I’m not a nice Christian.
At least, that’s what people tell me, including my own family (well, the non-Christian ones).
What’s a “nice” Christian? A nice Christian (to non-Christians) is someone who goes to church, but never, ever talks about it in public or in private (except with other Christians). A nice Christian never disconcerts anyone. He doesn’t write letters to the editor, hold a pro-life sign, run for public office or ruffle anyone’s feathers at any time.
He is nice and inoffensive and never bothers a single non-Christian person.
But Jesus didn’t come to make us nice. He came to make us whole and he insisted we spread the gospel to the entire world. And that means we occasionally have to say something to non-believers that will make them uncomfortable.
The prophet Elijah wasn’t nice. He challenged the prophets of Baal, a pagan Canaanite deity, to a contest — to see whose God could ignite a sacrificial pyre. A total of 450 priests of Baal prayed and howled and cut themselves with knives from morning until night. But Baal didn’t answer them.
Elijah jeered at them: “Pray louder!” he said. “If Baal really is a god, maybe he is thinking, or busy, or travelling! Maybe he is sleeping so you will have to wake him!”
Elijah then ordered that his pyre be soaked with jugs of water three times. He prayed to God, who sent a bolt of lightning that consumed everything. He wasn’t nice at all to the priests of Baal, but it was Elijah who appeared alongside Moses and Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration as the exemplar of all the prophets of God.
The prophet Jeremiah wasn’t nice, either. He was a prophet of doom, always warning people that horrible things were about to happen to them because of their unbelief. People were sick and tired of hearing him. Finally, they stuck him down a dry well, intending that he would starve to death. But everything Jeremiah warned about came to pass.
Jesus was nice — to little children, to a woman about to be stoned for adultery, to the sick, to the possessed, to the blind, to the lame, to the deaf and to the leprous. But he wasn’t nice to the self-righteous religious elite, the ones to whom everyone bowed and scraped.
In a public speech, he railed against the scribes and the Pharisees, calling them snakes and vipers and whitewashed tombs full of bones. This was extremely insulting, as snakes and any dead person were considered highly “unclean” and required extensive purification rites if a religious leader had any contact with them.
It would have astonished his listeners and enraged any religious leader who happened to be listening. In fact, after he had finished speaking, “the chief priests … plotted to arrest Jesus in some sly way and kill him.” And we all know that’s exactly what they did. Jesus knew what they were going to do him, but he said what he said anyway.
The Apostle Paul was specifically called by God to bring the gospel to the Gentiles. God warned him he would suffer for doing this — and did he ever: “Five times I received from the Jews the 40 lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods [and] once I was stoned …”
Paul made people uncomfortable and furious and they made him suffer for his outspokenness. At the end, he was imprisoned by the Roman Emperor Nero, then executed.
In fact, every one of the 12 disciples of Jesus (except John) died a violent death. And even John was severely beaten and imprisoned until he died of old age. Standing up for your faith and preaching to unbelievers can be dangerous and sometimes fatal.
It’s still happening practically every day in the world. Christians in India, Egypt, Pakistan, Iran, China, North Korea and Nigeria are being beaten, murdered or imprisoned simply because they believe in Jesus. Approximately 250-million Christians worldwide face persecution for their faith. Almost 3,000 Christians have been murdered this year alone in countries actively hostile to Christianity.
But let’s be honest — we don’t really have that problem here in North America.
Jesus warned us this would happen. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad because great is your reward in heaven.”
We cannot “bury our talent” all our lives and expect the master’s blessing. If we want to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” Christians need to speak up about what they believe.
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