Every year, according to some estimates, as many as 100,000 Christians are martyred for their faith in Jesus Christ.
Especially across North Africa and the Middle East, becoming a follower of the Lord is fraught with danger. In countries where Islamic rule is ascendant, Christians are systematically being threatened, persecuted and even killed.
Of course, Christians have long been subject to intense persecution. The prophets of the Lord in the Old Testament were rarely met with a warm reception. From the birth of the church at Pentecost, and down through the millennia, those who call on Jesus as Savior and Lord have suffered loss of property, income and life for the sake of the Kingdom.
Stephen, of course, was the first martyr of the early church, stoned to death by the Pharisees. Most of the apostles, beginning with James the son of Zebedee (one of the “Sons of Thunder”) met with a martyr’s death.
Albrecht Vogel described the plight of the church during the Roman persecution of the first three centuries in this stark manner:
“Horror spread everywhere through the congregations; and the number of lapsi [the ones who renounced their faith when threatened] … was enormous. There was no lack, however, of such as remained firm, and suffered martyrdom rather than yielding; and, as the persecution grew wider and more intense, the enthusiasm of the Christians and their power of resistance grew stronger and stronger.”
Jesus clearly taught that following Him would never be easy. “‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20). Peter, whose death Jesus foretold in John 21, said Christians should not be surprised at the fiery trial “as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings” (1 Peter 4:12-13).
Remarkably, the Scriptures constantly emphasize the joy and peace of the believer in the midst of suffering. When the disciples were imprisoned and beaten, they actually rejoiced “that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name” (Acts 5:41).
I am well aware that as we preach the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, many are enduring unimaginable hardships. You can read about one of them in this issue of Decision. Pastor Saeed Abedini has been held in an Iranian prison for nearly a year because of his faith in the Lord. His courage, and the determination of his wife, Naghmeh, in seeking to win his release, is a great example of persistent prayer and reliance on God in the midst of persecution.
God can certainly bring deliverance as He did for Maryam Rostampour and Marziyeh Amirizadeh, two young women who were released from the same prison in 2009. The Lord hears and answers the prayers of His people for the glory of His Name and the advancement of His Kingdom.
I’m sure the Abedinis would deeply appreciate your petitions on their behalf, not just for Pastor Saeed’s release, but also for continued strength to honor their Savior.
Nothing can stop the spread of God’s Kingdom until He comes. Those who remain faithful to the Lord in the pits of persecution are some of His chief instruments, used by the Father to spread the aroma of the knowledge of Christ far and wide.
Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version.