An African church leader stood before the group and share horrific scenes of death and destruction by radical Islamists who have been attacking churches in his country. He shared how Christians had been slaughtered by being hanged, hacked to death, poisoned, and beat with clubs. In one church, the pastor and all the leaders were gathered and killed as the congregation fled for their lives. When the people ventured to return to their church, from a distance they could hear a choir singing worship songs. When they reached the church, it was empty; only the dead bodies of the pastor and leaders lay at the altar. The people realized that the singing was coming from a choir of angels who were singing as these souls entered the presence of Jesus. The people resolved that the Lord was with them and they would stay and stand for Christ in the midst of any opposition.
Extreme religious persecution, as shared by this African pastor, is becoming more common in many parts of the world. The persecution can range from simple mockings to radical religious fanatics trying to expunge the world of those who follow Christ. Why the hatred? John 15:18-23 gives us the reason:
If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 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. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name because they do not know him who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father also.
The Gospel of Luke and Acts 5-7 provide some guiding principles in times of persecution:
Endure and rejoice in persecution as faithful followers of Jesus Christ.
Persecution can work maturity and holiness in the life of the believer. It is part of the discipleship process and ministry.
Suffering is always used for God’s redemptive purposes.
The worker must reject a victim mentality but walk in the victory that Christ has provided through the Cross.
Holy Spirit empowerment is essential to persevering and responding in contexts of opposition. Inspired proclamation leads to fruitful ministry.
As we ponder these principles, pray for our global church family who are suffering under persecution. Remember the angel choir that worshipped our Lord as these believers were ushered into glory. May we bring glory to God as these followers of Jesus did!