I regularly hear words of alarm and outrage from some of Jesus’ followers who embrace a gloomy view of the world. Confession: I used to hold that viewpoint, too. It’s all tied into a futurist understanding of Revelation and Bible prophecy, which teaches that things will worsen until Jesus returns. I used to look for evidence that everything was deteriorating, but I eventually woke up because history and the present world tell a different story. For the most part, the world is a better place to live now than ever in human history.

And so, when I hear people say, “Every year, it gets worse and worse,” I find myself reacting to this so-called “Christian” form of outrage. Some of Jesus’ followers feel compelled to be incensed about something as fuel to keep their faith alive. I don’t believe this is an appropriate way for God’s people to live.

Amazing Insight

Consider what it would be like to build a church in a corrupt and dreadful place next to a temple that was dedicated to an idolatrous god that was worshipped by people having sex with prostitutes and animals. That story is reflected in Jesus’ incredible discussion with his disciples in Caesarea Philippi, near a mountainous region containing Mount Hermon, Israel’s largest mountain.

Matthew tells us that Jesus asked his disciples what people were saying about him. They told Jesus that people’s opinions were mixed, with some believing Jesus was John the Baptist reincarnated. Others thought Jesus was Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the prophets who had returned from the dead.

Jesus then asked his disciples for their thoughts on his identity. Peter answered first, of course, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Play on Words

Jesus told Peter that his insights had a heavenly origin, “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”

The Play on words in the original manuscript was between Peter (Petros), a rock that can be thrown, and Rock (Petra), a large mass rising from the earth. Matthew 16:18 could be translated as, “I tell you, Peter, that you are like a little stone, but on this massive mountain of the revelation of who I am, I will build my church.” The Church was and is established on the foundation of Jesus the Messiah.

The Worst Place

So, what are the gates of Hades that will not overcome Jesus’ Church? As mentioned, this conversation occurred at Caesarea Philippi, ancient Paneas, “The city of Pan.” In Jesus’ day, a temple to the goat god Pan was at the centre of town.

Pan received worship through intimate acts with goats. The court in public view outside the temple was called the Court of Pan and the Nymphs. Nymphs are creatures of fantasy, like elves or fairies and were thought to be a large group of inferior divinities. Today, the word can refer to a woman who suffers from hypersexuality, a mental illness.

Pan’s temple was set on the side of a gigantic rock face. Next to it was an enormous cave where the Jordan River originates and flows to the Dead Sea. The cave was called the “gates of Hell.” The priests of Pan would say that if you did not worship Pan to his satisfaction, he would open the cave and swallow you into Hell.

For the disciples, this was an evil place, and this is where Jesus says, on this rock, I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. In other words, think of the most formidable and least likely place to found a church; that is where the Church will thrive.

Worth Considering

I find it fascinating that of all the places where Jesus could initiate his Church, he chose that place. It’s a truth that resonates through the centuries right down to our time.

The Church has had the worst of things thrown at it. It’s been outlawed and oppressed, and its people persecuted and martyred. Sacred books and Bibles were burned or banned. Add to that the trouble we’ve brought on ourselves – immoral and abusive pastors and priests, Church splits, discrimination against minorities and selfishness, always wanting everything our way. It’s a miracle that the Church still exists, but here we are.

My encouragement to you is simple: while some awful things are happening in the world right now, the world is much better than it was. If you follow Jesus, Set your mind on things above, not earthly things. Jesus affirmed that His Church would be built on the rock where the darkest rituals occurred, and it would prevail. Live in faith, not fear and be encouraged.


This is the third and final blog in which I discuss a Christian attitude to differences in race (ethnicity), culture and religion.  When it comes to race – embrace!  When it comes to culture – embrace the good!  What about the various religions?  What should our attitude be towards people of differing belief?

Over the centuries the attitudes and actions of people of various faiths have been nothing short of atrocious towards each other – and nothing much has changed.  Today Christians are the most persecuted people in the world predominantly by communism (North Korea is the worst) and radical Islam.  According to Open Doors, Overwhelmingly, the main engine driving persecution of Christians in 36 of the top 50 countries is Islamic extremism.”  In today’s world we see all manner of persecution enacted upon people of faith by people of faith.  Once again Acts 17 gives us some good insight into what a proper attitude should be.

In these verses Paul the apostle affirms that God is everywhere, that we are all His offspring or children (28-29) and that “he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.”  The apostle quotes two famous Greek philosophers (Aratus and Epimenides) in order to point them to Jesus, the one true God.

Aratus in his work entitled Phaenomena 1-5 stated: “Let us begin with Zeus whom we mortals never leave unspoken. For every street, every market place is filled with Zeus. Even the sea and the harbors are full of his deity. Everywhere, everyone is indebted to Zeus. For we are indeed his offspring.”

Epimenides, in his work Cretica, wrote, “They fashioned a tomb for thee, O holy and high one. The Cretans, always liars, evil beasts, idle bellies!  But thou art not dead: thou livest and abidest forever, for in thee we live and move and have our being.”  Paul uses the poet’s words to introduce the Greeks to the death and resurrection of Jesus.

