"Remember the Suffering" #68-45
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on July 15, 2001
By Dr. Wallace Schulz, Associate Lutheran Hour Speaker
Copyright 2013 Lutheran Hour Ministries
Text: Hebrews 13:3
PRAYER: Blessed heavenly Father, You strengthen the weak and comfort the lonely. By Your Word and Spirit, move those of us who are free to pray for those now in prison. Bless the hearts of all who listen to Your Word today. Assure us always through the innocent blood of Your Son Jesus, we too have been liberated from the prison of sin and guilt. In Jesus' intercessory name we pray. Amen
Last May 25th, in a hard-hitting editorial titled "Crude Detentions in China," The New York Times scolded the Communist government of China because of its false imprisonment of U.S. citizens and other permanent residents. According to the Times, scholars and business people have often been locked up with no specific charge. Among those listed by the New York Times is Dr. Gao Zhan (Gao Zhan), a sociologist associated with the American University in Washington. Dr. Zhan is a permanent resident of the United States and is being held "incommunicado." This means no one is allowed to see her, not even American consular officials.
Now, what the New York Times article did not mention is this lady scholar is a Christian. She is a member of St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Falls Church, Virginia. And this imprisoned lady is also a member of the church body that underwrites this Bible-based Gospel broadcast.
Dr. Zhan's husband has been doing all he can to secure her release. For months he has received no information whatsoever as to whether or not his wife is being beaten, tortured, or whether she is even alive. Now, after reading in our church paper about the imprisonment of this sister in the faith, I telephoned her pastor. He assured me this imprisoned woman has done nothing illegal.
Now in all of this there is a great feeling of frustration. And one may correctly say this is the same feeling the early Christians had when members of their church, or their family, were imprisoned. But these early Christians did not permit frustration to stop their efforts to gain release of their beloved friends in the Lord Jesus Christ.
So, if the Spirit of God is beginning to sensitize your feelings, and if you feel truly sorry for those fellow Christians such as Dr. Zhan and, if you sincerely want to know what God would have you do, then listen to what the early Christians did. You see, God would be most pleased if you would respond in the way these early believers did when their brothers and sisters were imprisoned.
In the Book of Acts, chapter 12 we read, "Now about the time Herod the king laid hands on members of the early church, Herod intended to 'mistreat them.'" Prior to this, Herod had James, the brother of John, put to death with a sword. And, the Bible says when Herod saw the death of James pleased the Jews, he then proceeded to arrest Peter. Herod seized Peter, put him in prison, and had him guarded by four squads of soldiers.
Now, the Bible explains, while Peter was kept in prison, prayer for him was being made fervently by the church to God. That's correct. While Peter was kept in prison, prayer for him was being made fervently by the church to God. Now, sometime later in prison, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers bound with two chains. There were also guards in front of the door watching over the prison. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared. A bright light shone into Peter's cell. An angel struck Peter and said, "Get up quickly." Instantly, the chains fell off Peter's hands. And then the angel said, "Wrap your cloak around you and follow me." Peter obeyed. Following the angel, Peter passed the first and second guards. Then they came to the iron gate that led into the city. This gate, the Bible says, opened by itself. The angel then departed. At first, Peter thought he was dreaming. However, the Bible tells us when Peter came to himself, he said, "Now I know for sure the Lord sent forth His angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod.
The Bible says, when Peter realized this, he went to the house where many were gathered together praying for him. The Bible says, "Knowing Peter was in prison, fellow Christians were praying for him." When Peter was reunited with his friends, he then described to them how the Lord had led him out of prison. Peter told his fellow believers, "Report these things of James and the brethren" (Acts 12:1-17).
Today friends, God is not merely asking you to be tantalized or emotionally stirred or even impressed by this Bible story of Peter being released from prison as a result of prayer. No! God is calling you; He is calling you to action. God is calling you to pray fervently and urgently for the release of Dr. Gao Zhan and all others now languishing in prison. In the Bible, in the book of Hebrews, we read, "Remember the prisoners as though you were in prison with them" (Hebrews 13:3).
You see, this account of Peter's release from prison is not recorded in the Bible to demonstrate the unique things God did in the early church. Rather, this account is included in the New Testament as a dramatic example of how God expects each of us to be involved in the needs of our fellow Christians, no matter who they are or where they are. This is why God says, "Remember those in prison as though you were in prison with them."
Prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union, The Los Angeles Times carried a striking story indicting the crass indifference of many lukewarm Christians in the United States. The Times author noted when other minorities were persecuted by the Soviet Communists, their American supporters responded loudly. However, when Christians were persecuted by these same communists, fellow Christians in America were often callously and shockingly indifferent. The author then concluded: "If Christians intend to obey God's commandment to love one another, then they are going to have to insist on better treatment for their persecuted brethren." Oh indeed, many of us have become incredibly callous and shockingly indifferent to the tragic plight of brothers and sisters in the faith. And, why is this? Primarily because we are a product of the "me" generation. You see, if a particular crisis does not affect us personally, we are unmoved. The Apostle Paul admonishes all of us, "We who are strong ought to bear the weakness of those without strength and not to please ourselves" (Romans 15:1). Again, in his letter to the Christians in Galatia, St. Paul writes: "Bear one another's burdens and thus fulfill the Law of Christ" (Galatians 6:2).
Today, God is asking you and me to repent. God sincerely desires we place the urgent needs of others before the selfish desires of ourselves. "Do not seek your own advantages, but that of others" (1 Corinthians 10:24). In the New Testament book of Philippians, we read: "Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others" (Philippians 2:4).
