Which nations persecute Believers in Jesus the most? Would it be China? Iran? Egypt? Syria?
How many remember when the Arab Spring started? (Dec 2010) How many remember the 21 Coptic Christians who were martyred for their faith last February?
Well . . . I want to tell a different story. Recently I was listening to Pastor G. Fattal, and he shared some news that you won’t hear on the mainstream media. He said that in every country that has had the Arab Spring which turned into an Arab Winter, it has become a Christian Harvest.
In Egypt alone, over the last 5 years, there have been over 1 million people coming to Jesus each year; that’s over 5 million in the last 5 years.
In Syria, a testimony came from one of the churches that is located in one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Damascus. The government has requested all the churches to open their doors to the refugees, which they have done. This church gives them clothes, blankets, books, etc. But while they are in the church building, the pastor apologizes to them and explains that they have baptism service in the front of the room, and asks if they can just sit in the back until the service is done. Then he gets several of the believers to share their testimony of how they came to Jesus. He says that over 70% of the refugees are coming to the L-rd in the last 2-3 years.
In Iran, as in many of the surrounding nations, the Good News is being proclaimed via Satellite Television. My wife and I have met one of the underground Pastors and the testimonies are incredible. The Church is growing at a rate of 19.6% each year, or doubling every 4 years. It is the fastest growing church in the world. When we heard last (about 3 years ago) it was at just over 550,000. Now there are approximately a million people who trust in Jesus in Iran! These believers love Israel, in fact the pastor that we met said, “We have a ministry changing your enemies into your friends!”
Is it a coincidence that the nations where Christians are experiencing persecution are also the same nations that the Good News is exploding? Let’s find out in 1 Peter 4.[Read 1 Peter 4]
Here is a little background for this chapter and letter. Peter wrote this letter around 62-63 A.D. from Rome to the believers in Modern Day Turkey. It is addressed to the Diaspora or in other words, the dispersed Jewish believers, but it also included the Gentiles who have joined the believing communities. These communities were experiencing persecution, if not officially yet, then certainly from their daily interactions with the pagan world. [Read 1 Peter 1:5-9] This letter was very timely since about 1 year later, July of 64 A.D., The Great Fire of Rome was started, of which Nero falsely blamed the Christians and began a systematic purging of them.
The following account was written by the Roman historian Tacitus in his book Annals published a few years after the event. Tacitus was a young boy living in Rome during the time of the persecutions. He says,
“Therefore, to stop the rumour [that he had set Rome on fire], he [Emperor Nero] falsely charged with guilt, and punished with the most fearful tortures, the persons commonly called Christians, who were [generally] hated for their enormities. Christus, the founder of that name, was put to death as a criminal by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea, in the reign of Tiberius, but the pernicious superstition – repressed for a time, broke out yet again, not only through Judea, – where the mischief originated, but through the city of Rome also, whither all things horrible and disgraceful flow from all quarters, as to a common receptacle, and where they are encouraged. Accordingly first those were arrested who confessed they were Christians; next on their information, a vast multitude were convicted, not so much on the charge of burning the city, as of “hating the human race.”
In their very deaths they were made the subjects of sport: for they were covered with the hides of wild beasts, and worried to death by dogs, or nailed to crosses, or set fire to, and when the day waned, burned to serve for the evening lights. Nero offered his own garden players for the spectacle, and exhibited a Circensian game, indiscriminately mingling with the common people in the dress of a charioteer, or else standing in his chariot. For this cause a feeling of compassion arose towards the sufferers, though guilty and deserving of exemplary capital punishment, because they seemed not to be cut off for the public good, but were victims of the ferocity of one man.”
The first encouragement we get from this passage is that Yeshua is our example. “Let us run the race that is set before us, focusing on Yeshua, the initiator and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before Him, endured the cross, disregarding its shame; and He has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb. 12: 1a-2) In 1 Pet. 3:18 we also can see that the result of Yeshua’s suffering was to bring us to God. So also when we suffer for Yeshua, that suffering will draw people to the L-rd. When we suffer for Yeshua, we stop living for our own selfish desires, and truly take up His Cross and follow in His steps.
Verses 3-5 show us why we suffer. When we repent and accept Yeshua’s Lordship in our lives we are born again, and when we are filled with the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) He works in us to change our character, our tendencies. In Acts 1:8, Yeshua says that the Ruach will empowers us to be Witnesses of Yeshua.
Do you know the Greek word for witness? It is pronounced Martyr. In his play Murder in the Cahtedral, T.S. Eliot describes a martyr as one “who has become an instrument of God, who has lost his will in the will of God, not lost it but found it, for he had found freedom in submission to God. The martyr no longer desires anything for himself, not even the glory of martyrdom.”
Because of the life changing effect that the L-rd has in our lives, we no longer go after the same selfish desires that we did before we knew and trusted Him. So these verses show that we are vilified by our previous associates (and I might add our unbelieving family) because we no longer run with them. Most of us here have yet to experience physical persecution, as our brethren are so doing throughout the world. However we are berated and belittled for stating that the Bible is factually true and morally applicable. We are also condemned when we quote Yeshua (Jesus) saying of Himself in John 14:6 “I am the way, the truth and the life! No one comes to the Father except through Me.”
