Jump Start # 2147
Hebrews 10:34 “For you showed sympathy to the prisoners, and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and an abiding one.”
I was reading the other day about Trajan Decius, a Roman emperor who reigned from 249-251 A.D. A short reign. Short, but dangerous, ugly and harsh to Christians. He made an edict that forced every citizen to sacrifice to the state gods. They had to do this before local authorities. If they refused, threats, imprisonments, torture, and confiscation of property would follow. He tried to force all into idolatry. Immediately, our verse today came to mind. The Hebrew Christians, much earlier, faced similar persecutions and sufferings. The seizure of your property is what stands out today.
I like my house. I like the way it looks. I like where it is located. I’ve lived in a lot of houses through the years. This one is my favorite. I was thinking about the “seizure of your property,” when it comes to my house and everything in it. This expression is so un-American, that we cannot grasp it. The idea of someone taking what is ours just doesn’t happen. We’d be calling lawyers, local officials, the police, ghost busters. Someone. This isn’t fair, right or nice. People can’t take what is not theirs. They can’t take what belongs to us. Where would we live if our property was seized? It would be worse than starting over. Most times, insurance will help some. Not for the Hebrews. Not for those living under the rule of Decius. There is no one to call. There is no one to make this injustice right. All that you worked for, gone. Gone because you believe in Jesus. Gone because you worship Jehovah and not a Caesar. Gone and it’s never coming back. Think about all your knick-knacks. Think about all your favorite things you’ve collected. Your tools. Your photos. Your heirlooms. Gone. Most of it trashed by heathens who have no heart. You escape with just what you happen to be wearing. Everything else seized. Gone. It’s all gone.
What is remarkable about all of this is the expression found in Hebrews, “accepted joyfully the seizure of your property.” This was not a fight to the death. This wasn’t a tug-of-war and the stronger ones pulled items out of your hands. They accepted it. They accepted it joyfully. Can you imagine? No ugly name calling. No giving them a piece of your mind. No threats. Not even, tears. They accepted joyfully. Joyful and the tears of sadness do not fit together well. The joyful heart is not sad. The sad heart is not joyful. They accepted the seizure of their property joyfully.
This runs parallel to what Jesus said in the sermon on the mount. There we are reminded, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven. Blessed are you when men revile you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in Heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
I do think many of us would have trouble with the seizure of our property. I think about my books, my baseball collection, my colorful socks. I’d like to think I could stand with those who were joyful about this, but I honestly think I’d probably go down kicking and screaming. Here are a few simple helps for us:
First, it’s just stuff. I know it’s OUR stuff and we have worked hard for it and we paid for it, but in the end, it’s just stuff. When the Lord comes, all of it will be destroyed. We can become too attached to our stuff. What we have does not define us nor does it describe us. Enjoy things as you have them, but it’s not life and your life does not consist of possessions, is what the Lord teaches us.
Second, our faith comes before all things, including our stuff, our property and even our lives. Jesus never promised His followers that they would be safe. He didn’t say, you may be bumped about some, but you’ll be ok. No, some would lose their lives. Some would suffer. Some would have their property seized. It would be hard. But God was aware of all these things and keeping our faith first, will make all things ok in the end. Jesus asked, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?” Well, some may be thinking, I’ll go down fighting. That’s not the language of the N.T. Accepted joyfully is what the Hebrews were called. Blessed is what Jesus said. Don’t allow anything or anyone to come before your faith.
Third, there was something coming for those who remained faithful. There was a reward, an inheritance far greater than anything these people ever saw or owned. It was being with God forever in Heaven. They carried about in their character the spirit of Jesus. It showed. It was noticed. There were consequences because of that. God never forgot. Those early Christians that were poor, many were servants, and they were crushed by the bloody hands of persecutors are now resting in Paradise. The battle is over for them. They won. The property that was stolen has long gone to the wayside. Those mean and aggressive persecutors have been forgotten by history. But Heaven knows and Heaven remembers those, such as Antipas, who gave their lives for Jesus.
We sing, “This world is not my home,” but I wonder if we really mean that. I wonder how much we truly desire Heaven. I wonder if the sword of persecutors came, would we sacrifice to false idols just to save our necks? Would we compromise just to save our stuff? The story is told, I don’t know if it’s true of not, but during the sinking of the Titanic, one wealthy person went back to her stateroom to retrieve her valuables. She never made it off the ship. It was just stuff.
We spend a lot of time thinking about stuff. We shop for stuff. We fill our time with stuff. Jesus reminds us that these treasures can rust and they can be stolen. What no one can take away from you is your love and faith in the Lord. Hard times won’t. Standing alone won’t. Temptations won’t. The only way we give up our faith is by our choice. No one can force you.
I expect hard times followed the seizure of their property. It’s hard to cook, it someone has taken away the pot to cook in. It’s hard to plow if someone took your ox. It’s hard to find a decent place to sleep if someone took your bed and your home. Tough times might have followed. Yet, they accepted joyfully the seizure of their property. They were recognized as being those who belonged to Him. The pagans weren’t bothered. Their property wasn’t seized. It was the Christians. They were noticed, identified and now suffered for that. This didn’t discourage them. They accepted it joyfully. They were like the prophets of old. They were like others who had made the choice to stand with the Lord.
Instead of crushing their spirits and defeating them, the seizure of the property, made their spirits soar with the Lord. They were counted worthy. They were among the blessed.
What a difficult time, and yet what a refreshing and profound spirit we find among those early disciples. Don’t you wish we could have the same attitude and heart? Don’t you wish that we could handle difficulties like they did? Don’t you wish that we could learn from them? You can.