put it all together? It says in Romans 8, "He who did not spare His own Son, how is he not going to give us all things?" Does that include deliverance from our trials? In the same chapter, as I've already mentioned, he says he considers us as sheep to be slaughtered.
Jesus Himself traced out the history of the Jews and spilling of the blood of the prophets to show that God does not always rescue His servants, but frequently gives them over to death, while holding their persecutors responsible for their actions. At the end of Matthew 23, the seven-fold woe that He gave to the scribes and Pharisees, "Therefore, I'm sending you prophets and wise men and teachers, some of them you will kill and crucify, others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town, and so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on Earth, from the blood of righteous Abel, to the blood of Zechariah son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar, I tell you the truth all this will come on this generation. Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were unwilling."
The Book of Revelation speaks also of the cry of martyrs. It's going to get worse, much much worse. Just because we imagine that this could not happen to us in our lifetime does not make it so. Therefore we need to be prepared and step back into the world of the New Testament, where most of our brothers and sisters have lived their whole lives. For us I think there's a gap between what we live and what the scriptures prepare us for. It says in Revelation 6, "When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the Word of God and the testimony they had maintained. And they cried out in a loud voice, 'How long, sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the Earth and avenge our blood?' Then each of them were given a white robe. And they were told to wait a little longer until the full number of their fellow servants and brothers, who were to be killed as they had been, was completed."
So, there is God, for His own sovereign purposes, refraining from interfering until the full number of martyrs comes in. But later, God answers. In Revelation 16:4-6, "The third angel poured out his bowl on the rivers and the springs of water, and they became blood. And then I heard the angel in charge of the waters say, 'You are just in these judgments, You who are and who were the Holy One, because you have so judged. For they have shed the blood of your saints and prophets, and You have given them blood to drink, as they deserve.'" Might not the servants of God feel frustrated that God didn't take all that mighty power and intervene on their behalf and stop them from being drawn and quartered or being beheaded or being burned at the stake with green wood so it took a long time? Would they not say, "Lord, You have dealt unjustly with us"? Might they ask, "Why didn't You save us, why didn't You vindicate us in our day?" I say to you, “No, they will not ask that. When they see the glories of the kingdom of heaven, and they will acknowledge that they are there only by grace and that the sufferings of our present life are not worth even comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” Oh, how glorious is the kingdom, and how they are not equal the suffering of the saints and what God intends to give. And might not the saints be frustrated that the persecutors who never repented, who hated God all their lives and took out their hatred on the saints, that they never seemed to get it in this life, they never got punished, they only seemed to prosper? Will they not be frustrated? I tell you, no. When they see the smoke of their torment rising forever and ever and there is no rest day or night for those that do not repent and trust in Christ, they will not think that anything was left out. As a matter of fact, any insult done to their own persons and their own bodies will shrink into insignificance compared to that which was done against the glory of God himself, and that is the true sin, not the persecution against us. It's that they're attacking God, it's that Satan's attacking God, it's not that he's attacking us, that's the true sin.
The Life of Fear versus the Life of Faith
We come to Matthew 14 and the martyrdom of John the Baptist, and we come there with trembling hearts struggling to understand God's ways that we'll never fully understand them. How could God pour out into death in such an ignominious way, a man about whom Jesus said, there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist? How could such a faithful and pure servant of Living God, be executed because of a lust-filled promise made by a corrupt King at a birthday party to please his wife and his dinner guests? How could it be? More to the point now for us, How can God allow Sudanese Christians to be slaughtered in the night by roaming bands of Muslims who are killing them because their faith demands it? How can God allow Chinese house church pastors to languish in communist jails, eating putrid food and never sure if that's going to be their last day or night on Earth, how can it be? How can God allow a Muslim family to murder their own son because he converts to Christ, and not intervene? I think the answers lie behind John's execution as described in Matthew 14. The question is as ancient as Cain's murder of his brother Abel because Abel’s deeds were righteous and Cain's were unrighteous. It's as ancient as that. But deeper is the question of the suffering of all of God's people, not just martyrdom, but any of the suffering that we face. How do we face it, how do we understand it? In the account today, I think we'll see very clearly two different ways to live your life.
