It is Easter. Good Friday and its grim horror has passed. The waiting, the stillness of the tomb, is over. He is Risen! We have our Savior! We have hope!
Nevertheless, we are still here, and generations unknown will follow us. We know the end of the story, but the story is still unfolding. More grim horrors, more anxious waiting, and more joyous days are still before us.
We love stories. Therefore, we love the stories in the Bible. Yet much of the Bible includes sermons, lessons, prophecies, songs, ….. So it helps to imagine being there. Imagine to Jesus giving a sermon, The Sermon On The Mount. He begins with blessings. Those blessings sound good until He gets to this part.
Matthew 5:10-12 New King James Version (NKJV)
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. 12 Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
You look about. You can see your own puzzlement on the faces in the crowd. What is Jesus talking about?
Thousands of years have passed now, but who knew then that Jesus would be crucified? We know what happened now. Since the day Jesus ascended back into Heaven to be with the Father, many have been reviled and persecuted. Many have died for righteousness sake. Why?
Jesus gave us the Great Commission. He told us to spread His Gospel, that strange and wonderful truth that in too many evokes adamantine hostility.
John 3:16 New King James Version (NKJV)
16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
No one wants to be reviled and persecuted. Yet when told that God is love, some grow angry. So Christians often wonder how we should spread the Gospel. Oddly enough, Jesus chose a man who had denied Him three times to tell us what to do. The Apostle Peter expressed the matter simply.
1 Peter 3:13-17 New King James Version (NKJV)
Suffering for Right and Wrong
13 And who is he who will harm you if you become followers of what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed. “And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled.” 15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; 16 having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed. 17 For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.
As odd as it may seem, some people hate the message of the Gospel. Some even hate the message of the Gospel enough to kill those who bear it. That’s is why Jesus Christ died upon a cross. That is why today He is risen.
So today seems to me a good day to remember those who died defending their hope in Jesus Christ.
A Sermon About Scorn
This is a two-part sermon about what it takes to stand for Jesus Christ given by Ravi Zacharias.
Martyrdom In The News
In his sermon, Zacharias mentions some statistics on modern day Christian martyrdom. Curious, I looked up what I could find. The subject does not get much news coverage.
- Holy Week opens with memory of martyrs, Middle East Christians (cruxnow.com) and Pope: More Christian martyrs today than in ancient times (usatoday.com): Catholic perceptives.
- Christian Persecution: A Reality Too Close to Ignore (christianpost.com): A call for Christian solidarity.
- Christian persecution: How many are being killed, where they are being killed (foxnews.com): Statistics on the persecution of Christians.
- You Can Debate Franklin Graham on Martyrs, But Not the World’s Persecution Problem (christianitytoday.com): This is a fairly extensive article on the subject. Lots of statistics and commentary on the statistics.
- Are there really 100,000 new Christian martyrs every year? (bbc.com): Expresses skepticism about the number of Christian martyrs. Since the article was written in 2013, it is a bit of of date now.
When you read the above articles, don’t get too caught up in the numbers. Statistics of this sort can never be especially accurate. Do we have the means to get good information out of countries governed by authoritarian regimes who don’t want what they are doing known? No. Of course not.
Organizations Supporting Persecuted Christians
- The Voice Of The Martyrs (persecution.com)
- Open Doors USA (opendoorsusa.org)
- The Center for the Study of Global Christianity (CSGC) (gordonconwell.edu): CSGC is cited as a source for statistics on the number of Christian martyrs. The case for higher numbers of Christian martyrs explains their rationale.