It was the morning of Good Friday, almost 2000 years after Jesus was on trial. My father and other organization members had gone to the courthouse. I lived with my family in Central Asia, and for months our whole team had faced investigation from the government, court summons, attempts to sneak out of the country (the first group got out, the rest of us were stopped at passport control), and at least one re-scheduling of the trial.
It was not clear if Friday’s date was definite, but the men wanted to make sure they didn’t miss their own trial. But they came home, reporting that it was now scheduled for Monday, the day after Easter.
As Christians, we set aside Good Friday to remember Christ’s incredible gift of love through his death on the cross. That year, it felt a bit more real than ever before. We did not endure anywhere near the suffering Christ did, but we had given our lives to come to this city and show his love. Now we tasted the bitterness of rejection and condemnation.
The outcome was almost certain before the trial began. In addition to a number of fines, we were given ten days to leave the country. Even as we got to the airport, we faced hostility in the media cameras and security checkpoints.
If this hurts for us, how much more it would have hurt for Christ to be humiliated and killed by his own creation, his beloved!!
Persecution: No Surprise for Christ
In the last beatitude, long before his popularity ran out, Jesus stated:
“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
There was no question in his voice. Persecution was to be expected, a prediction proven accurate from the time of his disciples’ suffering to this day.
Yet, the worldwide prevalence of persecution today seems to be largely ignored in the “first world” countries.
Did you know that over 300 Christians are killed every month for their faith in Jesus? That’s about ten every day. Hundreds more experience imprisonment, torture, rape, enslavement, and wide range of other traumas and losses, simply because of what they believe.
Despite the physical and emotional pain experienced, facing and accepting persecution is one of the most profound ways to relate intimately with Christ. I got a small taste of that during the difficult period of expulsion from our home in Central Asia. Sharing his sufferings goes hand-in-hand with sharing his glory. Paul testified: “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18).
What “glory” encountered now—those times we are aware of the very Presence of God—is a tiny taste of what is to come.The kingdom of heaven may begin on this earth, but the ultimate promise is one that lasts for eternity. Nothing could happen to us here on earth that would make never-ending heavenly glory “not worth it.”
Yet, how easily we hold back from publicly declaring our faith.
Fear of Rejection
Jesus recognized that it is not just physical persecution that we fear, but the disappointment and rejection that hurts deeply, especially when coming from those we value. He specifically noted the verbal attacks:
“Blessed are you when people persecute you, insult you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Although we are not in a more extreme environment where families threaten to kill a member who turns to Jesus, this is relevant even in the Western world. Fear of rejection contributes to conformity.
I know I’ve failed to speak truth directly out of fear of offending others of being poorly perceived. It’s so easy to see the immediate perception of others as more important than the eternal ramifications: what is right in front of us looks much bigger that what lies further away. Our desires for friendship, acceptance, respect, and recognition influence our thought patterns when choosing words and how intentional to be in sharing our beliefs with others.
Yet at the same time, there is a balance between being open about our faith and being sensitive to the hearts of others. I find myself wanting to build relationships instead of estranging people by misplaced words. Indeed, sharing one’s faith in a relational context is more effective and meaningful than yelling at someone from a street corner. But are we willing to go out of comfort zones in loving ways?
How Willing Are You?
Not all of us are being asked to live in places where it is life-threatening to follow Christ. But none of us are called to be complacent.
I don’t want to discuss the effectiveness of being vocally forthright versus subtly living a life of testimony. The reality is that God knows the hearts of those around us, and while one person needs a direct challenge to consider truths, another might need to slowly build a safe relationship before being ready to hear another view. Instead hashing out details, I would pose two questions:
- Are you letting God guide your words and actions?
- Are you willing to do whatever he asks?
I would challenge you (and myself) to take a good look at where our focus and our priorities are. If we want to encounter God’s glory, we must be centered on him: his guidance, his will, and his love. And we must be ready to go outside our comfort zones.
And don’t forget to pray for the persecuted…
Finally, I strongly encourage you to pray for those who are facing suffering and death as bearers of Christ’s name. There are resources online that give insight and specific ways to pray such as http://www.icommittopray.com/