We see the example of the life of fear versus a life of faith. We see the example of John the Baptist, who feared God and therefore feared nothing else, and we see the example of Herod who did not fear God and feared everything else. Of the two, I would rather live that kind of life, wouldn't you? The kind of life that John the Baptist lived, where he made a prior commitment to fear the Lord above everything else and was released from fears of everything, than to live the way Herod did, bouncing like a ping-pong ball from one fear to the next, never quite sure what he was going to do. “Tell me what to do. I don't know what to do.” Driven by fears. Proverbs 28:1, "The wicked man flees though no one pursues, but the righteous are bold as a lion." They are running and there's no one chasing them. But the righteous are bold as a lion[ Proverbs 29:25], "The fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is kept safe."
The Martyrdom of John the Baptist
We come now to John the Baptist. Jesus called him a lamp, burning and shining in the darkness, and said, "And you rejoiced for a time to walk in his light." Who was John the Baptist? John the Baptist was one of the few people in history that was ever prophesied, whose life was ever predicted in holy Scripture before he was born. Most of those predictions were written about Jesus, but there is an occasional prophecy or prediction about people other than Jesus. Josiah for example was predicted in 1 Kings 13, Cyrus the Great of Persia was predicted in Isaiah 45:1, 150 years before he was born, by name. Alexander the Great was predicted in Daniel 8:21 before he was born. There are two different prophecies predicting the life and ministry of John the Baptist. Isaiah 43 says, "A voice of one calling in the desert, prepare the way for the Lord and make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God." And also Malachi 4:5, "Behold, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes." John the Baptist was Zechariah and Elizabeth's miracle baby boy. They were past the age of bearing children, they thought it was over for them. I think they were done praying about it. The angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah and told him the wonderful news that Elizabeth would have a child, and the child was John, a relative of Jesus, a man who had an incredible ministry. He went forth, it says, in the spirit and power of Elijah. He lived out in the desert, he wore camel's hair and a leather belt and ate locusts and wild honey. This was an unusual man. He clearly didn't live for food; his god was not his stomach. Nor did he live for fine clothes because Jesus said those who wear fine clothes are in kings' palaces, but John wore the roughest kind of stuff. He didn't live in any king's palace, he lived out in the desert where the lions and the scorpions were. He preached a fiery message— “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Droves of people went out to see him, and even more shockingly, he baptized Jews as though they were dirty unwashed Gentiles, in effect, saying, that's about what you are because you're not keeping the law. He had a very powerful and bold ministry.
I've never forgotten what John MacArthur said about John the Baptist's ministry, a threefold outline of his life. Why did John the Baptist come? John the Baptist came to prepare the way, proclaim the way and get out of the way. He came to prepare the way through his baptism of repentance and by his fiery preaching and by his example. Hearts were expecting the Messiah, they thought he might be the Messiah. They were ready, the soil was tilled, every valley was raised up, and every mountain and hill was made low. He was making everyone ready, there was an expectancy. And he was saying, "After me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry." And they're asking, "Are you the Christ?" And he's saying, "I'm not." So he came to prepare the way, he came also to proclaim the way because there was a special day in redemptive history, when John in the middle of all of his baptisms with countless thousands coming to be baptized, and he suddenly stopped and pointed and said, "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." When Jesus came to be baptized by John, John said, "I need to be baptized by You. And do You come to me?" Now if you'd been one of John's disciples, you would have marveled at this different treatment this man was getting. Who is this that John's saying this about? It was the Son of God. John bore witness, "I have seen and I testify that He is the Son of God.” John came to proclaim the way, to identify Jesus as the Messiah. Then it was time for him to get out of the way, and there came a time in John chapter 3, when many more people were going to Jesus than were ever going to John. Jesus was doing miracles, John didn't do miracles. Jesus was clearly at a different level. Large numbers are going, to him, and John's disciples, I think zealous for his own glory, came and were troubled by it. “We need to change our marketing technique. We need to change our approach, we're losing our market share.” Something like that. At any rate, they were concerned about John's glory. John was not concerned about his own glory. He said, "I'm just the friend of the bridegroom. The bride is going to the bridegroom, the marriage is happening. It's glorious and wonderful, and I'm not going to stand in the way. He must increase and I must decrease." He came to get out of the way and shortly thereafter, God saw to it providently that he got out of the way by having Herod the Tetrarch arrest him and put him in jail.
