“A woman in India watches as her sister is dragged off by Hindu nationalists. She doesn’t know if her sister is alive or dead. A man in a North Korean prison camp is shaken awake after being beaten unconscious; the beatings begin again. A woman in Nigeria runs for her life. She has escaped from Boko Haram, which kidnapped her. She is pregnant, and when she returns home, her community will reject her and her baby. A pastor in Afghanistan gets a text message, letting him know the Taliban knows he is a Christian—and they’re coming for him.” (The 2022 World Watch List – 52 Weeks of Prayer for Persecuted Christins, Open Doors Ministries)
The worldwide persecution of those who follow Jesus Christ is strong, growing in in severity, with no end in sight. What shall be my response to those who endure increasing hostility simply for identifying with Jesus Christ. This is a question we must consider from a biblical perspective. The book of Acts records the death of the first Christian martyr.
“And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul. 59 And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. 60 And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.” (Acts 7:58-60)
The trial was over, and Stephen was taken outside of the gates of the city of Jerusalem to be stoned by the Jewish religious zealots. The false witnesses who charged Stephen with blaspheme laid their outer garments at the feet of Saul of Tarsus to give them greater freedom to express their murderous rage. Saul sees their rage. He identifies with the wrath pouring forth from their souls. What poison must be filling their hearts, vengeance, wrath, bitterness, hatred, seething from their eyes and pouring forth from the lips, they stoned Stephen. They stripped him naked, threw him down off a short cliff to a pile of great stones and then crushed out his life by pummeling him with rocks.
But Saul also saw the response of Stephen to his murderous judges. “And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.” Saul was an eyewitness of the glory of God upon Stephan. It was recorded Stephen had the face of an angel. He looked into the heavens and saw Jesus standing at the right hand of the Father. The glory of God was upon Stephen as he was surrendered to testify in his life and in his death of the wonder of the beloved Christ, the Son of God, the Savior of the world. This vision was burned into the heart and soul of Saul. Soon very soon Jesus would stop Saul in his murderous campaigns against the Church.
“And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: 4 And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? 5 And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. 6 And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.” (Acts 9:3-6)
The unjust death of a follower of Jesus Christ, a deacon named Stephen, showed forth the glory of God into the soul of a great persecutor of the church of Jesus Christ and that vision stayed in his heart and grew until the moment when Jesus confronted him on the road to Damascus. What price must be paid to turn the vicious ravening wolves into lambs, that shall become, mighty warriors for the gospel of Jesus Christ. When the wolves devour the lambs, the wolves are turned into sheep. Why? Because the wolves see the glory of God in the innocent, surrendered, vessels, sanctified by the love of God called to be of no reputation thus manifesting light in a world of darkness.
Following the Lord’s Supper the disciples saw the betrayal, the violent beatings, the mocking, and torture of the “Just One”. They ran out into the night and hid. They were afraid. But on the third day according to the Scriptures HE arose from the dead showing forth HE had the victory over death, hell, and the grave. They saw it with their own eyes. They heard the resurrected Christ speak to them and promise that HE would return. How many great ships and planes would it take to bring the persecuted Christians from Afghanistan, North Korea, Somalia, Libia, Yemen, and Pakistan?
Oh, beloved friends, that is what I would desire to do. I want the persecution to stop. I want the suffering to stop. I do not want these women, children, families to face the vitriolic hostilities of their persecutors. But then who would be the lambs to be devoured by the wolves? Whose lives would through their sacrifice and sufferings show forth the glory of God. The visions by which and through which the Holy Spirit shall deeply impact the souls of the Islamic extremists to crush their hate filled ideals. Then and only then may their stony hearts be humbled by the grace of God turning the rubble, the thorns, and thistles of their religious life into good soil that can now receive the good seed of the word of God. The persecution will continue. There is no end in sight. Hear the words of our LORD.
“Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. 12 Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.” (Matthew 5:10-12)
For those of us who are not presently experiencing the persecutions of the world, we must see, hear, and understand the suffering of those who are persecuted for HIS names sake. By catching a vision of their lives, their sufferings, we will be challenged, to pray, to give, and for some to join the ranks of the lambs to be devoured. Privileged to have as our Great Shepherd the LORD.
“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. 2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. 3 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. 4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. 5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.” (Psalms 23:1-6)
Prayer for Afghanistan taken from Open Doors World Watch List 2022
“God, we pray for our sister, Zabi. We ask that you would preserve her faith, help her find hope and not feel alone in her situation. Thank you for the example of people in the Bible, that they give us permission to ask questions and to depend on your hope. I ask you to remind me of your unfailing love, even in the midst of hardships. Please help me to have an attitude of thankfulness like Zabi, where I still look to you for your grace in the storms of life. I ask you all these things in the name of Jesus, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen”