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Christian in the End Times

1 Peter 5:8; Mark 13:1-8

Anal Naga Baptist Centenary #3

Getting to the end is what we look forward to. When you are reading a good book and the story is very captivating, you can’t wait to see how it ends. When we are having dinner, we like to finish our meal so that at the end we’ll have dessert.

When we start a project like celebrating your 100th anniversary, you want to get to now when we are close to the end and everyone is inspired and empowered to be faithful for another 100 years.

As Christians for the past 100 years and as Christians from the very beginning when the disciples left their homes, fishing nets, and jobs to follow Jesus 2000 years ago, are we at the end yet?

In 1 Peter, the disciple is addressing a terrible situation. His readers were facing the persecution initiated by the Roman emperor Nero. We should remember that Nero, upon causing the great fire in Rome in 64AD, found a scapegoat among the followers of Jesus. Blaming them for the crime, he undertook a vengeful persecution. Tacitus, the Roman historian, reports that those who confessed to believe in Christ were made subject of sport, being covered with animal skins and attacked by dogs, nailed to crosses, set on fire, even burned at night for the illumination of Nero’s garden parties.

Peter wrote, “Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour.”

I know that your situation is different here in NE India from what we experience in the US. For the most part, I have never suffered, truly suffered, because of my faith in Jesus Christ. Except for rare and isolated examples, those in the United States are allowed to practice religion without oppression. This freedom is written into the very document around which the country was founded and from which it still governs itself. For example, Baptists were persecuted by the Church of England in the 1600s that led the Anabaptists to leave England to have religious freedom in the new world. One of our Bills of Rights, the separation of church and state was the result of Baptist leaders in the 1700s that formed our nation.

Suffering

Our lesson reminds us that as Christians, we are subject to persecution. In our suffering, these are more than just annoyances and inconveniences but they may be signs that “the end of all things is near” (1 Peter 4:7).

In 1 Peter, the apostle comforts his readers by suggesting that the suffering that Christians undergo finds its example and its fulfillment in the sufferings of Christ. This comfort depends on the claim that Christians live out the pattern of Christ’s suffering death and of his resurrection. Those who share in his sufferings will share in his glory. Christians not only suffer as Christ does; they participate in his suffering. They are in communion with him. Therefore they will also participate in his resurrection and ascension “so that you may also…shout for joy when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:13).

Gordon McClellan, a Presbyterian pastor in Oregon, tells a story of his friend Benyamin Yusuf who experienced brutal persecution for his choice of religion. Benyamin was raised in Africa by a strict Muslim family. When he decided to become Christian, his father disowned him and banished him from their home. Benyamin decided to leave his native land for a more tolerant society. His feet being his only means of transportation, he began walking to the border. Along the way he was captured and put in prison. The prison guards spent every night for several months trying to beat a renunciation out of him. Benyamin never renounced his faith. Instead, he would forgive the guards at the conclusion of every beating.

One of the jailers became intrigued by Benyamin who offered such love in the face of such cruelty. One night, after a particularly vicious beating, the jailer came to the cell to ask Benyamin why he forgave him and the other guards after every beating. Benyamin told the guard about Jesus and the lessons of selfless love and forgiveness he taught. The guard left in disbelief, but returned much later that night with the surprise announcement that he had come to help Benyamin escape. Escape he did, eventually making his way to the United States, where he earned a PhD in religious studies before returning to Africa to plant churches.

This story reminds us that people suffer for their faith, even in our modern world. We know that most Anal Naga people are Christians but we also know that when you may be traveling outside of Manipur, the rest of the country may not be as friendly to your faith in Jesus Christ.

Suffering in Our Actions

1 Peter reminds us that Christ suffered; therefore, we should not be surprised when we as Christians also suffer. Christians should not suffer for wrongdoings; they suffer for doing what is right, resting in the assurance that God’s glory will be revealed. In a strange twist, to be reviled by this world for the sake of Christ is to be considered a blessing. Christians are to remain humble and let God exalt them. Christians are not to be anxious because God cares. Christians are to be watchful of their oppressors who may be causing persecution. They are to resist the satanic powers; lest they become complicit with the powers and principalities of this world.

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In the midst of a troubling world, Peter attempts to provide comfort and reassurance for those who face, or will be facing, persecution due to their commitment in following Jesus.

We tend to place an emphasis on what we believe is the cause of the hostility toward the early church. However, the Roman Empire seldom cares what the masses believe, as long as allegiances to the ruling elites are not compromised. The early churches were persecuted not for what they believed, but for what they did. They preached a message of liberation. They preached good news to the poor, freedom to the imprisoned, sight for those blinded, and liberation to the oppressed. They preached no conformity with the prevailing power structures.

Peter reminds his readers, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you” (4:12). To live the gospel is threatening.

When our religious ancestors, the Anabaptists believed that there was no evidence in the Bible to support infant baptism and started to rebaptize each other is when the Church of England started its persecution against the Baptist. The act of rebaptism led to persecution. Eventually, the Anabaptists made their way across the Atlantic Ocean to start a new life in religious freedom.

It may have be acceptable for Benyamin Yusuf to believe Jesus in his strict Muslim African family, but it’s only when he decided to move out and leave his family is when he was disowned by his father. It is only when Benyamin repeatedly forgave his jailers after beating him that led to a compassionate jailer to help him escape.