So that's who John was. He was truth on fire. Like Elijah, he was a man utterly fearless of what the audience would think of his preaching. He didn't care. He cared about being faithful to the Word of God that God had put like a fire inside him. Jeremiah 23:29 says, "Is not My word like fire, declares the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?" This is how John preached. We have a sample of his preaching in Matthew 3, "But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them, 'You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance and do not begin to say to yourselves, we have Abraham as our Father. I tell you that out of these stones, God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me, will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will clear His threshing floor, gathering up the wheat into His barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire." Both Jesus and John warned of that unquenchable fire.
Flee to Christ. If you have not trusted in Christ, you've never been baptized as a believer, you're not a believer in Christ, you've heard the testimony this morning, what would John say to you? He would say, "Flee the coming wrath, and trust in Christ, the one whose sandals we're not worthy to untie. He shed His blood on the cross that we might have eternal life. Oh, trust in Him for the forgiveness of your sins." This is the way that John preached. He was fearless. Concerning Herod the Tetrarch, he was fearless as well. Look at verse 3 and 4, "Herod had arrested John and bound him and put him in prison because of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, for John had been saying to him, 'It is not lawful for you to have her.'" The Greek tense is a kind of a continuous preaching. He had been saying to Herod, "It's not lawful." It wasn't just one time. He didn't touch on it and move on. Now, I don't think anybody really likes to have their sin pointed out, never mind publicly, but still less do megalomaniac kings like to have their sins pointed out publicly. But John was bold and he kept on repeating the need for Herod to repent.
It is a shining bright radiance really of redemptive history, that God continually raises up prophets who are this bold with kings. They're utterly fearless people. They'll come and say what needs to be said. For example, Moses to Pharaoh, "Let my people go. Why are you rebelling? Let the people go." Very bold. Samuel said to King Saul in 1 Samuel 15, "To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams, for rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has rejected you as king," — bold and courageous. Nathan said to King David after his sin with Bathsheba and his killing of Uriah, "You are the man," and then he convicted him of his sin very directly. Elijah said to King Ahab, "This is what the Lord says. Have you not murdered a man and seized his property? This is what the Lord says, 'In the place where dogs licked up Naboth's blood, then dogs will lick your blood. Yes, yours." Christ said to Pilate, "You would have no authority over Me if it were not given you from above." Peter and John said to the Sanhedrin, "The God of our fathers has raised this Jesus to life whom you had crucified by nailing Him to the cross. God raised Him from the dead," setting the Jews against God. Paul spoke boldly to Felix about righteousness and judgment to come, and Felix was afraid. After that, Paul spoke to that same megalomaniac Nero, who burned the Christians at his dinner party. He preached the gospel fully with boldness in front of kings again and again. John Knox, the great Scottish reformer, said to Mary, Queen of Scots, "Without the preaching place, Madam, I think few have occasion to be offended at me." That's his way of saying, "I'm actually a nice guy, but when I get to preaching, there's nothing I can do." He says, "But there, madam, I am not a master of myself, but must obey Him who commands me to speak plain and to flatter no flesh upon the face of the earth."
John the Baptist was no reed swayed by the wind, moving here and there with public opinion, but he was a man of courage. Fearing God, therefore, John feared nothing else, and he paid for it with his life. A. T. Robertson said , "John's holy boldness cost him his head. But it's better to have a head like John the Baptist and lose it, than have an ordinary head and keep it." Here is a glorious life and a life well worth living, and God poured it out. He was a man of whom the world was not worthy. Hebrews 11 speaks of those that faced jeers and flogging, and went about in sheep skins and goat skins. Stoned, sawed in two, put to death with the sword, destitute, persecuted, mistreated, men of whom the world was not worthy. That is who John was. By stark contrast, we have King Herod. He was a black hole of pride and power, lust, anger and fear. Jesus said that John was a lamp burning and shining brightly as in a dark place. John the Baptist had a brightness to his life that came from heaven, it was a heavenly light.