In the 6th century B.C., when the poet Epimenides lived, there was a plague which went throughout all Greece. The Greeks thought that they must have offended one of their gods, so they began offering sacrifices on altars to all their various gods. When nothing worked they figured there must be a God who they didn’t know about whom they must somehow appease.

So Epimenides came up with a plan. He released hungry sheep into the countryside and instructed men to follow the sheep to see where they would lie down. He believed that since hungry sheep would not naturally lie down but continue to graze, if the sheep were to lie down it would be a sign from God that this place was sacred. At each spot where the sheep tired and laid down the Athenians built an altar and sacrificed the sheep on it. Afterward it is believed the plague stopped which they attributed to this unknown God accepting the sacrifice.

Paul tried to convey to them that the unknown God was the true God, Jesus Christ: the God who created all things and every person.  He then goes on to give a gentle but firm rebuke of man-made religion. It is of “man’s design” and Paul refers to it as “ignorance” that God once overlooked – but no longer!  God is not looking at our religion – He’s interested in relationship.  His desire is that we would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.”  More importantly God has already reached out to us in the tangible person of Jesus Christ.

Christians are called to a life of love and tolerance towards others.  Jesus told the story of The Good Samaritan (Luke 10) to demonstrate that his people should love, respect, and help people regardless of their race, culture or religion.  But that doesn’t mean that we agree with what others believe or do.  Christianity is not just tolerant it is also exclusive.  Jesus made it clear when he said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).  Acts 4:12 also states this truth plainly, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved. Paul makes it clear as well: God … commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man [Jesus] he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:30b-31).

The Romans thought, “All roads might lead to Rome,” but all religions don’t lead to God.  As a Christian I strongly believe that Jesus is the one and only way.  But that doesn’t stop me from being respectful, kind, helpful and loving towards those who believe differently.  So …

When it comes to race – embrace!

When it comes to culture – embrace the good!

When it comes to religion – embrace the person!

That’s what Paul did on Mars Hill in Athens as he found some common ground with these highly religious people and shared the good news with them.  It would do us well to do the same!

Alarming reports however, are streaming in from all over the world that Christian believers in many countries are being tortured, imprisoned and even killed because of their faith in Jesus.

A report by Britain’s intelligence service MI6 reveals that there is an estimated 200 million Christians in 60 countries who are now facing persecution.

There were close to 100 million martyrs in the last century – that is more people martyred for their faith in Jesus Christ in the 20th century than in all the previous nineteen centuries combined. 15 million of these were Orthodox or Catholic Christians who died under the Soviet regime between 1917 and 1980, primarily in prison camps.  Some were crucified by nailing them to the door of their churches or stripped naked, doused with water and left to freeze in the winter air.

More people died in circumstances related to their faith in the last century than in all the 20th century wars combined.

According to the 2011 Open Doors’ World watch list of the worst persecuting nations, North Korea has topped the list again. More than 50,000 Christians are incarcerated in work camps in North Korea because they refuse to submit to the extreme views rigorously enforced by the country’s dictator, Kim Jong-Il.  One expert on North Korea stated: “Christians are the target of fierce government action, and once caught, are not regarded as human. Last year we had evidence that some [of those captured] were used as guinea pigs to test chemical and biological weapons.”

Other persecuting countries include: Iran, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Maldives, Yemen, Iraq, Uzbekistan and Laos. Muslim nations are the biggest persecutors of those of other faiths.

So, what should our response be to these things?

Firstly, we should be grateful that we live in a nation such as Australia that grants us freedom to express our faith.

Secondly, we need to be prepared.  We do enjoy great freedom in Australia right now, but that might not always be the case.  Jesus said, “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also …” (John 15:20).

Thirdly, be encouraged. Maybe you’re experiencing a level of persecution right now.  The Bible tells us that nothing – not even persecution – can separate us from the love of Christ” (Romans 8:35).

Fourthly, be compassionate. Sympathy looks and turns away, compassion comes to help and stay. Proverbs 31:8 encourages us to “speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.”  In the United States, after fierce lobbying by some churches and other groups, American legislators agreed to levy punishments ranging from diplomatic protests to economic sanctions against countries that persistently persecute Christians and other religious minorities.  We can make a difference by speaking up.

Finally, be prayerful. Last Sunday more than 300,000 churches in 100 countries took part in the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. Add the persecuted church to your prayer list. Pray specifically that God would be glorified; the great commission would be completed, that the Holy Spirit would purify and comfort his church.

If you would like to find out more on how you can assist persecuted Christians around the world check out these websites and books:

Open Doors: http://www.opendoors.org.au

Christian Solidarity Worldwide: http://www.csw.org.uk/home.htm

World Christian Resources:

Welcome to Australia

Faith that endures: by Ronald Boyd-MacMillan

In the Lion’s Den: by Nina Shea

The persecuted church prayer devotional: by Beverly Pegues

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