Christianity began at a time of great violence and persecution. Jesus and his family were under domination by the Roman Empire for their entire lives. The 12 apostles and other followers such as Paul were persecuted and many eventually killed. In the Old Testament, the Jewish people were also persecuted, usually living under the kingdom of different countries.
In all these cases, it was the powerful tormenting the powerless. This cruelty is found on every continent on the planet, among every race, among every religion, among every region. People gain power and seek to use terror to maintain it. It does not matter the group. There is no limit by which one group can declare another group “the other” and thus think they have a right to persecute and rule them. It is a sin of humankind, encouraged and promoted by Satan.
There are numerous verses in the Bible about living under persecution and below are just a few:
“But before all this, they will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name.” (Luke 21:12 NIV)
Because of this, God in his wisdom said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and others they will persecute. (Luke 11:49)
Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated. (Hebrews 11:36-37)
For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like those condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to human beings. We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored. To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it (1 Corinthians 4: 9-12 NIV)
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? (Romans 8:35)
This blog is about the song “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which is often referred to as the Black National Anthem. It was written as a poem by James Weldon Johnson in 1900. His brother John Rosamond Johnson composed the music for this poem. James Weldon Johnson was a teacher, lawyer, and poet. Many of his poems have Christian themes. He was active in the Civil Rights movement of the time. At the time of the writing of this song, there was intense backlash and violence toward Black people after the legal ending of slavery in 1865. It is a powerful song about having faith even when others are hating you, persecuting you, and killing you.
Powers rise, become corrupt and evil, and fall. With faith in God, He will always bring justice, just not always on our desired earthly timelines. With all this hatred and cruelty, we Christians know that God will ultimately prevail. A people may be treated cruelly, and their persecutors might seem, at the time, victorious, undefeatable, totally in charge. But with faith, we know that the earthly victor does not have to remain such, that we can stand tall in Him.
It may have seemed at the time that with Jesus earthly death, that the movement was over, that it had been killed. Obviously, the powers that be had won, the people left defeated, Jesus publicly humiliated. But the truth is that Jesus founded a faith that now has over 2 billion followers. The great Caesar Augustus, arguable the greatest of Roman emperors, he has a few busts and statues. We have truth behind us, they have only weapons and tyranny. Now, they do have Satan, but we have God. As Paul states in Romans 8:31 (NIV) “What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can ever be against us?’
I have a video of this song being performed at the end of this blog, which conveys its sorrow, defiant hope, and faith in Christ. But first you need to look, take in, the words.
Lift every voice and sing,
Till earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise,
High as the listening skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us,
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun
Let us march on till victory is won.
Stony the road we trod,
Bitter the chastening rod,
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
Yet with a steady beat,
Have not our weary feet
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears have been watered,
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered,
Out from the gloomy past,
Till now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.
God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
Thou who has brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who has by Thy might,
Led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, Our God, where we met Thee;
Lest, our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee;
Shadowed beneath Thy hand,
May we forever stand.
True to our GOD,
True to our native land