Herod was a black hole. And what black holes are, they're stars that kind of implode in on themselves and become so dense that they suck everything into themselves. Here is Herod sucking the light of God into himself and extinguishing it as if it could be. He was filled with pride and power, he was not a king, but just one of the three rulers that the Romans divided Herod the Great's kingdom into. He had ambitions, but he was no mighty leader. He was lust-filled because he wanted his brother Philip's wife, and so he took her, Herodias. Herodias was a thoroughly evil woman, perhaps as bad as Jezebel herself. This encounter in Matthew 14 is typical of the way these kinds of women in the Bible and in history manipulate their husbands to get the dirty deed done. They don't have the power directly, but they are like puppets mastering their husbands on strings. She's got more conviction and more strength than Herod does. We see Herod's complex anger. Look at verse 5, Herod wanted to kill John. He was angry about John's preaching, and yet, in Mark 6:19 and 20, it says that Herodias, his wife, nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him, but she was not able to because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled yet he liked to listen to him. This is strange. King Herod is angry at John's preaching, but he likes to listen to him. He's protecting John from Herodias, but he's puzzled by what he's preaching, but keeps inviting him back for more preaching while he's in prison. What a strange thing that is. Why doesn't Herod just kill him? Because he's afraid of John, and he is afraid of the crowd. Why doesn't he just say at the dinner, "I'm not killing him?" Well, he's afraid of Herodias. He's stuck either way. He's a man governed by fears, dueling fears. Look at verse 5, "Herod wanted to kill John but he was afraid of the people because they considered him a prophet." So here is Herod, a king, so to speak, but trapped like an animal. Trapped by pride and power, trapped by lust, trapped by anger, trapped by fear, trapped by all of these things before his birthday party. But now, Herodias is about to lay a trap for him and spring it right in front of all of his friends. Look at Verses 6 through 11. On Herod's birthday, the daughter of Herodias danced with them and pleased Herod so much that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. Prompted by her mother, she said, "Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist." The king was distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he ordered that her request be granted and had John beheaded in the prison. His head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl who carried it to her mother.
Now, that was a birthday party to remember. I'm not saying that it's wrong to celebrate someone you love, to make them feel special for a day. I'm not saying that, but it can go too far. They can be kind of gluttonous self-celebrations; I read of a man who threw his wife a $62,000 birthday dinner. This is going too far, but that was nothing compared to the dinner party thrown by Herod as recorded here in Matthew. This gluttonous, lavish party’s climax was the presentation of the head of John the Baptist on a platter, one of the greatest men that ever lived, and that's because Herod was trapped by the conniving of his wife, Herodias ,baiting and springing the trap at this lavish party. There's a famous old poem that begins this way, "Will you walk into my parlor? said the spider to the fly." Hernias knows that Herod is motivated by lust. She knows that her daughter is attractive. Tradition tells us her name is Salome. We don't have that in the Bible, but it perhaps was. There's a good chance that the daughter's dance was of a lascivious nature, playing to his lusts. Mark 6 says, "When the daughter of Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests and the king said to the girl, ‘ Ask me for anything you want, and I'll give it to you. Even up to half my kingdom and it's yours.’” Now, that's bizarre. I don't think there's any dance that would be that good. This kind of a lavish oath was meant to impress his dinner guests. They would be impressed with him and his generosity. I would be staggered by his foolishness. He has now surrendered up to half his kingdom to the next words in the mouth of a dancing girl. Little did he realize it would cost him his soul. I don't think he could have even imagined what would come next. He was probably thinking money and power at this point, but instead it's this, "Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist." It wasn't the girl's idea, it was the mother's, prompting. The trap has been sprung. What a sick, twisted request.You see the deep-seated hatred of Herodias, her anger and her scorn for this servant of God. She wants him to suffer, and so Herod cowardly surrendered. Herod honored and respected John. But he honored and respected himself and his dinner guests more, and he had John executed. John's disciples came and took the body and buried it, and then they went and told Jesus.