As Anal Naga Baptists, have you suffered for Christ because you have acted on your faith? Unless we let our light shine in this darkened world is when our faith speaks of good news that threaten the world’s power. According to Peter, when Christians suffer, these may be signs that “the end of all things is near” (1 Peter 4:7).

Today’s Light

I know today is February 3, 2019 but I don’t know when the end of times will be. None of us know because only God knows. We should not be sitting on our hands and just wait because God is in control of this world and when the end of all things come, God will make it so. But what do we do now? There are three things we can do.

In 1 Peter, we read that all leaders and believers alike are to humble themselves before God. The first thing we do is humble yourself under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you (5:6). After you have suffered for a little while; the God of grace will restore, support, strengthen and establish you (5:10). Acting humbly, we acknowledge the power and providence of God.

Secondly, while we continue to live in our suffering in the midst of opponents, we are to be disciplined enough not to doze off in the face of danger. This is the time when the devil is on the prowl, and the opponents, knowingly or not, serve the prince of evil.

And thirdly, Christians today are to act faithfully, by resisting the evil one and those who follow in his entourage. When the world is being consumed by the evil one who brings darkness saying to us that there’s no hope, no light, no tomorrow, we are to act faithfully. Into this darkness, a light is needed to shine so that the world is challenged, changed, redirected.

Who should bring this light to the world? Perhaps it should be the people who live by a higher standard of behavior than the rest of the world; people who have a different morality; those who seek to do the right thing when no one is watching; those who have a solid sense of rightness and goodness, a truly trained moral compass; and those who have a good book to guide them and keep them on track. Who should bring this light to the world?

The children know the answer. They love to raise their little index fingers and sing: “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine…All around the neighborhood, I’m gonna let it shine.”

In your folk history, it’s been said that the Nagas first lived in stone caves or in the womb of the earth. They came out of the earth hole. Anal Naga legend says that they lived in a cave guarded by a man-eating tiger. Two Anals, Hanshu and Hantha, killed the tiger with the help of the birds from the sky. After the tiger’s death, the tribes left the cave, traveling through China, Tibet, and numerous other areas before settling in Manipur.

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I would say that when you came out of the cave, you saw a light. God’s redeeming light in the life, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ! This light continues to shine for 100 years and it needs to shine for many more years until that time when God brings all creation into his glory.

One way that you can raise your index finger to let your light shine is to support the new Northeast Christian University that all of the Baptist conventions in NE India have voted to support. Illiteracy and the lack of the opportunity to develop one’s God given gifts and talents to become into the full stature of Christ is a shame and evil. When we knowingly deprive our young people from developing and maturing in their academic growth, we are hurting our villages, communities and our world. When we make it possible for our young people today and for future generations of Anal Naga people to become educated and trained to be who God intended them to be, we will be acting faithfully in these end times.

It’s not what we believe that threatens the powers to be, it’s when we act out our faith in this world like the establishment of a new Christian liberal arts university is when we raise our index finger to say into this darkened and troubling world that the light of Christ shines brightly.

You are no longer afraid of the man-eating tiger outside of the cave. You are freed and the light of Jesus Christ shines in you so that you can shine brightly in the world!

We may be getting to the end of my sermon. We may be getting to the end of this anniversary celebration. We are now at the end of our worship service. But we are not at the end of times.

And as long as we are still here, we are to act humbly, acknowledging the power and providence of God. We are to act watchfully, disciplined enough not to doze off in the face of impending danger. And we are to act faithfully by keeping the light of Christ burning brightly in everything we do.

Thomas a Kempis once wrote,

            Jesus has many who love his kingdom in heaven, but few who bear his cross. He has many who desire comfort, but few who desire suffering. He finds many to share his feast, but few his fasting. All desire to rejoice with him, but few are willing to suffer for his sake. Many follow Jesus to the breaking of bread but few to the drinking of the cup of his passion. Many admire the miracles but few follow him to the humiliation of the cross. Many love Jesus as long as no hardship touches them.

God’s Peace Be with You

You know that in 1894, American Baptist missionary William Pettigrew came to Manipur and established a school in Ukhrul. Mr. B.S. Thurnung and Mr. Kowlchung Mono were the first to receive Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior while at the Ukhrul Mission School in 1913. By 1919, many became believers at the Kangpokpi Mission School. This weekend, we celebrate the courage and faithfulness of those early missionaries who remain true to their call and the Anal Naga, the people in Manipur now are transformed in new life in Jesus Christ.

As one American Baptist who has come from the United States representing our delegation and the 1.5 American Baptists in the United States today, we charge you, 30,000 strong to continue this faithful witness in the days ahead. Our mission endeavors are not yet finished. There are still many more people who have yet to hear the saving grace of Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit!

God is now calling you, the faith descendants of William Pettigrew and other missionaries to continue this work. The Apostle Paul said this to the Philippians:

            “Beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you” (Phil. 4:8-9).

Let us pray.

O God, the creator and sustainer of all creation, the God of yesterdays, todays and the days to come, we pray that we remain faithful and courageous today as our faith ancestors were who first heard about the saving grace of Jesus Christ. Discipline us to remain humble in order to exalt you and to act faithfully against all evil and threats that may come from the world. Bless us and empower us to believe in the excellence of your grace. In the name of Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.

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