Acts 4:29-30 “Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”
Reading this I am reminded of something I read just yesterday, that the number of Christian believers in Afghanistan is increasing with the Taliban takeover. That is certainly not what the Taliban, or really anyone else, expected! However, anyone genuinely familiar with Church history should not be surprised at all. The same thing has been happening in Iran, to the point that the Islamic government seems to be in genuine danger. We tend to look at the rise of anti-Christian forces in the US and panic, forgetting that God is looking at the whole world. God is waking up His children in the US by allowing the enemy’s activities to be exposed, and at the same time He is strengthening His children in places where the enemy seems to be in full control. We forget that, as the chorus says, “He’s got the whole world in His hands.” We look at external factors, but He sees people’s hearts. We are limited to a temporal perspective, but He sees all eternity at a glance. The believers in Jerusalem set a precedent that all believers down through the ages should follow: meet opposition with faith and boldness, regardless of the immediate consequences to your own flesh. Martyrdom started with Stephen (Acts 7) and multiplied from there, to the point that John son of Zebedee is said to be the only one of the original 12 apostles to die a “natural” death. (Why do we ever think of death as unnatural? Our bodies are mortal, and we shouldn’t think otherwise.) We forget that our word, martyr, comes from the Greek martyrion, meaning “witness.” When Jesus said that we would be His witnesses when the Holy Spirit came on us, (Acts 1:8) He wasn’t excluding martyrdom! When our hope is fully and firmly in Christ, then we are witnesses whatever happens to our physical bodies.
This is something I have been aware of for a long time as objective fact, but I don’t know how well I have lived it out. I haven’t experienced much persecution for my faith personally, but I am very aware of the persecution that is going on around the world. I am never to take suffering lightly, particularly when it is that of a brother or sister in Christ, but at the same time I am never to think that suffering is the end of the story. As I quote frequently, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (2 Corinthians 4:17) Getting your head cut off, particularly slowly, with a knife, is hardly something to look forward to, but even hours of torture are momentary when compared to eternity. I am to be as bold as these believers in Jerusalem, and pray for my brothers and sisters around the world who are in the middle of persecution that they would be so as well, so that we may all be effective witnesses to the grace and power of our Lord.
Father, I’ll confess to being surprised by the report of increased believers in Afghanistan so quickly after the takeover. O me of little faith! Help me indeed trust You fully, whatever my news feeds are telling me, so that I may be a faithful, effective servant in whatever capacity You desire me to be, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!
Nicely written, Jack.
All of us need to take your reminder to heart:
“When Jesus said that we would be His witnesses when the Holy Spirit came on us, (Acts 1:8) He wasn’t excluding martyrdom!”
Today, we Augustinian friars commemorated the 1936 martyrdom of a Spanish Augustinian nun, Josephine Muriá. I admire and respect all Christian martyrs, feeling a special closeness to the Augustinians who gave their lives as witnesses to Jesus Christ in Nagasaki, starting with Omura-born Ochiai Jihyouei (known as Thomas of St. Augustine or by his nickname, “Kintsuba”), Magdalena of Nagasaki, and many others. In the Catholic Church, the Polish Franciscan Maxmillian Kolbe is well known as the Martyr of Charity of Auschwitz, but not many are aware that he evangelized in Nagasaki from 1931 to 1936.
I am fascinated with martyrs and full of respect. At the same time, sometimes a sense of dread comes over me. Should I be called to martyrdom, I feel the double dread of both the suffering that it would entail, and the possibility that I might give in to that suffering.
It’s then that I remember that I have to put all of this (along with everything else) into His hands. I keep reminding myself that: #1, He loves me more than I love myself, and that #2, He’s infinitely smarter than I am. And that my basic desire is that all be done for His glory.
I continue to pray for persecuted Christians in Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and all countries where they are persecuted. And for Christians in Japan, USA, Europe, and other countries where the persecutions are more subtle.
Liam, thank you for your very encouraging words. I for one am prone to fall into the silliest of “pity parties,” and I’m just climbing out of one, as you’ll be able to read in a couple of days. Our God is able, but indeed, apart from Him we can do nothing.