What lessons and applications can we take from John's martyrdom? First, can I urge you, fear God, and I promise you, you need fear nothing else. Let's keep it simple. If you fear God, you don't need to fear anything else. God will take care of you. You don't need to fear death, you don't need to fear suffering, you don't need to fear poverty, you don't need to fear the scorn and opposition of the world, it will not matter to you, because if you fear God, God Himself will reveal Himself to you and He will love you. The Spirit of glory and of grace will rest upon you and you will know Him in a deeper way than you can possibly imagine. Jesus Himself said, "Do not fear those who kill the body and after that can do nothing more. I'll tell you who to fear. Fear the one after the death of the body has the power to destroy both soul and body in hell. Yes, I tell you, fear Him." Jesus said if you fear Him and trust in Christ, you need fear nothing else. You're free from death and mourning, and crying, and pain, and condemnation eternally in Heaven, and even if you are poured out like a drink offering, even if you are sheep considered for the slaughter, you'll have a sense of the presence of Jesus Christ in the middle of trials that the unbelievers can never imagine. Fear God and fear nothing else.
Secondly, if you don't fear God, I warn you, you'll have cause to fear everything else. Maybe you're free from needing to be concerned about the laws of God. You don't need to worry about the laws of God, so you think. But inside your conscience there's a growing sense of unease. A sense that the other shoe hasn't fallen yet, that you're eating, drinking, and you're making merry, but your conscience is uneasy and you're not sure how it's going to go for you when you die. Not sure if there's a Judgment Day. Therefore, you are afraid. And you fear what people will think, concerned about public opinion. Like Herod, you're afraid of John, the holy prophet of God, you're afraid of what he might say. Herod was afraid of his wife, afraid of the crowd, afraid of the Romans, afraid of everything. Do you want to live like that? It all stems from not fearing God and not trusting in Him.
Thirdly, understand that Christ ordains in His kingly rule both martyrdom and the mourning of martyrs. He Himself mourns after them, and He is personally concerned with them. Remember what He said to Saul of Tarsus who was breathing out murderous threats against the Lord's disciples, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?" He takes it very personally when people persecute His body. Even if He doesn't intervene because of His own wise purposes and plans, He doesn't intervene with sovereign power, as in Psalm 18, He doesn't come down with smoke coming out of His nostrils and sweep them all away. Let me urge you, if what Jesus said is true, and it is— that the persecution of Christians is the persecution of Christ's body, — if you are a member by the Spirit of God, of that body, then you're being persecuted when your brothers and sisters are. It's you. They are your family. They're your kin spiritually. Your brothers and sisters around the world in Christ. Hebrews 13:3 says, "Remember those who are in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners."
I think we need to learn more about the persecuted church. I think you ought to go to the websites that I've listed at the bottom of my sermon outline. There's three of them, and there are other ministries, but Voice of the Martyrs is one of them. Persecution Project, Christian Freedom International. There's also the Barnabas Fund, which is not listed there but you can look up for. These are various ministries that are getting information to the West, which is isolated somewhat from martyrdom and from persecution of what's happening to their brothers and sisters around the world. Hebrews 13:3 says, at least we should remember them in prayer, we should be praying about them. We should learn what the Muslims are doing in Nigeria, how they are burning and destroying church buildings and attacking Christians. What they're doing in the Sudan. And how, as I said, between two and three million Christians have died, literally, hundreds and even thousands hacked to death at night by roving bands of Muslims.
One pastor in Rangoon, Burma was speaking to American Christians pleading for help, and he was asked about the view that some in the western church hold that persecution and martyrdom are good for the church, making it stronger, purer, and more committed. He said, "They don't know what they're talking about, because they live in a free country and have never experienced what it's like. If they think persecution is good, why don't they try it?" We don't want persecution, we don't agree that persecution is good for the church, we can do without it, we would rather have peace and freedom. We want our children to have opportunities for a better life. That's the very thing we're commanded to pray for concerning governments, that we would be able to live peaceful, godly, upright lives. In Voice of the Martyrs, I was reading about Pakistan. A Christian man was arrested in 2003 for using a restroom that was attached to a mosque. Leaving the restroom, somebody noted the cross he had around his neck.He was seized and brought in in front of the MOLA or the authority there, and he was falsely accused of defacing the Quran. They accused him of tearing pages of the Quran out and stomping on them with his feet. He never did it, but even if he did, listen to the penalty, life imprisonment for ripping out pages of the Quran and stomping on it. That's in Pakistan. This is the nature of Islam when Islam has this kind of control.