So, in sincere repentance, ask God to give you a new attitude, especially regarding those who are now persecuted and in prison. Don't do this simply because it is a legalistic burden or something you would rather not do. Instead, with God's love overflowing from your heart, say with the Apostle Paul, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God" (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
The comfort you and I receive from our gracious God is the power which enables us to pray for and to comfort others, especially those in prison.
Each time you see the bloody cross on which Jesus died, your heavenly Father wants you to recall it and it is through this cross He offers you His divine comfort and forgiveness. The cross is a vivid reminder that God, in His mercy, sent His Son the Lord Jesus to suffer for your sins and apathy and indifference and to die in your place. Therefore, as you contemplate the prison in which the devil desires to keep you -- the prison of fear, the prison of guilt over past mistakes -- know also Jesus Christ has interceded on your behalf. "Jesus," the Apostle Paul says in Romans 8, "is the One who died for your sins. And He is also the One who was raised again from the dead. And He, Jesus, is also now at the right hand of God interceding for you." This is a great comfort and a consolation that you can also extend to others who are suffering, especially those who are now persecuted in prison.
Now as you consider those suffering persecution and imprisonment, the devil will surely whisper in your hear, "Ah, it's too bad some people are suffering imprisonment. But what can you do? Better leave these matters to the authorities. Leave these matters to the church leaders. They can do something but you can't." Oh, this idea is a trick of the devil. You, my friends, can do something. God is asking you to pray fervently, and pray daily. Your Heavenly Father promises to hear and answer your prayers. Through your God-prompted and Christ-centered prayers, prisoners will be comforted and strengthened. This is God's promise. As a result of your prayers, many prison doors will be opened. God not only promises to hear our prayers, but He promises also to answer them.
Oh, friends of this ministry, pray! Yes, pray! And when you pray, pray with absolute confidence in the promise of God. Exercise the gift of faith God is offering you. Consider again and again what happened when fellow Christians prayed for Peter in prison. An angel interceded. The prison doors were opened. Take time now to pray. Pray specifically for Dr. Gao Zhan, the lady we mentioned earlier, who is now imprisoned in China. Pray also for all believers who are persecuted. For when you do this, you are pleasing God in a very special way.
Dear Heavenly Father, we pray today for Dr. Gao Zhan. Give her health and strength in prison. Cause the minds of the authorities to be changed. Open the doors, O Lord, and free this prisoner. We ask this in the intercessory name of Jesus. Amen.
LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for July 15, 2001 "Remember the Suffering" 68-45
ANNOUNCER: Dr. Schulz, I heard you tell the story about Peter -- the story from the book of Acts where Peter was imprisoned and the church was praying for his release. The Lord heard and answered that prayer. Why don't we hear more of this sort of thing going on today?
SCHULZ: This is a very good question. The answer is probably that we as a church or individuals are so busy praying for ourselves, we forget to pray fervently for others. So maybe we should simply ask a more fundamental question: Why don't most of us pray more?
ANNOUNCER: Well, that certainly strikes close to home. Why do you suppose that is the case for most of us?
SCHULZ: My honest opinion is actually based on a bit of pragmatism and reality. We don't pray more because we don't honestly believe prayer is going to make a difference.
ANNOUNCER: How can you say that?
SCHULZ: Well, let's take a few everyday examples. If you or I have a headache, or if we have some type of pain, we probably take an aspirin. We do this because we believe this is going to make a difference. When we're thirsty, we drink because we believe that's going to make a difference. When we're hungry, we eat because we know this is going to make a difference regarding our hunger.
ANNOUNCER: So you're saying people aren't really convinced that prayer changes anything?
SCHULZ: I think that's exactly what we're saying. I think this is precisely what daily observation would bear out. In fact, I would go so far as to say, at least for some people, prayer is sort of an optional activity that Christians may or may not decide to practice.
ANNOUNCER: I'm sure you consider this a very serious problem.
SCHULZ: Indeed, I do. In fact, Martin Luther also thought it was very serious. In fact, in his Large Catechism, Luther writes prayer is strictly and solemnly commanded like all other commandments such as having no other gods, not killing or not stealing and so on and so forth. Now let's try to make this real, if we can. You see, when we pray to God we are in communication with our Heavenly Father. Not to pray to our Heavenly Father, as we would say, is like a child or a teenager, or even grown-ups, who refuse to speak to their parents regularly. This is highly offensive to our Lord.
ANNOUNCER: But our Heavenly Father has invited all of us to pray to Him, hasn't He?
SCHULZ: Yes, and this is the good news. Our Heavenly Father invites us to pray to Him, and to come to Him through the intercession of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is what is so important -- the Gospel role Jesus plays in all of this. You see, it is because of the suffering, the death and resurrection of our blessed Lord Jesus that you and I are even permitted to come to the Father. Jesus is our intercessor. He is our advocate. He is our go-between. Without Jesus, we would have no right to pray and would have no access to our Heavenly Father, as the Bible so clearly points out.
ANNOUNCER: So, Dr. Schulz, concerning prayers for other Christians, what's the bottom line?
SCHULZ: I think the bottom line is this: We can see the Gallup poll surveys and other information that seems to indicate quite a few people pray fairly regularly. However, the basic problem is most people pray simply for things that involve themselves. We might also call them selfish prayers. In the Bible we are encouraged to pray for other people; for members of our family, for friends, and for people in our church. This is also why, in our message today, I made a clear reference to Hebrews chapter 13, which says, "Remember those who are in prison as though you were in prison with them." More importantly, we need to pray that God would so move in His Word and Spirit that people all over the world would have their chains of sin and guilt and condemnation removed from their conscience and life. This is the ultimate prayer and the most important prayer that all of us need to pray.
ANNOUNCER: Thank you, Dr. Schulz.