“And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest” (Acts 9:4–5, AV)
I have never been through the type of persecution that others have in my life. Anything that has ever happened to me, was in comparison to that of the early church and others throughout history has been very mild. The most severe threat that I every had was that of losing a very well-paying job. It happened as I was working with a customer that had purchased one of our company’s printing machines. Sometime after the installation of the machine and while I was fulfilling some after start-up work with them, the Lord saved me. This changed my entire perspective on life.
Formerly while working with those in the customer’s plant, at lunchtime when I would sit with their employees, we engaged in shoptalk. This was the kind of talk not suitable for conversation. I really thought nothing of it. However, when the Lord touched my heart, this type of talk was not something that I wanted. So, when I sat with these men at the table, I would talk about what interested me. It would be conversations about what I learned in church or through reading the Bible. The employees I sat with at lunch did not seem to mind. Yet, they did talk about it with one another and their bosses.
However, one day the plant manager got really upset about something and he called me on the phone. Let me just say, he chewed me out about it. In the process, he criticized me for my faith. In a very angry voice, he said things like, “All you ever talk about is Jesus! Jesus, Jesus, Jesus! That is all we hear from you!” He insinuated that he was going to call my boss and complain about this. Being one of our company’s major customers, I thought for certain that it meant my job. However, I never heard anything of it.
As I now look back on this event, I realize something. This persecution was not aimed at me. It was aimed at the Lord. When Saul of Tarsus encountered the risen Lord on the road to Damascus, the Lord asked him. “Saul. Why persecutes thou me?” Yet, when we read the account, we see that Saul’s persecution was against the believers, the church as a whole. We can surmise from this a very important point. When someone persecutes the church, they are persecuting the Lord Jesus Himself.
Think of it this way. In the Bible we see that the church is the “body of Christ” (1 Cor 12:27; Eph 4:12). We must remember that the body is alive because it is attached to the head and the head of the church is Jesus (Eph 5:23; Col 1:8). In writing to the Colossians, Paul specifically brings this thought to light, “And he is the head of the body, the church” (Colossians 1:18, AV).
Thus, when one is persecuted, it is not that person, but Christ Himself who the persecutor is targeting. The ones who persecute Christians have no idea how grave their actions really are. There is a day of reckoning coming, when justice shall be executed. I would not want to be in the shoes of those who persecuted the Lord of glory, Jesus.
But there is good news. There is hope, even for the persecutor. Saul of Tarsus, the persecutor of the church, becomes the Paul the apostle. Jesus saved Paul and cleansed him from his sin. There is no sin that is beyond the scope of God’s mercy and grace, even persecuting the Lord himself.