In July of 1995, a Jewish journalist, Michael Horowitz, sent a shock wave into the consciences of American business, political and religious thinkers with his article in The Wall Street Journal titled: New Intolerance Between Crescent And Cross.” He spoke eloquently of Christians around the world who were suffering for their faith.
Two years later, New York Times Editor, A.M. Rosenthal joined in the cause. In an Op-Ed piece titled: “On My Mind: Persecuting the Christians,” he too wrote of the abuses, beatings, and genocide being perpetrated around the world against Christians. A few days later, writing a similar advocacy piece, this Jewish editor sadly observed that American Christians “Do not often see themselves (in the plight of other) oppressed Christians (who are) far away. They certainly don’t identify in the same way that a Jewish industrialist who remembers the Holocaust might see something of himself in a persecuted Jewish street sweeper in Yemen.” The American Jewish community is sensitized to the sufferings of others due to their own experiences as a persecuted minority.
The American Christian community is certainly not unfeeling, and you may be among those who truly empathize with the persecuted church. Yet sometimes we fail to share the anguish of brothers and sisters in Christ around the globe, who face kidnapping, imprisonment, forced conversion, slavery, rape, starvation and murder simply because they, too, love Jesus. Why does their plight seem so alien to some Christians?
I don’t think proximity is the problem. We can all read story books or watch videos and movies, and the Internet now brings us closer to real people who are in the midst of suffering. If we are not always as sensitive to the plight of Christians who suffer for their faith as we should be, perhaps it frightens us to think about being persecuted for our faith. Perhaps we can face those fears by examining Jesus’ promise to those who suffer for His sake.
Our Messiah, Yeshua said, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake” (Matthew 5:10a). Yeshua told His followers to expect hardship for their faith. The Greek word for persecution, dioko, meant “bitter ridicule” an “invective” hurled in such a way as to put someone to flight or to drive them away. Persecution, in our context, comes when pressure is applied against a person who is standing clearly for the Messiahship of Jesus. Yet Jesus also promised that His followers would experience blessing in the midst of persecution.
“Blessing” is literally the experience of being “happy” or “prosperous.” The Hebrew word, ashrei, is the same word in Psalm 1 that is translated “happy” as applied to the godly person (Psalm 1:1, “Happy or blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly…”) It is that same sense of well-being experienced when a sinner repents. (Psalm 32:1, “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.”)
Jesus told His followers that the only life worth living is the one endowed with wholeness, a sense of goodness and joy that comes from knowing the King of Glory. Jesus had to endure persecution to make that joy available to us. Persecution gives us an opportunity to identify with the Savior in the intimacy of His experience as the suffering Messiah who came for us. Persecution is also a litmus test to reveal the reality of the faith that dwells within the believer. It reveals what is in the test tube of our lives.
Is anyone willing to admit that you are afraid to have your feelings hurt? I am. Do you fear that a co-worker or a social acquaintance might recoil when they learn that you are a Christian? Have you ever hesitated to confess your trust in Jesus, because you thought, in one instant, that the hearer might think less of you? Have you ever endured physical injury as a result of the unrestrained emotional outrage expressed by an opposer of the message of Jesus? Would any of us be willing to admit that our need for approval, our hunger for acceptance, or our desire simply to maintain a good appearance has ever kept us from risking the rejection, disapproval or assault as a result of our confession of faith in Christ?
If we will identify with the persecuted church, then we must realize that we are that church. God asks us to speak the truth about Him with lovingkindness. You can be a missionary right where you are. Pray for the Spirit’s power to be that kind of Christian, perhaps starting in your home, at your school, at the office, the grocery store, in your military service, in your service club, and all the other places where you encounter people.
Jesus calls on us to rejoice and be exceedingly glad—that is to keep taking heart! Don’t faint. Be vulnerable; be a witness. If we will do that, we will care about the persecuted church, because we will know it is all of US, whether we are Christians in China, Indonesia, Egypt or in North America.