As I sat at my desk preparing a service focused on The International Day of Prayer for The Persecuted Church, underscoring the seriousness of the situation, my eye was drawn to a New York Times story dated November 2, 2018 reporting an attack in Egypt targeting two buses carrying Coptic Christians.
The page contained related articles as well. December 11, 2016, “Attack on Coptic Cathedral in Cairo Kills Dozens.” Jun 30, 2016, “ISIS Claims Killing of Coptic Christian Minister in Sinai.” February 24, 2017, “Targeted by ISIS, Egyptian Christians Flee Violence.” April 15, 2017, “After Church Bombings, Egyptian Christians Are Resigned but Resolute.” May 26, 2017, “Gunmen in Egypt Force Coptic Christian Pilgrims From Buses and Kill 28.”
This is just an example of what Christians have had to endure in just one of many countries.
It is reported that Christians in approximately 40 countries throughout Africa, the Middle East and Asia face persecution, imprisonment and even as witnessed in Egypt, death, due to their faith in Christ.
Persecution is nothing new to those who truly embrace the God of the Bible.
When speaking of men and women of true faith in the God of the Bible, the Bible acknowledges the sort of persecution they encountered in Hebrews chapter 11 verses 35 through 38. There it says, “Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. 36 Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented— 38 of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth.”
True followers of God have been enduring extreme persecution throughout the centuries.
Lest we think that the path God has paved for some believers is wrong, unfair, and unjust, we need only think about the words of Jesus, the Son of God, in the gospel of John chapter 15 verses 18 through 20. There Jesus said, “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.”
When push comes to shove, those of true faith, embrace the plight of God. What is the plight? “If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.”
A person has to truly embrace faith in God, and the plight the Son underwent to agree to such potential, or truly embrace the insane. Who in their right mind willfully agrees to embracing a life of persecution or potential persecution?
Sadly, there are some today who preach a “health and wealth” gospel, where the rewards of deep faith are riches and rewards here on earth.
If the “health and wealth” gospel were true, then Jesus and His apostles were men of little faith. Why? Jesus Himself described the lowliness of His earthly existence in Matthew chapter 8 verse 20 saying, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”
Essentially, the Lord was saying to those contemplating following Him, “I am dirt poor. I have nothing, and have nothing to offer you but the truth.”
Jesus underscored this in the gospel of John chapter 14 verse 6 when He said to Thomas, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”
Jesus’ way was not an easy one. It was filled with poverty, hardships, persecution and culminated in death on the cross.
In Matthew chapter 19 verse 16 when the rich young ruler asked Jesus, “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” Jesus said in verse 21, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”
Jesus’ response was “sell what you have and give to the poor.” Notice He did not say, “sell what you have and give to Me.” Today, the preachers of the health and wealth gospel, every chance they get say, “Give to me. Give to me. Give to me!”
Jesus could have amassed earthly riches if He wanted. He had wealthy young rulers and tax collectors seeking Him out. He had thousands of poor people following Him as well. A little bit here and a little bit there can add up pretty quickly. Jesus chose to go without as His goal was to point all people to God the Father, not enrich Himself. He was building a heavenly kingdom, not an earthly one.
How do those who have, who are, and who will suffer loss, persecution and even death continue to march on? They have embraced the plight of the Lord. They have said, “If it is good enough for my Lord, it is good enough for me.”
They have not only embraced the Lord’s plight, but they have embraced the hope He has offered as well.
In John chapter 14 verses 1 through 3 Jesus said, “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. 2 In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.”
Later in the gospel of John chapter 14 verse 18 Jesus promised His faithful followers saying, “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.” Sure, as Christ rose from the dead, He will come for His followers!
Did the Lord want to be poor? No. Did the Lord want to undergo persecution? Of course not! But He willfully humbled Himself to the will of His Father because He loved us more than His earthly comforts. He loved us more than His very life here on earth.
Recently I reviewed a video highlighting the lives of three Pakistani Christians and the struggles they must deal with daily because of their faith in Christ.
The video began with the words, “Today in Pakistan, some Christians are beaten, imprisoned and even killed for their faith in Christ.” As the video plays, we see images of John the trash collector who has a small cart he pulls along from corner to corner, picking up trash with a few bits of particle board; Samuel the brickmaker who squats on the ground packing a mold with mud to make bricks, and Paul the sewage cleaner who much immerse his entire body in a large sewage pipe to gather sewage in a pail and hand it to his co-worker.
As video of these men is displayed, the narrator says, “Today in Pakistan, we Christians are second class citizens. Though we have committed no crime, we are ostracized and banished to the lowest place in society. Often we are forced to leave our villages and our own homes. We cannot get good jobs, and we have no voice in government. What is left for us is servitude, sewage work, and we know we will never advance. But we have a church. A place where Christians come to gather to worship the Lord Jesus Christ. To sing His praise. To study His Word. For a while, our country has turned its back on us. God has not. Sometimes it is not easy. The loss. The injustice. So please remember to pray for us. That we would continue to live together in fellowship. That we would continue to see the joy of the Lord in our lives. And that we would persevere in our faith no matter the cost. And please remember we are praying for you.”
As these Pakistani Christians gather for worship, they must have someone standing guard with a machine gun. Yet amid the persecution and very poor treatment by their fellow countrymen, they beautifully worship the Lord in spirit and truth.
How is it that under some of the worse of circumstances these believers can beam with true joy and thanksgiving?
Just as the believers of old, their hearts, minds and souls are not fixed on the things of this world, but on the Lord Jesus Himself.
Through true faith, they have embraced not only the plight of the Son of God, but His promises and the power that comes with it. Such things have been the basis of their practices as children of God.
Hebrews chapter 11 verse 1 says, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
Those faithful followers of Christ, who undergo humiliation and persecution daily hope in the risen Christ, and look forward to His return in a way which others cannot grasp.
Let us remember our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world, not just today, but every day. Let us pray for them, let us ache with them, and if possible, let us help provide for them.