For example, last night I was teaching the youth group about Paul and how his encounter with God instantly changed his life* (as a follow up to Isaiah's similar moment in Isaiah 6). As I taught we reached Jesus' words to Paul (then Saul):
And falling to the ground he [Saul] heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. (Acts 9:4–5)As a side note to the main teaching I drew their attention to the fact that Jesus sees persecution against the church (believers, His body) as persecution against Himself. We don't stand alone. When we are persecuted it is to God as if He Himself is persecuted. I referred back to Jesus' words to the disciples before He sent out the 72, "The one who hears you hears Me, and the one who rejects you rejects Me, and the one who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me" (Luke 10:16). We are the body of Christ, and Christ is in us and completely identified with us. Even in solitary confinement we do not suffer alone, and we are not alone.
This morning our family was watching a documentary on the Bible and it was talking about the early church and the horrible persecution it suffered for over 200 years. Torture, burned alive, lions, etc. A horrible litany of the tremendous evil of man unto man. The narrator gave religious, political, social and economic reasons for the Roman persecution of the church . . . but stopped at that. I had the girls pause the DVD and told them that no matter the "topic" or hot point the devil uses to stir up people against believers, at the core of it all it is that darkness hates light. The light has come into the world and men love darkness and hate the light. At its core all persecution and hatred of God's people is a spiritual war, driven by Satan and his hosts. I told them that this is why it is imperative to me to know a political candidate's deep and true religious beliefs and worldview lens. There is no way they can truly understand the nature of world events and issues if they do not have (and apply) God's spiritual lenses through which to see it.
I ended by sharing with them that while it is easy to direct our hate at Nero (who burned Christians alive as his torches, etc.), the Bible makes it clear to us:
Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. (Ephesians 6:11-13)No matter the person leading the persecution. No matter the person being persecuted as a Christian. The reality of it all is that ultimately it is Satan warring against Jesus. It is darkness against Light. It is Satan and his hosts driving the persecution, and it is Jesus receiving the persecution as if unto Himself. This is the only lens through which we can truly understand it, through which we can truly direct our anger and defense against it . . . and the only lens through which we can find the only true comfort in it—what is done unto us for the sake of Christ is received by God in us as if done unto Himself.
We are not alone. We are the body of Christ and the temple of the Holy Spirit. Darkness hates light. But we are eternally alive in Christ, God's own children and special possession, forgiven, in truth, in light. And nothing can take that away!
* Luke records this encounter as a narrator in Acts 9, and then Paul tells about it in Acts 22.