In our multi-cultural and politically-correct world, it is acceptable to say, “I believe that Jesus is the way . . .”, but that is not what Yeshua said not what Yeshua said that He is the only way to the Father, for all people, of all cultures, everywhere.
Peter then continues in verses 7 through 11 to give us some very practical action items. He states that the end of all things is near. This is all the more true today, as we watch many Biblical predictions come to pass before our eyes, but we are not quite there yet. Peter gives us four specific things that we need to be doing:
- Be self-controlled and sober-minded for prayer. This is something that we must have in our personal lives, our family lives and our congregational lives.
- Keep your love for one another constant, for love covers a multitude of sins. Be slow to judge and quick to forgive. Quick to show grace and slow to get angry. We reap what we sow.
- Be hospitable one to another without grumbling. Watch out for one another, take care of each other’s needs.
- Serve one another with the gifts that you have. The L-rd has given each one of us gifts. If it is speaking, then speak the Word of God, if it is serving, then serve with God’s strength. Everything that we do must be to glorify God.
Peter then comforts us in verse 12, to not be surprized that testing and suffering comes. In fact we should rejoice, because it is only in this life that we can truly share the sufferings of Yeshua. (Read VS 13-14).
We are then warned in verse 15 that if we suffer, make sure it is truly for Yeshua’s name and not because of sin or foolishness. We should not be going around trying to make people hate us. J But if the persecution comes because we have stood on God’s Word and because of our trust in Yeshua, then we shall receive a reward at Yeshua’s return. The L-rd will make all things right in the end, but until then, “Let us trust our souls to a faithful Creator while continuing to do good.”
In a letter written by Corrie Ten Boom in 1974 she talks of the current and coming persecution. She wrote,
“There are some among us teaching there will be no tribulation, that the Christians will be able to escape all this. These are the false teachers that Jesus was warning us to expect in the latter days. Most of them have little knowledge of what is already going on across the world. I have been in countries where the saints are already suffering terrible persecution. In China, the Christians were told, “Don’t worry, before the tribulation comes you will be translated – raptured.” Then came a terrible persecution. Millions of Christians were tortured to death. Later I heard a Bishop from China say, sadly, “We have failed. We should have made the people strong for persecution rather than telling them Jesus would come first. Tell the people how to be strong in times of persecution, how to stand when the tribulation comes – to stand and not faint.”
Several years ago I was in Africa in a nation where a new government had come into power. The first night I was there some of the Christians were commanded to come to the police station to register. When they arrived they were arrested and that same night they were executed. The next day the same thing happened with other Christians. The third day it was the same. All the Christians in the district were being systematically murdered. The fourth day I was to speak in a little church. The people came, but they were filled with fear and tension. All during the service they were looking at each other, their eyes asking, “Will this one I am sitting beside be the next one killed? Will I be the next one?” The room was hot and stuffy with insects that came through the screenless windows and swirled around the naked bulbs over the bare wooden benches. I told them a story out of my childhood.
“When I was a little girl, “ I said, “I went to my father and said, “Daddy, I am afraid that I will never be strong enough to be a martyr for Jesus Christ.”
“Tell me,” said Father, “When you take a train trip to Amsterdam, when do I give you the money for the ticket? Three weeks before?”
“No, Daddy, you give me the money for the ticket just before we get on the train.”
“That is right,” my father said, “and so it is with God’s strength. Our Father in Heaven knows when you will need the strength to be a martyr for Jesus Christ. He will supply all you need—just in time…”
My African friends were nodding and smiling. Suddenly a spirit of joy descended upon that church and the people began singing, “In the sweet, by and by, we shall meet on that beautiful shore.” Later that week, half the congregation of that church was executed. I heard later that the other half was killed some months ago. But I must tell you something. I was so happy that the Lord used me to encourage these people, for unlike many of their leaders, I had the word of God. I had been to the Bible and discovered that Jesus said He had not only overcome the world, but to all those who remained faithful to the end, He would give a crown of life.
How can we get ready for the persecution? First we need to feed on the word of God, digest it, make it a part of our being. This will mean disciplined Bible study each day as we not only memorize long passages of scripture, but put the principles to work in our lives.
Next we need to develop a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Not just the Jesus of yesterday, the Jesus of History, but the life-changing Jesus of today who is still alive and sitting at the right hand of God.
We must be filled with the Holy Spirit. This is no optional command of the Bible, it is absolutely necessary. Those earthly disciples could never have stood up under the persecution of the Jews and Romans had they not waited for Pentecost. Each of us needs our own personal Pentecost, the baptism of the Holy Spirit. We will never be able to stand in the tribulation without it.
In the coming persecution we must be ready to help each other and encourage each other. But we must not wait until the tribulation comes before starting. The fruit of the Spirit should be the dominant force of every Christian’s life.”
So then, let us all run this race with perseverance; let us rejoice when we are persecuted and insulted for His name sake. Let us speak His Word with boldness, serve one another in His strength and love one another constantly. Finally let us trust our souls to a faithful Creator while continuing to do good, and let us be a part of the great harvest now!