Sheep are notorious for two things. Being stupid and being easily spooked. It is no wonder the scriptures use the comparison of sheep to the followers of Christ. As a group, we have faith and access to God, yet it is often our last resort instead of our first instinct. Additionally, when things start getting tough and someone flexes in our direction, we often are reduced to a cower. We may make the excuse that we are acting in a spirit of gentleness or turning the other cheek, but the truth is most of the time we are wonted weenies. How many people stood against Goliath? How many men stood in Nebuchadnezzar’s furnace? How many apostles were at the crucifixion of Jesus? If you’re keeping count, all the answers fit on to a single hand. We may have faith that triumphs over personal hardships, we may be able to pray for tough changes, or we may be able to move towards a difficult calling, but when a real, visible enemy comes, we often let out a bleat, tuck tail, and run with the flock.
Awake, sword, against my shepherd, against the man who is close to me!” declares the Lord Almighty. Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered, and I will turn my hand against the little ones. In the whole land,” declares the Lord, two-thirds will be struck down and perish; yet one-third will be left in it. This third I will put into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are my people, and they will say, ‘The Lord is our God.’” Zech 13:7-9
Zecheriah, Matthew, and John all allude that the tribulation will be a tough time to be on this planet, but even more so for those who call themselves a follower of Christ. There will not only be an uptick in geological and astronomical superevents, but Christian all over the world will be truly persecuted – no, not the butt of some late night TV joke – meaning it will be challenging to keep both your faith and your life at the same time. It is too easy to say that we will not fall away or forsake our beliefs in this ever-coming-closer moment in history. Peter said he never-ever would fall away; Jesus tells him he won’t even make it 24 hours from speaking these words (Matt 26:33-34). Fortunately, for Peter and for us, there is an opportunity to amend our mistakes, our denials, and our flight. According to church tradition, and alluded to in the prophecy of Jesus (John 21:18-19), Peter is crucified for sharing the Good News.
“Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” – Matt 24:9
Like Peter, and so many others, we may have had weak moments and scattered the flock. We may have diminished our faith in front of others, so we could be more accepted or avoid a consequence. We are weak. We need to pump some iron with the Word of God. Let his Holy Spirit spot you (or really do the heavy lifting). We need to train harder because standing up for our faith WILL NOT get easier. We want to be like David, Esther, Stephen, Joseph, Mary, and so many more whose faith were purified with persecution. Our time to be refined in the fire is coming, whether or not we live long enough to see the Great Tribulation. How do we make sure we are prepared for this moment? Here is a small list of verses that can speak to us, to help us plant our feet and hold firm, today or any other, so when the fire comes and the dross is removed, there remains the precious things that we cling to with our faith: Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God.
No weapon forged against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and this is their vindication from me,”declares the Lord. – Isaiah 54:17
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:9
By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. – Hebrew 11:7-10
For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” – Esther 4:14
For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. – 2 Timothy 1:6-8
When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me? – Psalms 56:3-4
But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. – John 14:25-26