Let me say a word about Islam. Last week, I was at a conference that was talking about the problem of militant Islam. One of the points that the conference was making is there isn't such a thing as militant Islam and moderate Islam, there's Islam and then there's not Islam. And the question in front of us is, is Osama bin Laden right in his interpretation of the Quran or not? More and more Muslims are finding that he is actually right in his interpretation of the Quran and they're leaving Islam. Many of them for Christianity, but many more are being convinced that he's right and they are following their faith in the ways that we see in the news. Here is a big difference between Islam and Christianity. Islam advances by the sword, Christianity advances by the cross. One of them an instrument of murdering others, the other an instrument of ourselves being done unto death. The one kills to advance, the other one dies in order to advance. The Crusades forgot that. The crusades were an abrogation of our mission, it was false and we have to ask where the Crusades lined up with the New Testament. They weren't in my opinion. At that conference, there was a man there who has an incredible ministry. His name is Ray and he's down at Hyde Park in London. Every Sunday, they have something called the speaker's corner and they get up and debate issues. He focuses on the difference between Christianity and Islam. His is the most popular corner, everybody comes and listens to him. What a show you get, because he's immediately surrounded by militant Islam students in London. Let me tell you something about London. The year 2012 is the summer games in London. Right next to the stadium that they're building for that, the Muslims are building a mosque that will hold 40,000 people. It'll be completed within a year before the Olympics are there, so when worldwide coverage for 12 days or whatever of the London games are there, it will be under the crescent moon shadow. They will see how Islam has made huge inroads into conquering London. Anyway, there are a lot of Muslims in London. This man stands up and preaches, and he does it in a loving, powerful, courageous way. Once he noticed that there were some people that were missing that used to be regulars. He didn't know where they were and he asked about these two men. He said, "Do you know where they are?" Nobody was saying anything, nobody knew where they were. A week or two later, he saw their faces on CNN, they had tried to blow up a disco in Tel Aviv and had succeeded in taking many Jewish lives with them. The other man, his belt hadn't gone off, so he committed suicide by throwing himself into the ocean, thereby assuring his salvation into paradise, by dying in a Jihad. Ray, because he knew these people, not well, got their pictures and made posters of them and brought them down to the next speaker's corner. Boldness isn't dead. I wouldn't do this right. Not yet anyway. Okay? I don't know that he'll do it for long, but this is what he did, he brought their posters and he held them up and said, "Do you know these men? Do any of you know these men?" Some murmuring. Finally, they acknowledged that they knew them. So now, here's my question, how many of you Muslims agree with what they did? Fifty hands went up. He said, "I want to ask you another question, how many of you would personally be involved in something like that here in London?" Fifteen men raised their hands. Now there were a huge number of onlookers there, people that were claiming to be Christians, at least. He said, "All right, now I ask you Christians, how many of you are Christians? Raise your hand if you love and honor Jesus Christ." No one raised their hand at first. No one. He said, "Come on, we just had 15 men who will raise their hand in broad daylight, saying they're willing to commit a crime here in London for their faith. What about you?" Then large numbers of hands went up. What I get out of that, I think is that we ought to show them what true Christianity is like. True Christianity doesn't advance by killing and blowing people up. It advances by the blood of martyrs. It advances by the cross. It starts with our own private lives in which we take up our cross every day, and die to ourselves. We do not, as it says in Revelation 12, love our lives so much as to shrink from death. Start with witnessing, start with sharing the gospel with your co-worker or even your boss. You might actually disadvantage yourself in your workplace, and in your career. Yes, you might. But you might actually save someone's soul.
Then start with your own private lusts. Don't be like Herod and be a slave to lust. Crucify your lust by the power of the cross, be a martyr there and grow in grace and in the knowledge of Christ. Then be a martyr when it comes to witnessing and then see how far it takes you. This is the way the Kingdom of Heaven advances, not the other way. I believe in the end, the Islamic countries will be won to Christ in the end. I believe that God has His people in every tribe, and language, and people, and nation, and He will have them, but I think the price for their conversion will be the blood of martyrs. Are you willing? Am I willing to have that much zeal for our faith as we see the Muslims have for theirs?