Before you say, “I don’t believe.” Chapter 30
Have you wondered why Christians have been persecuted through the last 20 centuries?
There are very many parts of the world where people who desire to worship have been – or are increasingly being – brutally suppressed by imprisonment or execution. Often simply to be known to be a Christian is perilous. Communist countries in Europe and the Far East have been guilty of this. In the years before 1989, I had the privilege of working with Christians in some of these countries, who dared to risk everything to worship with other Christians, and saw their total commitment to Jesus. North Korea, China, Vietnam and Cuba are only four of over forty countries where this persecution and pressure continues.
In most Islamic countries of the Middle East persecution is routine for anyone who dares to worship any God other than Allah. We know of countries where the persecution is brutal and where ‘apostasy’ as they call it can result in a sentence of death. But the persecution of followers of Jesus is nothing new.
John the Baptist, the cousin of Jesus, was the last of the prophets to herald the arrival of the Messiah, Jesus. John pointed Him out to the crowds, describing Him as ‘the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.’ But when John spoke out against the marriage of King Herod to his brother’s wife, the king had him beheaded.
Part of the history of Christianity is the story of individual Christians laying down their lives rather than deny Jesus who laid down His life for them. The countries that make up the United Kingdom have had their share of men and women who died because of their faith, and martyrs’ memorials around the country bear testimony to their life and death.
That may seem very distant to us today, but it has been reckoned that there were more Christian martyrs in the 20th century than in all the preceding centuries added together. Communism and Islam have been particularly, though not exclusively, guilty of persecution against the followers of Jesus. In the very last year of the last millennium, 1999, Graham, Philip and Timothy Staines, a father and two sons were burnt to death in Orissa, India. Graham, an Australian, had worked for 35 years caring for leprosy victims and translating the Bible into the Ho tribal language. One night, while they were sleeping in their jeep, a militant Hindu who hated Christ, took a group, and set fire to the jeep. Graham’s widow and daughter have stayed in India and are continuing the work amongst leprosy patients. Gladys said, “How was I able to forgive? The truth is that I myself am a sinner. I needed Jesus Christ to forgive me. Because I have forgiveness in my own life, it is possible for me to forgive others.”
North Korea has become synonymous with Communist brutality heaping unimaginable sufferings on the Christians of that isolated nation. Kim II-sung created the state as we know it today. His mother was a genuine converted Christian woman, but he rejected her God and began the oppression against the church. Now the whole country is facing famine and starvation. During the Korean War (1950 -1953) five hundred Christian missionaries were captured by the Communists and shot.
On 27th July 2009, Nigerian pastor George Orjih, along with other Christians was beheaded by Islamist militants because of his love for Christ. Moments before his death he sent a message to his church: “Tell my brothers that I died well and am living with Christ. And if we all die, we know that we die for the Lord.” Some of his companions survived and were able to take his final ‘sermon’ to his congregation.
Stories like these could fill volumes of books, but the question is why should there be such antagonism to Jesus and His followers? There is growing hostility towards Christians in the West again, but why?
Jesus repeatedly warned His followers that this would happen: “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.’” (John 15:20) It was the pattern of the early Christian church; the Apostle Paul describes himself as ‘persecuted, but not forsaken’ and writes about his many persecutions. Love is the essence of martyrdom, and in dying for Christ, many Christians have seen themselves as imitators of Him.
Nobody, though, wishes persecution on themselves. It comes because of the deep-seated hatred from some people towards God their Maker. Sin is, in essence, defiance against God and His commands. Defiant disobedience towards God can rapidly spiral down to hatred towards Him. Sometimes too, the vitriol is so irrational that Christians suspect that there is a greater power at work than mere human wickedness. Certainly the Bible teaches that there is a devil, Satan – a fallen angel with power that is limited, but who controls demonic forces and bears a bitter hatred towards God. Jesus said of Satan that he loves to kill, steal and destroy. There are outbursts of evil in the history of the world that appear inexplicable apart from being the work of Satan. One day Satan, who has already been cast from God’s presence, will be cast away from a position of power and influence in the world for ever. Until then, there will always be persecution of those who trust God and want to honour Him in all things. It is testimony to the truth of Jesus’ warning words.
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